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Examining and Engaging Conventions of Academic Writing Across the Liberal Arts Curriculum

This project brings together writing program administrators (WPAs) from several different ACM institutions to plan and facilitate a collective summer workshop in which faculty from across the disciplines identify, annotate, and discuss examples of good writing published by scholars in their fields and learn about key features of good writing in other fields. For faculty who assign writing, the workshop is an opportunity to learn and apply relevant concepts from writing studies, to practice describing and explaining the features and conventions of effective writing in their home disciplines, to examine the conventions of writing in other disciplines, and to generate a shared understanding of which features of “good writing” are field-independent and which are field-dependent.

For WPAs, the workshop is an opportunity not only to learn about disciplinary writing from expert practitioners and strengthen ACM’s WAC and writing center communities of practice but also to create a shared archive of annotated models that ACM WPAs, including institutions not represented on the project team, can use in local faculty workshops, in peer tutor training, and in our work with students.


No single class can equip students to write effectively across the breadth of a liberal arts curriculum. All of our institutions thus rely on writing instruction by faculty in many disciplines, whether or not we have a formally designated Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program. To grow as writers, students need to be able to transfer what they learn about writing in one course to other courses and contexts. But this transfer isn’t necessarily intuitive for students, nor is facilitating it a simple matter for faculty.

Neither WAC faculty nor writing consultants can be experts in all the genres and discourse conventions of all the disciplines in which students might write during college. Faculty can, however, learn—and teach students—how the conventions and genres of their own disciplines either conform to or diverge from common conventions of academic discourse more broadly. And writing consultants can become skilled readers of model texts, equipped to help student writers recognize and imitate key elements of those models.

To achieve those ends, this project brings together faculty to educate each other about effective writing in their fields so that they can help students see how writing in one course relates to writing in other disciplines. The resulting archive of annotated models will provide WPAs with model texts that we can use to guide local faculty conversations about WAC instruction and to educate writing consultants about both the discourse norms of specific disciplines and the process of interpreting model texts.


To prepare for the workshop, the project team will choose readings to provide participants with cross-disciplinary vocabulary for describing elements of academic writing; texts could include Teresa Thonney’s “Teaching the Conventions of Academic Discourse” and chapters from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas, Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young’s Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, and Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing. Team members will reach out to potential participants at our own institutions with the goal of recruiting faculty (including research/instructional librarians) from a wide range of fields across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

At the workshop, all faculty participants will bring to the workshop two published articles representing effective writing in their disciplines. The team will guide faculty as they annotate those samples to explain why each article is good, linking their commentary to specific conventions of academic writing. In small cross-disciplinary groups, faculty will read and discuss their colleagues’ samples and annotations to identify the features of good writing in specific fields and determine which features are shared across fields. Based on feedback from the project team and their small groups, faculty will then revise their annotations for clarity, including information about shared vs. discipline-specific features.

Dissemination Strategies

As noted above, the project team intends to share not only the archive of annotated articles but also templates for ways to use that archive in training sessions for faculty and writing consultants. All these materials will be made available online to WPAs at ACM institutions, including institutions not represented on the project team.

Beyond ACM, results will be disseminated through existing professional networks of writing center directors, WAC administrators, and other WPAs. The budget estimate includes funds for project team members to present about the workshop and/or the archive at professional conferences in their fields; likely destinations include the Midwest Writing Centers Association (MWCA), International Writing Centers Association (IWCA), Small Liberal Arts Colleges Writing Program Administrators (SLAC-WPA), Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), and International Writing Across the Curriculum (IWAC) conferences.

In addition, project team members on the SLAC-WPA Executive Board expect to propose a SLAC-focused special issue of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship, Writing Center Journal, Across the Disciplines, WAC Journal, or another relevant publication, that would draw on the results of this project; individual article manuscripts about the archive and its local applications would be suitable for the same venues.

Resources & Materials

After the workshop, the project team (with student assistance) will compile an accessible online archive of these materials. This archive will include not only the annotated examples themselves but also searchable metadata. (Generating this metadata would be the student worker’s primary task.) For example, it would be possible to search the archive for all sample texts in the sciences or all annotations that comment on features of an article’s introduction.

We will also create documents accompanying the archive that outline strategies for using the archive in professional development sessions (including both WAC faculty workshops and training for undergraduate writing consultants) and provide templates for planning and running local workshops to generate additional institution-specific materials.

Less tangibly, but no less importantly, we intend the workshop to foster faculty participants’ curiosity about colleagues’ work and writing, their respect for students facing the difficult task of learning to write well in many fields, their familiarity with writing programs and resources at their institutions, and their willingness to participate in future writing-related initiatives—including, perhaps, to co-lead WAC workshops on their campus or to visit writing center staff meetings to talk about writing in their disciplines.

Outcomes and Significance

The proposed workshop brings together faculty from across the disciplines to teach each other about best practices for writing in their fields—that is, to explain how writing works in their own fields and to learn how writing works in colleagues’ fields. Participants can then design assignments, explain expectations, and comment on student writing in ways that illuminate rather than obscure the commonalities and differences among the varied writing tasks that students encounter. Moreover, the resulting archive will enable faculty collaboration—both direct and indirect—after the end of the project term. Because WPAs at ACM institutions and beyond will have access to workshop planning templates and samples for discussion, faculty participants in future WAC workshops will benefit both from the original participants’ work and insights and from collaboration with their own local colleagues.

The value of this project lies not in reducing institutional costs but in producing better writing instruction, both in the classroom and in our writing centers, without increasing costs. Our professors already know a lot about writing; the goal of this project is to give them—and help them give each other—metacognitive tools that will allow them to teach what they know more effectively.


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