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Stigma, tensions, and apprehension: The academic writing experience of international students

Felix Maringe (Department of Education Leadership and Policy Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Jennifer Jenkins (Modern Languages, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 8 June 2015




This paper examines the experiences of engaging with academic writing of international doctoral students in the schools of humanities and education at a UK university. The purpose of this paper is to uncover the real accounts of international students whose cultural and language backgrounds are often marginalised and considered, not as facilitators, but as barriers to academic writing in the western context of universities.


Developed broadly within an interpretive post-positivistic paradigm, the study utilised Harré and van Lagenhove, 1999 Positioning theory and Goffman’s theory of Stigma to interrogate accounts of 12 students from the two schools in a year-long project involving three focus group discussions, questionnaire responses and personal reflective summaries by the students.


The paper highlights the notions of stigma associated with their foreign writing conventions and how students experience tensions and apprehensions about their ability as they painfully negotiate the new academic writing conventions of the institution. International students position themselves as vulnerable outsiders working within an ill-defined but highly valued language environment.

Research limitations/implications

The research is limited to the extent that it utilises a very small number of students as its key source of evidence. However, the study was not aimed at providing generalisation as much as it sought to explore issues associated with the use of language by international studying in UK universities.

Practical implications

The study has practical implications for the professionals in HE to develop clear guidelines about what constitutes good English and to provide greater support to international students who see themselves as vulnerable outsiders in an environment which marginalises their linguistic and cultural identities.

Social implications

The study has implications for the social, cultural, and academic integration of international students in HE institutions.


The paper signals a need for diverse writing frameworks which seek to promote rather than silence and marginalise potentially rich sources of knowledge and understanding in an increasingly globalising world.



Maringe, F. and Jenkins, J. (2015), "Stigma, tensions, and apprehension: The academic writing experience of international students ", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 609-626.



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