Doctoral Dissertation

27.4.2019 FM Laura McCambridge (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, English)


27.4.2019 12:00 — 15:00

Location: Mattilanniemi , Ag Aud 3
FM Laura McCambridge defends her doctoral dissertation in English "Norms and ldeologies of Academic Writing on an International Master's Programme in Finland".

Opponent professor Theresa Lillis (The Open University, Walton Hall, UK) and Custos professor Anne Pitkänen-Huhta (University of Jyväskylä, Department of Languages and Communication).

The doctoral dissertation is held in English.


This ethnographically-oriented study followed the experiences of six (later four) students on an international master’s programme in Finland. Programmes such as this combine culturally, linguistically and often academically diverse students, using English as a lingua franca for course completion and evaluation, rather than the official language of the institution.

My aim was to explore the norms and ideologies of English academic writing on the programme, or, in other words, what counts as ‘good’ writing for participants in this increasingly common context of English use for academic purposes. Over three years, I collected a range of data, including students’ texts, instructions for and feedback on those texts, interviews with students and teachers, and students’ writing journals. The study led to four published articles, each reporting on an aspect of English writing norms on the programme that emerged from the data.

The first article examined the students’ discourses on good academic writing in English upon beginning the programme, identifying several norms that they commonly referred to and authorities that they drew on in explaining these norms. The second article examined native speaker ideology on the programme, looking both at ways in which native authority over English language norms was reinforced and ways in which it was challenged. The third article explored a tension on the programme between the need for more transparent, standardised norms for English writing and the need for flexibility, considering the diversity of students’ backgrounds and aims. And finally, the fourth article focused on a specific norm that arose repeatedly: namely the notion of good English writing as assertively arguing one’s ‘own point of view’. The article examined how this norm translated into discursive practice through a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of metadiscourse in students’ texts and analysis of students’ and teachers’ perspectives on those texts.

As with previous studies of English as a lingua franca, my study found that participants in this context tended to prioritize intelligibility over linguistic correctness, also when it came to writing. This was especially the case for texts that were considered to be written for local, Finnish teachers. However, even teachers who stated that they did not evaluate language in students’ texts did in fact draw attention to certain language features when explaining their strengths or weaknesses, particularly the use of metadiscourse.

As these evaluations were positioned as issues of content, separable from language, expected ways of talking about disciplinary issues tended to remain obscure. My findings thus reiterate the importance of integration and awareness-raising in academic writing pedagogy. Rather than repetition of generic principles that, as my findings suggest, can obscure what is actually rewarded in practice, I argue that students benefit from a ‘decoding’ of their discipline’s discourses by subject area teachers, as well as an integration of writing into classroom interaction.

Keywords: academic literacies, English as a lingua franca, international higher education, ethnography of writing, writing norms, language ideologies, voice