Essay Writing Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2018

48 Pages


Table of Contents




List of Abbreviations

Table of Contents

I.General Introduction

II. Statement of the Problem
II.1 Introduction
II.2 Aims of the Study
II.3 Research Questions
II.4 Significance of the Study
II.5 Scope of the Study

CHAPTER I Review of Literature
I.1 Introduction
I.2 Definitions of Terms
I.2.1 Writing
I.2.2 Writing Difficulties
I.2.3 Essay
I.3 The Historical Background
I.3.1 History of English Language in Morocco
I.4 Approaches Used in Teaching Essay Writing Skills
I.4.1 The Product Approach I.4.2 The Process Approach I.4.3 The Genre Approach
I.5 The Writing Process I.5.1 pre-writing I.5.2 Drafting
I.5.3 Revising
I.I.5.4 Editing\ Proofreading
1.6 The Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners in Essay Writing
I.7 The Substantial Causes behind Students’ Mistakes in Essay Writing
I.8 Ways to Upgrade Students Writing skills
I.8.1 Developing the Habit of Reading
I.8.2 Provision of Feedback on Students’ Written Essays
I.8.3 Collaborative Writing
I.8.4 Supporting
I.8.5 Using Music
I.9 Previous Studies

CHAPTER II Research Methodology
II.1 Introductio n
II.2 Research Method
II.3 Research Instruments
II.3.1 The Questionnaire
II.4 Research Participants
II.5 Conclusion

CHAPTER III Results and Discussion
III.1 Results
III.1.1 Introduction
III.1.2 Students Writing Difficulties
III.1.2.1 Spelling Difficulties
III.1.2.2 Lexical Difficulties
III.1.2.3 Grammatical Difficulties
III.1.2.4 Punctuation Difficulties
III.1.2.5 Coherence Difficulties
III.1.2.6 Preposition Difficulties
III.1.3 Other Writing Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners
III.1.4 Conclusion
III.2 Discussion of the Attained Results and Recommendations
III.2.1 Discussion of the Attained Results
III.2.2 Recommendations
III.3 Conclusion





This humble work is dedicated to my beloved parents, AHMED LALAM and FATNA FATIHI, who have always been a source of support and inspiration.


All praise and thanks to ALLAH, who gave me courage and energy to complete thismonograph. It is with great honor that I am acknowledging the contributions of severalpeople to the successful completion of this humble work. I would sincerely like to express my thanks and gratitude to my teacher and supervisor Dr.Hassan Zaid for his valuable guidance, continuous assistance andencouragement. I would like to thank also all the students who belong to the department of English at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in Beni Mellal for being cooperative. And finally, I extend my thanks and appreciation to all my family, teachers and friends, who supported me throughout this process as well as for their insightful comments and criticisms. To all, I say THANK YOU.


It is known that EFL learners strive to be skilful at the four language skills namely: reading, listening, speaking and writing. It should be noted that each of them has its own value. Compared to other skills, mastering writing, in any human language, requires much time and effort. Undoubtedly, the process of mastering good writing skills involves encountering numerous difficulties. The present study aims primarily at identifying the difficulties encountered by EFL learners in essay writing. To carry out this research, a questionnaire is used to collect data . The questionnaire was administrated to students at university Sultan Moulay Slimane, Beni Mellal. A final remark to be made is that the results reveal that most students face difficulties in grammar, spelling, coherence, vocabulary, prepositions and punctuations.

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

I. General Introduction

This research paper is about essay writing difficulties encountered by EFL learners: the case of Sultan Moulay Slimane university students. In fact, English language is widely used in different parts around the world. It should be noted that each language has four skills, the so-called the four language skills, namely: speaking, reading, listening and writing. Each of which has its own merits that make it distinguishable. For instance, being good at writing requires having at least good syntactic and lexical knowledge. At all levels of the education system, students are supposed to produce different types of writing; for example, monographs, essays and reports, because their academic success relies mainly on having good writing skills. The research paper is made up of three focal chapters. The first chapter presents a brief overview about defining some decisive concepts, essay writing difficulties and the stages of essay writing. Furthermore, it reviews the approaches used in teaching essay writing skills, as well as some potential solutions. For the second chapter, which is methodology, the focus is on the methodology followed by data collection and analysis. The third chapter presents the major findings and discussion. Since students academic success relies mainly on writing, they are generally required to enhance their writing skills. By doing so, they will attain good writing skills, which will assist them to deal properly with the academic demands.

II. Statement of the Problem

II.1 Introduction:

Communicative competence is not only about being able to speak, but also being able to write. Writing has always been an essential skill that learners strive to be skilful at. It is used to obtaining an effective communication. At the present time, writing is a pivotal measure that determines one’s failure or success depending on his/her writing quality. In our educational system, most of the exams students take are written. Thus, students at all levels are required to have good writing skills, especially in essay writing. At the university level, students should be able to write essays with clarity. This chapter deals essentially with the aims of the study, research questions, significance of the study, scopeof the study and a list of abbreviations.

II.2 Aims of the Study

The aims of this research paper are as follows:

- To determine the difficulties encountered by the students of English language at university Sultan Moulay Slimane in essay writing.
- To suggest some solutions that may assist in developing students’ essay
writing skills.

II.3 Research Questions

This research paper seeks to answer the following questions:

Q 1: Which difficulties do EFL learners often encounter in essay writing?

Q 2: What can be done in order to improve students’ essay writing skills?

II.4 Significance of the Study

Undoubtedly, English has become the most important language in the world. It has become the “Lingua Franca” due to being used widely. In other words, it has become a language of communication. It is worth indicating that people are used to communicate by the way of productive skills (writing, speaking) and receptive skills (reading, listening). Compared to other skills, writing remains the most essential skill that English language learners should acquire. It is clear that most of students encounter difficulties when it comes to writing, especially writing an essay. Jordan (1997) asserted that being good at writing is not an easy thing, because it is a lengthy process, which may end up making learners frustrated and anxious. Hayland (2003) claimed that writing is one of the toughest and challenging skills to be mastered proficiently in all languages, not only English. Hyland (2003) stated that being able to write well can assist students to deal properly with the academic demands and to perform effectively in their tracks. Regardless of its difficulty, writing is needed in many spheres throughout students’ academic career. This monograph will be valuable for undergraduate students at university Sultan Moulay Slimane not only to know the difficulties they encounter in essay writing, but also to avert them in the future.

II.5 Scope of the Study

This study, on the one hand, is limited to essay writing to get a clear picture of the difficulties encountered by the students of English language at university Sultan Moulay Slimane, Faculty of Letters and Humanities, Beni Mellal, in this activity. On the other hand, to find out some potential solutions, which are the major objectives of this study.

CHPTER I Review of Literature

I.1 Introduction

In this chapter, light will be shed on different issues pertained to essay writing skills. The first section contains a brief explanation of some important concepts associated with this study. The second section is concerned with the history of English language in Morocco. The third section is about the approaches used in teaching essay writing skills. The fourth section is about the stages involved in the writing process. Concerning the fifth section, it is about the difficulties encountered by EFL learners in essay writing. The focal point of the sixth section is to determine the major causes behind students’ mistakes in essay writing. And finally, the last section is interested in proposing some ways that might aid students to enhance their essay writing skills.

I.2 Definitions of Terms

It is important to shed light on some crucial terms to this study. Therefore, this section endeavours to clarify and provide a brief explanation of these terms:

I.2.1 Writing

Writing is defined as a way of giving writer’s perspectives meaning, meaning that without it those perspectives are invisible and obscure to others (Wagner, 2002). It was mentioned by (Clark, 2007, p. 4):“ For thousands of years, human have been communicating by writing down characters, symbols, numbers, or letters with implied meaning. Being able to write and to write well is more important today than ever before. According to, the definition of writing is the making of letters or characters that constitute readable matter with the intent to convey meaning. ” Simply defined, writing is the process of assembling ideas in a well-organized written text. At last, it is worthy note that writing does not have a plain definition.

I.2.2 Writing Difficulties

Writing difficulties refer to a string of difficulties encountered by students during the writing process (Aswervik, Ogden and Rygvold, 1999). It was asserted by Graham and Harris (2006) that writing difficulties are picking out inappropriate words in order to bypass spelling problems. This affects adversely students writing quality . Moreover, writing difficulties are not only associated with students having problems in constructing well-formed sentences, but also with being productive (Reents, 2001). To sum up the points made so far, writing difficulties are a bunch of obstructions encountered by students throughout the writing process. Some of which are: incorrect use of prepositions, inappropriate use of tense, spelling problems, incorrect use of punctuations and others. Having such difficulties affects adversely student’s essay writing quality. A final remark to be made is that students are required to upgrade their writing skills, especially essay writing skills, by hook or by crook.

I.2.3 Essay

Connelly and Forsyth (2011)indicated that essay is a piece of writing, which endeavours to detect a particular subject, as well as it has its own characteristics, which single it out from e-mails, reports, articles and letters. According to Spurr (2005),“ Essays are short written works, usually in prose (although there have been essays in poetry) in which a particular issue is addressed and assessed. The word derives from Old French, assai, which means a measure, testing or weighing of something ” (p. 2).According to (Nyasim, 2014)“ essay is a text or a piece of writing that students creatively compose, either independently, in a group or with the help of a teacher, in response to a writing exercise or task” (p. 17). Belmont and Sharkey (2011) claimed that each essay is made up of various paragraphs, which focus on a specific subject. In brief, essay could be simply defined as a piece of writing, which contains a string of paragraphs, in which a particular issue is tackled.

I.3 Historical Background

This section attempts to throw light on the history of English language in Morocco.

I.3.1 History of English Language in Morocco

For the time being, there are more than 60.000 to 70.000 languages in the world. Some of which passed away and only few ones still exist such as English, Arabic, Spanish, French, German and Chinese due to globalization (Gelderen, 2014). Unlike other languages, English language is widely used nearly by all countries around the world, and Morocco is not an exception. In the WWII, American bases came to Tangier and Kenitra (Gallagher, 1963) as cited in (Ennaji, 2005, p. 113). The Moroccans were unable to communicate with them, and it was an intense stimulus to learn English language (Abbassi, 1977) as cited in (Ennaji, 2005, p. 113). Afterwards, teaching English language in Moroccan high schools and universities became official. In the pre-independence epoch, English language was taught under the norms of the French educational system. During the same era, Moroccan students used to study English and standard Arabic as a foreign languages, but most of them chose to study standard Arabic as a foreign language, whereas English as a second language. In the post-independence epoch, English language was the substantial track of most of the students in high schools (Ennaji, 2005). At the present time, English is taught at all levels of education except the primary schools. At the university level, English is taught in order to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of scientific and academic knowledge (Ennaji and Sadiqi, 1994). There are numerous institutions and centers in which English language is taught. Some of which are British Council and American Corner. In addition, several educational institutions are available for BA holders to get a pedagogical training in issues pertaining to English language and the sphere of teaching (Ennaji, 2005). In recent times, English language becomes momentous in the Moroccan educational system, and the number of students who opt for English language as a major is increasing rapidly.

I.4 Approaches Used in Teaching Essay Writing Skills

I.4.1 The Product Approach

Even though the stages of the writing process are important, this approach, the product approach, concentrates only on the form. For the sake of promoting fluency in writing, language teachers, in general, should provide their students with a number of written texts. Based on the given texts by teacher, students are required to realize their merits and rewrite them in their own writing (Tribble, 1996). In a similar vein, Jordan (1997) emphasized on the fact that students need to produce a similar text to the one that was given to them. According to Myles (2002) written model texts will aid the students to obtain fluency in writing, or at least will assist them to minimize their errors in writing, by the way of mimicking their structures. In the same way, Badger and White (2000) mentioned that accomplishing good writing skills depends primarily on imitating the written model texts provided by teachers.

This approach gives more attention to the organization of writing, structure, cohesion, grammatical aspects and academic style (Jordan, 1997). The product approach, according to Myles (2002), strives to make students, or writers, capable of using vocabulary, punctuation, spelling and syntax suitably and effectively. The product-based approach is composed of four stages: familiarized writing, controlled writing, guided writing and free writing. In the first stage, familiarized writing, students are told to write about contrasting stuff such as the difference between written and spoken language. In the second stage, controlled writing, students are supposed to match or re-order words in a given exercise, of course with being guided by the teacher (Hyland, 2003).At the guided writing, which is the third stage, the given exercises aim at making students able to construct well-constructed sentences, to enlarge students’ vocabulary and to grasp the questions well (Jordan, 1997).In the fourth stage, free writing, students are allowed to write whatever comes into their heads, without giving much importance to errors in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation (Elbow, 1975).

I.4.2 The Process Approach

It was pointed out by Jordan (1997) that the process approach, process-based approach, emerged as a direct response to previous approaches such as the product approach. To achieve the final written product, the writing process should go through some specific processes (planning, drafting, rethinking, revising), which are the focal point of the process approach. Unlike the product approach, which is interested in the form, the process approach is interested also in the meaning and in making students able to learn in their own by the way of revision, drafting, feedback , tasks and so on. According to Tribble (1996), at the very beginning, students are told to work cooperatively and discuss all the issues pertaining to the given topic, which they are required to write about in their essay. After that, making an outline is the next step. After writing the first draft, all students need to share their drafts with their classmates. The primary objective behind doing so is to check if there are any errors or not. Finally, editing the errors is the last step that should be done by the writers themselves. Myles (2002) noted that the process approach is helpful in developing students’ writing skills, because it enables them to recognize the steps involved in the writing process.

I.4.3 The Genre Approach

Hyland (2003) argued that the product-based approach and process-based approach are based on content as well as the processes involved in the writing process. However, the genre-based approach, also called the genre approach, is utterly interested in the reader. The focal concern of this approach is that students need to overtake the phase of writing randomly. That is, without specific purposes. Instead, students are expected to obtain certain purposes. In other words, writing should have a meaning to convey. To use it properly, students are supposed to be aware of their language. During this process, the primary role of teachers is to let students study complex texts. And, this will lead instantly to evolving their writing skills. What is more, “the types of genres that students are expected to be familiar with, and to produce, include the following: essays, reports, case studies, projects, literature reviews, exam answers, research papers/articles, dissertations of these”(Jordan, 1997, p. 166). Moreover, Badger and White (2000) mentioned that this approach consists of three main stages which are as follows:

1) Introducing the text by the teacher
2) Putting up the text by the student with assistance by the teacher
3) Producing the text by the student

I.5 The Writing Process

Sundem (2006) noted that the writing process is the path being followed to produce a well-organized and comprehensive product. It is worthy note that the writing process is composed of pre-writing, drafting, revising and editing.

I.5.1 Pre-writing

Zemach and Rumisek (2003) stated that the pre-writing process occurs before the writer originates writing. It is concerned with delineating the stuff the writer wants to talk about first, and then the writer should plan it. Throughout planning, the writer should bear in mind three main points: the objective of writing, audience and content structure (Harmer, 2004). Additionally, prewriting is made up of different activities such as: brainstorming, clustering and strategic questioning (Gebhard, 2OO6).

In brainstorming, after collecting enough ideas about the topic, the students should write an introduction about it. In contrast, Zemach and Rumisek (2003) said that in this activity students are required to write down all the ideas come to them, and it is not important whether the ideas are good or not. They portrayed this activity as thousands of drops of rain coming down. Sarasdy, Bencze, Poor and Vadnay (2006) stated that teachers should make the topic very clear to students either with a picture or asking them some questions. Then, the students are supposed to think of ideas in regard to the selected topic. After a while, the ideas suggested by the students should be broken down into categories depending on certain ideas.

In clustering (or word mapping), the students pick out a central word to their topic. For instance, if the given topic is about school subjects, they might pick out English language, and then they should circle it and write all words around it as shown below (Gebhard, 2OO6)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In strategic questioning,“ Students consider their topic through a series of questions, such as what do you know about your topic? And what do you still need to learn? Students consider what they know and need to learn about their writing topic” (Gebhard, 2006, p. 115).

I.5.2 Drafting

Hatcher and Goddard (2005) pointed out that drafting is one of the most significant steps, which students fail to deal with properly. They either undervalue it, or they overvalue it. It was mentioned by Reents (2OO1)that this phase is characterized by writing a summary in which students retell the most significant events of the article or story they have read, or narrating a personal experience that they experimented in the past. Correspondingly, Gebhard (2OO6) said that during this stage the learners are required to build up a set of suitable sentences which convey their thoughts clearly to the reader. According to Sundem (2006), based on the information taken from their prewrite, students are told to write their draft as well as share its content with classmates. While students are drafting, the teacher is supposed to provide them with help and guidance if needed.

I.5.3 Revising

During revision, the third step of the writing process, the students in this stage are required to pore over what they have written on the paper in order to make some changes and correct their mistakes. Moreover, teachers should promote their students to check their writing (Harmer, 2004). Nazario, Borchers and Lewis (2013) claimed that when the writer reaches this stage, he or she should not forget two important things : the audience and the purpose. They emphasized on the fact that the writer should enjoy writing his or her essay. Besides, Greetham (2001) indicated that in the revision stage, students are more likely to be aware of the contrasts and connections in their ideas. And, it is preferable to keep the ideas that will hook readers’ attention. To use this stage successfully, students need to focus more on structure and content.

I.5.4 Editing Proofreading

Zemach and Rumisek (2003) are of the opinion that students are supposed to reread the ideas they have written, then they should pick out the most interesting ones. Despite of that, it is up to students to add extra information. In the same vein, in editing, the fourth stage in the writing process, the pieces of writing should be edited first by the writer, then by a classmate. In this stage, students should pore over each area individually. For example, they may originate checking their writing problems in regards to commas, spelling, grammar and so on (Sundem, 2006). Gehbard (2006) stated that in this phase, students should be aware of their writing problems regarding grammar, spelling as well as punctuation. After that, students are told to read their pieces silently and replace what is inappropriate with what is appropriate. Editing is more about replacing rather than erasing. For students, it is significant to avert making mistakes associated with grammar, punctuation, capitalization, tense, etc (Sundem, 2006).

I.6 The Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners in Essay Writing

Nyasim (2014) asserted that students face difficulties in learning essay writing skills. Based on survey results, he realized that most of students have a limited vocabulary. Therefore, they repeat the same words continually. Grabe and Kaplan (1996) said that students do not know how to organize their notions. The majority of students face difficulties in writing a coherent text, taking in the grammatical structure, using the correct spelling and connecting ideas logically. Moreover, Nyasim (2014) pointed out that L1 interference is also considered one of the difficulties that students encounter during writing an essay. For Arab students, the Arabic background affects adversely the ELLs throughout using punctuations; which results in using only comma and full stop in their writings (Tribble, 1996).Harmer (2004)claimed that punctuation is an important norm to judge the quality of a written text. He argued that “ many people judge the quality of what is written not just on the content, the language, and the writer’s handwriting but also on their use of punctuation ” (p. 49). It is worth mentioning that most of the students do not know how to use them properly; which leads to a complete shift in meaning as illustrated below (Nataq, 2014).


Excerpt out of 48 pages


Essay Writing Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners
Sultan Moulay Sliman University
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ISBN (Book)
essay, writing, difficulties, encountered, learners, Sultan Moulay Slimane, University Students as a Case Study
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El Mehdi Lalam (Author), 2018, Essay Writing Difficulties Encountered by EFL Learners, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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