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The Routledge Companion to English Studies


Chapter 25




The issue of how to help university students write more effectively has been a concern since the establishment of the first writing courses in the USA over 140 years ago. University teachers generally acknowledge that writing instruction is important, and a first-year academic writing course — called composition at most American universities and colleges — is required of almost all US students. However, there is considerable debate about how and what sort of writing should be taught, given differences in writing needs across the disciplines and professions. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, students were assigned to write about fairly general topics that involved little outside research, because the “themes” or “compositions”, as they were called, were considered mere exercises, with instruction focusing on grammatical correctness, and the goal being “to bring all this heterogeneous class of young men, by constant training from October till June to the point where they can write English of which they need not be ashamed” (Copeland and Rideout 1901: 2). In the 1970s, with the growth of higher education and the entrance of more students from previously excluded groups, the writing in the disciplines (WID) movement was formed to encourage teaching staff across the curriculum to foster additional improvement in students’ writing and, with it, their learning of content material and disciplinary methods.


This accepted book chapter is published as Clark, Irene and David R. Russell , "US First-Year Composition and Writing in the Disciplines" , in The Routledge Companion to English Studies ed. Constant Leung and Brian V. Street (Abingdon: Routledge, 06 Mar 2014 Chapter 25; doi: 10.4324/9781315852515.ch25. Posted with permission

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