Genre, discourse and imagined communities: The learning gains of academic writing learners

  • Martin Andrew Senior Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology
  • Zina Romova Lecturer, Unitec New Zealand, Auckland
Keywords: academic writing, portfolio assessment, literacy practices, discourse community, imagined community


The purpose of this paper is to consider how first year, tertiary-level English as an Additional Language (EAL) academic writing programs for adult learners can use emerging understandings about the importance of discourse communities and imagined communities to guide and inform participation in an Academic Writing (AW) program. It asks what learning gains students have from an AW program using discourse-specific generic tasks to engage learners desiring a range of future destinations. More specifically, this paper considers links between academic genres and students’ desired, future imagined communities (Anderson 1983; Kanno & Norton 2003). It does this by incorporating the literacy practices characteristic of those communities into the drafting/redrafting process. The study maintains that a focussed genre approach can impact learners’ imaginings of themselves as members of future discourse communities through reproducing texts similar to the authentic artefacts of those discourse communities (Flowerdew 2000; Hyland 2003, 2005). This paper outlines a situated pedagogical approach, where students report on their improvement across three drafts and assess their learning reflectively. This approach is compatible with research into the value of genre as a way of preparing learners for future discourse communities. A multicultural group of 41 learners enrolled in the degree-level course, Academic Writing, at a tertiary institution in New Zealand took part in a study reflecting on this approach to building awareness of one’s own writing. Focus group interviews with a researcher at the first and final stages of the program, transcribed and analysed using textual analysis methods (Sandelowski, 1995) provided qualitative data. This core data was triangulated with written student reflections on their progress. Key benefits identified include the facts that the chance to produce texts perceived as useful to the students’ immediate futures reflected the overall value of the AW program, and that the process of reproducing them engaged the learners largely because of their focus on their future, imagined communities.

Author Biographies

Martin Andrew, Senior Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology
Senior Lecturer, Writing, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne
Zina Romova, Lecturer, Unitec New Zealand, Auckland
Lecturer, Unitec New Zealand, Auckland
How to Cite
AndrewM., & RomovaZ. (2012). Genre, discourse and imagined communities: The learning gains of academic writing learners. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 6(1), A77-A88. Retrieved from
Research Articles