The Expanding Universe of Writing Studies

Higher Education Writing Research

by Kelly Blewett (Volume editor) Tiane Donahue (Volume editor) Cynthia Monroe (Volume editor)
©2021 Monographs XXII, 438 Pages
Open Access


This edited collection arrives at a crucial moment in the evolution of Writing Studies research. It brings together well-known and emerging scholars in the field of Writing Studies, broadly defined, to explore the range of research methods and methodologies, the types of research questions asked, and the types of data in play in research about higher education writing in the 21st century. Its contribution is unique in the current landscape—a collection of carefully detailed descriptions of the research methods that constitute the field today, after fifty years of development—as marked by the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Dartmouth Seminar. The chapters focus on writing and writers in higher education, foregrounding research questions, methods, and data, while defining the areas of research that constitute this interdisciplinary field and offering examples of studies that employ the methods in these areas. Initial chapters address broad questions: the state of the field today, with a special focus on the field’s methods and their (inter)disciplinary history. Contributions then cover domains such as sociological ethnography, cultural-historical activity theory, linguistics, decolonial translation, cognitive science, corpus linguistics in the study of writing in university first year and upper-level contexts, recurring features in writing across academic contexts, work from psychologists studying college writers’ neuroplasticity, and many other domains of writing research. The final chapter argues for the value of lifespan writing research as an emerging domain, while the conclusion presents a synthesis of the major themes of the collection from leading scholars in the field.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • List of Appendices
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Kelly Blewett, Tiane Donahue, and Cynthia Monroe)
  • Chapter One: After the Big Bang: The Expanding Universe of Writing Studies (Chris M. Anson)
  • Chapter Two: Tabling the Issues: Visualizing Methods and Methodologies in Contemporary Writing Studies (Dylan B. Dryer)
  • Chapter Three: Integrating Corpus Linguistics into Writing Studies: An Example from Engineering (Susan Conrad)
  • Chapter Four: Corpus Analysis and Its Opportunities and Limitations in Composition Studies (Laura Aull)
  • Chapter Five: Is There a Shared Conversation in Writing Assessment? Analyzing Frequently-Used Terms in an Interdisciplinary Field (Mya Poe)
  • Chapter Six: Thin-Slice Methods and Contextualized Norming: Innovative Assessment Methodologies for Austere Times (Ellen Barton, Jeff Pruchnic, Ruth Boeder, Jared Grogan, Sarah Primeau, Joseph Torok, Thomas Trimble, and Tanina Foster)
  • Chapter Seven: On, for, and with Practitioners: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Writing Research (Daniel Perrin)
  • Chapter Eight: Coding Writing Center Curriculum — Towards a Methodology (Neal Lerner)
  • Chapter Nine: Becoming a Participant-Researcher: The Case for Interactive Interviewing (Sara Webb-Sunderhaus)
  • Chapter Ten: Situating Research Methods: Three Studies of Response (Kelly Blewett, Darsie Bowden, Djuddah A.J. Leijen)
  • Chapter Eleven: Conducting Writing Research in K–12 School Settings: A Review of Approaches (Jessica Singer Early)
  • Chapter Twelve: First-Year Composition and Critical Hip Hop Rhetoric Pedagogy: A Verbal Data Analysis of Students’ Perceptions about Writing (Shawanda J. Stewart)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Decolonial Translation as Methodology for Learning to Unlearn (Ellen Cushman)
  • Response: Eric Leake
  • Chapter Fourteen: Framing Economies of Language Using System D and Spontaneous Orders (Sinfree B. Makoni)
  • Response: Talinn Phillips
  • Response: Pearl Kim Pang
  • Chapter Fifteen: Cultural Rhetorics and Art in Pakistan: Ethnographic Interviews of Studio Arts Faculty in Southern Pakistan (Brian James Stone)
  • Chapter Sixteen: Studying Writing Sociologically (Deborah Brandt)
  • Response: June A. Griffin
  • Chapter Seventeen: What’s Wrong with 3GAT? (Clay Spinuzzi)
  • Response: Ann Shivers-McNair
  • Chapter Eighteen: In Praise of the Reductive: A Case for Quasi-Experimental Research (Joanna Wolfe)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Writing as Understanding (David Galbraith)
  • Response: Sandra L. Tarabochia
  • Chapter Twenty: Improving the Reading and Writing Skills of College Students Using a Developmental Neuroplasticity-Based Approach (Paula Tallal and Beth A. Rogowsky)
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Relocating Literate Development throughout Lifespans and across Lifeworlds: Mapping the Sociohistoric Pathway of an Engineer-in-the-Making (Kevin Roozen)
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Haikus, Lists, Submarine Maintenance, and Star Trek: Tracing the Rambling Paths of Writing Development (Ryan J. Dippre)
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: The Puzzle of Conducting Research on Lifespan Development of Writing (Charles Bazerman)
  • Conclusion (Chris M. Anson, Charles Bazerman, Bradley Dilger, and Dylan B. Dryer)
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←xii | xiii→

List of Figures

Figure 1.1.The Rise of Doctoral Programs in Composition. From Ackerman, 2007. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Figure 1.2.The Rise of Journals in Writing Studies

Figure 1.3.Cumulative Increase in the Establishment of Journals, 1950–2020

Figure 1.4.Articles in Pedagogical Journals Across the Curriculum Focusing on Writing Instruction. From Anson & Lyles, 2011. Reproduced by permission of the authors.

Figure 3.1.Mean Scores for Civil Engineering Genres on the Impersonal Style Dimension

Figure 7.1.First Two Sentences of a Fourth-grader’s Composition

Figure 7.2.Third Sentence of the Fourth-grader’s Composition

Figure 7.3.Fourth and Fifth Sentences of the Fourth-grader’s Composition

Figure 7.4.Linear Progression and Multi-phase Progression with Phase Shifts

Figure 7.5.Eye-tracking Visualization of a Professional Translator’s Use of Digital Resources

Figure 7.6.Translated Excerpts of the German RVP from the UN elections Case

←xiii | xiv→

Figure 7.7.Progression Graphs of the Background Story and the Recent Story

Figure 12.1.Coding Dimensions Time and Inhibiting Emotions

Figure 12.2.Coding Dimensions Category and Conflict

Figure 18.1.Average Essay Rankings Given to Final “Writing about Literature” Papers in Control and Experimental Classrooms. Based on Wilder & Wolfe, 2009.

Figure 18.2.Two Different Views of the Terrain Surrounding Dartmouth College. Images from maps.google.com.

Figure 19.1.Hayes’s Revised Model of the Writing Process. From Hayes, 2012, p. 371. Reproduced by permission of SAGE.

Figure 19.2.A Simple Feed-Forward Network. From Galbraith, 2009, p. 14. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Figure 19.3.Writing as a Knowledge-Constituting Process. From Galbraith & Baaijen, 2018, p. 244. Reproduced by permission of the authors.

Figure 19.4.Relationship Between Sentence Production and Change in Understanding as a Function of Different Types of Planning. From Baaijen & Galbraith, 2018, p. 212. Reproduced by permission of the authors.

Figure 19.5.Relationship between Text Quality and Change in Subjective Understanding as a Function of Global Linearity and Type of Planning. From Baaijen & Galbraith, 2018, p. 214. Reproduced by permission of the authors.

Figure 21.1.One of the Many Tables Alexandra and Her Teammates Used for Their Work on the ENGR 1110 Capstone Project

Figure 21.2.Excerpt from One of the Weekly Pages of Alexandra’s Spring 2011 Schedule Planner

Figure 21.3.Excerpt from Alexandra’s Word Version of Her Character Profile Sheet for Phantom

Figure 21.4.A Recent Example of the Type of ‘Logic Art’ Puzzles That Alexandra Has Been Doing Since Age 7

Figure 22.1.Tom’s “A School” Notebooks

Figure 22.2.Tom’s “A School” Notebook Organized Writing

Figure 22.3.The Neural Net

Figure 22.4.The Memorandum Notebook

Figure 22.5.The Memorandum Notebook At Work

Figure 22.6.Lists in Tom’s Notebook

Figure 22.7.Tom’s Writing Group Notebook

←xiv | xv→

Figure 22.8.Star Trek Haiku

Figure 22.9.A Collection of Haiku Writing

Figure 22.10.Tom’s Early Tweets

Figure 22.11.Tom’s Tweets-as-Notebook-Writing

Figure 22.12.Tom’s Electronic Notebook Writing

←xv | xvi→

←xvi | xvii→

List of Tables

Table 1.1.Writing Scholars’ Questions and Methods for Studying Response

Table 2.1.Mockup of Working Table used by Steering Committee as Conference Program Heuristic

Table 2.2.Mockup of the Table, version 2

Table 2.3.Mockup of the Table, version 3

Contemporary Writing Studies: A Table of Research Methods

Table 3.1.Texts Used in the Analysis

Table 3.2.Features in the Impersonal Style Dimension and Factor Loadings. Based on Biber, 1988.

Table 3.3.ANOVA Results for the Civil Engineering Genres on the Impersonal Style Dimension

Table 3.4.Pairwise Comparisons of Engineering Genres for Impersonal Style Features

Table 5.1.Journals Analyzed

Table 5.2.Journal Data Analyzed 2014–2017

Table 5.3.The 25 Most Frequently-Used Words in Assessment Article Titles and Abstracts

Table 5.4.The Most Frequently-Used Words in Article Titles and Abstracts, Averaged by Number of Words in the Corpora

←xvii | xviii→

Table 6.1.FYC Reflective Essay Rubric

Table 6.2.ICC Team Results for Study #1 and Study #2

Table 6.3.Time Comparison of Study #1 and Study #2 Using an Independent Samples t-test

Table 8.1.Frequency of Tutor and Student Knowledge Claims

Table 8.2.Most Frequent Tutor and Student Knowledge Claims

Table 8.3.Tutor and Student Role Knowledge Claims

Table 12.1.Excerpt from Sample Student Pre-Semester Reflection

Table 12.2.Relative Frequency of Inhibiting Emotions

Table 17.1.The Three Pivots of Activity Theory, in Which Rhetors Translated Arguments to Address New Conditions.

Table 18.1.Average Number of Revisions Students Made to Their Arguments and Global Paper Structure by the Type of Handout They Received. Based on Butler & Britt, 2011.

Table 18.2.Proportion of Potential Employers who Ranked Each Email as Most and Least Bothersome. Based on Wolfe, Shamugaraj, and Sipes, 2016.

←xx | xxi→



We are grateful to the Leslie Center for the Humanities for generous funding for the 2016 Dartmouth Institute and Conference; to the Dartmouth College Provost/Library Fund to Support Open Access Publication; to the Editorial Board members who served as peer reviewers and invaluable advisors to the volume: Chris M. Anson, Charles Bazerman, Deborah Brandt, Melanie Brinkschulte, Bradley Dilger, Dylan B. Dryer, and Joanna Wolfe; and to the Dean of the Faculty Dartmouth Conference Fund.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

←xxii | 1→



In late August 1966, about 50 leading scholars from the US, UK, and Canada, including such now-recognized luminaries as James Britton, Albert Kitzhaber, James Squire, Wayne Booth and James Moffett, came together at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for the Anglo-American Conference on the Teaching and Learning of English, three full weeks of exchange and debate. At what became known as the “Dartmouth Seminar,” scholars from several disciplines, including English studies, education, linguistics, and psychology gathered to debate the direction of English studies and English teaching in the academy. The debates and conversations quickly turned to a focus on language and writing, and arguably forever changed writing instruction in the US, as this event became a turning point for the way writing was taught and studied in higher education, indeed it catalyzed the start of a new discipline, composition, now often called writing studies.

The initial Dartmouth Seminar drew out questions that continue to be the heart of the future of writing in higher education: questions of international writing instruction, of languages and literacy, of digital revolutions. In Sanborn Library and across campus, small-group and plenary discussions around working papers drafted in advance of the Seminar drove the insights of the Dartmouth ’66 Seminar. Participants intended to move the field forward decisively via this focused attention and debate, tackling ways to understand the world, confronting ←1 | 2→each others’ views and models over the three weeks; they likely did not imagine, however, the impact the exchanges would have.

The year 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of this event, which had been described in retrospect, in correspondence to the event sponsor Carnegie Corporation, as “A tremendous stimulation to the field” (T. Booth, personal communication, October 18, 1976) and “One of the more significant events likely to affect the future” (J. Squire, Executive Secretary of NCTE, and J. Fisher, Executive Secretary of MLA, personal communication, October 30, 1967). Squire noted in late 1966, “Few participants who really cared about teaching and learning escaped searching self-analysis; few, I think, remained unshaken in their convictions” (personal communication, September 23, 1966). Marking the 50th anniversary, we hoped to provoke this same searching and questioning, via exchange about writing research, by hosting an event at Dartmouth College in 2016. The current volume, whose title is borrowed from the title of Chris Anson’s plenary at the event as well as his contribution here, grew out of the event. In 1966 as now, there is this simple truth: writing well matters, and it matters in institutions of higher education across disciplines and around the world. Yet how writing instruction should work best, why writing matters, and just what writing well is, remain sites of controversy, study, and discussion. What is the state of the art of writing research today? And why does that question matter? Pursuing answers to these questions using a range of methods drawing from the sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, and trans- or interdisciplines is needed now more than ever.

Methods today might include those in the social sciences (ethnography, social construction analysis), sciences (eye-tracking, keystroke logging, cognitive research), squarely humanities (textual analysis, archival study), or unavoidably interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary domains, with fertile future possibilities for intersecting, inter-informing methods and frames. And yet, methods have been less centrally discussed and taught in writing studies in the past decades. In addition, scholars using methods from different disciplinary grounds have rarely worked together. The attendees of the Dartmouth ’66 Seminar represented a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, which was part of what led to its depth and rich results. We have worked to match that disciplinary diversity, here, as we have focused on the methods used to productively study writing and writing instruction.

And, because the field is deeply invested in pedagogical questions, we also want to ask, what are the ramifications of our research for our practice? As Bazerman (2011) has noted, we are at heart “a practical discipline, no matter how far it wanders into arcane corners of history or psychology or sociology. As a field its motive comes from helping people to use written language more effectively, for both production and reception. It is also a discipline closely tied to making and interpreting ←2 | 3→meaning of written signs within particular socio-historic circumstances, and is thus creative, hermeneutic, and contextual” (p. 15). This means that we must focus in on both research and the ways it informs practice. Any discussion of why writing well matters must also extend beyond writing scholars. The discussion should capture the knowledge that outstanding teachers and writers are already putting to work every day, as well as the knowledge about writing and speech in practice held by scholars in many other disciplines.

We also sought to bring together people from disciplines and writing research perspectives that don’t normally talk to each other, echoing this kind of encounter in 1966. While certainly disciplinary boundaries are always in some ways artificial, they are still foundational, creating the possibility for interdisciplines and for pushing against those boundaries. The event we imagined would encourage both “generous reading” of other methods and critical engagement with them. The purpose of the 2016 conference was thus to create the opportunity for an important moment in the field, a focus on the diversity of research traditions, the questions they try to answer, and how they should speak to each other. A focus on research traditions, methodologies, and methods in our field should, in part, broaden what “in our field” means. In the process, we hoped to engage and reframe questions of the distinctions and interactions between “method” (how a researcher collects, records, gathers, and analyzes data, the tools or processes used) and “methodology” (the justification for using a given method; the lens, paradigm, or frame a researcher brings to the method choices).

Building on the 1966 event, we offered a working institute followed by a three-day conference, drawing in national and international scholars across research disciplines to study writing and writing instruction in the twenty-first century. The volume’s contributors all study writing and writers in higher education in some form, with the intent to foreground research questions, methods, and data. Authors are both well-known and emerging, They offer various responses to what is the state of the art in writing research today? From which disciplinary frames? Using which diverse methods? Informing practice in what ways? Engaged via which twenty-first century digital tools and language realities? The focus on research also connects us to current topics such as evidence-based decision-making, the value of the Humanities, big data research, the usefulness of writing knowledge, writing in relation to post-college demands, and interdisciplinary innovation. Finally, the authors work in a variety of language traditions. Because our aim is to capture a multi-voiced conversation, we have opted to retain any linguistic variations of English as natural to the academic voices of the contributors.

It is typical to offer an overview of chapters in the introduction to a collection like this, but we do not do so, here, because of two unique features in this ←3 | 4→volume: its interchapters, and its “Table of Research Methods.” We recommend that readers interested in gaining a sense of the work overall and the flow of our thinking read the brief interchapters and look at the table, provided following Chapter Two. The book uses a “guided path” organization. Rather than organizing around methodological camps, we were interested in the way that projects overlapped, in methodological approach, but also in terms of the phenomenon studied and the questions asked. Chapter Two provides an overview of the table’s creation, including the way that questions were foregrounded in the later editions of it. The interchapters serve as a way to draw out connections from chapter to chapter. The interchapters also connect to the table, but these connections are meant to be an invitation, not a definitive establishment. Readers will thus find brief references to the table but not exploration of the connection; we seek to encourage readers to look at the table and reflect on both the suggested connections and their own. They should also help readers to collectively think about the table itself, which was first conceived and crowdsourced at the 2016 event and is meant to be a living document, not an “establishment of truths.”

Contributions reflect on methods as various as sociological ethnography, interviews, surveys, archival history, cultural-historical activity analysis, linguistic analysis, corpus linguistics, decolonial translation, psychological experiment, and cognitive science. Some of the chapters include a response, because that response was built into the conference session from which the chapter developed. A late chapter argues, drawing from the range of methods in play, for the value of “lifespan” writing research as an emerging domain, while the concluding chapter presents a synthesis of the major themes of the collection, from leading scholars in the field. The volume thus makes a contribution that is unique in the current landscape—neither a manual on how to conduct research nor a set of contributions meant to inform teaching, but a collection of carefully detailed descriptions of many of the research methods that constitute the field today, after fifty years of development, though certainly with key gaps (for example, significantly insufficient attention to second-language writing, translingual developments, neuroscience, reading/writing connection; disability studies; multimodal/digital composing). We imagine this collection will serve different purposes for different readers, and hope it will be a discussion-starter as well as a foundation for the next fifty years of writing studies research.


Bazerman, C. (2011). The disciplined interdisciplinarity of writing studies. Research in the Teaching of English 46(1), 8–21.


XXII, 438
ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2021 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XXII, 438 pp., 40 b/w ill., 24 tables.

Biographical notes

Kelly Blewett (Volume editor) Tiane Donahue (Volume editor) Cynthia Monroe (Volume editor)

Kelly Blewett is Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, where she directs the writing program and teaches courses in writing and pedagogy. Her research explores the social contexts of writing and feedback and has recently appeared in College English, JAEPL, and Journal of College Literacy and Learning. Tiane Donahue, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Dartmouth, participates in multiple European research projects, networks, conferences, and collaborations that inform her understanding of writing instruction, research, and program development in European and US contexts. Cynthia Monroe is a Lecturer in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College. Her interests include Alaska Native and Native American rights, critical empathy, and listening communication.


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