Coursework Masters degrees that are offered as block release programmes provide opportunities for access to postgraduate education for adult students while in full time employ. These students attend structured contact modules after which they return to home and work and a distance format of study. However, these courses are generally characterised by low completion rates and lengthy time to completion, particularly of the research dissertation. While various explanations for this problem have been offered, for example, students’ non-academic commitments and supervisor–student-relations, our particular concern in this paper is students’ reading and writing practices in the transition from professional work practice and Masters coursework to the research dissertation. This paper proposes a systemic design to improve student reading and writing in this transition, and the proposal is illustrated using a block release coursework Masters programme in Management at a South African university. The design draws on interpretive systems ideas to think about the different levels of institutional and disciplinary context that impact on the research dissertation. We also use an academic literacies perspective—the concepts of literacy practice, language identity and power in particular—to think about reading and writing. This design incorporates components that include system elements, relationships, purpose and feedback that facilitate interaction between the conventions of the research practice, what the student brings to the practice, and the agency of the student.

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