Language of malaysian education

A Survey on the Levels of Writing Apprehension among Lower Secondary School Students


English in Malaysia was being perceived as the most prominent and reputable language since ages ago and especially in our current educational issues. The significance of the language could be seen through the government's decision to announce English as the second language of Malaysian Education. Malaysia has gone through several changes in educational policy especially regarding the language of the medium of instruction in schools.

One of the purpose and objective of English language instruction in Malaysian Education system is to enable the learners to produce and write essays besides increasing their writing skills in English in a range of topics and in loads of different ways. However, not a lot of Malaysians have the aptitude to write in English clearly and expressively. This problem is not only a problem of students from rural areas but also students from the urban areas. Writing in Malaysian schools is being assessed as a part of examination of the English paper and as a necessity and requirement in furthering education at colleges and universities.

A lot of students did not perform well in writing. Malaysian students have to go through compulsory writing subject in their examinations such as the PMR and SPM. The not-so-great performance of students in the English language is mainly related to their problems in the writing aspect. Problems in writing can be found among Malaysian school students. A number of Malaysian students have a "not-so-positive" attitude toward writing.

Writing Apprehension is term mentioned by Daly and Miller (1975). "Writing Apprehension (WA) is a situation and subject-specific individual difference concerned with people's general tendencies to approach or avoid situations perceived to demand writing - especially when accompanied by some amount of evaluation". Hypothetically, those with low writing apprehension ought to achieve better on tests of writing skills than writers with higher level of apprehension.

Anxiety or apprehension is referred to be one of the reason that could influence the process of learning of Malaysian students, and researchers like MacIntyre (1995), and Gardner(1991) state that language courses are very prone to cause and provoke anxiety among students. Research have also revealed that students that make use of productive skills, like writing and speaking, are bound to experience a substantial quantity of apprehension in the course of learning (Hilleson, 1996; Zhang, 2001).

Daly and Miller (1975) mentioned the term writing apprehension when they produced the Writing Apprehension Test (WAT) to empirically verify the writing apprehension levels among university students. Writing apprehension "refers to a situation and subject specific individual difference associated with a person's tendencies to approach or avoid situations perceived to potentially require writing accompanied by some amount of perceived evaluation" Daly and Wilson (1983).

Daly and Wilson (1983) expressed that, individuals with a high level of writing apprehension might look upon writing errands as painful and sometimes laborious. For that reason, these people have a tendency to stay away from writing situations, and if forced to write, they experienced a heightened level of anxiety, which influenced their writing performance. On the contrary, individuals with low level of writing apprehension have a tendency to take pleasure in writing because they are more self-assured and confident in their writing abilities and skills.

Written assignments are generally a requirement in any academic field. Nevertheless, writing since a long time ago has been claimed to be an awfully tricky skill to acquire and is terrified by second language students (Gupta, 1998). The concept of success in writing is always being associated with terms like self-expression, the flow of ideas, expectations of outsiders, self-assurance and also the pleasure and enjoyment of second language academic writing, and second language students are recognized to have problems dealing with this (Basturkmen and Lewis, 2002).

Even though writing can cause the uneasiness of learners, studies have revealed that it is related to their capability to be successful in the diverse academic subjects (Onwuegbuzie, 1997), which in turn affects academic and occupational choices.

Background of the Problem

Students identify writing as a weighty and heavy task (Basturkmen & Lewis 2002). Not all students own the skill of writing extraordinary and wonderful essays. Conversely, this aspect of curriculum is essential for better exam grades and the career advancement of any student. Without a doubt the skill of producing and creating an effective and valuable piece of writing is a talent that is god gifted, however it also needs lots and lots of practice, attention, and efforts to the matter. Noticeably, most of students stay away from writing essays and there are quite a handful of reasons for their anxiety and apprehensions. (Truitt, 1995).

Writing apprehension is one of the most important causes of demotivation in the English learning process particularly involving writing lessons and activities in ESL classroom (Zhang, 2001). Motivation is very important in maintaining student's interest and enthusiasm in acquiring the English language. Demotivative factors in language learning needs to be destroyed in order for English lesson to be effective.

Problem Statement

Writing Apprehension definitely exists among Secondary School Students which will influence and demotivate them from writing (Basturkmen & Lewis 2002). Writing apprehension will be a factor of students to hate and steer clear of writing, and have unenthusiastic attitudes towards writing lessons and activities in classroom (Truitt, 1995).

There has been astonishingly little investigation on the aspect of levels of writing apprehension of school students (Zhang, 2001). Research have been carried out in improving and building students' attitude and motivation in learning the English language (Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981; Fullam & Steigel bauer, 1991; Dev, 1997; Crooks, & Schmidt 1991; Anderman, & Midgley 1998), but there are merely such small number of precise research in the aspect of Writing Apprehension among school students (Daly & Miller, 1975; Daly & Wilson, 1983; Daly, Vangelisti, Witte, 1988; MacIntyre, 1995; Truitt, 1995).

For that reason, there is a necessity for a more focused and specified research into the aspect of writing apprehension especially among secondary school students.

Purpose of the Study

The research is designed based on one purpose which is:

  1. To investigate levels of writing apprehension among lower secondary school students.
  2. To find out whether students have writing apprehension or not.
Research Questions

The following research question is considered in the study:

  1. What are the levels of writing apprehension among lower secondary school students?
  2. Do the students have writing apprehension or not?
Significance of the Study

The study had practical realistic applications. This study inspects the levels of writing apprehension experienced by students. Apprehension negatively affects performance in writing (Ellis, 1994). This study will provide an insight to writing instructors. They may find ways to give more conducive and relaxing ambiance in classrooms to lessen apprehension. They ought to try hard to trim down the students' writing apprehension in order to ensure positive learning. Students may grow to be aware of their writing characteristics that restrain better performance, leading them to better make the most of their own capabilities that until that time were overlooked.

Limitations of the Study

The study is being conducted at one school, which may limit the generalizability of the findings. The results of the study may again be limited in generalizability to a larger population because a convenience sample was being used, and because random assignment is not employed in the research design.

Definition of Terms


From a process point of view, writing is a multifaceted, recursive and artistic process or set of behaviors that is incredibly similar in its wide outlines for both first and second language writers. Learning to write requires developing a well-organized and efficient composing procedure. The writer is the core of attention. The writer is somebody that engaged in the founding and expression of meaning. The writer is also the reader which focusing on content, ideas and the negotiating of meaning and form. The text is a product that is a secondary, derivative concern whose form is a function of its content and purpose.

Some have addressed this complexity by investigating affective factors involved in writing (Elbow, 1993). Stevick (1999) concluded that students' self beliefs play a prominent role in writing. In addition to self-efficacy, one of these beliefs includes the writing apprehension that students feel as they attempt writing tasks. Writing apprehension was first used by Daly and Miller (1975) to describe a form of writing anxiety and has since been the focus of numerous students.

Writing Apprehension

Daly and Miller (1975), define writing apprehension as 'to describe an individual difference characterized by a general avoidance of writing situations perceived by the individual to potentially require some amount of writing accompanied by the potential for evaluation of that writing'. Composition is not the only discipline to recognize and its possible detrimental effects on students (Daly and Miller, 1975).

Writing anxiety is actually "a situation-specific and subject-specific personal difference concerned by people's common tendencies to move toward or steer clear of writing" (Daly and Miller, 1975). Even though writing anxiety or writing apprehension is mainly the most ordinary and widespread name for this phenomena, it also has been known as composition anxiety (Onwuegbuzie, 1997), and writing block (e.g., Rose, 1984). Bloom (1980) stated that, approximately 10% and up to 25% of individuals have gone through some type of writing anxiety.

Research has revealed that writing apprehension is a condition which can obstruct students in their academic performance (Onwuegbuzie, 1997), demotivate them from choosing and participating in additional or much advanced writing courses (Daly & Miller, 1975), and persuade them to chose academic majors which they wiew as containing minimal requirements in writing (Daly & Shamo,1978).

Researchers discovered that, contrast to their low level of writing apprehension counterparts, the writing of students with high levels of writing apprehension tends be a lot less thoughtful and reflective (Daly & Miller, 1975), lower in excellence and quality (Seedhouse, 1999), and very much less clear as a result to the writer's incapability to be in charge of and to influence language patterns with assurance (Schumann, 1999). Additionally, writers with writing apprehension tend to make use smaller amount of adverbs and adjectives, and their proficiency is less in their use of punctuation (Daly & Shamo, 1978). Seedhouse mentioned that, even though writers with high level of writing apprehension tend to write much longer sentences, their compositions have a tendency to contain fewer paragraphs, and as a result, the length of their compositions prone to be a lot shorter than writers with lower level of writing apprehension. Schumann (1999) stated that students with high level of writing apprehension tend to produce writings with underdeveloped themes, and with longer sentences in their effort to disguise their lack of understanding of the subject.

Causes of Writing Apprehension

Willis & Willis (1996) explained that, writing apprehension that came from the perceived need to be flawless will have a devastating consequence on writers. White (1999) stated that the devastating effect of perfectionism is worsened by the need for students to read and edit their writing pieces. Particularly, the frequent practice of students reexamined and analyzing their work while they are formulating and composing their ideas, can be counterproductive for writers with a high level of writing apprehension (Bloom, 1980).

Onwuegbuzie (1997) have concluded that two kinds of perfectionist personality types, which is self-oriented and socially prescribed (Weaver & Cohen, 1998), show to have certain problems in writing research proposals. Self-oriented perfectionists are usually tends to fix rigid and strict standards for themselves in respect to both the quality and excellence of the research proposal and the expected completion time. They take on inflexible self-appraisal in an effort to achieve perfection and to stay away from failure. Socially prescribed perfectionists believe that the society and people around them pressure them to produce flawless and perfect proposals.

Apparently, both sets of students tends to concentrate selectively to and to over-generalize failure, involved in so-called all-or-nothing thinking (Weaver & Cohen, 1998), in which total accomplishment or total failure are the only possible results. Both self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionists seen to be inclined to high levels of writing apprehension. Certainly, some researchers (MacIntyre, 1995) have found a positive relationship between apprehension and perfectionism.

Effects of Writing Apprehension on Students

Additionally, different from students with low level of writing apprehension, students with high levels of writing apprehension tend to get lower grades (Reid, 1999), to attain low grades composition classes (Reid), and to have much more negative attitudes and perception towards former writing successes (Daly & Miller, 1975). Reid explained that proof of writing apprehension in the classroom can also influence teachers' evaluation of writing achievements in as much as teachers expect students with writing anxiety to write defectively and often assess their assignments accordingly. Besides, Daly and Wilson (1983) explained that students with high levels of writing anxiety are much prone to have poorer self-concepts than their counterparts with low writing apprehension. This finding is strengthened by Daly's (1979) observation that negative attitudes about writing in general are self-fulfilling, regardless of how experienced the writer is in reality.

Furthermore, researchers have linked writing apprehension to students' higher education major field of study choices (Daly, Vangelisti, & Witte, 1988) and to individuals' occupational choices (Daly & Wilson, 1983). For example, high writing apprehensive university students tend to prefer majors that require few written requirements, while low writing apprehensive students tend to prefer majors that require more writing requirements (Daly, Vangelisti, & Witte, 1988). Likewise, high writing apprehensive students and individuals tend to choose occupations that do not require much writing, and low writing apprehensive students and individuals tend to select careers or jobs that demand comparatively more written requirements (Daly & Wilson, 1983).

Weaver & Cohen (1998) stated that, not only do writers with a high level of writing apprehension tend to avoid situations involving writing, but they also keep away from instruction in writing, thus hinder their capability to develop their skills. Furthermore, Hilleson (1996) explains the quandary of students with high level of writing apprehension perceive that somebody over them continuously criticizes them while they are in the writing process which heightening their levels of writing apprehension. Moreover, Hilleson explained that such students also feel intimidated and frightened by "The Superior intelligence" throughout the writing process. In other words, they feel that they are not as competent and skilled in writing as their peers.

Puchta (1999) asserts that if the network of nerve cells in the brain that is involved with language (i.e., neurolinguistic pathways) is not ready for individuals to learn to write, they will undergo severe difficulties attempting to do so. In addition, according to Puchta, early writing failures can become generalized into other tasks of language learning. Although this debilitating cycle can be broken in college students because their neurological development is complete, writing anxiety is prevalent among undergraduate students (Onwuegbuzie, 1997). Such writing-anxious students do not enjoy undertaking course projects that apparently require writing and are unlikely to enroll in advanced composition courses (Daly & Miller, 1975).

Even at the graduate level, writing anxiety appears to be widespread. Indeed, using both quantitative and qualitative analyses, Onwuegbuzie (1997) conducted a study investigating the role of writing anxiety on students' ability to write research proposals. Onwuegbuzie found that writing anxiety is related to the quality of research proposals and, as such, is a predictor of students' level of achievement in research methodology courses. Specifically, writing-anxious students tend to submit research proposals that are underdeveloped, shorter, less clearly written, and that contain more grammatical and typographical errors. Apparently, the complex, novel, rigid, and compulsory nature of research proposals appear to induce writing anxiety in some students, which, in turn, reduces their quality. Also, writing anxiety undermines the student's ability to think cohesively enough to write effectively. Thus, Onwuegbuzie's findings highlight the potential debilitating effects of writing anxiety on academic achievement among graduate students.

Reasons on Reducing Writing Apprehension

There are several reasons for focusing on reducing writing apprehension. Firstly, it is claimed that a certain amount of apprehension or anxiety is present and probably necessary in all successful writers. However, the apprehension level of some student writers is so high that it becomes counter-productive to the successful completion of composition assignments. Consider the situation of Basturkmen & Lewis's remedial students, "....... they hate and fear writing more than anything else they have had to do in school. If they see a blank sheet of paper on which they are expected to write something, they look as though they want to scream" (Basturkmen & Lewis, 2002). This fear of writing and its associated symptoms are related to poor writing performance and may impede the development of writing skills.

Secondly, research has also shown that undue apprehension can be the student writers' worst enemy. Students learn better and teachers teach better in classrooms where this stress is minimized. These are conditions under which student writers can best develop their skills, and encourage the positive and direct motivation to learn comes from the desire to write well, whereas motivation caused by fear and characterized by high levels of apprehension, is the least effective in helping students succeed at writing.

Thirdly, when students recognize pressures upon them to perform and doubt their ability to do so, the anxiety that results can increase the likelihood of failure. Under this condition, not only are students able to write well, but also they compensate often by denying the value of succeeding, and a result of this, it is possible that the victims of a high level of apprehension come to hate writing.

It is widely known that how a student feels about the task of learning greatly affects the learning the student may or may not do. Teachers have noted that students with positive attitudes toward writing often write very well. Puchta, (1999) claims that 'positive attitudes lead to more willing writing, and it is only by practising writing that one can learn to write well'. Research supporting Puchta's claims reveal that 'attitudes definitely influence growth in writing, that a writer's degree of apprehension toward writing can be measured and that certain teaching strategies can lessen student's writing anxiety' (Reid, 1999).

Hence, the method of teaching writing used also contributes to the problem of writing apprehension. It is necessary to focus on recreating the positive attitudes towards writing especially among ESL students. Once the importance of reducing apprehension among ESL student writers has been realized, it is then considered necessary to find ways of achieving this.

Research Design


This survey is a quantitative type of research which involves the use of questionnaire. Quantitative studies emphasize the measurement and analysis of causal relationships between variables, not processes. Proponents of such studies claim that their work is done from within a value-free framework (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000, p.8).

In a quantitative research, questionnaires, and computers are used as data collection methods. The data collected is numerical and statistical. The general objective of the researcher is to observe but does not actively participate. Research design is also structured and well-tested.


Participants consisted of 30 Form 2 students in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pekula Jaya located in Tikam Batu, Kedah. The socioeconomic status of the school and the area that the school served was largely middle class, and students were primarily Malays. The instruments were administered in the classroom during two periods of English lesson. During the session, students were asked to complete the apprehension instrument. Directions and individual items were read aloud by the administrator.


Writing Apprehension Test (WAT)

The instrument used is adapted from Daly and Miller's (1975) Writing Apprehension Test (WAT) which has been used extensively and regarded a reliable measure of writing anxiety. This is a 26 item questionnaire, thirteen items with positive polarity and thirteen with negative polarity, scored on a 5-point Likert scale, which asks the subject to agree or disagree with statements about writing like "I look forward to writing down my ideas" or "Expressing my ideas through writing seems to be a waste of time". The questionnaire produces a single score which can be taken as an index of writing apprehension. (refer to Appendix A)


The survey was administered to the students in a classroom environment. Prior to the survey, the participants were assured of anonymity and confidentiality. Then, they were a brief explanation to facilitate the administration, and were asked to respond to the questionnaire items as spontaneously as possible. The students were asked to tick the answer wherever seemed necessary. The participants took approximately 30 to 40 minutes to complete the questionnaire, although there was no time limit. Upon completion of the administration, the participants were offered some refreshments for their participation

Data Analysis

Daly and Miller (1975) structured the WAT to measure three broad levels of writing apprehension, including high, moderate, and low apprehension. The researchers calculated a total mean score for all respondents to all of the WAT questions related to measuring writing anxiety. The researchers then determined the standard deviation for the questions measuring writing anxiety. If a mean score of a respondent exceeded the total mean score of writing anxiety by more than one standard deviation, the researchers concluded that the respective respondent experienced high writing anxiety. If a mean score of a respondent was less than the total mean score of writing anxiety by more than one standard deviation, the researchers concluded that the respective respondent experienced low writing anxiety. Mean scores occurring within a plus or minus one standard deviation from the total mean suggested that respondents exhibited moderate levels of writing anxiety. The result will be shown in form of bar chart.

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