Readings about Writing in the Disciplines

The works listed here demonstrate practical ways of integrating writing instruction into courses across the curriculum, and touch on the theoretical and research bases of this approach. They are relevant to university faculty who want to include writing instruction in their courses, writing specialists who work alongside them, and administrators who support their aims. For more on writing pedagogy, research, and program design, see also the Readings for Writing Instructors page. 


Bartholomae, David and Beth Matway. University of Pittsburgh Study of Writing (2009). Drawing on extensive surveys and interviews of students and faculty, this report gives a thorough picture of the factors influencing writing development at an urban university. Key elements are chances to discuss ideas before writing, timely and supportive feedback on written work, and chances for more creativity and personal expression than academic genres seem to allow.  

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (2001). Probably the best single book on this topic. A thorough and stimulating guide to the theory and practice of handling student writing: covers designing tasks, helping students read difficult texts, using peer groups for feedback, and handling the paper load.

Bean, John C., David Carrithers, and Theresa Earenfight. “Transforming WAC through a discourse-based approach to university outcomes assessment.” WAC Journal 16 (2005): 5-21. Available online. A good example of small-scale outcomes research in a writing initiative.

Beyer, Catharine, Gerald M. Gillmore, and Andrew T. Fisher. Inside the Undergraduate Experience: The University of Washington’s Study of Undergraduate Learning (2007). Using survey data and interviews with students and faculty, this book gives both overviews of the complex processes of student development (including lists of desirable behaviours for both students and faculty) and insights into individuals’ personal self-understanding. Writing is one key focus, along with critical thinking and quantitative reasoning.

Eisner, Caroline and Martha Vicinus, eds. Originality, Imitation, and Plagiarism: Teaching Writing in the Digital Age (2008). From a wide range of scholars, new ways to think about intertextuality in academic work. The final chapters offer well-grounded advice on designing assignments and handling plagiarism policies. See also Howard, below.

Elbow, Peter. Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing (2000). A persuasive account of an approach focusing on the writing process. As in his earlier books (Writing with Power, Writing without Teachers), Elbow sees writing as a way to develop ideas and to find personal voice. This book also deals with program issues such as portfolio assessment (with Pat Belanoff).  

Howard, Rebecca Moore. Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators (1999). An important re-thinking of the way writers use texts. Points out the relatively new idea of plagiarism as an offence; shows how student infractions are often a matter of “patchwriting” or faulty paraphrasing rather than summarizing.

Light, Richard J. Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds (2001). Drawing on extensive qualitative research, Light shows that Harvard students highly value the chance to work with professors and each other on developing writing competencies. He advises timely feedback, chances for oral discussion, and concentrating instruction in upper years.

Russell, David R. Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History, 2nd ed. (2002). Russell outlines the history of US writing programs since the 1870s in terms of social change and the development of academic specialization. He shows the theoretical and practical fallacies of reliance on first-year composition courses and makes the case for integrated writing instruction as a way to support student development and involve faculty in examining their own specialized discourses.

Stanford Study of Writing. Led by Andrea Lunsford, this multi-year longitudinal study (2000-2005) combines survey results, video interviews, and analyses of writing samples to depict the factors affecting students’ development as writers. Paul Rogers’ dissertation study emphasizes the importance of personal contact for learning.The website is replete with quotable student comments.

Sternglass, Marilyn S. Time to Know Them: A Longitudinal Study of Writing and Learning at the College Level (1997). An excellent example of case-study research grounded in educational theory and personal experience. Shows the social and intellectual challenges of multilingual students at City College, New York, and their various kinds of success—not always a straight path.

Stevens, Dannelle D. and Antonia J. Levi. Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning (2005). The title says it all! See also Walvoord and Anderson. 

Strachan, Wendy. Writing-Intensive: Becoming W-Faculty in a New Writing Curriculum (2008). An account of the challenges in creating a writing initiative at Simon Fraser University: outlines many successes at the course level, though the initiative has since faltered after Strachan’s retirement. Includes faculty voices, samples of teaching material, and methods for program assessment.

Swan, Michael and Bernard Smith, eds. Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems (2001). Clear and dramatic accounts of ways that linguistic and rhetorical patterns of specific languages may affect students’ writing in English.

Thaiss, Chris and Terry Myers Zawacki. Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life (2006). Drawing on interviews with faculty members and students, this book reflects experiences in learning and teaching writing across the range of disciplines. The final chapter summarizes implications for teaching and program building.

Walvoord, Barbara E. and Virginia Johnson Anderson. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment (1998). Lively readable examples and practical advice on the full range of classroom and administrative practices to make grading a worthwhile part of teaching: many sample assignments, marking guides (rubrics), and comments.  

Walvoord, Barbara E. and Lucille P. McCarthy. Thinking and Writing in College: A Naturalistic Study of Students in Four Disciplines (1990). Readable research reports on the results for both faculty and students of integrating writing into four different classrooms (business, history, psychology, and biology).

Wright, W. Alan and Eileen M. Herteis, eds. Learning Through Writing: A Compendium of Assignments and Techniques, 2nd ed. (2001). A collection of practical and inventive assignments from various disciplines. Amusing, stimulating, and Canadian. 

Zamel, Vivian and Ruth Spack, eds. Crossing the Curriculum: Multilingual Learners in College Classrooms (2004). Insightful accounts of the experiences of second-language learners from a range of perspectives.  

Zinsser, William. Writing to Learn (re-issue, 2005). An inspirational account of Zinsser’s visits to outstanding teachers at American liberal arts colleges who use writing in their courses.