Across the Disciplines: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Academic Writing

Bartholomae and Matway, The Pittsburgh Study of Writing

The Pittsburgh Study of Writing

APPENDIX B: Faculty Interview Responses (Making Writing Matter)

  • K. C.  (Biological Sciences) notes that students spend four years accumulating content.  The role of writing is partly to demonstrate that they've learned something—but, more importantly, having students write compels them to find ways to "communicate information to an audience for a purpose."
  • M.G. (History) believes students need to write in order to develop their understanding of how a historian thinks. Writing means "learning for understanding," as opposed to learning just to accumulate information. "I don't think I can determine what students truly understand without having them write at some length," she says. "Students can be skillful about memorizing—but it's in the use of that knowledge that I can determine what they truly understand."
  • G. N. (Computer Science) directs students in his 1000-level course, "Algorithmic Implementation," to write to a lay audience, as in a popular magazine. This is partly to demonstrate their responsibility to a larger public, but also to insure a real or deep understanding of what they have done.
  • V. P. (Physics) wants his students to understand how important writing is to them as scientists. They can do all the work in the world, he says, "but you have to be able to present your work so that others can understand it or it's like a tree falling in the forest with no one around. It's useless, wasted effort."
  • J.N. (History & Philosophy of Science) asserts that "undergraduates can be engaged as scholars …. If we assume that [students] cannot have a good idea, that they can only rehearse the ideas of others, the field will ossify. A field like HPS depends upon the work of undergraduates in our senior seminars."
  • J. H. (Slavic) said that her comments on students' papers focus on substance, logic, and mechanics–but also on what she called "excitement." She wants students to explore what excites them, so she stays alert to levels of interest as she reads their papers.