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‘Ray of sunshine or blanket of cloud’: emotional triggers in doctoral writing

Wednesday 3 July: 5:30pm – 7:00pm, poster session



Linda (Qian) Yu
The University of Auckland, New Zealand



Academic writing is a complex process influenced by feelings and emotions which can have profound effects on students’ well-being and academic achievement. I still recall my own writing struggles as an international Master’s student in the UK coming from a non-English-speaking and very different educational background. This is what prompted my interest in studying writing emotions. Despite the existence of a few studies on the affective domain of doctoral writing (e.g. Wellington, 2010), little attention is given to the emotions of Chinese international doctoral students writing a thesis proposal, the first substantial piece of academic writing for most doctoral candidates, which is further implicated by students’ intercultural experiences. While the concept of academic emotions is not new (Pekrun & Stephens, 2012), there is a gap in the literature that relates to the triggers of writing emotions and how they are appraised. Informed by appraisal theory (e.g. Roseman, 1996), this research seeks to gain a better understanding of how Chinese doctoral students experience their writing emotions at the proposal writing stage.

To identify students’ writing emotions and potential participants for further semi-structured interviews, an online survey at a large New Zealand research-led university yielded a total of 73 responses; 33% of the participants were from science & medical science, 23% engineering, 22% education, 12% arts and 10% from business. Writing emotions in positive and negative valence were examined by descriptive statistical tests (SPSS 24). To achieve a deeper and more nuanced understanding of triggers and appraisals associated with proposal writing, interview data of students’ reported emotions were analysed in NVivo 12 using a thematic analysis approach (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

The top three positive emotions that emerged were interest, inspiration and excitement; while confusion, frustration and anxiety were the most experienced negative emotions. Moreover, students experienced a range of triggers under six broad themes: supervision, writing targets, emotional support, time and project management, critical thinking and writing, and English literacy issues. Overall, this body of research will have practical implications for supporting international students’ doctoral writing by improving intercultural doctoral supervision pedagogy.



Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology3(2), 77-101.
Roseman, I. J. (1996). Appraisal determinants of emotions: Constructing a more accurate and comprehensive theory. Cognition & Emotion10(3), 241-278.
Wellington, J. (2010). More than a matter of cognition: An exploration of affective writing problems of post-graduate students and their possible solutions. Teaching in Higher Education15(2), 135-150.
Pekrun, R., & Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. (2012). Academic emotions and student engagement. In Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 259-282). Springer, Boston, MA.


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