The perceptions of a group of first year undergraduate Malawian students of the essay writing process
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The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of the essay writing process of first year undergraduates at Chancellor College (University of Malawi) and to a lesser extent those of the lecturers responsible for teaching academic skills. A mixed methods design, combining qualitative and quantitative techniques, was employed in order to obtain richer data for deeper understanding of the students’ writing process. Two hundred students from the humanities and social science faculties responded to a self-completion questionnaire towards the end of semester one. Based on the students’ responses, an open-ended questionnaire was administered to four full time English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructors. Findings from this study indicate that most students find it very challenging to obtain sufficient and relevant source text information, paraphrase or summarise information, and use an appropriate academic writing style. As solutions to these challenges, the students suggested the need for timely essay writing instruction, availability of resources for essay writing, increased amount of time spent on essay writing instruction, and discipline specific instruction in essay writing. EAP instructors identified lack of teaching and learning materials, large EAP classes, and students’ negative attitude towards the EAP course, as some of the challenges they encounter when teaching the course. The EAP instructors proposed an increase in the number of staff members, making students aware of the significance of the EAP course at an early stage, and the availability of up to date resources, as some of the ways in which the teaching of the course can be improved. Overall, the findings seem to suggest that difficulties that students encounter during the writing process and teaching challenges that EAP instructors face, have great impact on students’ perception of academic writing as well as their approach to writing tasks. The findings also suggest a lack of dialogue between the students and their lecturers. This is evident in students’ unawareness of the nature of the writing demands of their lecturers and disciplines; students’ desire to have timely essay writing instruction; and the lecturers’ concerns about students’ negative attitude towards the EAP course.