Understanding ESL Postgraduate Students’ Dissertation Writing Challenges: The Interplay Between Second Language Writing Anxiety and Writer’s Block


  • Wan Safuraa Wan Osman Languages & General Studies Department Faculty of Business & Communication Universiti Malaysia Perlis, Malaysia
  • Fatiha Senom Department of Language & Literacy Education Faculty of Education Universiti Malaya, Malaysia
  • Shanina Sharatol Ahmad Shah Department of Language & Literacy Education Faculty of Education Universiti Malaya, Malaysia


ESL postgraduate students, Second Language Writing Anxiety (SLWA), Writer’s Block (WB), dissertation writing, mixed-method study


No matter how hard they try, some ESL postgraduate students experience periods when they can produce, if any, little writing. When such periods last for a considerable amount of time, the student is said to have a writer’s block (WB). Given the reciprocal connection between WB and second language writing anxiety (SLWA), more evidence is needed to determine the connection between the two factors in dissertation writing. Hence, this study aimed to investigate how challenges in second language (L2) postgraduate dissertation writing may heighten SLWA and WB, while also examining their interplay. In this mixed-method study, a total of 43 postgraduate students participated by completing an online survey to assess their levels of SLWA, while a subset of nine participants underwent semi-structured interviews. The thematic analysis revealed that WB stems from: i) SLWA experience; and ii) challenges in the writing process, research conceptualization, academic writing conventions, and academic reading. To overcome SLWA and WB, it is recommended that supervisors and language teachers provide specific suggestions to resolve writing issues, refrain from using anxiety to provoke performance, help break down the ultimate goal of dissertation writing into several obtainable goals, and foster open discussions about strategies for motivation and progress monitoring.