Writing across the Curriculum in a College of Business and Economics

By Plutsky, Susan; Wilson, Barbara A. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Writing across the Curriculum in a College of Business and Economics


Plutsky, Susan, Wilson, Barbara A., Business Communication Quarterly


A recent study examined how written communication concepts and skills have been integrated into core courses in the College of Business and Economics at California State University, Northridge. Writing-across-the-curriculum programs have met with mixed success. We wanted to see how elements of such a program were working at our university. Through a survey of faculty, we found the presence of both formal and informal writing policies, differences in standards for writing in upper-division core courses, differences in assignments, differences in assessment strategies and in the results of such assessments, and, finally, differences in perceptions about whether WAC is a good idea. In general, faculty do provide opportunities for students to write, but many feel students write poorly and thus can handle only easy assignments, and many faculty consider themselves ineffective teachers of writing. Based on this study we recommend the implementation of team-taught, interdisciplinary courses; the development of stand ards for writing and assessment; and training programs for faculty who want to integrate writing into their courses.

Keywords: Writing across the curriculum, core classes, economics, business

HOW WRITTEN COMMUNICATION concepts and skills have been integrated into core courses in a College of Business and Economics was the subject of the research reported in this article. The study took place at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) during the 1999-2000 academic year. The research has implications for revising and developing business communication courses to reflect the writing assignments required in upper-division core courses, for developing standards concerning writing and assessment, and for training faculty members who integrate writing in their courses. After a brief review of the literature on writing-across-the curriculum (WAC) programs in the context of business programs, we describe the findings from our study.

Brief Review of WAC Programs in Business Programs

WAC programs, which became popular in the 1970s, encouraged faculty members outside the writing disciplines to view writing as an integral part of their disciplines rather than the sole responsibility of those who teach in the writing disciplines. As described in The Development of Writing Abilities (Britton, Burgess, Martin, McLeod, & Rosen, 1975), a theory upon which WAC is based, WAC required faculty members to adopt writing methods concerning developing assignments and explaining them to their students, helping students complete the writing process, and assessing their students' work. Moreover, it encouraged faculty members to use main function categories. These categories include transactional writing in which the writer uses "language to get things done: to inform people, to advise or persuade or instruct people" and expressive writing in which the writer maintains journals and freewrites (Britton et al., p. 88). Utilizing both writing methods and writing categories is time consuming and, at the same ti me, promotes learning among students. White (1994) claims it forces them to make sense of what they already know. Likewise, Elbow (1973) states, "Meaning is not what you start out with but what you end up with" (p. 15). Furthermore, he views writing "not as a way to transmit a message but as a way to grow and cook a message" (p. 15).

Evidence is apparent that business programs have incorporated WAC in their curriculum. In these programs, writing is a legitimate part of each discipline; students are required to transfer the knowledge and skills learned in their traditional writing courses to their business courses. For example, in Ranney and McNeilly's project (1996), writing assignments were incorporated into an introductory international business course. Using a team approach, a subject specialist and a writing specialist developed the assignments, explained them to the students, and evaluated them. …

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