Composition studies

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Composition studies (also referred to as composition and rhetoric, writing studies, or simply composition) is the professional field of writing, research, and instruction, focusing especially on writing at the college level in the United States. In many American colleges and universities, undergraduate students must take freshman — sometimes even higher — composition courses. For example, in California, all public colleges and universities have freshman and sophomore composition courses as requirements. Composition studies is a major area of research within the discipline of Rhetoric and Composition (also referred to as composition and rhetoric).

Over seventy American universities offer doctoral study in rhetoric and composition,[1] programs which usually include study of composition pedagogical theory and the history of rhetoric. Many composition scholars study not only the theory and practice of post-secondary writing instruction, but also the influence of different writing conventions and genres on writers' composing processes.[2] Composition scholars also publish in the fields of Teaching English as a second or foreign language (TESOL), writing centers, and new literacies.[3]

First-year composition[edit]

Most US universities have a required first-year composition course, also referred to as FYC. This is not the same as a literature course, which focuses on literary analysis and interpretation, although some colleges and universities do incorporate literature and other humanities into their composition courses; often, however, composition courses offer intensive instruction in writing non-fiction, expository texts using academic discourse conventions. Writing curricula vary considerably from institution to institution, but it may emphasize many stages of different writing processes (invention or brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, proofreading), different forms of writing (narration, exposition, description, argumentation, comparison and contrast), different portions of the written product (introductions, conclusions, thesis statements, presentation and documentation of forms of evidence, inclusion of quotations, etc.), along with different modalities of composing to expand the concept of 'writing'. Pedagogies or approaches to teaching writing are grounded in a range of different traditions and philosophies.

Advanced composition[edit]

Some universities require further instruction in writing and offer courses that expand upon the skills developed in First-year composition. Second level or advanced composition may emphasize forms of argumentation and persuasion, digital media, research and source documentation formats, and/or genres of writing across a range of disciplines and genres (see also Writing across the curriculum below). For example, the skills required to write business letters or annual reports will differ significantly from those required to write historical or scientific research or personal memoirs.

Graduate studies[edit]

Doctoral programs in Composition Studies are available at more than seventy universities and Masters's programs are available in over 170 universities.[4] Such programs are commonly housed within English Studies or Education programs, although it is increasingly the case that they found their own departments (e.g., of Composition Studies, Writing & Rhetoric, Composition & Linguistics, and so on) .

Second-language writing[edit]

Second language writing is the practice of teaching English composition to non native speakers and writers of English. Teaching writing to ESL students does not receive very much attention because even in ESL classes teachers focus on speaking, listening and reading, not just writing. As Paul Kei Matsuda says in his article "Situating ESL writing in a cross-disciplinary context": Although the writing needs of English as Second Language (ESL) students in U.S. higher education have been increasing as the number of ESL students continues to rise, institutional practices that are responsive to the unique needs of ESL writers are yet to be developed. The relative lack of attention to ESL issues in writing programs may be related to how the field of ESL writing has been defined in relation to its related disciplines: Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) and composition studies (1).[5] Matsuda wants to confer the importance of teaching writing specifically with understanding the needs of these students to help them improve their writing. Teaching writing has progressed through several approaches during the history of education in the United States. ESL teachers might need to explore these approaches to create an approach that meets the needs of ESL writers and help them to overcome their difficulties.

Vocabulary, spelling, grammar, writing styles and no knowledge of academic discourse are difficulties that ESL students face when they study writing. In a survey, a researcher asked ESL students what they would like to have learned or learned better in their writing classes. The researcher found that the largest percentages expressed specific needs in vocabulary and grammar.[6] Not only do ESL students have trouble with vocabulary and grammar, but when they learn some words, they need correct spelling. Therefore, spelling is a big problem when they want to write. English spelling is not phonetic so it is difficult to learn. The learners need time and effort to master it. Because writing requires correct spelling, they must learn it as a first step to being an English writer. After vocabulary and spelling, the writing of English requires good grammar. Many kinds of grammar make ESL students confused, especially because there are many exceptions. According to Al-Buainain (2006) "The students had a hard time selecting the appropriate verb form" (5).[7] This problem may result from an incorrect transfer from the student's language to the English language. According to Mike Srelby (2006), "There is a connection between the native language of learners and particular difficulties in learning and using English and the kind of mistakes learners typically make in English pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary as there is a native- language interference in learning and using English" (1).[8] After the difficulty of grammar, ESL students may have a hard time knowing the style of writing essays, especially because writing styles are different in different languages. Another major difficulty is that when the ESL students have become good at grammar and style, they face a large problem when they enter their chosen academic field. David Bartholomew in his article, "Inventing the University," says that each community discourse has a particular language or vocabulary.[9] The problem is that any academic field has its own language that differs from one to another. This problem is faced not only by ESL students, but all American students will struggle with this when they begin the first year of their academic life.

ESL teachers may meet these needs by using the most common theories of teaching writing: expressive, cognitive and social. The first one of these approaches is represented in Murray's article "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product."[10] This approach allows for wittier creating and freer movement. In contrast, “Understanding composing" by Sondra Perl explains in detail the second approach which is the cognitive view. This theory says that writing is progressing from one stage to another in a series of single steps.[11] That means “good” writing is a planned process, which includes planning, translating and reviewing. Another approach is the social view which shows the importance of teaching writing by making students learn the different languages of discourse communities. This is what Bartholemew confirms in his article. He uses "Inventing the University" as a phrase that describes the writing process that a student will experience when writing teachers ask them to write about a topic that relates with a discourse community which is new for them.[12] Therefore, ESL teachers may need to look at different ways of teaching writing to see which one addresses ESL student’s difficulties in the best way or if a combination of them is better.

Multicultural Pedagogies[edit]

Basis in Composition Studies[edit]

While multicultural pedagogies are not specifically tied to second-language writing pedagogies, compositionists have often considered how students’ cultural knowledge and use of idioms, dialects, and/or languages other than American Edited English (AEA) can enhance their instruction in English composition. For example, Maxine Hairston’s “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing” advocates for students’ expressivist writing to be central in a composition course, and believes students “need to write to find out how much they know and to gain confidence in the ability to express themselves effectively” (186).[13] Hairston also believes that teachers can design writing assignments to encourage “cross-cultural awareness” (191).[13] In addition, Beth Daniell’s approach in “Narratives of Literacy: Connecting College Composition to Culture” describes how studies in “little narratives [that] almost all examine literacy in particular local settings” championed by scholars who “seldom make theoretical statements that claim to be valid for literate cultures in general or literate cultures in general,” which would allow students to engage in cultural critique (403).[14] Aaron Schutz and Anne Ruggles Gere’s article for College English, “Service Learning and English Studies,” described how Schutz’s course, while it was mainly focused in service learning and local activism, engaged students in collaborative research and writing surrounding campus-wide issues, such as an instance of racial discrimination that occurred in the local student union; this allowed students to engage in cultural awareness as well as cultural critique (129-39).[15]

Furthermore, In Empowering Education, Ira Shor delineates a pedagogy in which the teacher facilitates discussion of generative themes produced by the students, and provides the example of his basic writing course with working-class students at “a low-budget college in New York City” several decades ago (10). [16] The Frierian approach for teaching literacy and writing that Shor reviews in Empowering Education demonstrates how the generative words manifested themselves “[through] researching local issues and language in the students’ communities. From the many linguistic and sociological items…the educators selected some key concerns—generative themes expressed through generative words” (55). [16] In this framework, teachers and students research these items collaboratively, and once students have presented their research on problems in their community, they may begin to decide how they might analyze and upend power structures or rhetorical situations that contribute to and exacerbate such issues. For Shor’s classroom, “[t]he generative themes [that have] emerg[ed]…from student culture have most often related to sex, abortion, drugs, family, education, careers, work, and the economic crisis” (56). [16] Shor believes it is important to allow students to build a basis for problem-posing upon their prior knowledge and experiences to make it multicultural.[16]

Shor also reviews Paolo Freire’s literacy project in Brazil as described in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which enforces the idea that all people are creators of culture through visuals, oral discussion, and creation of word lists that are the basis for which the people begin to use language to express how the dominant culture operates, how their home culture operates, and how these systemic actions impact themselves and the world (Freire 87-124). [17] In this way, both Freire and Shor believe problem-posing education can be situated in multicultural practices as well as critical literacy practices. Shor insists “subject matter is best introduced as problems related to student experience, in language familiar to them” (63).[16]

Critical Reception of Multicultural Pedagogies[edit]

Overall, previous scholars’ discussion of multiculturalism in the classroom seems to privilege “cross-cultural interactions” and valuing students’ home languages as well as their cultural ideologies. However, in Donald Lazere’s Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric, Lazere criticizes Hairston, Daniell, Schutz, Gere, and other scholars for their approaches because of their singular focus on localism in lieu of more “global” and critical approaches to the study of culture in the composition classroom (152-153).[18] In addition, Lazere was critical of scholars’ tendency to diminish the power of Edited American English (EAE) and misrepresent the power of the students’ regional code (116). [18] While Lazere supports Shor’s approach to multicultural critical pedagogy, he admits some level of discomfort with applying it in his own classroom especially with respect to how much responsibility and stock Shor places in students (39).[18]

Current Approaches to Multicultural Pedagogies in Composition and Second-Language Writing[edit]

Lazere’s critique of previous scholarship related to multiculturalism pedagogies, in Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric and elsewhere, has prompted current composition theorists, both in second-language writing and in the field of composition in general, to consider how multicultural pedagogies can embrace globalism as much as localism.

For example, Lisa Eck’s “Thinking Globally, Teaching Locally” describes how Eck teaches world literature courses in which students read cultural narratives and problematize them—in the article, she references her use of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions in her composition classroom. [19] Through her teaching, she is attempting to answer the question of how multicultural pedagogical practices could still be based in research, critical literacy, and problem-posing education. In her approach, she engages students in the kind of literary criticism that is necessary for analyzing and evaluating critical discourse: “I work to make hybrid postcolonial identities familiar, even analogous at times, to what we understand as the process of identity formation for the average postmodern college student….I [also] use the Otherness of the cultures reproduced in foreign texts to estrange the American familiar” (579).[19] The kinds of inquiry students are using to analyze the text are to show how the text is both “not about you” and “about you,” and how these processes of identity formation are the kinds of processes necessary to critically evaluate public discourse.[19]

Furthermore, Jennifer S. Wilson’s approach to critical pedagogy in second-language writing as she describes it in her article, “Engaging Second Language Writers in Freshman Composition: A Critical Approach,” utilizes a perspective that provides opportunities for the types of writing necessary for students to critically analyze and evaluate ideologies entrenched in the dominant discourse, even as they are learning English as their second language.[20] In other words, the four major elements of the course that Wilson describes, especially with respect to the ideas she offers for critical writing assignments, create alternative pathways for students to produce writing that has the potential to disrupt cultural and political ideologies represented in various avenues and niches of the dominant public discourse. For example, in addition to incorporating “local topics,” Wilson provides options for students to “investigate language use in certain communities, societies, or cultures” as well as “investigating” the relationships between language and power (8-9).[20] Even more important, she insists that “[c]ritical pedagogy is concerned with minimizing the power differential between student and teacher; in composition classrooms one way for students to maximize their voices is to publish their work in authentic ways” (9).[20]

Writing across the curriculum[edit]

Because academic discourse is not monolithic, many compositionists have created a writing across the curriculum (WAC) movement that situates writing-intensive instruction in specific academic discourse communities.

Writing in the disciplines[edit]

Many university writing programs include writing in the disciplines (WID) courses, which focus on the genres and writing procedures that occur within specific fields of research.

Writing center[edit]

Many colleges and universities have a writing center, which offers supplementary tutorial support for writing specifically in English classes and/or across the curriculum. Many universities not in North America only offer writing instruction via writing centers. The European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing (EATAW), for example, specifically concerns itself with the study and advancement of writing centers in Europe.

Since multimodality has resonated with Composition Studies, many writing centers have developed associated centers to support students' multimodal, multimedia composing. Some models for this work include the digital studio and multiliteracy centers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Doctoral Consortium in Rhetoric and Composition
  2. ^ Genre Across Borders
  3. ^ Comp FAQs from CompPile
  4. ^ Master's Degree Consortium of Writing Studies Specialists
  5. ^ Matsuda, Paul K. "Situating ESL Writing in a Cross-Disciplinary Context." Written Communication, Sage Publications, 1998, 15 (1), pp 99-121.
  6. ^ Al-buainain, Haifa. “Student Writing Errors in EFL.” Qatar University, 2006, pp 1 -37.
  7. ^ Al-buainain, Haifa. “Student Writing Errors in EFL.” Qatar University, 2006, pp 1 -37.
  8. ^ Shelby, Mike. "Street Smart Language Learning." Blogger, 2006,
  9. ^ Bartholomae, David "Inventing the University," Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, A Reader, 3rd ed. Edited by Victor Villanueva and Kristin L. Arola, National Council of Teachers of English, 2011, pp. 523- 555.
  10. ^ Murray, Donald M. "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product." Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, A Reader, 3rd ed. Edited by Victor Villanueva and Kristin L. Arola, National Council of Teachers of English, 2011, pp 3-6.
  11. ^ Perl, Sondra. "Understanding Composing" Handout, Composition Theories, University of Akron, 2016.
  12. ^ Bartholomae, David "Inventing the University," Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, A Reader, 3rd ed.Edited by Victor Villanueva and Kristin L. Arola, National Council of Teachers of English, 2011, pp. 523- 555.
  13. ^ a b Hairston, Maxine (1992). "Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing". College Composition and Communication. 43.3: 178–93 – via JSTOR. 
  14. ^ Daniell, Beth (1999). "Narratives of Literacy: Connecting College Composition to Culture". College Composition and Communication. 50: 393–410 – via JSTOR. 
  15. ^ Schutz, Aaron; Anne, Gere (1998). "Service Learning and English Studies: Rethinking 'Public Service". College English. 60: 129–149 – via JSTOR. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Shor, Ira (1992). Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-14786-4 – via Google Play Books. 
  17. ^ Freire, Paolo (2014). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition. Translated by Ramos, Myra. New York: Bloomsbury. 
  18. ^ a b c Lazere, Donald (2015). Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric: Defending Academic Discourse Against Postmodern Pluralism. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. ISBN 978-0-8093-3428-5. 
  19. ^ a b c Eck, Lisa (2008). "Thinking Globally, Teaching Locally". College English. 60: 578–598 – via CompPile. 
  20. ^ a b c Wilson, Jennifer (2010). "Engaging Second Language Writers in Freshman Composition: A Critical Approach". Composition Forum. 22: 1–14 – via CompPile. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Berlin, James A. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900–1985. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1987.
  • Connors, Robert J. Composition–Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1997.
  • Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford UP. Severalmiss editions; last in 1999.
  • Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1998.
  • Faigley, Lester. Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992.
  • Horner, Winifred Bryan, and Lynee Lewis Gaillet, eds. The Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric: A Twenty-First Century Guide. U of Missouri, 2010.
  • Miller, Susan. Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991.
  • North, Stephen. The Making of Knowledge in Composition Studies. Upper Montclair, N.J.: Boynton/Cook, 1987.
  • Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. Composition as a Human Science. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
  • Tate, Gary. Teaching Composition: 12 Bibliographical Essays. Fort Worth: TCU P, 1986.
  • Miller, Susan. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.

External links[edit]