London Metropolitan University Research Institutes


University Lecturers' Constructions of Undergraduate Writing: a gender analysis

Funded by:

the ESRC (R000239187)


This ESRC-funded project was concerned with lecturers' beliefs and perceptions about academic writing. The opinions of 100 history and psychology lecturers were investigated and their views sought concerning the characteristics of 'good' and 'bad' essays in their respective disciplines. These views were analysed and compared according to discipline and gender of respondent. They were also compared with the students' perceptions from the previous study.

In order for the researchers to gain an understanding of the consistency and focus of their assessment practices, lecturers were also asked to mark two specimen essays prior to their interview. These anonymous essays had been written by final year undergraduate students in the appropriate discipline, one by a female and one by a male student.


We found a notable diversity in grades awarded to the same essay with only about 50% agreement amongst our respondents. Marks ranged from third class to first class for one essay, and from upper second to fail for another. Male and female lecturers did not appear to differ very much in their marking, in either history or psychology. Where it existed, expertise in the specific topic area did not appear to make a significant difference, nor did the gender of the essay writer.

In fact, a majority of respondents were unable to identify the essay writer's gender correctly and most respondents stated that they did not believe that gender had an impact on essay writing style. Female history lecturers were the exception, however, and most of them believed gender did make a difference to writing, with women being perceived as adopting a style that was less confident and more descriptive, as well as more analytical than that adopted by their male counterparts.

Our findings also indicated a slight tendency for female lecturers to prioritise aspects of presentation and effort in their marking. Male lecturers, on the other hand, were more concerned with argument. Psychologists were more concerned to reward critical analysis and originality of argument than the historians in our sample, who were more concerned with the use of evidence to support a argument.


Project Team:

Becky Francis

Jocelyn Robson

Barbara Read


Jocelyn Robson -


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