Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

What the Research Reveals about Graduate Students' Writing Skills: A Literature Review

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

What the Research Reveals about Graduate Students' Writing Skills: A Literature Review

Article excerpt

A review of the professional literature on writing skills of graduate students reveals that research on this topic occurs primarily in disciplines outside the field of library and information science. Recurring themes from that research relate to: What constitutes scholarly writing; its importance to the education of a graduate student; obstacles that impede scholarly writing efforts; assessment of writing in programs of higher education; and strategic solutions to writing improvement. Twelve core competencies of scholarly writing were gleaned from the articles. The conclusions drawn from previous research on graduate writing are applied to the circumstances faced by educators in library and information science graduate programs.

Keywords: graduate writing skills, writing assessment, writing outcomes, writing competencies, rhetorical behavior, literature review

It is the start of a new semester in a typical master's degree program in LIS. In many of these programs, new students enroll in a core course on the foundations of the profession. They submit their first papers related to that subject and eagerly await their evaluations. As the professor reads the papers, she encounters a recurring problem that hampers her ability to assess the learning of a number of students in the course. Their papers are written so poorly that their comprehension of the material is difficult to determine.

To date, educators in schools of LIS have voiced concerns about student writing informally in forums such as JESSE, a discussion board for topics in LIS programs. One frustrated professor posted this question: ". . . please tell me how you deal with grading content vs. grading awful writing" (Chelton, 2008). Twelve responses from ten LIS programs made up the thread addressing that question. Many of the respondents lamented the disintegration of grammar and spelling skills among their students. There were extensive references to books on style and composition to which students might be referred, but little discussion on the possible causes of writing deficiencies in LIS graduate students or strategies that could be used to improve writing skills on a graduate school level.

Those online conversations provided the impetus for an investigation of the role that writing skills play in meeting academic requirements in a graduate school curriculum. Specifically, the author sought research on the factors that influence writing proficiency in graduate students and interventions that assist graduate students in advancing their writing skills to acceptable levels of proficiency. Another underlying goal of the investigation was to explore the notion implied by LIS colleagues in their discussion of writing skills, i.e., that holding graduate students to a distinctly higher standard of writing proficiency is an inherent part of graduate coursework. It follows that writing deficiencies can impede, or may even derail, a graduate student's endeavor to enter the profession. This has serious implications for many master'sgranting LIS programs in which factors such as experience in the field as paraprofessionals may count heavily towards admission into the program, and returning students who wish to make career changes are welcomed. Whether these candidates possess formal writing skills from previous training, or not, becomes apparent only after students have invested themselves in the program. Gaining an understanding of why and when these problems occur could provide starting points for further research on LIS curriculum revision that examines writing skills.

Major Sources

An initial search for research on writing skills in the LIS databases revealed articles on the involvement of academic librarians in co-teaching research and writing courses (Foutch, 2010; Gaspar & Wetzel, 2009; Toth, 2005), but nothing on the competencies or assessment of graduate writing in LIS programs. As it happens, there is a body of scholarship to guide LIS educators in their quest to understand the challenges of graduate-level writing. …

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