New Scholarship on Writing Beyond the University: Writers’ Complex Experiences
by Julia Bleakney
New studies seek to update the field of Writing Studies’ understanding of writing beyond the university by explaining how writers enter into and navigate these spheres, writers’ complex roles in non-curricular writing contexts, or the kinds of writing they conduct. In this blog post, one in a series of blogs on topics connected to the 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency, I examine 3 recent publications that study students and professionals as they navigate different writing contexts and systems. All 3 studies are based on observations of writers’ practices and analyses of their writing. Each study focuses on smaller numbers of writers (from 2 to 9 participants), offering thick descriptions of their writing experiences and practices and the beyond-the-university contexts in which they write. Across the studies, the authors find writers showing adaptability, drawing on prior knowledge or anticipating the need for new knowledge, and composing or creating content in new ways.
In “The Teaching for Transfer Curriculum: The Role of Concurrent Transfer and Inside-and Outside-School Contexts in Supporting Students’ Writing Development,” Kathleen Blake Yancey, Matthew Davis, Liane Robertson, Kara Taczak, and Erin Workman (2019) focus on how students transfer writing knowledge concurrently (from one course to another while they are in a TFT course) and into multiple sites (from a TFT course into other writing contexts both in and out of the classroom, such as internships, the workplace, or self-sponsored contexts). As writers navigate across these contexts, they transfer and adapt their TFT learning as they need it, or “just-in-time” as the authors suggest (271). This type of transfer occurs when “they are cued to the idea that transfer is possible,” their curriculum introduces key terms to help them talk about their writing knowledge and practice, and they can reflect on their writing (291). The authors’ confirmation that “students draw on prior knowledge for transfer as they compose in new writing situations, and [that] the process and texts of such composing inform and re-form their earlier writing knowledge and practice” (292) especially when students are moving into non-curricular writing contexts, suggests the potential for students to bring and adapt their writing knowledge and practice gained in courses into writing beyond the university.
Claire Lauer and Eva Brumberger, in their 2019 article “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace,” focus on what writers are being asked to write in the workplace. Their research, based on the working lives of 9 professional writers and approximately 100 hours of observations, found that the writers spent a disproportionate amount of time editing and remixing existing content, rather than composing new content. The authors argue that “social media and other composing technologies and distribution channels” has led to workplaces in which employees are not “writing” as it is typically taught in courses, with a focus on the writing process from invention, to drafting, to revision, and then publication. Instead, the researchers found that often “writers actually act as multimodal editors—people who work with myriad modes of content—often encountered in medias res after the content has been originated by coworkers or consultants” (637).
Their findings suggest that curricula needs to “adopt an understanding of writing-as-multimodal-editing” (657) in order to orient students toward the kinds of practices and ways of thinking they may encounter in the workplace. Confirming what our field knows about teaching writing recursively and rhetorically, the authors suggest that to adopt an understanding of “writing-as-multimodal-editing:means to rethink notions of authorship (who creates and owns content?), the traditional classroom practice of teaching a linear writing and revision process, and how we prepare students for professional writing. They offer some practical suggestions for how to teach writing as multimodal editing, including asking students to rewrite or remix existing content and complete quick-turnaround “sprint” assignments.
Jonathan Alexander, Karen Lunsford, and Carl Whithaus, in their 2020 “Toward Wayfinding: A Metaphor for Understanding Writing Experiences,” theorize these new writing contexts, recognizing—like the other studies do—the “often extraordinarily complex ways [writers] use, develop, seek out, and adapt a variety of literacies, or what have come to be called in our field ‘multiliteracies’” (105). While Alexander et al don’t directly reference the two other studies discussed here, they find similar complex adaptive writing or “adaptive transfer” (DePalma and Ringer) as writers move into the workplace. To this end, their “wayfinding” metaphor helps them describe the characteristics of writing and literacy for graduate writers emphasizing recursivity and movement in and across writing contexts and ecologies (121). Alexander et al.’s wayfinding metaphor draws some connections to Yancey et al. in how the metaphor reveals the “ impact of anticipated knowledge” and writers’ “awareness of how different writing situations intertwine,” and it connects to Lauer and Bromberger in how these authors show writers’ wrestling with one’s identity as a writer (connecting to the notion of authorship) and the impact media and writing technologies have on writing (123).
Drawing on these analyses of writers’ real writing experiences, all articles address the relevance of their findings to writing studies researchers and instructors who prepare students for the writing they will do outside of the classroom situation and after graduation. Some of the implications include:
- A “conceptual map” for understanding various experiences of writing in and beyond the university (Alexander et al.)
- Evidence of the ability to engage students in transfer of writing knowledge and practice when certain conditions are met, such as cueing transfer and using key terms and reflection (Yancey et al.)
- Using the “process of writing-as-multimodal editing” concept to help students further develop rhetorical understanding, clarity in writing, and audience awareness (Lauer and Brumberger)
- Alexander, Jonathan, Karen Lunsford, and Carl Whithaus. 2020. “Toward Wayfinding: A Metaphor for Understanding Writing Experiences.” Written Communication 37, no. 1: 104-31.
- Lauer, Claire, and Eva Brumberger. 2019. “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace.” College Composition and Communication 70, no. 4: 634-663.
- Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Matthew Davis, Liane Robertson, Kara Taczak, and Erin Workman. 2019. “The Teaching for Transfer Curriculum: The Role of Concurrent Transfer and Inside- and Outside-School Contexts in Supporting Students’ Writing Development.” College Composition and Communication 71, no. 2: 268-295.
Julia Bleakney is director of The Writing Center in the Center for Writing Excellence and assistant professor of English at Elon University. She is co-leading the 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency.
How to cite this post:
Bleakney, Julia. 2020, September 30. “New Scholarship on Writing Beyond the University: Writers’ Complex Experiences” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/new-scholarship-on-writing-beyond-the-university-writers-complex-experiences