Critical pragmatics of doctoral writing: fluency, plagiarism, structuring, procrastination


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By Susan Carter and Cecile Badenhorst

Years of participating in and hosting doctoral writing workshops has led me to believe that, when time and care are given to the pedantry of academic writing, the benefits are significant.  When grammar and syntax are impeccable, writers avoid annoying examiners. That factor is quite important. But I think that carefully edited writing improves more substantially than a surface level tidy-up.

So, some workshops focus on such mundanities as grammar, syntax and punctuation while facilitators hope that the talk in their workshops will take writers further, into the deeper level of how language conveys quite critical significance. Cecile Badenhorst has provided the answer to the dilemma of what to call such workshops: they are critical pragmatic writing workshops (Englander, K. & Corcoran, J. 2019).

“Critical pragmatics” encapsulates an approach that many of us like. The  word pragmatic shows awareness that students want to succeed within the status quo no matter how inequitable or taxing it may be. Then the word critical encourages students to assess their options rather than just being socialized into the discourse. Continue reading

Helpful videos: Doctoral writing as thinking


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By Susan Carter drawing on Cecile Badenhorst

Cecile Badenhorst MA (UBC), PhD (Queen’s) is a Professor in the Adult Education/Post-Secondary program in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University in Canada.  Her research interests are post-secondary and adult learning experiences particularly graduate research writing and academic literacies.  She has written three books in this area:  Research Writing (2007), Dissertation Writing (2008) and Productive Writing (2010). She has also co-edited with Cally Guerin, Research literacies and writing pedagogies for masters and doctoral writers (2016); and with Britt Amell & Jamie Burford Re-imagining doctoral writing (2021) which is available via open access:

The value of videos

While I have long appreciated Cecile Badenhorst’s publications as her interests overlay my own, only recently have I found the rich trove of videos that she has given to the world. I am keen to share these gems with the DoctoralWriting community over the next few posts. There will be four posts in total: this one focusing on doctoral writing as thinking will be followed by one on some of the pragmatic factors of doctoral writing (for example, fluency, structuring, plagiarism avoidance), then one on different genres (article, conference abstract and presentation, different thesis chapters), and finally a post relating to literature review.

Why my excitement? Continue reading

Doctoral writing 2023: Where’s this year heading?


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By Susan Carter

Somehow we’re in February and what was a nice new year to be celebrated a few weeks ago has cranked up into taking itself seriously and we are back at work in the wilds of doctoral pedagogy.

For many of us, that means we are back thinking of different ways to support doctoral writing strongly, so that authors can both crack through obstacles to doing it—Paul Silvia is a help with this—and clearly see what examiners are looking for and how the weird genre of the doctoral thesis works.

Claire, Cally and I would like to begin this year with an invitation by asking readers who routinely provide writing workshops for doctoral writers to consider offering this blog a post in 2023.

Make that asking you, dear reader….If you facilitate writing workshops for undergraduates, for academics, or for creative writers and can see how your session design could be adapted, we’d welcome new approaches. If you have advice or exercises you have developed as a supervisor, you could also consider sharing them. And if you are a candidate with insights into doctoral writing that you think are both fairly novel and distinctly useful, here’s an opportunity to contribute to colleagues. You could email us here with a rough idea for a post to kick it off.

You might find stimulation for thinking about doctoral writing practices amongst the doctoral writing discussions that Juliet Lum and Susan Mowbray coordinate—these occur live, and then Juliet and Susan report on what was covered. Towards the end of 2022 topics including how to see writing as healing, and how supervisors and academic developers can work together to support doctoral writing. The discussions have the vitality of a community with shared interests yarning together, taking a topic from different points of view and sharing experiences. That ability to share interests, empathy and strategies makes this blog and these conversations worth continuing into this new year.

Moving along from an invitation to publish a post with us, I’d like to post a provocation prompted by the last few traumatic years of a pandemic with subsequent lockdown and climate extremes that have devastated some regions and disrupted lives. There’s some good empirical evidence of this (e.g., Byron, 2020; Bukko & Dhesi, 2021; Levine et al., 2021), besides the videos on the news.

So yes, this is a newish year, but many of us feel less secure than we might have done a few years ago. It seems unrealistic to ignore what is happening outside of academia when much is so intrusive as to affect what happens within it.

So what do you think about this: Should the academic community encourage doctoral writers to include mentioning any external trauma that has affected their research in the same way that they would if experiments failed, or data proved unexpectedly impossible to get? Are some external disruptions as legitimate an aspect of doctoral research as internal disruption? Is how doctoral researchers handled such disruptions a vital part of demonstrating their development into independent researcher professionalism? Does this relate to discipline, with HASS more likely than STEM to see the epistemological relevance of contextualising research within the experience of doing it?

I’d like to do more on this on this blog, and I am wondering if there’s a research project on the issue of writing about personal trauma affecting research experience. Could we start a discussion on how that writing could be framed, and where in the thesis it might go, so that academic integrity is maintained? Susan would be pleased if you sent her an email with your thoughts on writing in the thesis about the impact of the pandemic or climate change on research experience and then if there’s interest, she will assemble ideas into a post to follow this one.

Meanwhile, over the break Cally, Claire and I have been putting together another book, this one a guide to editing a journal special issue or a monograph with chapters from different authors. It’s for a great Routledge series edited by Pat Thomson and Helen Kara that is aimed at early career academics perhaps including doctoral candidates and especially new graduates seeking an academic career: Insider guides to success in academia. These are little books where authors with experience offer suggestions that they hope will be helpful for those taking on work they haven’t done before. You may find something of interest amongst them.

For us, it took us back into the sharp reality of academic writing: producing academic writing to a deadline, writing in a slightly different genre than usual, and doing this over the summer break. Admittedly, it’s been a stormy summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere, rather denying the idyll of sunshine, beach, outdoor walks, so urgency at the computer has seemed appropriate. But thinking about how to keep at writing for longer than is quite comfortable, how to savour what works well while staying alert to what needs more clarity, and how to write within the genre is now alive in our minds. Sometimes the gap between experienced academics and doctoral novices is not too huge.  


Byrom, N. (2020). COVID-19 and the research community: The challenges of lockdown for early-career researchers. eLife , no page numbers.

Bukko, D. & Dhesi, J. (2021). Doctoral students living, leading and learning during a pandemic. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 6(2), 25-33. 

Levine, F. J., Nasire, N.S., Rios-aguilar, C., Gildersleeve, R. E., Rosich, K. J., Bang, M., Bell, N.E., & Holsapple, M. A. (2021). Voices from the field: The impact of COVID-19 on early career scholars and doctoral students (Focus Group Study Report). American Educational Research Association: Spencer Foundation.

Wrapping up 2022



Again we have the pleasure of wrapping up another calendar year of the Doctoral Writing blog. As always, we note how quickly the year has passed – and 2022 is no exception.

Adelaide Bus Stop painting Artist Unknown

This year Covid continued to dominate our lives despite the desire of our governments to ignore it, and, increasingly, we have seen the impacts of global warming on our everyday routines. In Australia, like elsewhere, weather events have caused great upheaval – following massive fires in previous years, in 2022 we’ve experienced devastating floods. Continue reading

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”: Suggestions for developing writing confidence


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By Sara Cotterall and Morena Botelho de Magalhães

Morena and I have worked in universities for a number of years. Amongst other things, we share a passion for languages and beer! Morena grew up in Brazil and I am from NZ. In 2014 we met at a conference in Bangkok and in 2016, we met at a conference in China, by which time we had become colleagues and friends. So, in 2017, when Morena was doing her PhD in Auckland and I had returned to New Zealand from teaching in the Middle East, we decided to present a conference paper together: “Doctoral research by EAL candidates: How effective is generic support?”. In 2019, with our friend Diego Mideros, we co-authored an article about identity, voice and agency in doctoral writing. So, having dined, researched, presented, travelled and written together, we thought it was time to blog together!

We believe that CONFIDENCE is essential for effective writing and wanted to share some strategies for building writing confidence. We planned the post together and have indicated who contributed what. We hope you find our suggestions helpful. [Sara]

Sharing writing, though often feared by novice writers, is beneficial [Morena]

Perhaps not all novice writers are afraid of sharing their work, but this was certainly my experience. Continue reading

Doctoral writing development: supervisors and institutional support Part Two


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By Claire Aitchison

In the previous blog post I explored how doctoral writing is supported through the work of supervisors and ‘third space’ practitioners, that is, those who operate from institutional units such as learning or writing centres, research offices or academic development units. In that post, I tried to tease out what might be different between centrally provided services and the work of a supervisor in relation to doctoral writing development. It’s a slippery space that challenges us to (re)consider our roles and practices.

Here I extend that discussion to consider how supervisors and third space practitioners can work together. Continue reading