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Two Approaches to WID: Or, Choose Your Own Academic Writing Adventure

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A few teachers have asked me what the best way is to use An Insider’s Guide to Academic Writing. Kate Lavia-Bagley, an NC State Senior Lecturer and the author of the Instructor’s Manual for An Insider’s Guide, maps out a few different approaches and includes possible syllabi to use for courses. What I’ve found over the years, though, is that various approaches to first-year writing courses that focus on disciplinary writing really boil down to two options. Both can be very effective depending on the expertise of the teacher and the objectives of the writing program in which the course is taught.

  1. Writing in the Disciplines: practicing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts
  2. Writing about the Disciplines: analyzing the kinds of writing students will likely encounter in different disciplinary contexts

A teacher using the first approach, writing in the disciplines, might have students walk through the disciplines, writing something from a humanistic perspective, a social science perspective, and a scientific perspective. Students might practice common genres found in a particular discipline and imitate the conventions they discover. Jessica Saxon’s blog posts about her experience teaching WID for the first time generally follow this approach as she has her students try out writing in different disciplinary areas.

A teacher using the second approach, writing about the disciplines, might focus more on analysis of disciplines and disciplinary writing. Students might write a rhetorical analysis of a scholarly article, or they might compare scholarly and popular articles about the same study. They might write an academic literacy narrative or compare articles on the same topic from different disciplinary perspectives.

Of course, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Some of the best first-year writing courses I’ve seen combine these two approaches in innovative, imaginative ways. Here are two assignment sequences that illustrate the back and forth nature these courses can take:

  1. Academic Literacy Narrative
  2. Analysis of a Scholarly Article
  3. Writing a Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity

  1. Research Proposal
  2. Interdisciplinary Annotated Bibliography
  3. Research/Lab Report
  4. Reflection on Academic Writing and Disciplinarity

I’ve used the second approach several times with great success, sometimes adding a comparative rhetorical analysis. Are there other approaches you’ve considered for teaching a WID-based curriculum? What are the biggest questions and concerns that you have about trying a WID approach? If you’ve tried it already, what are some of the strategies you have found to be most effective?


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About the Author
Susan Miller-Cochran, now Director of the Writing Program at the University of Arizona, helped shape the First-Year Writing Program at North Carolina State University while she served as Director from 2007-2015. Her research focuses on instructional technology, ESL writing, and writing program administration. Her work has appeared in College Composition and Communication, Composition Studies, Computers and Composition, and Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and she is also an editor of Rhetorically Rethinking Usability (Hampton Press, 2009) and Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition (NCTE, 2002). Before joining the faculty at NC State, she was a faculty member at Mesa Community College (AZ). She has served on the Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Executive Board of the Carolinas Writing Program Administrators. She currently serves as President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators.