Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Faculty Define the Role of Writing in the Social Sciences of Agriculture

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Faculty Define the Role of Writing in the Social Sciences of Agriculture

Article excerpt


Faculty members whoteach writing-intensive courses in the social sciences of agriculture defined writing using four themes-writing in agriculture, characteristics of effective writers, teaching writing and writing factors. Writing, as described by faculty, is a window to the brain and helps students retain and transfer knowledge. Therefore, effective writers have an imagination, a dedication to communicating, an understanding of style, a framework for writing, an inquisitive mind, a motivation to write and a want to know more. To become critical thinkers and knowledge creators through writing, students should present and defend a topic to a variety of public audiences, write repetitively and receive rich, timely feedback. Additionally, implementing reading assignments in writing-intensive courses helps students understand the real-world application of writing as well as the language of their discipline. Writing instructors should spend more time, however, linking writing to learning at the beginning of class, explaining how writing can help students learn more about their disciplines and discussing how to transfer writing skills. More research needs to be conducted on each one of the writing factors to determine at what level they impact critical thinking and knowledge creation, if in fact they do at all.


In the past, faculty members contended it was not their responsibility to teach writing (Cobia, 1986; Kitzhaber, 1963; Stewart, 1987) because teaching content is an educators' first priority (Zhu, 2004). Writing, though, is a part of every discipline and cannot be taught isolated from it (Grimes, 1986). Strachan (2008) argued that learning the language of a discipline is part of gaining knowledge in the discipline. Language, as defined by Strachan (2008), is a discipline's "vocabulary, conventional sentence structures, patterns of organization and reasoning, [and] modes of audience address" (p. 50). Therefore, learning the language is an essential skill for a successful career (National Commission on Writing, 2003; Reynolds, 2010).

In 2003, the National Commission on Writing proclaimed that writing education needed transformation and since that time, writing within the discipline has invaded college campuses. According to Hudd et al., 2013, writing instructors have two roles: coaches who guide the creative and discovery process and teachers who help students understand writing conventions and standards within the discipline. Bean (2011) argued that students fail as writers because of writing instructors lack of effort to teach writing. Teaching writing is time consuming (Bok, 2006), but Soven (1986) suggested it cannot be eliminated at the cost of teaching content. If faculty focus more on helping their students during the development stages of the writing process, it would eliminate hours spent providing summative feedback at the end of the project (Schiff, 2010).

In separate studies more than two decades apart, faculty recognized their lack of skills to teach discipline-specific writing (Cobia, 1986; Rocca, 2010). "No way! Are you crazy? I don't have enough time to grade all that stuff. Besides, what business do I have teaching writing skills? I can't write myself. I can't recognize poor mechanics let alone teach someone else to write properly. I'm not trained in writing; it's not my job" (Cobia, 1986, p. 22). Although faculty in Cobia's study seemed to lack the desire to learn how to teach writing, Rocca (2010) found faculty showed a moderate to high level of interest in improving their ability to teach writing even though they recognized their lack of skills.


The purpose of this qualitative study was to define writing in the social sciences of agriculture using semistructured interviews with faculty who teach writingintensive courses at Texas A&M University. Three research questions guided this study:

1. Is writing important in the social sciences of agriculture? …

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