Doctor of Education
Faculty of Education
Promwinai, Porntita (Patty), The demands of argumentative Essay writing: experiences of Thai tertiary students, Doctor of Education thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, 2010. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3298
This research seeks to understand how Thai EFL students respond to the demands of writing argumentative essays in a western academic context where such writing is considered an important feature of academic learning. Yet, this “genre” or “text type” is not generally included as part of English writing subjects in universities in Thailand.
The major concern of this research is to investigate how EFL learners cope with the demands of argumentative essay writing. In terms of practical implications, the study is also interested in teacher intervention as part of explicit teaching and giving of feedback when employing a genre-based approach to teaching writing. The participants were two Thai tertiary students enrolled in a university English for Academic Purposes (EAP) preparation course in Australia. Their final essays were the primary data for the detailed linguistic analysis. The incidental data were their sets of drafts, their teachers’ written feedback and four interviews with these students.
Based on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) as the theoretical framework, the study investigates how differently a low-rated writer and a mid-rated writer employed ideational, interpersonal, and textual resources to build up arguments in order to convince the reader, responding to the register variables of field, tenor and mode. By means of comparison, the research draws attention to the two writers’ strengths and weaknesses in the effective employment of certain desirable linguistic characteristics of persuasive academic writing such as nominalisation, modality, concession, and Theme-Rheme structures.
In terms of the students’ control of the genre, a significant finding from this study is the writers’ strong capability in controlling the generic structure of argumentative essays regardless of their proficiency level. In terms of the use of metafunctional resources, the analyses have demonstrated both strengths and weaknesses displayed by the writers as they grapple with the genre of arguments as well as what may be very new knowledge outside their discipline area. So, it could be argued that the categories used to differentiate learners as “high” achievers or “low” achievers are not nuanced enough to identify what learners can do or cannot do. The findings also suggest that numeric scores may not be useful in revealing what linguistic resources these students bring to their argumentative essay writing.
The implications for educators include how a familiarity with such advanced academic features can assist them to support the linguistic needs of international ESL students in terms of explicit teaching, identifying both strengths and weaknesses in students’ essays, and providing useful feedback.