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Issue Brief: Basic Writing

George Otte

School of Professional Studies

The   City   University   of   New York


Rebecca Mlynarczyk

Kingsborough Community College

The   City   University   of   New York


Basic writing is the name Mina Shaughnessy gave to the field as well as to her 1976 bibliographic essay (in Gary Tate’s collection Teaching Composition [Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian UP, 1976], 177–206). She was struggling with the question of what to call a field she thought genuinely new: “The teaching of writing to severely unprepared freshmen is as yet but the frontier of a profession, lacking even an agreed upon name” (177). It is not so new now, and it has been called by other names she rejected -- notably "remedial English" -- but the name has stuck. Basic writing has always been a contested field and term within higher education, however. It is defined partly, but never wholly, by its practitioners, its students, and its pedagogies and practices. Work in basic writing (with assessment, reading, writing process, error analysis, assignment sequencing, personal writing, literacy narratives, and a host of other practices) has been co-opted and subsumed by instruction defined as more mainstream, while the teachers and students of basic writing are so marginalized -- sometimes purged -- as to be most unstable basis for definition. Still, basic writing continues to address vital needs, often finding new forms or venues in which to do so.

Relevant Journals

Basic Writing e-Journal

Journal of Basic Writing

Journal of Developmental Education

Related Organizations

Council on Basic Writing (CBW)

The CBW Blog

CBW-L (the CBW listserv)

National Association for Developmental Education

Other Resources

Bedford Bibliography for Teachers of Basic Writing, 2nd edition. (There is a 3rd edition, but it is not available online.)

CompFAQs (from CompPile) Resources for Basic Writing  

Document and Site Resources

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