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Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing

Executive Summary

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.

Read the full statement, Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing (October 1989, Revised November 2013)

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts