Exploring Doctoral Writing Self-Efficacy and Apprehension in a Dissertation Writing Course

Corina R Kaul, Nicholas R. Werse, Jess Smith, Ryann N. Shelton, Brenda K. Jones Davis, Leanne Howell, Laila Y Sanguras, Lacy K Crocker Papadakis
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 19  •  2024  •  pp. 006

This study explored changes in writing self-efficacy and writing apprehension among online doctoral students throughout their first dissertation writing course. By examining the facilitators and obstacles to online doctoral student writing success, we concluded that receiving specific, concrete, and iterative feedback is instrumental for the growth of doctoral students’ confidence during the early stages of the dissertation process.

Previous scholarship has recognized that the dissertation writing process is a key contributor to attrition rates in doctoral programs. However, there is limited research on how online doctoral students experience writing apprehension and self-efficacy during this crucial stage. Drawing upon self-efficacy theory as a framework, our study sought to fill this gap by investigating changes in these constructs among 53 participants as they composed their first two chapters.

This convergent mixed methods study employed both quantitative surveys and qualitative reflections collected before and after the completion of a one-term dissertation writing course intervention. We examined participants’ self-perceptions of their mechanics skills, essentials efficacy (overcoming difficulties), relational-reflective efficacy (connecting with others), and relationship building.

This study contributes to existing research on online doctoral student dissertation writing experiences by revealing the importance of specific, concrete, and iterative feedback in fostering students’ writing confidence.

Our findings revealed small effect sizes in participants’ overall confidence levels related to their academic writing self-efficacy but no statistically significant changes. Nonetheless, qualitative data indicated positive experiences of growth in terms of scholarly proficiency development, which contributes to existing literature gaps.

Faculty working with online doctoral students who are writing their dissertations should provide specific, concrete, and iterative feedback to support the growth of students’ writing confidence during the early stages of the dissertation process.

Future researchers on this topic should expand the scope of their focus beyond just the first term or course and conduct longitudinal studies that encompass different phases of dissertation work in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of changes in writing self-efficacy and apprehension among online doctoral students.

By providing specific, concrete, and iterative feedback to doctoral students during the dissertation writing process, faculty can empower them towards disciplinary mastery and expertise, enabling successful completion of the program and equipping them with expert knowledge to make a meaningful impact in their respective fields and industries.

Future research should expand the scope of the focus on doctoral student writing apprehension, anxiety, and self-efficacy to include other stages of the dissertation research and writing process, perhaps also examining these writing constructs and how they vary given student characteristics.

writing self-efficacy, writing apprehension, writing anxiety, dissertation writing, graduate writing
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