What is "Writing in the Disciplines?"

Writing in the Disciplines connotes an approach to rhetoric and composition that emphasizes the different disciplines in which specific genres or "kinds" of writing occur. It is related to Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) pedagogies, and is one of may ways to approach writing in a university context. It is not a singular or inflexible model, nor is it a process-based or expressive model (though it incorporates elements of these approaches to composition instruction); rather, it is an inclusive and multivocal approach that emphasizes the countless ways that writing, as Janet Giltrow reminds us, is webbed to social situations.

WAC models emerged in the 1970s in the US, as college teachers found themselves teaching students from a wider variety of backgrounds with different levels of education. As college classrooms diversified, and as disciplines developed increasingly distinct genres for holding and expressing their ideas, rhetoric and composition instructors, genre theorists, and discourse analysts, among many others, recognized that literary or belles lettristic approaches to writing instruction were not necessarily the only, or most effective, models for teaching writing.

As Susan McLeod notes, in its efforts to change the way rhetoric and composition were taught on college and university campuses, “WAC has been, more than any other recent educational reform, one aimed at transforming pedagogy at the college level....WAC draws on many pedagogical techniques used in general composition classes, but unlike those classes (for example, Freshmen Composition) it focuses around a particular body of information. Where freshmen composition might focus on teaching the general features of what we term ‘academic discourse,’ WAC focuses not on writing skills per se but on teaching both the content of the discipline and the particular discourse features used in writing about that content” (150).

Like WAC models of writing instruction, Writing in the Disciplines (WID) pedagogies emphasize that genres of writing are formed in specific social situations, and that genres can perform a "gate-keeping function" within those settings, those discourse communities--regulating who gets to participate in a discipline or profession. As Ann Wennerstrom puts it in Discourse Analysis in the Language Classroom, following the pioneering work of John Swales, genres can limit participation in a discourse community to those who possess "the ability to use genres appropriately" (10). "It is through repeated experience of processing, producing, and reflecting on text," Wennerstom continues, "that we become familiar with the genres of our communities, and when students engage in a variety of genre-based activities, they develop increasingly sophisticated knowledge for how to approach future texts of a similar nature" (10).

Writing in the Disciplines instruction helps students to develop rhetorical skills in the kinds of reading and writing that they will do in their scholarly and professional lives. WID pedagogies work to demystify the writing process and to contextualize textual practice, particularly within the genres significant to the modern research university where knowledge-making and knowledge-sharing are central activities.

WID thus encourages students to participate in the disciplines that interest them and in the genres of writing that are found in those disciplines. WID instructors such as the ones in the Academic Writing Program work to help students recognize that writing has social consequences for artists, for accountants, for scientists, or for CEOs.

One popular mantra used by rhetoric and composition instructors who work within the WID-WAC tradition is that the teacher “moves from being the sage on the stage to be the guide on the side” (McLeod 153). This enables students to imagine themselves in a discipline, to become apprentices in the textual activities of a discipline, and to prepare themselves to become meaningful participants and successful members in that academic or professional discourse community.

If you have any questions about our Writing in the Disciplines approach to rhetoric and composition instruction at the University of Lethbridge and how it might fit into your program, please feel welcome to contact the Academic Writing Program or stop by our offices to talk to an instructor. You might also want to read what some of our students have said about their experiences with Writing in the Disciplines.