Learning to write qualitative research: A comparative case study of native and nonnative English-speaking doctoral students in education
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Writing qualitative research is a very complex activity. Yet there is relatively little research about novices' experiences in learning to write this specific genre. In particular, students from eastern culture might hold different perspectives in the activities of learning to write. The purpose of the comparative case study was to explore how a group of East Asian students and American students learn to write qualitative research in the context of their first graduate seminar on qualitative research and what kinds of impact it has on their writing products. In specific, four research questions were developed to address the similarities and differences between the two cultural groups: a. How do the difficulties that the students encounter in learning to write compare? b. How do the strategies that the students employ in learning to write compare? c. How does the progress that the students make in learning to write compare? d. How does the social interaction in which the students are involved compare? Through collecting and analyzing data from interviews with students, teacher, think-aloud protocols, class observations and written artifacts, this study examined what it means to learn qualitative research writing in the eyes of these culturally diverse doctoral students. It is found that learning to write qualitative inquiry is being enculturated into the discourse community of qualitative research. It entails understanding the research paradigm, mastering the discourse patterns, building up the disciplinary knowledge and developing a professional identity and affective maturity. It is also found out that students constructed their writing expertise through interactions with the teacher, texts, peers and their background knowledge. Yet student writers need to develop a better sense and awareness of the social and dialogic dimensions of writing, especially for students from eastern cultures. The study also found that multiple factors such as language barriers, cultural conflicts, background knowledge mediate each individual's dialogic learning and thus influence the level of enculturation each student is able to attain. Therefore it confirms that we need to situate academic writing activities into specific social, cultural, historical and disciplinary contexts.