Negotiating into Academic Discourses: Taiwanese and U.S. College Students in Research Writing

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Cross-national, or cross-cultural, studies of academic writing have moved beyond contrastive rhetoric's textual focus to broad concerns of students' first- and second-language literacy development. However, we remain in the dark as to how, in a micro view, students initiate into academic discourses in cross-national contexts. Situating our study in first-year writing courses in a Taiwanese and a U.S. university, we examined students' negotiation acts when they struggled to enter into social science discourses. Our study reveals that students in both institutions negotiated with academic writing at metacognitive, textual, and contextual levels. They brought rhetorical values, such as writing as a display of knowledge or writing grounded in evidential research, into their writing that they acquired in high school. Further, teachers' expectations, their new perceptions of research and writing, and their dreams and experiences all came into play in their writing.

KEYWORDS: academic writing, social sciences, students' negotiation, rhetorical traditions, metacognition, literature review


Cross-national, or cross-cultural, studies of academic writing have derived much of their synergy from contrastive rhetoric spearheaded by Kaplan (1966; 1972). Contrastive rhetoricians entertain a fundamental conviction that unique sociopolitical and cultural experiences of a nation render some distinctive features in the rhetorical practices of its people. These distinctive features are observable not only in students' first-language texts but also in their second (Connor 1996). In recent years, however, contrastive rhetoric has become limiting for studying writing in cross-cultural contexts. First, its essentialist conviction about rhetorical practices in cultures was criticized by scholars of non-Western rhetoric. In the case of Chinese rhetoric, Kirkpatrick (2005), Liu (1996), Mohan & Lo (1985), and You (2005) argued that despite a different cultural context from the West, traditional Chinese rhetoric shares similar values and practices with its Western counterpart. Second, contrastive rhetoric is censured for placing students in a passive, receptive position in relation to the macrostructure of their lives, or the national-ethnic culture (Canagarajah, 2006; Kubota & Lehner, 2004).

Sensitive to criticisms of contrastive rhetoric, some researchers (such as Foster, 2006; Foster & Russell, 2002; Isaksson-Wikberg, 1999; Li, 1996; Reichelt, 1997) have moved into field studies of school writing in cross-cultural contexts. Such studies offer us insights into how writing is actually taught to students during their mother-tongue literacy development. For example, Li (1996) studies American and Chinese teachers' perceptions of "good writing", and she shows that "good writing" resides not just with student texts, but also with the teachers who read and judge the texts. Cultural values, literary aesthetics, and teachers' socio-political experiences jointly shape the teachers' perceptions and efforts in nurturing good writers in their mother tongue. In Foster & Russell (2002), scholars examine, in broad terms, the role of writing when students move from secondary school to college in China, England, France, Germany, Kenya, and South Africa. They focus on how students write their ways into the communities of their chosen disciplines and on how they cope with the demands of academic and discipline-specific writing. Through field observations and interviews, Reichelt (1997) also investigates German and English composition theories and instruction at the secondary level in Germany. These studies not only reveal how native rhetorical traditions permeate students' literacy development, but also provide cultural and educational contexts for understanding students' writing in their second language. They offer valuable macro views of academic writing practices in cross-national contexts; however, we remain in the dark as to how, in a micro view, students negotiate into academic discourses with the baggage of high school rhetorical training. …


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