Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is a vast area of composition study.  Generally, Writing Across the Curriculum pertains to how people write for a different subject matter.  For example, writing a psychology paper would require a different rhetorical process than writing an English paper.  Different writing techniques are used to distinguish English content from Psychology content as each entails a different rhetorical situation.  Charles Bazerman, a professor of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the most influential advocates of Writing Across the Curriculum claims that "to understand what language conveys we must look to the contexts in which language operates and to which language refers" (1).  WAC posits the idea that while some basic writing skills remain universal, other writing conventions adapt from one specific field of knowledge to another.  


I.                  Forms of Writing Across the Curriculum


a.      Writing to Learn (WTL)

b.      Writing in the Disciplines (WID)

II.                History of Writing Across the Curriculum

            a.       The Beginnings

b.      The 1960's and 1970's

c.       WAC Today

III.             Attributes of Writing Across the Curriculum

            a.       Transfer

b.       Peer tutoring

c.       Argumentation

d.       Citation

IV.             Writing Across the Curriculum in Practice

a.       Teaching WAC

                     i.      Professional Tutoring and Conventions                    

                     ii.      Models to follow

                     iii.      Writing Across the Curriculum as a Universal Process

Forms of Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing to Learn (WTL)

Writing to Learn (WTL) is a writing process where the writer discovers and produces knowledge by writing.  Writing to Learn has been coined as a concept of "informal writing" where the writer partakes in reflective writing to form meanings and facilitate concepts that are not fully thought out yet.  An example of Writing to Learn would be lecture notes, reading notes, or reflective journals.  These WTL activities are generally ungraded in terms of writing skills, as the focus for completion of these activities constitute one's participation, reflection, and thought processes of content within a specific discourse. The completion of WTL activities prepares students for Writing in the Disciplines (WID).

Writing in the Disciplines (WID)

Writing in the Disciplines (WID) is a writing process where the writer exhibits a structured argument or response according to the conventions of a specific discourse.  Unlike Writing to Learn where the writer discovers and reflects through writing, Writing in the Disciplines assesses the student's writing technique and understanding of the content matter within a discipline.  Purdue Writing Lab claims that "some common WID assignments are reports, literature reviews, project proposals, and lab reports" (2).  Generally, students' lab reports or literature reviews are graded on  how well they use the language conventions of the discipline to convey meaning.

History of Writing Across the Curriculum

The Beginnings

Although Writing Across the Curriculum did not begin until the 1970's, it began its precedence much earlier.  Essentially, Writing Across the Curriculum indirectly began when writing was first instructed in universities.   Chares Bazerman, an education professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and David Russell, professor of English, Iowa State University recognize the idea that writing was first introduced in universities in order to aid intelligent math and science students who were weak in writing skills.  Universities recognized the necessity of learning writing skills alongside science and math.  When first implemented, the teaching of composition was considered part of the "English" department, rather than practiced throughout specific curriculums.  Scholars at the time believed that a first-year writing course would be enough to teach students the writing skills they would need throughout college.  This single "English composition course" later evolved into the teaching of writing skills for different disciplines.

The 1960's and 1970's

One of the most prominent turning points in WAC history was the publication of the 1975 Newsweek article "Why Johnny Can't Write" (3). This article recognized attention toward the student's poor writing at the time, as well as prompted the composition pedagogy standards to be re-evaluated.  The practice and teaching of writing started to evolve from "knowing the skills of writing" to "using the skills of writing in a particular rhetorical situation."  It was only a matter of time before students started to write for "rhetorical situations" aside from their English classes. The 60's and 70's led to the creation of writing within different rhetorical situations, and ultimately different disciplines. 

WAC Today

Today, there is writing instruction for each discipline.  However, there are no standards for WAC.  Each university may tackle teaching WAC in a new unique way from other universities, though generally WAC is taught according to a specific model of teaching (see below). WAC is becoming more mainstream in college education.  Rita Malenczyk, a writing director and English professor at Eastern Connecticut State University recognizes within her article, "WAC's Disappearing Act," that writing across the curriculum is "gradually being subsumed or dispersed into other disciplines or programmatic structures, and therefore being transformed into something other than what it was before, something perhaps less obviously about writing alone" (4).  Writing Across the Curriculum has been a successful process.  No longer are writing professors the only ones to integrate writing across the curriculum; the professors from various disciplines are developing more and more ways to better writing techniques within their own discipline.  Malenczyk recognizes this as "a logical outgrowth of WAC's success."  Today, WAC is constantly changing.  Universities differ in how they teach Writing Across the Curriculum, but ultimately, WAC is becoming a normal process within each discourse community.

Attributes of Writing Across the Curriculum

Each of these attributes of Writing Across the Curriculum explain the change of context from one rhetorical situation to another.  Upon changing their rhetorical situation, a writer must acknowledge these attributes as he or she adapts to the new criteria present within the new discipline.


Charles Bazerman mentions that transfer occurs when students adapt from discipline to discipline.  The content in an English paper will most certainly not be the same content within a Psychology paper.  Even if some content remains mutual, such as discussing Psycho-Analytic Theory, the writer must adapt the content to fit the requirements of each discipline.  In English, one would use the scope of Psycho-Analytic Theory to understand a specific text, whereas in Psychology, students would likely study the backbone of the theory.  As the writer’s context changes, the use of content must also adapt to the new genre of writing.

Peer Tutoring and Revision

Peer revision is an essential part of Writing Across the Curriculum.  The methods of peer revision vary by educational institution, but generally peer tutors assist students in writing for many different disciplines.  Sometimes this is in the form of a Writing Center, while other times tutoring may develop out of a “Fellows Program”  where undergraduate tutors help students and assist faculty in a particular writing class of a specific discipline.


Christopher Wolfe, in his article “Argumentation Across the Curriculum” acknowledges that “most writing assignments required students to engage in some form of argumentation.  This is consistent with my observation that argumentation skills are highly valued across the curriculum” (5).  Argumentation is different among disciplines of writing.  In an English paper, and many other papers from the arts, the writer’s argument is most often created by constructing a thesis as a common theme for one’s ideas.  In business, the argument would mostly come in the form of a proposal, where a writer negotiates from a common business standpoint.  Scientific writing uses procedures and statistics to arrive at various conclusions.  Sometimes, the argument is less explicit, like in creative writing, where the argument is more or less implied. 

Each discipline has its own way of arguing some common point.  Even then, a discipline, such as English, may sub-divide and differ in the way the writer executes the given content.  Creative writing and response to literature are both sub-divisions of the “English” discipline which express argumentation in a different way.  A common trait about argumentation between each discipline is that the subject matter within a discipline is the factor that determines how one writes and essentially creates an argument.    


Citation methods are ways to format and cite research within a paper.  Citation methods generally differ among each discipline.  How the writer brings up research and formats in a Psychology paper is different than how a writer of English would format their paper and introduce research.  Most of the literature, arts, and humanity tend to use MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual format.  Psychology, nursing, education, as well as many other social sciences use APA (American Psychological Association) style.  Another common citation style is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) which can be used for any discipline, but is most commonly associated with History.  These are the three main citation styles, but there are many others used for specific disciplines, such as Turbian or ASA (American Sociological Association). (6) 

Writing Across the Curriculum in Practice

Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum

The teaching of Writing Across the Curriculum has never been constant.  The pedagogy differs among schools because the study is so large and vast.  There are a variety of different teaching methods for Writing Across the Curriculum that professors follow, but even then, the teaching of Writing Across the Disciplines varies.

A.    Professional tutoring and Conventions

Professor conventions and professional tutoring have both helped to shape the teaching methods of WAC.   Professional tutoring takes place when writing professors meet with other professors in different disciplines in order to encourage Writing Across the Curriculum.  Often times these professional workshops are held within the same university with an “English Composition Board,” where English professors oversee other professors to create the rules and regulations of Writing Across the Curriculum.  Other times, conventions combine professors of different universities to meet together and discuss how to encourage WAC pedagogy, as well as train professors to teach writing skills within their own area of study.  One of the larger, most renowned workshops was “The Bay Area Movement,” which played an essential role in helping professors meet and establish criteria for Writing Across the Curriculum.

B.     WAC Teaching Models

There are different models for teaching Writing Across the Curriculum.  These models have generally been created by the professional conventions, where academic scholars meet and discuss how to teach Writing Across the Curriculum, and these specific teaching models have evolved from the typical “freshmen writing course” that was used to teach Writing Across the Curriculum for so many years. There are two primary models (4), though many other universities have models deviating from either one or combining parts of both.  The first model to teach Writing Across the Curriculum is to require writing intensive classes for each major.  A second model is to integrate writing skills into a variety of the classes within a specific major.  These models have helped to develop the foundation for a modern WAC curriculum.

C.     Writing Across the Curriculum as a Universal Process

Writing Across the Curriculum has been such a successful process since the 1970’s that today many disciplines accept and refine writing processes within their own areas of study.  Professors from various other disciplines are developing more and more ways to better writing techniques within their own discipline, so no longer are Writing and English professors the only ones integrating methods to teach WAC.  Universities vary in the ways of teaching Writing Across the Curriculum, and at the rate in which they encourage the teaching of WAC.  WAC is becoming less a universal act for the whole university, and more a universal act dispersed within each individual discipline.


1. Bazerman, Charles, and David R. Russell. "What Written Knowledge Does: Three Examples of Academic Discourse."  Landmark Essays on Writing Across the Curriculum.  Davis, CA: Hermagoras, 1994.  Print.

2. "Welcome to the Purdue OWL." Purdue OWL: Writing Across the Curriculum: An Introduction. Purdue University, 4 June 2012.  Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

3. Sheils, Merrill.  "Why Johnny Can't Write." Newsweek 8 Dec. 1975: 58-62. Web.

4. Malenczyk, Rita.  "WAC's Disappearing Act."  pgs. 89-114.  Ritter, Kelly, and Paul Kei.  Matsuda.  Exploring Composition Studies: Sites, Issues, and Perspectives.  Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2012.  Print.

5. Wolfe, Christopher R.  "Argumentation Across the Curriculum." Written Communication 28.2 (2011): 193-219.  Academic Search Premier.  Web. 14 Oct. 2012.

6. "Style Manuals & Citation Methods."  CSULB Library.  California State University, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.