Academic writing skills
It is evident from the literature that students of all backgrounds can find it difficult to develop the necessary academic writing skills to successfully navigate their university studies. Bennett (2009, p. 44) notes that there are certain conventions and formalities associated with academic writing, in that 'English Academic Discourse is a clearly defined entity distinguished by a series of identifiable characteristics, and that there is a broad consensus as to its general principles, methods of textual construction, and the kinds of grammatical and lexical features to be used'. The expected characteristics include clear, concise, convincing and well-structured writing (Bennett, 2009).
Academic writing skills are essential to the successful completion of preregistration nursing programs, yet the development of such skills is a challenge for students of nursing (Jackson, 2009; Knowles & McGloin, 2007; Whitehead, 2002). Effective academic writing places 'complex higher-order analytical demands' on students (Whitehead, 2002, p. 502) and requires not only a certain level of knowledge and comprehension but also the ability to critically analyse and integrate ideas, as well as appropriately draw on and reference the literature (Knowles & McGloin, 2007).
While academic writing is integral not only to the successful completion of nursing studies but also other aspects of undergraduate nurse education, such as clinical teaching and learning, a literature search reveals that relatively little research into academic writing in nursing has been undertaken. In a phenomenological study reporting the academic writing experiences of a group of undergraduate nursing students, Whitehead (2002) found that students were impaired by a lack of support and resources to develop the necessary writing skills, many had little previous experience upon which to draw, and the pressure of meeting rigorous and inflexible academic writing formats possibly stifled the development of creative and original work (similarly, Diekelmann & Ironside, 1998). Unlike the taken-for-granted assumption that the development of academic writing skills automatically ensues from simply being exposed to academic reading and the academic environment, Whitehead's findings suggest that the process is anything but automatic. Instead, even Englishspeaking students struggle in their attempts to gain the necessary skills, and remain anxious, uncertain, and daunted at the prospect of producing future written assignments (Whitehead, 2002).
Academic writing skills for ESL nursing students
Academic writing is a requirement that all students, regardless of language background, must accomplish. Yet students who are linguistically diverse and speak English as a second language (ESL) have the added challenge of achieving this in a different language. Those students from linguistically diverse backgrounds may face additional obstacles such as English language acculturation that can hinder their academic performance in undergraduate nursing programs (Salamonson, Everett, Koch, Andrew, & Davidson, 2008).
This is an international problem for students and academics writing in a second language (Duszak & Lewkowicz, 2008; Gimenez, 2008), and it is reflected in Australia, where nursing education is becoming increasingly multicultural and internationalised (Parker & McMillan, 2007). This leads to increasing numbers of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly in the context of nursing shortages where universities will continue to recruit and accept more international students (Parker & McMillan, 2007). International student enrolments are a valuable source of income to universities and enrolment numbers continue to increase annually in the Australian higher education sector (Australian Education International, 2008). Notwithstanding the socio-political issues associated with the dominance of Western knowledge and Western academic conventions on an increasingly multicultural student body, there remains a need for graduates to be able to successfully engage with a multitude of complex theories and other information that is written in English, and produce written work that meets a certain academic standard. …