Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Jim Meyer


Penetration of the academic discourse community is a challenging obstacle for students who speak English as a Second Language. Not only are ESL students expected to understand academic concepts presented to them in a second language, but they are expected to demonstrate and refine these concepts through conceptual activities in another culture's written discourse. To handle this cognitive load, they rely on various strategies often effective but sometimes ineffective. Many ESL students have chosen the strategy of working with the tutors in a writing center. Other students have a more independent approach. What is the role of the tutors as they invite ESL students into verbal and written participation in the academic community? Besides choosing to visit the writing tutors, what are other strategies that an advanced ESL student follows to gain access to the community through writing?

I conducted two studies at a small, private religious college in answer to these questions. The first was a case study of an Asian ESL student in the last term of her freshman year. Data was collected through observations in her classes, two interviews, a questionnaire, a writing survey, and eight of her writing assignments. In the second, I taped tutorials between ESL students and their writing tutors. I analyzed the interactions about the "problems" (as identified by Cumming and So [1996]) in order to describe the tutor's role of informant, specifically when supplying lexical information, and the ESL student's opportunities to participate.

The conclusion of the first study is that an ESL student was able to experience apparent success in academic discourse by applying two strategies: relying on other written text and meeting her instructors' unwritten expectations, especially a demonstration of diligence. In addition to not choosing to visit the writing center, a notable strategy that that student did not choose was interaction with her instructors and classmates. I explain how the academic community and her home culture have upheld her decisions. The conclusions in the second study show that tutors are able to fulfill the role of informants while collaboratively drawing the ESL students into dialogue. Collaboration, however, must be seen as scalar and its degree influenced by many factors. ESL students through the tutorials developed their discourse ability in using words that affected structural coherence, words that fit the academic context, and words that more precisely expressed their intended meaning.