Academic journal article Peer Review

Writing and the Disciplines

Academic journal article Peer Review

Writing and the Disciplines

Article excerpt

By Jonathan Monroe, professor of comparative literature, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, Cornell University

The growing prominence and institutionalization of "writing across the curriculum" (WAC) and "writing in the disciplines" (WID) programs throughout the United States and abroad has occasioned considerable renewed reflection during the past decade. Although WAC and WID are sometimes used synonymously or interchangeably, and both terms usefully suggest the importance of writing in all fields, these two approaches have very different implications for the role of writing and writing instruction in higher education. While WAC emphasizes the commonality, portability, and communicability of writing practices, WID emphasizes disciplinary differences, diversity, and heterogeneity. That is, WID emphasizes what remains incommensurable and irreducible in writing practices both within academic fields and from one field to the next.

Taken together, the two terms honor the importance of writing and communicating eflectively with audiences situated both within and beyond particular fields of academic specialization. "Writing across the curriculum" has played an important role in (re)establishing and expanding recognition of the importance of wilting in all academic fields, beyond its traditional associations with English, rhetoric, and composition. WAC and WID have been mutually allied in calling attention to the importance of writing in all fields. Nonetheless, I want to argue here that "writing in the disciplines" is best understood not as interchangeable with "writing across the curriculum" but as an alternative orientation with far-reaching implications for the role of writing and writing instruction at all educational levels, from K-12 through higher education.

To the extent that it has remained an administrator-driven and administrator-identified movement, WAC hits only partially realized its best aspirations. If the goal of WAC is to cultivate a sense of the importance of writing in all fields, WID is, in effect, WAC's proper realization. The success of WAC has depended on the often remarkable energy and investments of WAC directors. By contrast, WID suggests that primary responsibility for and ultimate authority over writing rests with individual faculty situated in particular fields. While the scope and coherence of the curriculum as a whole is necessarily a central concern of college and university administrators, individual disciplines remain the sites of the faculty's primary investments in research and teaching. As such, they are the vital link between an institution's vision of undergraduate and graduate education and the role writing plays, or ought to play, in the full realization of that vision.

Who Owns Writing?

Effective writing is central to the work of higher education. It follows, then, that the responsibility for writing should be vested in the disciplines where this work takes place and in the faculty who arc the ultimate arbiters and authorities, latently if not manifestly, over what counts as effective writing in their respective fields. Accordingly, an expanded sense of faculty ownership of questions of writing and disciplinarity at all levels of the curriculum must be continuously cultivated.

If faculty are truly to own writing, this ownership needs to be located and cultivated within the disciplinary investments of individual faculty-not as an add-on or a detour, but as integral to the kinds of research and teaching on which students' success in their respective disciplines necessarily depends. As interest in WID-based approaches, and academic writing more generally, continues to expand in the United States and abroad-e.g., through the recent creation of the European Association of Teachers of Academic Writing, the disciplinary investments of individual faculty remain vital to any serious thinking about the role of writing in higher education. …

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