Why study academic writing?

The Academic Writing Program offers introductory and advanced classes in rhetoric and composition at the University of Lethbridge. Our genre-based, Writing-in-the Disciplines approach to writing instruction ensures that students will gain valuable insight and experience in the theory and practice of reading and writing in the disciplines relevant to their areas of study—whether in the Arts, the Sciences, Management, Fine Arts, Health Sciences, or Education. Effective reading, writing, and reasoning skills, we believe, are essential in academic as well as professional contexts, and they are the foundation of becoming an educated person.

In Writing 1000: An Introduction to Academic Writing, we are primarily concerned with reading and writing in academic settings--in the modern research university--but we recognize that students will use these skills in their professional and personal lives in various ways.

The university, we emphasize, is a community comprised of differing but interrelated discourses—ways of speaking and writing that are unique to each discipline. In other words, students studying chemistry will be asked to read and write in different ways than students studying business or fine art or kinesiology or history. The different habits of reading, writing, and reasoning in each discipline produce different generic expectations--different methods of analysis and persuasion, different modes of documentation and citation, and so on.

Students in their first or second years are often surprised by this diversity. As David Bartholomae puts it, students must "invent" the university for themselves by trying on a “a variety of voices and interpretive schemes" early in their academic careers—learning how to write, for example, "as a literary critic one day and an experimental psychologist the next" ("Inventing the University" 273).

This diversity, as Bartholomae continues, can seem intimidating or mysterious. Indeed, a Business Proposal in the Dhillon School of Business is clearly different than a Research Paper in Sociology or a Lab Report in Biology: each is a generically distinct kind of writing and a seemingly unrelated way of generating and disseminating knowledge; quite likely, each bears little resemblance to the kind of writing students did in high school. Our goal in Writing 1000, in one sense, is to demystify this diversity: to explain the conventions of academic writing in clear and practical ways and in doing so to help students recognize the generic features of the disciplines in which they are working.

Writing 1000 thus addresses the wide-range of skills that students at the university-level need to develop to be successful academic readers and writers across the disciplines. This includes theoretical lectures and practical exercises related to sentence-skills (i.e., punctuation, grammar, common sentence errors, etc.) and paragraph development, but also to techniques of summary, citation, analysis, persuasion, and information literacy, all of which are essential to writing research papers.

The Academic Writing Program takes a pragmatic approach to rhetoric and composition instruction. Instead of a rule-based or prescriptive approach that emphasizes universal rules and "correctness," we take a pragmatic approach to writing instruction that asks not whether an element of a text (a comma, semicolon, a paragraph, sentence, etc.) is “right” or “wrong,” not whether it conforms to a fixed rule, but rather is it effective and appropriate in a particular rhetorical situation. What does it "do"? Such an approach typically shifts attention away from rule-based pedagogies that emphasize correctness and decontextualized processes to practical ones that foreground the effectiveness of a piece of punctuation, of a word, of a sentence, of a paragraph, of a thesis statement, and so on.

In the most practical terms, this means that our approach is not remedial: students who create comma splices or sentence fragments, no less than students who might not know how to analyze in an academic setting or how to write research papers, do not need to be “cured” of some grammatical ailment or intellectual defect. Rather, the problem, more likely, can be linked to a lack of experience writing in a particular social situation or genre--in our case, the modern research university and the research genres. Students, we believe, need to understand and experience language in the context in which it is used--"on the page" in a particular discipline at the university. Put simply, if you wish to become a scientist or a CGA, you need to learn, respectively, how scientists and accountants read, write, and reason.

Of course, no one can learn to read and write “perfectly” in a thirteen week course. Nonetheless, Writing 1000, as many of our former students attest, is an especially helpful course not only for introducing students to the ways that scholars read and write but also for helping students to develop effective reading and writing skills that will benefit—and distinguish—them in personal and professional situations.

In addition to helping students to develop their academic writing skills, Writing 1000, as an elective, satisfies requirements for Fine Arts and Humanities programming within the Liberal Education List Requirement. Many departments ask students to take a course that is writing intensive, and Writing 1000 may fulfill that requirement.
Similarly, the Dhillon School of Business has designated Writing 1000 as one possible way to satisfy Core Requirements in the Bachelor of Management degree. If you are wondering how our courses would fit into your program, you might want to consult an Academic Advisor.

To get a sense of how past students have found our genre-based, writing-in-the-disciplines approach to academic writing beneficial, visit our student testimonials page.