Probing normalized institutional discourses about writing: The case of the doctoral thesis


  • Doreen Starke-Meyerring McGill University Canada
  • Anthony Paré
  • King Yan Sun
  • Nazih El-Bezre


doctoral student writing, institutional discourse about writing, discourse and genre theory, graduate schools, doctoral education, thesis, writing as epistemic


Over the past decade, much government and institutional interest internationally has focused on the expansion and improvement of doctoral education, with degree completion rates and times topping government and university agendas. Since degree completion is intimately linked to the thesis, doctoral writing has surfaced as a new problem space for institutional attention and intervention. These interventions, as well as the roles assigned to teachers and researchers of writing, language, and academic development, however, depend largely on how institutions conceive of writing, which in turn is shaped by normalized inherited discourses about writing. Drawing on rhetorical theories of discourse and writing, this article examines institutional discourse for how it conceives of the doctoral thesis, how it regulates the writing of the thesis, how it positions the process and product of thesis writing within the knowledge-making activities of the university, and what implications this discourse has for how institutional interventions in support of doctoral writing are conceptualized. Using the example of discourse about doctoral thesis writing offered by graduate schools at research-intensive universities in Canada, the article works from a systemic perspective that invites all those involved in facilitating research education to examine, reflect on, and contemplate institutional discourses about writing as inherited and normalized patterns of social practice. Finally, the article argues that these practices have significant consequences for doctoral scholars, supervisors, and the ability of institutions to develop new visions for curricular innovation in research education.

Author Biography

Doreen Starke-Meyerring, McGill University Canada

Associate Professor, Rhetoric and Writing Studies, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University




How to Cite

Starke-Meyerring, D., Paré, A., Sun, K. Y., & El-Bezre, N. (2014). Probing normalized institutional discourses about writing: The case of the doctoral thesis. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(2), A13-A27. Retrieved from



Research Articles