Dyslexia, authorial identity, and approaches to learning and writing: A mixed methods study


Correspondence should be addressed to James Elander, Centre for Psychological Research, University of Derby, Kedleston Road, Derby DE22 1GB, UK (e-mail: j.elander@derby.ac.uk).


Background. Dyslexia may lead to difficulties with academic writing as well as reading. The authorial identity approach aims to help students improve their academic writing and avoid unintentional plagiarism, and could help to understand dyslexic students’ approaches to writing.

Aims. (1) To compare dyslexic and non-dyslexic students’ authorial identity and approaches to learning and writing; (2) to compare correlations between approaches to writing and approaches to learning among dyslexic and non-dyslexic students; (3) to explore dyslexic students’ understandings of authorship and beliefs about dyslexia, writing and plagiarism.

Sample. Dyslexic (n= 31) and non-dyslexic (n= 31) university students.

Method. Questionnaire measures of self-rated confidence in writing, understanding of authorship, knowledge to avoid plagiarism, and top-down, bottom-up and pragmatic approaches to writing (Student Authorship Questionnaire; SAQ), and deep, surface and strategic approaches to learning (Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students; ASSIST), plus qualitative interviews with dyslexic students with high and low SAQ scores.

Results. Dyslexic students scored lower for confidence in writing, understanding authorship, and strategic approaches to learning, and higher for surface approaches to learning. Correlations among SAQ and ASSIST scores were larger and more frequently significant among non-dyslexic students. Self-rated knowledge to avoid plagiarism was associated with a top-down approach to writing among dyslexic students and with a bottom-up approach to writing among non-dyslexic students. All the dyslexic students interviewed described how dyslexia made writing more difficult and reduced their confidence in academic writing, but they had varying views about whether dyslexia increased the risk of plagiarism.

Conclusions. Dyslexic students have less strong authorial identities, and less congruent approaches to learning and writing. Knowledge to avoid plagiarism may be more salient for dyslexic students, who may benefit from specific interventions to increase confidence in writing and understanding of authorship. Further research could investigate how dyslexic students develop approaches to academic writing, and how that could be affected by perceived knowledge to avoid plagiarism.