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The Pittsburgh Study of Writing

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Part Two: From our Students. Focus Groups and Survey

Pitt student.

Student Focus Groups

We organized eight focus groups with a total of 33 participants, mostly juniors and seniors. Participants were mainly drawn from upper-level writing intensive courses. This was a select group, largely representing majors in the Humanities and Social Sciences, but they were interested in the study and eager to talk about student writing on our campus. Our experience with the first three sessions helped to shape the undergraduate student survey instrument and to refine our questions for the later focus groups. The questions were:

We had tapes and notes from the focus group sessions, and as we reviewed them we organized our report according to the primary themes, topics, and concerns that emerged in the conversations. In our report, we were also careful to use student language as much as possible. For the survey, we needed a vocabulary that would be current and recognizable, and we wanted our colleagues to hear how writing was talked about in the hallways, the bars, and the dorms.

In the report, we organized the discussion by the general categories in our questioning.

What Do Professors Want?


Students were divided in their perceptions of their professors' expectations. Some felt that professors mainly want "certain answers, their answers," a view perhaps related to the belief that what professors require is simply written evidence that the student thoroughly understands the course material.

On the other hand, one student summarized a commonly stated view when she said her professors want to see students "putting thought into [their] writing." Others agreed that professors expect students to formulate their own theses, or make interesting and novel claims. In one group, when a participant declared that his professors value "content," others rapidly modified the statement in a string of responses: "accurate content," "supported content," "arguable content," and their discussion of these modifiers indicated the importance of the student's own thinking in the presentation of "content" to the instructor.


While students disagreed about the extent to which their teachers value independent thinking, they were quite consistent in their belief that professors expect "organization" in student writing. A logical order, a well-constructed argument, good reasoning, sound structure, and coherence were frequently mentioned, and tended to elicit nods all round the table. Students who directly commented on what most frustrates their professors mentioned lack of organization more than anything else—sometimes describing the problem as "rambling." A few students mourned that adhering to this expectation led them to write standard, formulaic papers, but most seemed to see their mastery of organization as an achievement. They spoke with pride about the way they had learned to compose a coherent and logical paper, in which their claims were "linked" and orderly, and they seemed to see this accomplishment as evidence that they had become better thinkers than they had been when they entered college.

Clarity and conciseness.

The other quality of writing that students consistently said their professors value is "clarity and conciseness." When they were describing the kind of writing valued in their majors, as well as when they were discussing the most important lessons they had learned about writing in the major, students talked about clarity: "economy of expression," "direct and to the point," "no fluff," "precise word choice." Balancing this expectation is their sense that too much conciseness is a liability. They see a double bind here—writing needs to be efficient and to the point, and yet instructors also expect students to "follow through" on an idea, to elaborate or "explore every avenue" in their writing.

Something deeper, something more, something beyond the obvious.[9]

When they spoke about how their writing has changed during their years at Pitt, students frequently described their ability to organize a paper and to make it more concise and clear. Some spoke about how their own "writing process" has changed, especially to note that they now start a project earlier and take more time to complete it.

Perhaps most striking, however, is the students' repeated assertion that a significant change in their thinking has accompanied the development of their writing. While a few students described academic writing as a requirement that "fences you in," most volunteered their belief that learning to write has "expanded" the way they think. "Most of my progress is not in practical aspects," one student explained, "but more in the way of my thinking." Others described "new ways to approach texts," increased confidence in their own informed opinions, the ability to "synthesize" material, or readiness for a "probing application of theory." In many cases, the students initiated conversations about reading when asked about their writing, asserting the importance of "learning to read critically" or to "look for [another] writer's subjectivity and bias" because "so much of writing is based on reading." One group discussed the way writing in their majors had taught them to go beyond their immediate reactions to texts or ideas. To simply "agree or disagree" with another writer, or to pronounce an idea "correct or incorrect," now seems "too easy" or even "rash" to these students. Instead, they now believe that writing a paper requires them to "understand where [other writers] come from, why they would write this, and if it has application to today." In the end, these particular students articulated a balance they strive for as writers, between keeping "an open mind" and developing their own "convictions."

What Enables You to Do Your Best Work?

Heart and soul.

When describing the courses that had enabled their "best work" as writers, students spoke both about assignments and about instructional practices. Over and over, they recalled assignments that had allowed them to write about something they cared about. As one student put it, she did her best work when "I put my heart and soul into it." Another defined the difference between "heartfelt papers" and papers written "just to get the grade." The students' discussions did not make it clear whether this "caring" must precede the course or can be engendered by it, but in any case it appears that the students we interviewed believe rather firmly that they write best when they care about their topics.

This fundamental belief leads to the question of how much choice students want in an assignment. While some students advocated open assignments that give them complete control over their topics (a condition described as "freedom"), most seemed to prefer a range of choices within a field carefully delimited by the instructor. Students on both sides of this divide felt strongly about the issue. Those who favored open-ended assignments sometimes criticized their peers, claiming that professors are forced to provide paper topics only because students "can't think for themselves." On the other hand, some students who sought clear direction from their instructors labeled as "lazy" those professors who leave an assignment "too open-ended."

New ways of thinking.

Beyond the question of choice, students often described assignments that "pushed" them to do new thinking as those that enabled their best work. "I like to write in a way I feel I can grow," one student explained. One group (consisting mostly of History majors) had an animated discussion of an assignment that had asked them to work with primary sources and come to their own conclusions, rather than "making conclusions based on what other people have already concluded." Others spoke favorably of long assignments that allowed them to "dig deep" and to "tie together in my own mind" the themes of a course. They valued longer projects, they said, that asked them to write from "my own research and my own ideas," to draw on learning from other courses, to refute another writer's arguments, or to synthesize the work they had done in earlier, shorter assignments in the course. (Many mentioned their ability to write longer papers when asked how their writing had changed.) A number of students also said that they appreciated assignments that gave them "creative" opportunities or allowed them to depart from common academic format.

Making connections.

When describing their worst writing experiences, focus group participants did complain about writing assignments they were "not excited about," but they objected even more vehemently to assignments that appeared "disconnected" from the rest of the course work. In contrast, when describing to each other the writing assignments that had enabled their best work, the students often talked about how an assignment had helped them forge connections between different aspects of the course, or between that course and other work they had done in the major. When they perceived that a writing assignment was "not related to what we were doing in class," or was "coming out of left field," students said they felt very uncertain about what to do, or why they ought to do it. Their discussions of this issue indicated that they prefer to have an explicit understanding of how a writing assignment relates to the other goals and activities of the course, and of how their other work in the class should prepare them for the writing; they are quite aware of the occasions when these relationships are not made clear.

What Can Professors Do to Help?

When they mentioned instructional practices that had enabled them to do their best work, students recalled receiving feedback on drafts of a long project. In speaking of their worst writing experiences, they repeatedly asserted the difficulty of writing "with no feedback and no guidelines." And when explicitly asked what professors might do "to enable students to successfully complete their writing assignments", the students again asked for clear assignment guidelines and feedback on drafts. The students themselves raised these terms, and their appearance—so consistently across the groups and in answer to so many different questions—deserves some emphasis.

Provide guidelines.

Students agreed that they have trouble tackling an assignment that asks for a particular type of writing but offers no instruction in how to do it. More generally, they find it difficult to succeed in a class with writing assignments but "not much talk about writing." They advise professors to "be specific about what you want" by providing clear statements about what is expected in style, format, depth of research, and so on. Some students suggested that instructors could provide models, or examples of "good papers from last semester." They also made it clear, however, that instructions for a writing assignment can be too rigid, especially if they consist of a long series of specific questions that all must be answered in the paper. As one student put it, "Instead of telling them what to think, help them learn how to think."

Provide opportunities for feedback and revision.

Once they have started writing for a particular professor, students hope for useful feedback (as opposed to a simple grade or a series of "illegible scribbles") in response to their efforts. Many students expressed their wish that professors would give feedback on a draft so that they could revise it before turning it in as a finished product. "I prefer when the teacher requires a draft," was a typical remark. One self-described "fan" of "drafts and revision" explained that this process gives "first work another chance" and enables her to develop "new thoughts." When not given the opportunity to revise, students value extensive comments on an early paper. Their responses indicated that they want comments both about what they call their "writing" (form) and about what they call their "thoughts" or "ideas" (content).

In our conversations about feedback, students often voiced the questions they would have liked to ask after receiving a sparsely-marked paper. "I see what I did wrong, but what should I do?" And, for successful papers: "What did I do well? Why did I get a 95?" The discussion of this issue made it clear that the students were seeking instruction, not just affirmation, in their professor's comments; they wanted to know what to keep doing in their next papers as well as what to do differently. Perhaps even more important, they wanted to hear a response to their thinking. Students receiving good grades described their dismay when an instructor's comments were limited to something like "great job!" They ask, rather passionately, that professors offer "comments on my thoughts" to let the student writer know "if my ideas were good."

Pay attention to timing and to schedules.

One other instructional practice was mentioned often enough to be noted here: the careful scheduling and timely introduction of writing assignments. Students frequently asserted that they want sufficient time to complete an assignment while keeping up with their other classes. They ask professors to "be mindful that their class is not our only class." For these focus group participants, "sufficient time" seems to mean more than a week.

Take care.

Along with descriptions of instructional practices, the focus group questions elicited a surprising number of comments about the teacher-student relationship and its effect on student writing. Students said that they produce better writing when they have instructors who command respect and trust; in this atmosphere, students feel more likely to "find a connection between myself and the material." They also appreciate teachers who are "accessible" or "approachable"—that is, willing to discuss the student's writing in person. One participant asked professors not to be "just a voice behind a desk" but rather to "create compassion between student and teacher." The student accompanied this comment with a gesture: "a teacher-student relationship," he explained (with hands held side by side), "not a teacher-student relationship" (with one hand held high above the other). The compassionate teacher seems to be one who takes students' writing and their thinking seriously, and therefore engages students in serious conversation about their work—"talking to you, not at you," as the student put it. In this relationship, the instructor supports students in developing their own thinking, rather than "telling them what to think." These supportive instructors are apparently the same ones who make it clear that students should be "putting thought into [their] writing" rather than merely reiterating "certain answers" provided in advance by the instructor. The image of the caring teacher seems to mirror students' sense that teachers, too, value "students who care" about their writing and learning.

A "Gap" in the Curriculum

At various times in our focus group conversations, students commented on the "gap" they perceived between their introductory composition course and their w-courses, usually taken late in their college experience. One senior enrolled in a w-course in her major said, for example, "I took [the first year composition course] and made a lot of progress and then didn't work on my writing at all until this year. I wish I had taken [another w-course] earlier." Many participants were enthusiastic, however, about their upper-level instructors; they remarked on the intensity of writing instruction in the w-courses in their majors, indicating that their professors not only demanded a lot but also offered substantial and significant feedback.

Pitt student.


In all the focus groups, talking about their writing led students to talk about their thinking and learning. For students, it seems, learning to write and writing to learn are inextricably linked. The writing assignments they value are those that push them to think further and learn more. They also value writing instruction that helps them develop the skills of organization, clarity, and conciseness.

According to students in the focus groups:

Student Survey

The Sample

In the Spring Term, 2005, 1000 juniors and 1000 seniors were invited to participate. The response rate was 32% (256 juniors and 389 seniors), a relatively high rate of response for surveys of this type.

Who Responded to the Survey?

Students were randomly selected and contacted via e-mail. Students in the Humanities (and with majors in English) were the most likely to respond. There was, however, a reasonable distribution of students with majors across the academic disciplines and the disproportions are not large, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Survey Responses by Area of Study

Figure 1: Survey responses by area of study.

Students in the Humanities (in particular English Writing majors and Communication majors) were more likely to respond. Students in the Social Sciences responded proportionally (with more Political Science majors responding and fewer majors in Economics or History). Students in the Natural Sciences (in particular, students in Computer Science and Psychology) were least likely to respond.

The Timing of the Required Courses: Seminar in Composition (First Year Writing) and Two W-Courses

We asked students when they took their required courses:

We asked students what year was most important to their development as writers: the freshman, sophomore, junior or senior years?

The Presence of Writing in the A&S Curriculum

On average, undergraduates in the Arts and Sciences took 4-6 courses that required substantial writing, most often a long term or research paper.

Students reported that in both the junior and in the senior years, they write on average 7 papers of more than 5 pages:

The Genres of Academic Writing

The focus groups helped us to identify and to name the genres of academic writing in courses in A&S. The survey allowed us to draw conclusions about the frequency of the genres and to elicit students' assessments of their usefulness in learning to write and in mastering course content.

The frequency of assignment genres

*Note: The low frequency of lab reports is most likely due to the percentage of students in the pool with majors in the Natural Sciences.

Students' assessments of the desirability of the genres

We asked: "How often do you think you received assignments for [this genre]: not often enough, often enough, too often."

There was no clear statement about assignment genres that were too frequent or too common.  The most commonly assigned genres (opinion papers, response papers, research reports, for example), had, according to our students, an appropriate circulation in the curriculum.   The most interesting responses came to the question about genres students would like to see more often, as shown in Figure 2.  

Figure 2: Not Enough Writing Assignments, by Genre

Figure 2: Not Enough Writing Assignments, by Genre

Specific response percentages are available as a list in a pop-up window.

Students' assessments of the usefulness of the genres in learning course material and in learning to write

We asked students two questions about genre. How useful was the genre in learning to write, and how useful was the genre in learning the course material?

There was not much difference in the responses and, in retrospect, this makes sense. As students are doing the work of a course, particularly an advanced course, writing papers and working on a subject are pretty much the same thing. Writing is part of the way a student learns to master the subject; attention to writing as something separate from developing an idea or an argument (attention, for example, to questions of style in revision) is often seen as a luxury or a distraction from the task at hand.

Students did, however, find essay exams, lab reports, and informal writing to be more useful in learning subject matter than in learning to write. See Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3: Usefulness of Genres in Learning Course Material

Figure 3: Usefulness of Genres in Learning Course Material

*Note: About 61% of students reported that they had never received this type of assignment, which may account for its low rating here.

**Note: The rating of lab reports may be related to the relatively low percentage of students with majors in the Natural Sciences.

Specific response percentages are available in a pop-up window.

Figure 4: Usefulness of Genres in Learning to Write

Figure 4: Usefulness of genres in learning to write.

*Note: About 61% of students reported that they had never received this type of assignment, which may account for its low rating here.

**Note: The rating of lab reports may be related to the relatively low percentage of students with majors in the Natural Sciences.

Specific response percentages are available in a pop-up window.

Writing as Intellectual Work

We attempted to measure students' sense of writing instruction as instruction in thinking or in performing specific academic tasks. In order to name these, we used phrases that were common in the focus groups: regurgitation, summary, analysis, interpretation, developing one's own ideas, working with a thesis, writing persuasively, reflecting. We asked about the relative frequency of each in the curriculum. From the results, it appears they are all present to about the same degree. There were not significant differences to report here.

Students' assessments of the desirability of the academic tasks

We asked: "How much of this kind of writing have you done: not enough, about right, too much?"

Students' assessments of the usefulness of this writing in learning course material and in learning to write

As in the case above, we asked students to make a distinction between the usefulness of these academic tasks in "learning the course material" and in "learning to write." Here, too, the distinction did not produce strikingly different responses. From students' perspective, the intellectual work and the work of writing appear to be pretty much the same thing.

Students did, however, see "regurgitation" as even less useful to them as they are working on their writing. And they found "persuasion," "developing [their] own ideas" and "proving a thesis" to be particularly useful to them as writing tasks. See Figures 5 and 6.

Figure 5: Usefulness in Learning Course Material

Figure 5: Usefulness of Writing Tasks in Learning Course Material.

Specific response percentages are available in a pop-up window.

Figure 6: Usefulness in Learning to Write

Figure 6: Usefulness of Writing Tasks in Learning to Write.

Specific response percentages are available in a pop-up window.

The Teaching of Writing (in and out of the w-courses)

We asked questions about pedagogical practices in the required writing-intensive courses (the w-courses) and in other courses, courses not designated as w-courses that included substantial amounts of writing. The questions were prompted by our work with the focus groups.

In w-designated courses
In courses without the w-designation but with significant amounts of writing

When students indicated that they had never encountered a given pedagogical practice, we asked them about their preferences. Would they have preferred a particular pedagogical practice in their courses?

We asked students questions about the feedback their writing received in w-designated courses and in courses other than w-designated courses with significant amounts of writing.

In w-designated courses
In courses without the w-designation but with significant amounts of writing, students are:

Again, we asked students who had not received a particular type of feedback about their preferences. Would they have preferred this form of feedback in their courses?

The Value of Writing

We asked students about the importance of writing to their education and to their future lives and careers.

Open-ended Questions

We asked students for the name of the most useful course they had taken, as far as their writing was concerned. We provided a full list in our report. This list, as we noted, garnered considerable attention! The range of courses and departments on this list was interesting and impressive. A substantial number of students mentioned the required introductory course, "Seminar in Composition." And, although the question asked for courses, a substantial number of students referred to the usefulness of the Writing Center.

We asked students for the "one person on campus who has been most important in helping you improve your writing." And we asked, "What can we learn from your experience with this person." A full list of "faculty who made a difference" was included in the report. This, too, garnered considerable interest.

A list of student comments appears in Appendix F. (View in a pop-up window, or in the Appendices.)

From students' written comments, teachers were said to have made a difference when

We asked, "What more would you like to tell us about your experience with writing at the University of Pittsburgh?" We included a representative set of responses in the final report. The comments were pointed, thoughtful, eloquent, sometimes critical and often useful. A quick sample is presented below:

I never expected to write so many papers in college. I've had several papers every semester since my sophomore year and while it was frustrating at times, I'm glad that I had to write them. My writing is far better now than it was my sophomore year, and I don't mind it so much anymore.

I feel writing was an important part of my college education but I had to seek it out myself. There is opportunity at Pitt if you do not like writing or don't feel it is useful to you to avoid it. This may not be a bad thing but it is important to note.

I personally prefer writing papers, at least for my History classes, because I feel that researching your own ideas and then developing them within the paper is much more beneficial in learning the course material than regurgitating information on a test.

I have written more in one-credit Chemistry or Biology labs than I have in most 3 credit courses, including those in which I have received a W. The lab reports are generally 10-25 pages depending on the experiment. I feel that the writing for this course is not worth the 1 credit received.

Long papers for me personally are ineffective. They are usually weighted more when it comes to grades and require so much time they become exhausting. I really appreciate smaller length papers (2-4 pgs) for a number of reasons. It breaks the material down into smaller chunks that are more easily remembered. Research takes less time and more time can be spent on modifying and working on actual writing. It allows more opportunity for improvement because more than one or two papers can be submitted in a semester. There is a cushion allowed for improvement and time for feedback with numerous papers. Writing very short things in class is not helpful to me...at all. There is too much pressure, and I think that students should really have time to think and organize their thoughts before handing something in.

Writing has played a central role in my education at the University of Pittsburgh. In both Political Science and Economics, writing played a central role and aided in my understanding of the topics, allowing me a chance to integrate the material I learned. My only critique would be of my Business degree. The CBS program seems to avoid individual writing projects, instead favoring quantitative testing and group projects/presentations. While this helps with learning presentation style, I feel it is a severe detriment that the Introduction-level survey courses do not have a writing component.

I think that students should have more opportunities to write different types of papers. Even though I am a History and Political Science major, I would like to write something other than strictly academic essays.

I think writing is extremely useful in learning most material particularly because it forces you to analyze what you are writing about. The process of writing a paper helps you continue the thought process beyond what you are presented with and make conclusions based on that more than just reading through and sitting through a lecture. The feedback from a paper helps you make your points clearer and more precise and also helps you refine your writing more to help you communicate on more than one level. The writing process should definitely not be underestimated. It has been and will be a vital tool in the learning experience and also in communication in general, something all educated people should be able to do fluently and precisely.

Sometimes papers or writing assignments can become busy work and cause students to lose interest and motivation in the assignment. It is better to have fewer meaningful papers than lots and lots of little ones.

I believe that term papers of ten pages or more in length are key tools for students to learn large amounts of information on a topic, and although time-consuming and more often than not, exhausting to complete, a paper of that size causes a sense of accomplishment and expertise on the subject one completes. The completion of these papers causes students to feel as if they really got their money worth out of the course and learned a lot.

A more complete list of student comments appears in Appendix G. (View in a pop-up window, or in the Appendices.)

Part Three. Conclusions

Pitt student.


Our project began before "outcomes assessment" hit our campus. Although our study was well-received, it did not, to be sure, serve as a substitute. It did, however, provide a context in which outcomes assessment could be more thoughtful and meaningful, and more of a shared responsibility than it might have been otherwise. It gave departments a very useful context for the evaluation of their capstone, writing-intensive courses. Several department chairs requested copies of the report while it was in draft. Beth Matway led the general assessment of our WID program. Because the study had included so much information on students—their work as intellectual work, their understanding of the value of the work they did, and their sense of its connection to A&S and departmental goals—attention to student outcomes made sense in a way it would not have otherwise. The measurement of outcomes was another way of paying attention to the culture of writing (and learning) on campus; it was not simply a hoop to jump through or a Dean's arbitrary demand.

The study also, however, produced some significant outcomes for the WID program on our campus. After receiving the report, both the Provost and the Dean (and in advance of the later assessment initiatives) offered resources we could use in support of writing in the undergraduate curriculum in the school of Arts and Sciences. There was a happy ending, in other words. The report produced action, and that is as much as any report writer can hope for.

In Spring 2007, the Provost provided a full time non tenure track line to add a Lecturer to support and to "build upon the successes" of the initiatives outlined in the study, including a newly designed annual faculty seminar, one that carries a stipend for faculty participants.[11] He offered an additional full time non tenure track line to provide a Lecturer in support of a new program developed in conjunction with our School of Engineering.[12] And, with the Dean of Arts and Sciences, he provided an annual budget of $35,000 to provide additional support to WID. We used these funds initially to develop a program to train talented juniors and seniors in the sciences, who then provide tutorial support for students in large lecture sections and in laboratories.

What Did We Learn?

As we conceived of this project, we thought it to be primarily descriptive and ethnographic. Our charge was to document the "core values and practices associated with writing at Pitt." We did not have the funding (or the ambition) to do a longitudinal study, although our work was very much influenced by the impressive work underway at Harvard and at Stanford. The data base gathered on these two campuses provides a remarkable resource for research on student learning and student attitudes. The collection of student writing provides a corpus that can serve scholars for decades. It is important that institutions with various profiles find a way to contribute to this collection of student writing.

The Pittsburgh study, however, shared some of the primary concerns of the studies at Harvard and Stanford. We were not in a position to speculate on student learning over time (except through student testimony). With Harvard and Stanford, we were interested, however, in gathering information on the genres of student writing. These genres are both local (determined by traditions of local practice) and disciplinary (determined by faculty understanding of writing appropriate for learning in the disciplines). The focus on revision, the sequencing of assignments and the use of professional models are common on our campus and they are, we think, a distinctive part of our academic culture. As in the case of both the Stanford and Harvard studies, it was important to us to be in direct contact with a large number of students and to spend time considering what they had to say. We, too, were careful to feature and to publish the comments of our students. The comment that had the widest circulation after the release of the study was the comment by the student who got an A on her paper, but who was frustrated because the instructor's written comment ("good job") didn't engage with her ideas. Students help to shape the culture of writing on campus; it is our job to learn to listen to and to value what they say (just as it is our job to learn to read and to value their writing).

The faculty interviews provided rich examples of current (and best) practice on our campus, the report made visible (or gave voice to) teachers across the disciplines from whom we had much to learn. (We had seen similar consequences at Harvard.) We did not pay attention to the writing students do outside of class, a major focus of attention in the Stanford study. It seemed beyond our charge and, to be frank, we were already struggling to make the survey instrument more efficient. If we had it to do over again, we would drop the distinction in the survey between "learning to write" and "learning course material." It doubled our questions and turned out to be a meaningless distinction. Our students knew that learning economics by writing was the same thing as learning to write. This would have opened space for other lines of questioning. We would encourage anyone considering a campus-wide study to give as much time and attention to faculty as to students.

We learned much that was helpful to us locally. For example, the student comments led us to realize that while laboratory courses in the natural sciences required substantial amounts of writing, they had not become a focus for writing instruction and were not included among the courses officially designated as "writing intensive." We learned that a surprising number of students were asking for work with models of professional writing (academic and otherwise) and that a surprising number of faculty colleagues were offering them. This knowledge has produced an interesting and useful debate on campus over the appropriateness of asking students to write as though they were writing for professional publication. Our WID program was 20+ years old; the review of w-courses, the ability the report provided to think comparatively across departments and divisions, these led us to see problems, successes, and anomalies that would otherwise have remained invisible.

We learned that our colleagues, on the whole, were thoughtful, inventive and impressive teachers of writing. The template for a writing-intensive course on our campus is pretty basic. What they did with the template, how it was adapted and inflected by individual teachers and through expectations of their disciplines was quite wonderful to see. The most valuable products of the study, then, were the examples it provided of best practice. A course in Biology has become a model for courses in other areas of the natural sciences; a course in the History and Philosophy of Science has become a model for courses across the Humanities. Departments unused to talking about teaching, or featuring the work of colleagues as teachers, had the occasion (at least for a brief moment) to have such conversations and to see a colleague in a new light. Students had a chance to be heard as a collective and, given the chance, rose to the occasion.

In 1945 Raymond Williams returned to the Cambridge University campus after 4 ½ years as a soldier during World War II. When he returned, he had the sensation that things had changed, that the people around him were speaking a different language, even though they were (obviously) speaking in English. He tells this story in the "Introduction" to the first edition of his ground-breaking project, Keywords. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. And he says

When we come to say "we just don't speak the same language" we mean something… general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest. (1983, p. 11)

We often use this formulation to think about the linguistic and rhetorical demands of the different disciplines—"we just don't speak the same language." As we started to process all the data we received, including the interview and survey data shown above, one of our goals was to record and highlight the common language on our campus—the shared (rather than different) values and valuations, the shared (rather than different) formations and distributions of energy and interest (to use Williams' terms) and not only across departments but across the community of teachers and students, particularly advanced students, our juniors and seniors. We wanted to pick up keywords and then to use them as organizing devices as we provided an account of undergraduate writing on our campus.

Our point was not to insist that the Pittsburgh campus has its own private language, something unique. However, we did believe it important to give our primary audience a way to think about writing in the disciplines as a shared project of articulation, one where we create (and revise) the key terms used to represent, organize, prompt and value writing on our campus. We do not have our own private language, although we believe there are some distinctive key terms—like revision and sequence and genre. On our campus, it is not unusual to hear student writing referred to as "intellectual work" or as crucial to the work of the disciplines. John Norton, Professor and Director of our Center for Philosophy of Science, stunned us by saying: "If we assume that [students] cannot have a good idea, that they can only rehearse the ideas of others, the field [History and Philosophy of Science] will ossify. A field like HPS depends upon the work of undergraduates in our senior seminars." We also learned that there are some important sites of contestation, as in the different ways of imagining "professional" writing, represented by the disagreement over whether students should or shouldn't read and imitate the writing in academic journals.

We're not in a position (nor do we have the desire) to think comparatively. (It is interesting to note in passing, however, that in the Harvard Study, "thesis" was a key term and "thesis" is a word that seldom appeared in the conversations we had with teachers and students. The Stanford study gives particular emphasis to "performance" and "embodied writing"; on our campus, in the terms and practices of students and faculty colleagues, writing is still represented primarily as textual, represented in books and papers—even if they circulate in digital environments.) The study did much to reanimate conversations about writing and the teaching of writing across the disciplines on our campus. It created new points of reference and rich examples of best practice; it provided a new sense of our students, and what they thought and what they could (and couldn't do) as writers; and it highlighted courses and faculty colleagues that would otherwise have remained invisible.


APPENDIX A: Faculty Interview Responses (Complexity)

  • L.A. (Hispanic Languages & Literatures) says that in her field, it's not enough for writing to be correct, clean, and clear; instead, it must engage a reader on many levels.  She acknowledges that this type of writing, which calls on students to manage multiple texts or disciplines, can be very difficult, and she takes pains to support her students as they attempt it.
  • R.L. (Political Science) wants students to consider a statement from a variety of points of view, and "to understand trends and to see patterns" in complex bodies of information.

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.

APPENDIX C: Faculty Interview Responses (Taking the Next "Disciplinary" Step)

  • B. K. (Psychology) notices that "report writing" is the genre students know best when they come into her classes. "They are able to read and summarize what they read," she says. In the Research Methods course, she and her team of TAs have begun to emphasize argumentation in their writing assignments, so that students gain the ability to "integrate, to think beyond what they're summarizing and form an argument."
  • S. C. (English) says that English literature majors are good at writing the 5 page critical essay. Assigning longer papers (term papers) will not necessarily move them beyond that. That is, the 20 page paper that is a collection of four "5-page critical essays" is not necessarily an advance in learning. His goal is to teach them to complicate the kind of argument represented by the 5-page essay (by considering alternative points of view, or by varying critical style and approach), so that the "long paper" is a different intellectual exercise than the short paper.
  • R. L. (Political Science) is also concerned to take students out of a "term paper" mode. He works primarily through shorter assignments that put students into positions where they are responding to the news, imagining solutions to real problems, taking positions on quite specific policy issues, even projecting themselves into the role of presidential advisors. R.L. says that he wants to teach students how to pay attention to the news; he wants them to think that they can take a position on current events, he wants them to take a position on what they read (and not just process it as information). He wants them to be aware of how much thinking is based on unwarranted assumptions. His writing assignments are designed to allow students to experience first hand the "pleasures of the extended argument."

APPENDIX D: Faculty Interview Responses (Sequencing the Task)

  • In D. F.'s Senior Seminar (Music) students write a series of four short papers that culminate in a longer "critical" paper. The first short paper assignment asks students to discuss (describe) one movement of the Mozart Requiem with attention to orchestration, to harmonic language and modulation, and to the text to be sung (declamation and expression). The second short paper assignment asks students to place the description in a larger context—and the larger context has to do with the "meaning" of the text and the composer's choices. The assignment announces its objectives: to give students experience "in writing about harmonic progressions in prose rather than labeling each chord"; and to give students experience working with a short passage rather than an entire movement. The third short paper is a return to the project of the first. Students are asked to analyze harmony in one of four prescribed passages from Fauré or Verdi. The fourth paper is to be based on the harmonic analysis of the third. It is to be a critical paper and should also take into account "orchestration, vocal setting, and texture." Students are invited to "expand the paper to include a larger segment of the movement, or the entire movement."
  • L. P. (Anthropology) and I. F. (Psychology) have students conduct a semester-long research project and prepare a research report. A key element for both is the writing of a Proposal or Prospectus. Here students are shown what it means to have a research problem that is specific, manageable and interesting. Both give substantial attention at this early stage; if not, the students' work for the semester can be wasted. From that point on, the assignments are written to organize the student's research and their understanding of the genre and audience for a report.

APPENDIX E: Faculty Interview Responses (Responding to Student Writing)

  • M. G. (History) provides extensive feedback in writing and in person. Her marginal comments on a paper are designed to create a dialogue with her students, raising questions about ideas. They are also diagnostic, labeling errors so that students can go to the Diana Hacker website to do the relevant exercises. Finally, a one-page commentary discusses the paper's overall strengths and weaknesses and offers alternatives for revision. While they are revising, students can be in conversation with MG by e-mail or in conferences. She acts as a sounding board for new thesis statements, for topic sentences that will drive the argument—for anything students are struggling with as they write. In addition to her own comments, students in M.G.'s classes receive feedback from each other. "Students tell me that being critics is one of the most difficult tasks of the course," she admits. "They are not accustomed to interrogating another person's prose. But it raises their consciousness about how to persuade, and so on. They learn how to take into account possible disagreement."
  • F. G. (Economics) points to the importance of directing students back to work they have completed. Instructors can provide advice up front, he says, but it is often lost as students work on an assignment. They need to bring out the knowledge (content knowledge, writing knowledge) that underlies students' work. This gives them "ownership of their ideas and their projects; it teaches them to work over time (by reflection and revision) to express what they know in words." The feedback in F.G.'s course is staged out. At the opening of the course, he is in very close contact with students; he spends a lot of time working with the writing and with the individuals. This effort serves to establish his standards for their work, but also to show them that they have him as a point of reference and a source of support. They can see that he gives the care and attention to their work that he gives to the work of his profession and his professional colleagues.

APPENDIX F: Selected Student Responses (What can we learn from your experience with this person in class?)

  • …He helped me add flow to my sentences, tying together my paragraphs, and ultimately creating a 'tight' paper.
  • …He returns our work with a variety of comments and ideas on how to improve our stories, while still pointing out many positive aspects as well.
  • …In the past two years of my college experience, she has been an important commentator, reviewer, and critique for my academic writing. She always provides detailed revision suggestions for her students and she has helped them to grow into critical thinking during class discussions, which inevitably makes them better writers.
  • Dr. R focused on creating and supporting sound arguments and provided excellent feedback on papers. Dr. P focused on stylistic aspects, such as condensing paragraphs and refining sentences for greater impact and clarity.
  • Excellent feedback, and he was always willing to discuss writing with me.
  • Expectations of all writing assignments were clarified. Intensive feedback if sought would be accommodated.
  • He expected so much from his whole class, and had a great way of giving his students feedback.
  • He figures out what his students are capable of and then demands that or better on all writing assignments, it is very difficult to impress him with your writing but his demeanor makes one want to try.
  • He gave me the best constructive criticism I've ever gotten in my entire educational career. He has a knack for seeing and defining students' styles, and helping them refine them. Respecting him as a teacher made me more eager to provide him with good writing and original ideas.
  • He has been particularly helpful in matters of style, documentation, and research skills, and he is one of the few professors I've had that consistently uses peer review in non-seminar courses.
  • He helped me to learn how to develop and argue a thesis instead of just presenting information in a paper.
  • He helped the class with writing by explaining common grammatical errors as well as ways to appropriately develop a paper. The combination was very helpful and instructive.
  • He is always critical yet encouraging in terms of developing my writing style.
  • He is extremely honest about students' writing even if the feedback is negative. When he gives negative feedback he always gives ways in which the writing can be improved.
  • He is great at helping students to develop original ideas by guiding them in research in texts outside of class. He really helps writing on ideas that aren't mainstream.
  • He provided positive criticism along with constructive criticism.
  • He was extremely helpful in advancing my writing skills, both grammatically and in regards to style. He put a lot of emphasis on thinking through arguments, analyzing texts to support your point, and reflecting upon things from a different point of view than you normally would….
  • He was one of the only professors who could recognize talent in his students and was willing to let them know. His support and motivating teaching style made you want to learn more. His comments were constructive and fair and he gave you plenty of room for improvement.
  • He wrote the usual comments on the papers, but he would also come up to you after class and talk to you or advise one about their writing and understanding of the material. We could come to him with questions or comments, but I found it interesting and cool that he came to us on an individual basis. It felt more personal and encouraging.
  • Helped students in the class learn to be more precise in our writing.
  • High demands for quality of work.
  • His course, History of Mass Media, forced me to write in many different styles, formats, and on a broad range of topics. He was also very quick to return writing assignments with necessary corrections and suggestions for revision, even when a revision was not necessary.
  • His term paper assignment was very helpful to me because I became more experienced with using primary sources. Also, he was always available when I needed to discuss my paper with him, and he provided useful feedback.
  • I believe that all of my lab instructors have been very influential in my writing development. They have taught me how to analyze data and how to sum up observations without babbling on. Also, my freshman writing teacher C. C. helped me to understand my potential.
  • I had always been able to write reasonably well in my philosophy courses, but I believe that his guidance in that class, even though the assignments were rather short, helped me to improve my writing style dealing with often complex ideas and topics in a concise way.
  • I have always been a strong writer, but Dr. P. challenged me and didn't give me a good grade off the bat. I worked hard and met with him often and eventually was able to achieve an A in the class. He forced me to think critically and analyze my own work. His writing advice has helped me in every class since.
  • I rely on the writing center because the atmosphere is professional and its more helpful and less stressful than dealing with a teacher on a one to one basis.
  • In her Junior Seminar course, V exposed us to a lot of theory we were unfamiliar with and showed us how it applied to our writing about literature.
  • Introduced me to advanced analytical writing and primary resource writing. Also stressed proof reading.
  • It is of the utmost importance to organize your thoughts when you write. G. sets a great example of how one should organize his or her thoughts. I feel that this has helped me tremendously in my paper writing.
  • Learned to revise, to clean up my grammatical errors and "spot" good writing. Very honest, direct and monumentally helpful.
  • She compelled students to debate with each other anonymous work that they were given in advance; but she herself never made any comments publicly. Rather, she asked the right questions. This way, students exchanged ideas with each other, but their writing was not trained in any particular style (e.g. hers).
  • She designs her assignments so that I am able to write an individual paper using class concepts and also to collaborate with a group for the purposes of writing and presenting material. Class discussion of text makes it easy to think critically and creatively, which is something that was lacking in my GW course. Dr. M-C. does not ask for regurgitation in written work. She actively engages the class in a thorough understanding of the material and facilitates discussion around her findings and the conclusions we draw from various texts and external media.
  • She gave me confidence in my abilities by explaining to me the strong points in my writing as well as showing me where the weaknesses in my arguments were. I have taken several literature courses since, including Intro to Critical Reading, and none have helped me develop my writing as much as Intro to Lit with A.M.
  • She gave step by step directions for all the students, and anytime I had a question or was concerned, she always helped me through it.
  • She has helped me write better as a researcher in doing the papers for Research Methods class.
  • She held one on one required conferences and had us do drafts and exchange papers with other students in class. She has contributed to my learning and has helped me to improve my skills as a writer.
  • She helped the class to articulate their reasons for liking/not liking certain aspects of theatrical performances that we were required to see which, in effect, helped the class to sharpen their skills in writing persuasive papers.
  • She is an extremely engaging and focused instructor. Teaches students to write analytically in a professional academic manner.
  • She left the writing assignments very open, and provided extensive comments on formation of our papers thesis and arguments as well as grammar and mechanics.
  • She provides helpful ways to improve your writing and sets up conferences to discuss your writing with you on a one on one basis.
  • She pushed me in new ways, always helping me bring out the best work I could do. She read my papers carefully, which provided me with constructive feedback that enabled me to successfully revise my work.
  • She taught her class how to write clearly and persuasively about literature and gave specific grammar and style tips. Most importantly, she wanted her students to choose words and craft sentences to convey full meaning without fluff. She helped us develop our own topics and argue them well.
  • She taught us how to analyze a text closely and to clearly state and support a thesis through interpretation of the text and additional research. She is the first professor I had at Pitt who stressed the importance of a thesis statement.
  • She took the time to meet with each student and go over details of research and outline and suggested ways in which we could further develop our work. Furthermore, she pushed us to go beyond our ordinary limit and do better work, thus forcing me to focus on the argument and develop it to a great degree.
  • She was an amazing teacher who was willing to work with the students. Allowed for informal discussion that provided an interesting and educational atmosphere. She was one of my very favorite teachers.
  • She was clear in her critiques, kept discussions of papers (which she kept anonymous) open and interesting, and made a class that could have been very basic and useless worthwhile.
  • She was extremely encouraging, but also a tough grader. She gave you chances to improve work, and assignments were interesting, not just the same type of paper over and over again.
  • She was extremely patient and helpful, her class was structured help us be more critical readers and more professional writers.
  • She was the first professor I had to really spend a lot of time responding to students' drafts and having conferences with us. I've gotten this kind of attention from teachers in my nonfiction classes, but not in my W classes.
  • She was very patient and constructive with our writing, and one of the most important things she did was have one on one conferences with each student to talk about our writing. I think encouraging one on one student-professor talks is critical to a good education and good relationship between the professor in the class. Some (even most) professors seem like they are too busy or could care less if a student drops by his or her office to talk—especially about the work/writing the student is engaged in with that professor's class.
  • She would always take time to sit down with me and go over my responses to readings/essays/etc. Not only did she give me comments on paper, but she allowed me to discuss with her my writing, which means so much more.
  • The process of becoming a good writer is aided by having contact with other amazing writers and learning their tricks and fusing these tricks into your own writing style.
  • The reason I improved during her course was probably a matter of motivation to improve, because she was genuinely interested my improvement and I respected her.
  • They have both very much helped me to improve my written Spanish—given opportunities for revisions, specific guidelines and feedback, one-on-one assistance, and small or one-on-one class size which is beneficial to writing classes.
  • Through extensive weekly readings and weekly short papers that relate to the readings, students are encouraged to evaluate what they've read, ask questions relating to what they've read, and compare their ideas to those presented.
  • W. focuses on making students write in a professional yet interesting and straight forward manner which is essential for a career in science.

APPENDIX G: Selected Student Responses (What else would you like to tell us about your experiences with writing at the University of Pittsburgh?)

  • I think that mandatory, brief, one on one interviews between the teacher and the student would tremendously boost academic performance. Speaking is like writing in the air with your vocal chords. For me, it is important that I develop a one on one relationship with the professor. Once the professor demands my respect directly, I find that it is much easier to hunker down and do my homework.
  • I think writing is a hard thing to teach, and do well in college. There are so many writing assignments, and each teacher has a particular writing style they want you to adhere to. It is impossible to learn all of the possible styles beforehand, but learning how to adapt to a teacher's specific style is important. I think I have done well here, only because after the first exam or paper, I can realize what the professor wants and is looking for in the papers.
  • I was exempt from [the required first year writing course] because of my high score on the AP English test. It was not until I took my W courses that I had any writing-specific instruction. I feel like my writing skills have not improved much since high school. For some time, I blamed my exemption from [first year writing], but everyone I know who has taken it insists it was not helpful to them….
  • I wish I had more opportunities to work on projects with other media related majors. For example, film studies students and journalism students could be assigned to a project for credit where some written material could be realized in a play or TV show …. Another possibility would be computer engineering majors and communication majors perhaps collaborating on a website or something and receiving credit for it.
  • I wrote FAR FAR more in my organic chemistry lab than I did in my English, Philosophy, or Spanish classes. Organic Lab should be a W course. I wrote upwards of 15 pages a week in there, while in the other classes I mentioned it might have been around 3 to 5.
  • In most of my writing experiences the professors have been liberally biased. I am forced to tone down my opinions in order to receive a decent grade.
  • It increased the way I write and think at the same time. I found that it is extremely important to think as you write and revise your thoughts into what you're writing. If you do that you expand your thesis and your general purpose.
  • Long research papers are a waste. There is little to no learning involved. All long papers are for most classes is lots and lots of bull shitting and space filler. A shorter paper that can be to the point is always best. If what needs to be said can be said in 6 pages, not 10, why have a 10 page length requirement. Profs need to be realistic when assigning these long papers. They don't want to read them and we don't want to write them.
  • My experience in writing at Pitt has been great, and very well-rounded, the only thing I feel that is missing from it is perhaps more social gatherings of writers and more conferences that are free and open to the public, sponsored by the university and not corporations. I would have also appreciated more emphases in my writing classes on using scientific research. I feel that use of research, or at least the perspectives of other people, is something that writers (fiction/poetry/nonfiction, mainly) sometimes steer too far away from.
  • One of the main problems with classes that involved writing at the University of Pittsburgh are the essay tests, particularly tests that are given in class. These tests often cause students to feel rushed, thus they simply list information in the form of paragraphs, ignoring style and format, as well as not completely developing their ideas. I think this is detrimental to the students' development as writers because these exams connect writing to anxiety and unpleasantness. Essentially, they associate writing with regurgitation of information.
  • Some of the other (non-major, non writing intensive) courses were way too heavily weighted on the writing assignments. If a class is going to have a lot of writing in it, there should be other forms of evaluation in addition. It's not fair to base the whole course grade on whether or not the instructor likes your writing.
  • Some professors are absolute sticklers for mechanics and content in papers and these are the ones that lead to an increase in the writing abilities of their students. These professors are scattered across the disciplines as this drive is a personal one.
  • Strangely enough, I learned to think about grammar when I took a foreign language class. I know that as native speakers, we know the rules of how to speak English (for the most part), but it would be most helpful at the beginning of the writing degree to have a type of foundation on many basic rules in addition to the correction received on written papers. To know why a particular rule applies is to reinforce its use in a much deeper sense of the writing process.
  • The availability of a writing center is a fantastic resource for those who would like more help or feedback on their writing. So overall, I feel the amount of writing and the skills and resources available through the university are very good.
  • The emphasis that this university places upon incorporating writing within its curriculum has contributed greatly to my receiving of a well-rounded education, and I believe prepared me to succeed in law school.
  • The [required first year writing course] destroys good writers. I had a professor before I took the course and immediately after and he called me into his office hours to ask what happened to the good writer. Limiting the creative license of a writer, limits the potential of that writer. I am still in recovery from that terrible … course.
  • There hasn't been much room for creative writing for me to pursue at Pitt. Don't let writing be too mechanical.
  • There is almost too much writing at the university. Almost every class is like a writing class at another university.
  • Unfortunately, many of the professors teaching writing courses (not necessarily W courses) do not do a good job in actually teaching. All they do is assign a grade to your essays, and if the grade isn't an "A", they have a hard time trying to explain what exactly to do to make the paper better. Often times this results in a mediocre grade in the course, unimproved writing skills, and frustration.
  • Writing at the University of Pittsburgh does not take a primary place of importance in many of the natural and physical science classes due to the large class size. This impersonal nature does not allow the professors and students to communicate through writing and therefore hinders science students when they are confronted with writing in their other courses.
  • Writing is extremely important. Unfortunately, many professors have a different style of writing and a different way papers are to be written. This makes it difficult for a student to remain consistent with how one writes. … Perhaps more uniformity across majors and writing for different classes would be helpful. I do understand that writing for a bio class is much different than a poly sci class. However, writing for a poly sci class is not much different than a history or an art class. I also believe that there should be more strict guidelines held for reviewing written work. As an RA for the university for two and a half years, I have corrected many student's writing and have also seen student's with poorly written work receive high grades. This does not seem to be an effective way to improve the student's writing.
  • Writing is important, but some of the low level gen. ed. classes put too much on structure and grammar, rather than seeking main ideas.
  • You should ask if we think long papers due at the end of the semester are useful (they aren't!!!)
  • … At college I have found that teachers are far less stringent on the style and grammatical correctness of papers. They rather that the general content is acceptable and that you use some form of citation. My major requires me to write lab reports, so the most help and improvement from high school to college has been in that area.
  • … one of the things that made me come to Pitt was the emphasis on writing.
  • All too often, one just receives a grade on a writing assignment. I would like to have the opportunity to improve my writing. A grade alone does not teach me how to improve my writing. I think conferences are a good idea.
  • I believe that critical reading and writing are sorely lacking from the physics department. My goal is to become a research professor in astrophysics and I am fortunate that I work in a research group which encourages reading current papers from scientific journals. I would not have any exposure to writing in my field if it was not for my research group.
  • I believe the Professional Writing class should be a requirement for all students. It is a class that 100% of graduating students will apply to their daily work activities. I believe that many students have a distorted/unrealistic view as to what the expectations are in the workforce. I believe they don't know the first thing about writing a memo, or a proposal, or how to prepare a resume. Many don't even know how to put together a business portfolio so they have examples to bring to interview of the type/level of work they are capable of. This class was beneficial in every way and I can't figure out for the life of me why the University does not make it a mandatory requirement.
  • I feel that many times when teachers/grad students grade our papers they're grading them based on their opinion of our paper and not set-in-stone paper critiquing techniques. I'm not sure that best way to get around this, other than maybe having more than one person grade papers and not tell each other what grade they gave and then comparing and taking an average or just going from there.


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[1] We are grateful to Michael Pemberton and to ATD for publishing this version of the study. Michael recruited a Dream Team for our referees: Gail Hawisher and Andrea Lunsford. We are very grateful for their suggestions, for their help and support, and for the standards of scholarly care and attention they have established through their careers. We want also to thank colleagues at Pitt who played a major role in the development of the project: Lisa D. Brush, Sociology; Jean Ferguson Carr, English; Nick Coles, English; Jim Seitz, English; Lydia Daniels, Biological Sciences; James Lennox, History and Philosophy of Science; Edward Muller, History; Chandralekha Singh, Physics and Astronomy. Finally, we are grateful to Jean Grace (English), who designed the original report and selected images for this article; and to Roy Matway (Allegheny Technologies), who created the graphs.

[2] The key terms are represented in the section headings below.

[3] The Study has provided a useful resource for participants in our semester-long Writing in the Disciplines faculty seminar. For example, Arts and Sciences faculty are especially interested in what students had to say, in the focus groups and in the survey, about the teaching practices and writing assignments that had helped them the most in learning to write. The faculty interviews offer a rich fund of possibilities, inspiring the seminar participants to try new approaches in their own classrooms. Most importantly, however, the report makes tangible for faculty the distinctive writing culture that thrives on their own campus, and includes them in the conversations that will continue to shape that culture.

[4] We've used the report in several courses, and we've used these questions to frame discussion: what makes sense to you as a student? What doesn't ring true? What is missing in the report? What is missing in the curriculum?

[5] We are grateful to Nancy Sommers who came to campus to consult with us on our project. We began our discussions at Pitt by circulating a copy of her first Harvard Study (1994). Her study combined faculty and student interviews with a student survey and provided the model for our own. Like Sommers, and like Lunsford (see below), we were interested in documenting the genres of student writing on our campus, and we were interested in focusing attention on these genres as forms of intellectual engagement related to or en route to disciplinary work. (For the 1994 Harvard study, see "A Study of Undergraduate Writing at Harvard," Nancy Sommers, Harvard University, 1994. Unpublished.)

[6] The WID program at Pitt provides a variety of support services to the faculty community and to course development. Students are required to take two writing intensive courses, one of them in their major area of study. These are meant to be taken in the junior and/or senior year; most writing-intensive courses are advanced courses for juniors and seniors or one-credit add-ons for junior and senior seminars. The English department supports a first year writing course (required of all students) and a selection of basic and advanced composition courses. For more on the WID program, see http://www.wid.pitt.edu/. For more on the Composition Program, see http://www.english.pitt.edu/composition/index.html.

[7] Our work along these lines was very much shaped by Jim Slevin, who had been to our campus several times and whose book, Introducing English, has circulated widely on our campus. See Introducing English. Essays in the Intellectual Work of Composition. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. The relevant chapters are in sections three and four: "The Context and Genres of Intellectual Work in Composition" and "Composition's Work with the Disciplines."

[8] The interviews were conducted by the project directors and members of the Advisory Board: David Bartholomae (11), Beth Matway (9), Lydia Daniels (2), Jim Lennox (2), Lisa Brush (1), Jean Carr (1), and Jim Seitz (1). All were scheduled during the Spring Term, 2005.

[9] These were our students' terms—something deeper, something more. They directly echo students in Nancy Sommers' survey at Harvard.

[10] When we began to design our project, we were influenced directly by the 1994 Harvard Study, and Nancy Sommers came to the campus as a consultant. For accounts of the more recent longitudinal study at Harvard, see: Nancy Sommers, "The Call of Research: A Longitudinal View of Writing Development." College Composition and Communication 60.1 (2008): 152-164; Nancy Sommers and Laura Saltz. "The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year." College Composition and Communication 56.1 (2004): 124-149; Nancy Sommers. "The Case for Research: One Writing Program Administrator's Story." College Composition and Communication 56.3 (2005): 507-514; and two videos available from the Harvard University Expository Writing Program: Shaped by Writing: The Undergraduate Experience (2002) and Across the Drafts: Students and Teachers Talk About Feedback (2004). For access to the Stanford Study, see the website http://ssw.stanford.edu/. See also: Andrea Lunsford, Jenn Fishman, Beth McGregor, and Mark Otuteye, "Performing Writing, Performing Literacy." College Composition and Communication 57:2 (2005): 224-252, and Erin Krampetz, "Writing Across Cultures and Contexts: International Students in the Stanford Study of Writing" (Masters monograph). Stanford University, 2005.

[11] The new line created a permanent position for our WID Director, Beth Matway.

[12] We have created a writing intensive freshman course for Engineering, one with goals similar to our first year writing course, but one that meets the expectations of the School of Engineering accreditation agency.  See Beth Newborg, "It Takes a Whole University to Educate the Whole Engineer:  Narratives of Collaboration," ASEE Conference Proceedings, 2008.

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Complete APA Citation

Bartholomae, David, & Matway, Beth. (2010, October 4). The Pittsburgh study of writing. Across the Disciplines, 7. Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/bartholomae_matway2010/index.cfm