Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), October 1989, Revised November 2013, Revised March 2015
[Revised version submitted by the Task Force to Revise the CCCC Principles and Standards for the Teaching of Writing (Linda Adler-Kassner, Chair, Sandie Barnhouse, Michele Eodice, Heidi Estrem, Lennie Irvin, Diane Kelly-Riley, Sharon Mitchler, Mike Palmquist) and adopted by the CCCC Executive Committee on November 25, 2013 with further revision approved in March 2015.]
For the over 25 million students enrolled in America’s colleges and universities, postsecondary writing instruction is critical for success in college and beyond. In writing courses, students gain experience analyzing expectations for writing held by different audiences and practice meeting those expectations. This experience contributes significantly to the development of productive writing practices and habits of mind that are critical for success in different contexts, including academic, workplace, and community settings.
For the many stakeholders working to meet the challenges of this enterprise—among them faculty, program directors, deans, and college and university administrators—this statement presents a distillation of principles for sound instruction in postsecondary writing. These principles extend from empirical research in the fields of English Language Arts and Composition and Rhetoric and from existing statements developed by the field’s major organizations (including the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Two Year College English Association, the Council of Writing Program Administrators, and the National Writing Project). They presume that sound writing instruction is provided by professionals with degree-based credentials in Writing Studies, Composition and Rhetoric, or related fields, or that have been provided with and/or have sought out professional development in this area. This particular statement is endorsed by CCCC (the largest professional organization representing two- and four-year writing instruction) and offers guiding principles and enabling conditions for sound writing instruction.
Guiding Principles. Sound writing instruction:
1. emphasizes the rhetorical nature of writing;
2. considers the needs of real audiences;
3. recognizes writing as a social act;
4. enables students to analyze and practice with a variety of genres;
5. recognizes writing processes as iterative and complex;
6. depends upon frequent, timely, and context-specific feedback from an experienced postsecondary instructor;
7. emphasizes relationships between writing and technologies; and
8. supports learning, engagement, and critical thinking in courses across the curriculum.
Enabling Conditions. Sound writing instruction:
9. provides students with the support necessary to achieve their goals;
10. extends from a knowledge of theories of writing (including, but not limited to, those theories developed in the field of composition and rhetoric);
11. is provided by instructors with reasonable and equitable working conditions; and
12. is assessed through a collaborative effort that focus on student learning within and beyond writing courses.
The remainder of this statement elaborates on each of these principles. Selected research-based resources providing additional information (including research studies and existing position statements) are located at the end of this document.
Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing
For the more than 25 million students enrolled in America’s colleges and universities, postsecondary writing instruction is critical for success in college and beyond. In their writing courses, students gain experience analyzing expectations for writing held by different audiences and practice meeting those expectations. This experience contributes significantly to the development of productive writing practices and habits of mind that are critical for success in different contexts, including academic, workplace, and community settings.
The following principles and a related set of enabling conditions distill extensive research on how writers learn, how writers consider the writing situations in which they find themselves, how audiences develop and communicate their expectations for writing, and how those involved in designing and delivering postsecondary writing instruction can best foster success for writers. These principles presume that sound writing instruction is provided by professionals with degree-based credentials in Writing Studies, Composition and Rhetoric, or related fields, or that they are provided with and/or have sought out professional development in this area. From this foundation, the principles and enabling conditions form the foundation of sound writing instruction in postsecondary settings.
Principles of Sound Writing Instruction
1. Sound writing instruction emphasizes the rhetorical nature of writing.
The assertion that writing is “rhetorical” means that writing is always shaped by a combination of the purposes and expectations of writers and readers and the uses that writing serves in specific contexts. To be rhetorically sensitive, good writers must be flexible. They should be able to pursue their purposes by consciously adapting their writing both to the contexts in which it will be read and to the expectations, knowledge, experiences, values, and beliefs of their readers. They also must understand how to take advantage of the opportunities with which they are presented and to address the constraints they encounter as they write. In practice, this means that writers learn to identify what is possible and not possible in diverse writing situations. Writing an email to a friend holds different possibilities for language and form than does writing a lab report for submission to an instructor in a biology class.
Instructors emphasize the rhetorical nature of writing by providing writers opportunities to study the expectations, values, and norms associated with writing in specific contexts. This principle is fundamental to the study of writing and writing instruction. It informs all other principles in this document.
2. Sound writing instruction considers the needs of real audiences.
Writers grow by envisioning and learning to write for a variety of audiences. These include audiences in different postsecondary disciplines and those outside of the academy. In practice, this means that writers develop heightened sensitivities to the needs of a range of audiences by considering expectations and values of audiences and purposes that writing might serve for them. Artificial or purely evaluative prompts for writing often do not offer engagement with real audiences.
Instructors emphasize that qualities of good writing are situated within genuine purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing. This includes developing assignments that engage students in study of and practice with writing rather than modes, forms, or invented situations. It also includes helping writers understand that classmates and writing center consultants can also act as authentic audiences as they read drafts and provide feedback.
3. Sound writing instruction recognizes writing as a social act.
With rare exceptions, writing is a social act. In the same way that genres reflect the collective needs of writers and readers within particular contexts, every document is addressed to at least one reader and reflects a writer’s understanding of that reader’s social context, often including the values of that reader. Writing can also be developed socially if writers are expected to collaborate with one another in stages, from drafting to revision to publication. In practice, this means that writers learn the many ways in which writing is a social activity, considering audiences and contexts for reception and potentially working with other writers as they compose.
Instructors emphasize the collaborative and social aspects of written communication by emphasizing the rhetorical nature of writing and the relationships between audience expectations, genre conventions, and values. This includes providing writers with opportunities for collaboration, including (but not limited to) collaborative planning, drafting, reviewing, revising, and editing of writing.
4. Sound writing instruction enables students to analyze and practice with a variety of genres.
Genres—or distinctive types of texts—emerge from particular social, disciplinary, and cultural contexts. Genres are distinguished by writing, design conventions, and functions within specific contexts. Over time, genres typically evolve to meet the changing demands of those contexts. Some genres eventually stabilize and undergo relatively little change over time. However, the majority continue to adapt to changes in the purposes for which they are used, the readers to whom they are addressed, the sources they use, and the contexts in which they are written and read. In practice, this means that writers learn to analyze the formal and informal rules, or conventions, associated with genres in order to create them. However, they must also realize that different genres are appropriate for different purposes, and that many genres change over time.
Instructors emphasize the nature of genres and their uses within particular contexts by providing students with opportunities to analyze genre conventions—the formal and informal rules that define genre boundaries—of various documents. This includes attention to textual conventions such as organization, register, style, and the use of evidence. It also includes attention to visual design principles and visual rhetorics. Most important, it should help students understand why genres emerge and how they function within particular contexts.
5. Sound writing instruction recognizes writing processes as iterative and complex.
Writing, like thinking, takes shape over time. Writers need time and feedback as they develop successful processes for analyzing audience expectations, creating ideas, conducting research, generating text, and revising and editing. Writing processes are iterative; writers receive feedback on multiple drafts to create successful texts. In practice, this means that writers learn that writing is not produced in one sitting. Even in the case of “on demand” writing (i.e., situations where a writer is given a task and, often, a time limit and must produce the writing immediately), writers are aware of some of the expectations (i.e., that they produce a particular type of writing, or that the writing demonstrate particular characteristics) and, in some instances, the subject matter about which they must write. This is particular true in workplace settings. In settings where writers receive feedback, it also means that writers learn to consider how to respond to feedback in revision.
Instructors emphasize the iterative nature of writing by providing opportunities for students to develop processes for brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing. This includes incorporating opportunities for reflection and fostering the development of metacognitive abilities that are critical for writing development. It also includes explicit attention to interactions between metacognitive awareness and writing activity.
6. Sound writing instruction depends upon frequent, timely, and context-specific feedback to students from an experienced postsecondary instructor.
Writers grow through supportive, specific feedback from experienced postsecondary instructors who have experience teaching writing at the college level and who provide responses tailored to the specific writing project and to the individual writer’s needs. Instructors need to be provided time, space and tools to facilitate effective feedback to students. In practice, this means that writers learn that feedback can be used to inform writing development over time.
Instructors emphasize that feedback is intended to guide writers’ development in specific contexts—whether classes, workplaces, or community sites—by providing supportive, specific feedback to guide students’ writing and development. This includes both formative and summative feedback.
7. Sound writing instruction emphasizes relationships between writing and technologies.
As a system that supports communication across time and distance, writing is inherently technological. As tools available to writers have become more powerful and more sophisticated, writing instructors have a role in helping students become aware of the range of tools available to them and the possibilities afforded by these tools. In practice, this means that writers learn about the potential that various technologies have for the production, consumption, and distribution of forms of composed knowledge. This includes writing, but also includes the composition of other types of texts (i.e., videos, podcasts, etc.). It also means that writers learn about the values associated with different technologies that can be used for that composition.
Instructors emphasize the relationships between technologies and writing by providing opportunities for students to gain access to and fluency with a wide range of writing tools and the possibilities for writing with them. This includes helping writers understand that they are likely to encounter new tools and new or evolving genres throughout their writing lives. It also includes providing opportunities to practice with principles of document design that will help students use these tools effectively.
8. Sound writing instruction supports learning, engagement, and critical thinking in courses across the curriculum.
Writing is both a subject of study and a set of processes, strategies, perspectives, and habits to be practiced and deepened throughout the university experience. In practice, this means that writers benefit from an intentional sequence of courses that deepens and extends their growing knowledge of writing processes and repertoire of strategies. While first-year writing courses are critical for engaging students in the practice and study of writing, writing abilities will grow only with focused attention throughout a college career. All faculty bear responsibility and possess the ability to teach the writing and inquiry practices of their discipline. Helping writers recognize the heuristic value of the act of writing will demonstrate to them how powerful writing can be in facilitating and transferring what they learn.
Instructors emphasize that writing development is continuous and supports learning, engagement, and critical thinking by using activities and assignments to help students learn and engage with information, ideas, and arguments within specific courses. Beyond specific writing courses, instructors emphasize this purpose when they create opportunities for students to recognize expectations for writing within their disciplines and use writing to help them prepare to participate in their intended disciplines. Institutions and programs emphasize this purpose by providing faculty in other disciplines opportunities to learn about and incorporate writing strategies in their pedagogy.
The Enabling Conditions of Sound Writing Instruction
9. Sound writing instruction provides students with the support necessary to achieve their goals.
Students come to postsecondary education with a wide range of writing, reading, and critical analysis experiences. The pathways through which they arrive are varied. Additionally, students bring a range of experiences with writing, reading, and analysis from literacy activities outside of school. These, too, can differ considerably. In practice, this means that writers draw on diverse knowledge and practices as they enter postsecondary learning.
Institutions emphasize that support is available for writers of varying abilities and levels of experience by providing support necessary for students to achieve the writing, reading, and critical analysis goals established within their degree programs. These resources include writing classes and resource centers; appropriate placement procedures; and writing across the curriculum or other programs that help faculty identify expectations of and offer instruction in writing in courses beyond the first year and/or writing program.
10. Sound writing instruction extends from a knowledge of theories of writing (including, but not limited to, those theories developed in the field of composition and rhetoric).
The most fundamental purpose of classes devoted specifically to writing instruction (such as first-year or advanced composition courses) is to engage students in study of and practice with purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing. In practice, this means that writers engage in supported analysis of these purposes, audiences, and contexts and through supported practice with genres and texts that circulate within and among them.
Institutions and programs emphasize this purpose by ensuring that instructors have background in and experience with theories of writing. Ideally, instructors have ongoing access to and support for professional development, including (but not limited to) attendance at local, regional, or national Composition and Rhetoric conferences. Institutions employing graduate students from outside of the discipline of Composition and Rhetoric to teach writing courses support development of this background knowledge by ensuring students receive sufficient grounding in and practice/mentoring with regard to key concepts associated with theories of writing.
11. Sound writing instruction is provided by instructors with reasonable and equitable working conditions.
Writing instructors perform most effectively—and students writers learn best—when instructors are treated as professionals and provided with resources that allow them to focus on their students’ development as writers. Instructors should be recognized as professionals regardless of their position—tenured, tenure-track, emeritus, non-tenure-track, full-time, or part-time—and granted the respect due to any contributing member of a department or program. This recognition should include the opportunity to participate in the governance of the department, program, and college or university and the opportunity to contribute to the development of writing curriculum and instruction. Instructors also require adequate resources—including (but not limited to) time, reasonable class sizes, and physical surroundings—to provide sound writing instruction as outlined in this document. Instructors should also earn a living wage and receive health coverage and other benefits in line with the recommendations of professional organizations.
Institutions can provide reasonable and equitable working conditions by establishing teaching loads and class sizes that are consistent with disciplinary norms. No more than 20 students should be permitted in any writing class. Ideally, classes should be limited to 15. Remedial or developmental sections should be limited to a maximum of 15 students. No English faculty members should teach more than 60 writing students a term. Institutions can also provide these conditions by paying instructors a reasonable wage and providing access to benefits. Institutions should provide resources necessary to effective instruction, including office space to meet with students individually, computers and network access, and office technologies (such as photocopiers). Institutions should also facilitate instructor access to personnel and units that can inform their practices and offer helpful efficiencies such as librarians, writing centers and directors, and teaching and learning centers. Institutions should also foster department and program cultures that recognize instructors, whether in appointments that emphasize research and scholarship or in those that focus fully or primarily on teaching or administration, as scholars and full members of the discipline. Institutions should ensure that all members of a department or program have the opportunity to participate in shared governance.
12. Sound writing instruction is assessed through a collaborative effort that focuses on student learning within and beyond a writing course.
Assessment of teaching effectiveness must take into account the practices of the faculty member and her or his understanding of relationships between their practices and other principles for the postsecondary teaching of writing (those described in this document and others); they must also take into account the sites of practice where writers work. In practice, this means that assessments involve discussions among all parties involved in the assessment—instructors, program directors or department chairs, and/or other administrators—about assessment questions, methods, processes, findings, and results. It also means that judgments about the quality of student writing are based on writing from courses across the span of a curriculum.
Institutions emphasize that effectiveness is assessed collaboratively and in multiple sites by using assessments that include direct evidence of both instructor practice and student writing performance, such as student writing from the context or class where instruction has taken place. High-stakes timed tests of writing that focus on scenarios removed from authentic instructional contexts, or even grammar tests, do not provide valid evidence of student learning within or beyond a writing course.
Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing
Resources and Research
Principle 1: Sound writing instruction emphasizes the rhetorical nature of writing
Principle 2: Sound writing instruction considers the needs of real audiences
- NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing (http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/writingbeliefs)
- Prior, Paul. Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the Academy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1998.
- Soliday, Mary. Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments Across the Disciplines. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP/Studies in Writing and Rhetoric, 2011.
Principle 3: Sound writing instruction recognizes writing as a social act
- NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing (http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/writingbeliefs)
- CCCC Statement on the Multiple Uses of Writing (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/multipleuseswriting)
- Bruffee, Kenneth. Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999.
- Fontaine, Sheryl and Susan Hunter. Collaborative Writing in Composition Studies. Boston: Thompson, 2006.
- Day, Kami and Michele Eodice. “Learning from Coauthoring: Composing Texts Together in the Composition Classroom.” in Learning from Student Texts. Eds. Joe Harris, John Miles, and Charles Paine. Logan, UT: University of Utah Press 2011.
Principle 4: Sound writing instruction enables students to analyze and practice with a variety of genres
Principle 5: Sound writing instruction recognizes writing processes as iterative and complex
Principle 6: Sound writing instruction depends upon frequently, timely, and context-specific feedback to students from an experienced postsecondary instructor
Principle 7: Sound writing instruction emphasizes relationships between writing and technologies
Principle 8: Sound writing instruction supports learning, engagement, and critical thinking in courses across the curriculum
Principle 9: Sound writing instruction provides students with the support necessary to achieve their goals
Principle 10: Sound writing instruction extends from a knowledge of theories of writing (including, but not limited to, those theories developed in the field of composition and rhetoric)
Principle 11: Sound writing instruction is provided by instructors with reasonable and equitable working conditions
Principle 12: Sound writing instruction is assessed through a collaborative effort that focuses on student learning within and beyond a writing course
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.