Scholarly article on topic 'Scaffoldings in Academic Writing: The Role of Intercultural Rhetoric and Genre Analysis in Academic Socialization'

Scaffoldings in Academic Writing: The Role of Intercultural Rhetoric and Genre Analysis in Academic Socialization Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{"contrastive rhetoric" / "document analysis" / "genre analysis" / "focus group interviews" / "intercultural rhetoric"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Noraini Ibrahim, Radha M.K. Nambiar

Abstract International postgraduate students have been found to face numerous difficulties in writing academic discourse. As intervention strategy via genre analysis in an earlier study (UKM-PTS-058-2010) has been found to be inadequate, this paper will report on further scaffoldings derived from contrastive rhetoric (Kaplan 1966), which has evolved into intercultural rhetoric in tandem with genre analysis. This paper will first delineate how the interventions were introduced and second demonstrate how effective they were. A qualitative action research design, employing focus group interviews, which captured the narrative voices from the students and document analysis of the written texts, was used for the study.

Academic research paper on topic "Scaffoldings in Academic Writing: The Role of Intercultural Rhetoric and Genre Analysis in Academic Socialization"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 59 (2012) 438 - 442 —

UKM Teaching and Learning Congress 2011

Scaffoldings in academic writing: the role of intercultural rhetoric and genre analysis in academic socialization

Noraini Ibrahim* & Radha M.K. Nambiar

School of Language Studies and Linguistics, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia



International postgraduate students have been found to face numerous difficulties in writing academic discourse. As intervention strategy via genre analysis in an earlier study (UKM-PTS-058-2010) has been found to be inadequate, this paper will report on further scaffoldings derived from contrastive rhetoric (Kaplan 1966), which has evolved into intercultural rhetoric in tandem with genre analysis. This paper will first delineate how the interventions were introduced and second demonstrate how effective they were. A qualitative action research design, employing focus group interviews, which captured the narrative voices from the students and document analysis of the written texts, was used for the study.

©2011Publishedby Elsevier Ltd.Selectionand/orpeerreviewedunderresponsibility of the UKMTeaching and Learning Congress 2011

Keywords: contrastive rhetoric; document analysis; genre analysis; focus group interviews; intercultural rhetoric

1. Introduction

Literature has shown that academic literacy is complex, multi-faceted and discipline-based phenomenon. Mateos et. al (2007) for instance, reported that in the humanities and social sciences, analyzing and synthesizing from multiple sources is a much needed 'academic skill' in contrast to the hard sciences where describing procedures, defining objects and planning solutions are crucial. Nevertheless, in most postgraduate classes, notwithstanding the discipline, research is encouraged and these novice researchers are taught to turn such projects into worthwhile research articles. This paper reports on a project that took off from an earlier action research project, UKM-PTS-058-2010. The project investigated the difficulties faced by international postgraduate Arabic-speaking students in the writing of the introductory section of the project paper in a masters course, SKBI6043 Approaches to Discourse. It also introduced an intervention strategy through Swales' (1990) CARS model. Despite the direct interventions, the findings of that study revealed inherent acute difficulties faced by the students in completing the task and as such, direct intervention via genre analysis was still inadequate. As such, the present study seeks to see how this gap could be addressed. To this end, insights from contrastive rhetoric (Kaplan 1966), which have evolved into intercultural

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+6-03-8921-5375; Fax:+6-03-8925-2836 E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer reviewed under responsibility of the UKM Teaching and Learning Congress 2011 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.09.298

rhetoric (Connor, 2004) have been employed in tandem with genre analysis as intervention strategies to bridge the writing difficulties faced by these international students (Hisham, 2008 and Al-Khasawneh, 2010).

The main objectives of this study are to:

1. Introduce intervention strategies via contrastive intercultural rhetoric and genre analysis to the writing of the introductory section of a project paperin SKBI 6043, and

2. Evaluate the effectiveness of such intervention strategies

3. Literature review

This project paper was introduced to familiarize students with the practice of conducting research and the writing of research articles. However, this study has focused only on the Introduction section of the project because apart from it receiving the most attention from researchers (Swales, 1990; Crookes, 1986; Anthony, 1999; among others), it is also perceived to be the most difficult section to write. Further, as alluded by Swales (1990), introductions are discipline based and inter disciplinary variations are thus easily identified.

In order to contextualize this research, a brief review of the CARS model will be presented followed by another that elucidates the relationship between Contrastive and Intercultural Rhetoric and the CARS model. The final part of this section will review the literature on Intercultural rhetoric and Middle East writers.

2.1.1 Swales' CARS (Create a Research Space) Model

This model consists of three moves that describe how article introductions are structured. Move 1 focuses on Establishing a territory, Move 2 is Establishing a niche and Move 3 refers to Occupying a niche. This three-move structure is then sub-divided into various steps which may or may not be obligatory. A critique of the CARS model is that it does not take into account cultural or intercultural conventions and the genre has been deemed to be partial to Anglo-American writing.

2.1.2 Contrastive, Intercultural Rhetoric and the CARS model

From the first publication of Kaplan's (1966) doodles diagram, contrastive rhetoric has received much attention. The pedagogy-driven approach has been founded on initially on error analysis and 'errors' were examined and reasons given based on the language background from which the students came" (Connor, 1996 p. 15). But the pioneering study on contrastive rhetoric is by Kaplan (1966) where he analyzed the organization of paragraphs in ESL student essays and discovered five types of paragraph development. The study suggested that Anglo-European expository essays are written in a linear style, while Semitic languages are based on a "series of parallel coordinate clauses" (Connor 1996, p. 15). Oriental writers, on the other hand, are deemed to apply an indirect approach to the topic and come to the point only at the end of the essay, while readers subscribing to the English style will find Romance and Russian writers prone to digressions. Hence linguistic conventions of a writer's L1 have been said to interfere with the learning (or writing of L2) and from Sapir and Whorf's perspective, language influences and controls an individual's perception. Hence from the English as a second language perspective, there was a hint of cultural imperialism and this was keenly debated (Connor, 2002; Ying 2000; Matsuda 2001, among others). Despite the criticisms however, Connor (2002) succinctly noted that Kaplan's earlier or traditional model as depicted in his doodles diagram, "was useful in accounting for cultural differences in essays written by college students for academic purposes"( p. 495).

As contended by Connor (1996), this early or traditional contrastive rhetoric research stopped there and did not develop further to enquire into the stages of second language writing. In a rather comprehensive analysis of the development of contrastive rhetoric, Connor (1996), outlines four major areas of research in contrastive rhetoric, and they are firstly, research in contrastive text linguistics which focuses on linguistic devices as in the works of Hinds (1983, and 1990). Second, studies that feature writing as a cultural activity which is concerned with the study of L1 developmental writings and how a given culture is embedded in the writings of its members as shown the study by Purves (1988). This is followed by the third group which is classroom-based research which focuses on classroom observations of process writing as shown in Nelson and Murphy (1992). The fourth and final group is the genre-

specific research that investigates professional and academic writings like the research article (RA) and exemplified by the work of Swales (1990).

2.1.3 Intercultural rhetoric and Middle East writers

As research in contrastive rhetoric has increasingly spread to many parts of the world, in tandem with the internationalisation of education, the increasing cohort of Middle East students in Malaysia warrant an investigation. To this end, the growing body of work of Arabic-English contrasts by Hatim (1997) and Hottel-Burkhart (2000, IN Connor, 2002) have contributed to contrastive rhetoric theory. Hatim, a keen researcher is translation studies, is highly critical of previous contrastive rhetorical research of Arabic, which he describes as being "characterized by a general vagueness of thought which stems from overemphasis on the symbol at the expense of the meaning," or as analyzing "Arabic writers as confused, coming to the same point two or three times from different angles, and so on" (p. 161). Hatim's contribution to intercultural rhetoric is highly insightful and valuable as he explains why the differences occur and is sharply critical of researchers who claimed that Arabic speakers argue by presentation, that is, by repeating arguments, paraphrasing them, and doubling them. To him the western argumentation is one way of presentation and not the only way.

4. Research Design

The choice for undertaking classroom-based action research is because it is a form of self-reflective systematic enquiry, and allows for an in-depth investigation into the unique characteristics of a group of students in which a particular lack has been identified and an intervention applied (Mertler, 2009).

While the literature shows that there are many approaches to action research, this study has adapted a three stage procedure: Action Plan, Intervention and Evaluation. Again the study is situated within the domain of SKBI6043 offered in Semester 1, 2011/2012 and again the interventions were given to all the twenty six students in the class but the study focused on the Middle East students.

4.1.1 Action Plan

In this stage, views and voices were gathered through focus-group interviews and a short questionnaire. These instruments were employed to gather retrospective opinions from former students regarding their main problems in the project paper as well as to capture voices of current students at the beginning of the semester regarding their initial views of the project. The procedure was carried out after class hours and from there, through purposive sampling, four students were identified for the project. They comprised of two Iranian females, one Iranian male and one Iraqi male students. The lead researcher informed them about the project and explained the procedure. They were very willing to engage in the project voluntarily. However, at this point, the researchers had to consider the subjects in relation to the literature. The literature had focused on Arabic-English, but the three of the subjects were Iranians, with Persian as their first language not Arabic. While Arabic is Semitic, Persian belongs to the western group of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, which also includes Kurdish, Mazandarani, Gilaki, Talyshi, and Baluchi.

3.1.2 Intervention

The intervention strategies comprised two elements: the CARS model from Swales (1990), and the literature on intercultural rhetoric. The following section will delineates how both strategies were introduced to the students.

During the first lecture, the research project was introduced. The students were told to focus only on spoken discourse. The domains of discourse were also identified. Students were then told to identify the topic and title of choice. Readings were assigned and further readings were also encouraged.

In the second lecture, the students presented their research project titles and reading list. Here, Swales' CARS model was given out to provide the genre for the writing of the Introduction section. The moves and sub-moves in the model were explained and a template was also given out.

From then, as the semester progressed, meetings were arranged to allow the students to engage in close discussions with the lecturers. At this stage, the lecturers examined the texts, paying close attention to the problematic ones. This close perusal enabled the texts to be divided into three problem areas: content, rhetoric, and both content and rhetoric.

For those in the content group, further readings were assigned. For those in the rhetoric group, in-depth interviews were carried out to determine the cause.

Of the four students that were selected for the study, one Iranian female student was found to have both content and rhetoric problem while the other three had rhetoric problems. Here, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews based on the insights gleaned from Hatim (1997) and from there the scaffoldings were directed. For instance, let us look at the Sample below.

Sample text : R, Iranian female 26 years old_

An analysis of socialization in academic discourse in a Malaysian university Researcher's notes:

Nowadays, most students who speak English as their foreign language prefer to 1.

continue their higher education abroad because of many reasons. They choose 2.

their universities in another country to spend fewer budgets compared to the 3.

much cost of education in their own countries. They also predict they can be well educated in their specific majors if the continue their higher education the 4.

universities of higher ranking. These students will face so many cultrual, social and language differences in the foreign countries and the accompanying stress.

Ignore grammatical violations first Identify the meaning / content Locate the problem: content / rhetoric

Refer to literature on Arabic-English violations

The left column of the sample was the data from the Iranian student while the right column shows the researcher's notes in handling the Introduction. For instance, item number one in the lecturer's notes shows that as the lecturer reads the text, she had reminded herself to ignore the grammatical inaccuracies and to focus on the meaning. The next step was to identify the meaning or content. In identifying the meaning or content, the researcher can then decide whether the problem arose out of a weakness with content or a weakness with rhetoric. If it was a weakness with rhetoric, then the second intervention could be introduced.

The second intervention refers to the provision of literature on intercultural rhetoric. Interestingly though, the data from the four students showed similar problems regardless of the fact that they were three Iranians and one Iraqi. Hence, they were given the literature of Arabic-English violations.

3.1.3 Evaluation

As the study has not been completed, this component will be done later. 4. Findings and Discussion

This study has again found that firstly, writing the Introduction is not an easy task for the international students. To these Middle East the process of academic socialization is culturally alien to them. One student for instance, complained of the culture shock in having to write project papers Z, an Iranian female, said that "It is like hell", as she found herself clueless about how to start. The Iraqi male, S, narrated how in Iraq, he had to read perhaps two books, and answer multiple choice questions for his examinations. To all the four research subjects, reading research articles is foreign to them and library or Internet research is even more foreboding. As such the students would come to the researchers' office with empty 'plates' and a plea for "Please help me doctor', or, "Tell me what to do, doctor".

Secondly, while the intervention via genre analysis has been provided for, the students were not able to 'digest' the moves and present them in their work. This is because a good introduction requires a synthesis of a set of readings. The four students interviewed did not have much difficulties as they all have a basic degree in English Studies (literature included) and had TOEFL or IELTS qualifications. So while basic reading is not a problem, the

ability to synthesize and provide a critical view of the literature which is a higher reading skill, is still not mastered yet. Such weaknesses alludes to the findings of Mateos (2007).

Thirdly, with reference to academic discourse and register, these students sill need to be assisted. There are many colloquialisms and informal register used by these students apart from the grammatical errors that have also been found in Hisham (2008) and Al-Khasawneh (2010).

The findings above show that the scaffoldings via genre analysis plays a pivotal part in preparing the students in the writing of the Introduction. However, more work still needs to be done in intercultural rhetoric as part of the scaffoldings.

5. Conclusion

The heavy demand placed on post graduate students in writing academic discourse is a field of enquiry that needs to be investigated in-depth. While the assumption is that post graduate students should be able to conduct research, the reality involving many international students from non-English speaking countries need to be realistically looked into. Preliminary findings from this study show that various intervention strategies and a variety of scaffoldings must be introduced within the curriculum so that the students' needs are attended to. The imposition of an argumentation style or rhetoric alien to the students must therefore be done in stages. Faculty members must be patient and as Hatim (1997) has pointed out the Arabic through-arguments need to be converted into the western counter-arguments, and this can be done with an understanding of intercultural rhetoric.


We would like to thank Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia for providing the research grant PTS-085-2011. References

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