Writing a master of arts (ma) thesis is a challenging task for postgraduate students. This complexity is of great significance when one is writing in his/her second language. From this perspective, genre-centered approaches help non-natives enhance their understanding of academic and scientific texts. This study is intended to comparatively investigate the rhetorical differences/similarities existing in the abstracts and introduction sections of ma theses produced by iraqi and international students in the field of applied linguistics (al). To achieve this goal, two groups of ma theses (30 theses each) were randomly selected. Hyland’s (2000) proposed model and chen and kuo’s (2012) framework were utilized in order to categorize the rhetorical structures in abstract and introduction sections, respectively. The findings showed that iraqi university students included the steps of (a) research hypotheses and (b) outlining thesis structures in their abstracts while these rhetorical features were absent in their international counterparts. Iraqi students also discussed results in the abstracts more frequently than international ma students. Furthermore, although both iraqi and international ma students utilized the moves with similar frequencies in their introduction chapters, international students utilized various steps for the realization of move 1 and move 3. The findings call for a genre-based approach in teaching academic writing to raise the students’ awareness of these schematic organizations in ma thesis writing classes in efl contexts. 2019, Urmia university press.