2010 Higher English Critical Essay Paper

Definitions of Written Communication in Key Frameworks

Written communication involves the ability to effectively convey multiple types of messages, in multiple forms, to varying audiences, through a written medium (see Markle et al., 2013). However, writing is a multifaceted construct and is defined differently among various sources. Notions of what constitutes quality writing vary even among experts (Behizadeh, 2014). As emphasized by Murphy and Yancey (2008), arguments for the use of particular techniques for assessing students' writing are often based on competing theories about the nature of the writing construct—as a set of discrete skills, as a cognitive (or instructional) process that takes place over time, and more recently, as a meaning-making and highly social activity that varies across contexts and purposes for writing (p. 449). Since these various perspectives affect assessment design decisions, it is critical to determine consistencies among stakeholders' views of the underlying construct.

Table 1 presents definitions of written communication1 drawn from nine key frameworks, including the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and National Writing Project (NWP)'s Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (2011); the National Institutes of Health (NIH)'s definition of communication competency (OHR-NIH, 2014); the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education's Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (QAA-FHEQ); AAC&U's Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) VALUE rubrics (Rhodes, 2010); Lumina's Degree Qualifications Profile (Adelman, Ewell, Gaston, & Schneider, 2011); the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (US-DOL, 2014) Industry Competency Model Clearinghouse; European Commission's European Higher Education Area (EHEA) Competencies (i.e., the Bologna Framework; European Higher Education Area, 2005; González & Wagenaar, 2003); the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)'s Framework for Learning and Development Outcomes (CAS, 2009); and the Assessment and Teaching of 21st-Century Skills KSAVE frameworks (Binkley et al., 2010).

Framework for Success in Postsecondary WritingCouncil of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing ProjectRhetorical knowledge: The ability to analyze and act on understandings of audiences, purposes, contexts, genres, and forms in creating texts. This includes learning to compose a variety of texts for different disciplines and purposes. Critical thinking: The ability to analyze a situation or text and make thoughtful decisions based on that analysis. This includes conducting research from primary and secondary sources; evaluating those sources' credibility, bias, evidence, and reasoning; identifying and challenging writer's assumptions; and writing texts that are informed by one's research. Writing processes: The multiple strategies writers use to approach and undertake writing and research. This includes generating ideas, conducting research, drafting, revising, editing, and responding to feedback. Knowledge of conventions: The formal and informal guidelines that define what is considered correct (or appropriate) and incorrect (or inappropriate) in a piece of writing. This includes the surface features of a text, such as mechanics, spelling, and attribution of sources, as well as more global concerns, such as content, tone, style, organization, and evidence. Correct use of conventions is defined within specific genres and contexts. Composing in multiple environments: The ability to create writing using everything from traditional pen and paper to electronic technologies. This includes composing multiple forms, such as a traditional essay, a webpage or video, or a print brochure, and using electronic sources in those documents. http://wpacouncil.org/framework (CWPA et al., 2011)
Employment Competencies Dictionary - CommunicationsNational Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Human ResourcesCommunications: Clearly and effectively conveys information; asks appropriate questions; organizes, expresses, and communicates ideas clearly in writing; asks clarifying questions and summarizes or paraphrases what others have said to verify understanding; uses analogies, visuals, and other techniques to tailor communications to specific audiences; identifies and uses effective communication channels and methods (e.g., presentations, electronic dissemination, social media); utilizes skill in presenting information, analysis, ideas, and positions in a clear, succinct, accurate, convincing manner, as is appropriate for the audience.http://hr.od.nih.gov/workingatnih/competencies/core/communication.htm (OHR-NIH, 2014)
Assessment & Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S)Collaboration among Cisco, Intel, and MicrosoftWays of Working – Communication
Knowledge: Sound knowledge of basic vocabulary, functional grammar and style, functions of language; awareness of various types of verbal interaction (conversations, interviews, debates, etc.); understanding the main features of written language (formal, informal, scientific, journalistic, colloquial, etc.). Skills: Ability to communicate in written form and understand or make others understand various messages in a variety of situations and for different purposes; ability to write different types of texts for various purposes; to monitor the writing process (from drafting to proofreading); ability to formulate one's arguments in writing in a convincing manner and take full account of other viewpoints; skills needed to use aids (such as notes, schemes, maps) to produce or present complex texts in written form. Attitudes/Values/Ethics: Willingness to strive for esthetic quality in expression beyond the technical correctness of a word/phrase. (Binkley et al., 2010)
Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP)The Lumina FoundationIntellectual Skills – Communication Fluency
At the associate level: Presents substantially error-free prose in both argumentative and narrative forms to general and specialized audiences. At the bachelor's level: Constructs sustained, coherent arguments and/or narratives and/or explications of technical issues and processes, in two media, to general and specific audiences. In a language other than English, in writing, conducts an inquiry with a non-English-language source concerning information, conditions, technologies, and/or practices in his or her major field. With collaborators, advances an argument or designs an approach to resolving a social, personal, or ethical dilemma. (Adelman et al., 2011, p. 14)
The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) Industry Competency Model ClearinghouseU.S. Department of Labor (US-DOL)Organization and development: Creates documents such as letters, directions, manuals, reports, graphs, and flow charts; communicates thoughts, ideas, information, messages and other written information, which may contain technical material, in a logical, organized and coherent manner; ideas are well developed with supporting information and examples. Mechanics: Uses standard syntax and sentence structure; uses correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization; uses appropriate grammar (e.g., correct tense, subject-verb agreement, no missing words). Tone: Writes in a manner appropriate for business; uses language appropriate for the target audience; uses appropriate tone and word choice (e.g., writing is professional and courteous). (US-DOL ETA, 2014)
European Higher Education Area Competencies (Bologna Framework)European Commission: European Higher Education AreaGeneric competencies: Ability to communicate through the written word in one's native language; ability to communicate information, ideas, problems, and solutions to both specialist and nonspecialist audiences; ability to communicate in a second language. Specific competencies: Skills in presenting domain-relevant material and arguments in writing, to an informed audience; ability to write in one's own language or other languages using correctly various types of writing within one's discipline; ability to present arguments with clarity and accuracy in forms that are suitable for the audiences being addressed; receiving and responding to a variety of information sources (e.g., textual, numerical, verbal, graphical); communicating appropriately to a variety of audiences in written, verbal, and graphical forms (González & Wagenaar, 2003).
Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (QAA-FHEQ)Quality Assurance Agency for Higher EducationCommunicate the results of their study/work accurately and reliably, and with structured and coherent arguments; effectively communicate information, ideas, arguments, analysis, problems, and solutions in a variety of forms to both specialist and nonspecialist audiences, and deploy key techniques of the discipline effectively (QAA, 2008).
Framework for Learning and Development Outcomes (CAS Standards)The Council for the Advancement of Standards in EducationEffective communication: Conveys meaning in a way that others understand by writing coherently and effectively; writes after reflection; influences others through writing; effectively articulates abstract ideas; uses appropriate syntax and grammar; makes and evaluates presentations or performances (CAS, 2009); expresses thoughts and emotions through writing; writes essays or personal letters; writes in an organized fashion; moves from general to specific topics in writing; communicates in nontraditional forms (e.g., e-mail; CAS, 2006).
Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP)Association of American Colleges and UniversitiesWritten communication is the development and expression of ideas in writing. Written communication involves learning to work in many genres and styles. It can involve working with many different writing technologies and mixing texts, data, and images (Rhodes, 2010).
Written communication involves five dimensions. Context of and purpose for writing, which includes considerations of audience, purpose, and the circumstances surrounding the writing task(s). Content development, the ways in which the text explores and represents its topic in relation to its audience and purpose. Genre and disciplinary conventions, formal and informal rules inherent in the expectations for writing in particular forms and/or academic fields. Sources and evidence, use of high-quality, credible, relevant sources to develop one's ideas. Control of syntax and mechanics, appropriate use of language (Rhodes, 2010).

Table 2 shows the correspondence between each framework reviewed and different dimensions of the writing construct mentioned within the various definitions. Definitions and learning outcomes across the various frameworks show some degree of consistency, but, interestingly, the configuration of features thought to underlie skilled writing at the college level varies such that no two frameworks define the construct in exactly the same way. Importantly for our present purposes, no single assessment of college writing has been designed on the basis of any of these frameworks or on a synthesis of them; these frameworks suggest learning and assessment targets but have not directly informed the development of specific large-scale assessments. We explore the relationships between existing assessments and aspects of the writing construct in the second part of this report.

Context and purposeXXXX-XX
Audience awarenessXXXXXXX
Content development and organizationXXXXXXX
Genre conventions (text types/formats)XXXXXXXXX
Disciplinary conventions (major/field)X-X-XX-X
Use of sources and textual evidenceX-XX--X
Processes (planning, drafting, revision)X-X-----
Modes and forms (multimedia, digital)XXXXXXXXX
Word choice, tone, voice, and style of languageXX-X----
Language use, grammar, syntax, and mechanicsXXXXXX

Key Dimensions of Written Communication

Members of the CWPA, NCTE, and NWP (2011) collaborated to develop a framework describing the rhetorical and 21st century skills required for success in reading, critical thinking, and writing at the college level. This Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing is intended to describe college readiness, or the expected knowledge, skills, and abilities of a student who has completed a first-year composition course in college and who demonstrates readiness to take on more advanced intellectual work in further academic or career settings. Specifically, the Framework organizes literacy skills into five dimensions: rhetorical knowledge (including understanding of various purposes, audiences, contexts, genres, and forms of writing), critical thinking (including analysis of reading materials, evaluating information sources' usefulness and reliability, and using research to support writing), writing processes (including planning, drafting, editing, revising, and responding to feedback), knowledge of conventions (including both surface-level grammatical conventions and more global concerns related to discourse content, organization, tone, and style), and composing in multiple environments (e.g., using traditional and digital production modes, and incorporating electronic sources in the written work; see Table 1). These five dimensions correspond nicely to the aspects of writing in higher education and workforce frameworks, and they appear to encompass all of the critical elements of written communication; accordingly, the following review is organized around these five dimensions. Importantly, this Framework includes critical engagement with and use of sources and emphasis on the writing process, two skills tha t are infrequently mentioned across the set of frameworks we reviewed. The Framework also highlights connections among reading, critical thinking, and the development of skilled writing; the interconnected nature of these literacy skills is widely acknowledged (e.g., NCTE-WPA, 2010).

Rhetorical Knowledge of Forms/Modes, Genres, and Disciplines

The most prevalent dimension across the frameworks we reviewed concerns skill in handling different forms of written products, with each of the nine frameworks including some attention to different types of communication. As defined in the AAC&U's LEAP VALUE rubrics, written communication “can involve working with many different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images” (Rhodes, 2010, p. 1). Accordingly, frameworks emphasize that college graduates should be able to proficiently integrate multimedia (e.g., visual aids, charts, graphs, and images) to support comprehension of complex written material (Binkley et al., 2010); to “use effective communication channels and methods” (OHR-NIH, 2014, p. 1) including social media and electronic distribution; and to produce a variety of written forms, including letters, essays, e-mails, websites, reports, or presentations. This view of writing incorporates the notion of multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), which emphasizes multilingual and multimodal literacy as critical in the 21st century. Thus, writing involves producing text using a variety of communication technologies, media, and dissemination channels.

With respect to genres of writing, the frameworks place particular emphasis on the genre of argument (mentioned in four of nine frameworks), which requires skill in presenting clear, coherent, and effective arguments that are convincing to an audience and that consider others' perspectives (Binkley et al., 2010). The genre of explanation is mentioned less often than argument. Explanations are called for explicitly in the DQP in the form of “explications of technical issues and processes” (Adelman et al., 2011, p. 14) and are more indirectly referenced in terms of “effectively [articulating] abstract ideas” (CAS, 2009, p. 46) in the CAS outcomes. Narrative, more common in K–12 settings, is mentioned in only one framework (Adelman et al., 2011). Other genres include directions, manuals, flow charts, and interviews.

In addition, adherence to disciplinary conventions (i.e., the forms and genres of expression that are valued within a major field or discipline) is mentioned in five of nine frameworks. Students are expected to be able to conduct inquiry within their discipline and to use correctly types and techniques of writing that are consistent with the values and expectations of the field. Genre and disciplinary considerations can be treated as part of a student's rhetorical knowledge (CWPA et al., 2011), but could also be considered a part of a student's conceptual knowledge of the discipline.

Rhetorical Knowledge of Context and Purpose

Attention to the context and purpose of a writing task is mentioned in a majority of frameworks (six of nine). Example purposes include advancing an argument to influence others or designing an approach to solve a problem. Writing should be appropriate for the purposes of the writing task, including use of appropriate tone and register (e.g., distinguish between formal and informal uses of language; write in a professional and courteous manner appropriate for business purposes). Context and purpose are closely related to genre and disciplinary considerations, and they are also a part of students' rhetorical knowledge (CWPA et al., 2011).

Rhetorical Knowledge of Audience

Audience awareness is directly mentioned in a majority of frameworks (seven of nine for audience and content) and is indirectly mentioned in the remainder. Audience design concerns a writer's attention to the knowledge, interests, and values of the recipient of a communication and skill in tailoring writing and expression to suit that audience (e.g., address experts and nonexperts in a specific field; address general and specific audiences). Some frameworks only indirectly mention audience awareness as part of the writing construct, in that writers should “convey meaning in a way that others understand” and should “write to influence others” (e.g., CAS, 2009, p. 46). These statements imply the notion of an audience (i.e., others should understand and be influenced by what is written), but they do not explicitly mention the term, nor do they indicate what kinds of others the writer might reasonably be expected to address.

Development and Organization of Content

Content development and organization is mentioned in seven of nine frameworks and can be defined as “the ways in which the text explores and represents its topic in relation to its audience and purpose” (Rhodes, 2010, p. 2). Organization involves producing prose that is logical, well structured, and coherent by, for example, moving from general topics to more specific ideas and details (CAS, 2009). Content development refers to the extent to which the writer effectively articulates abstract ideas and uses adequate supporting details (US-DOL ETA, 2014). When students are engaged in writing about something, their skill in developing and organizing that content in a coherent manner is critical for the communication to be successful.

Adherence to Language Conventions

Attention to language conventions is mentioned in six of nine frameworks. Statements relating to conventions (including syntax, grammar, and usage) underscore the idea that, by college, students should be fluent with text production skills and be able to compose “substantially error free prose” (Adelman et al., 2011, p. 14) with appropriate syntax and mechanics, spelling, grammar, and so forth. This includes knowledge of vocabulary, stylistic conventions, and the functions of language, both at surface and global levels (CWPA et al., 2011).

Writing From Sources and the Writing Process

The frameworks reviewed give relatively little attention to two features of written communication emphasized by the higher education writing community: (a) critical analysis and use of sources and (b) attention to the writing process. Using sources to support writing is included as a major dimension of the LEAP rubrics, suggesting attention to evaluating the relevance, quality, and credibility of those sources2 (Rhodes, 2010); in contrast, the Bologna framework (González & Wagenaar, 2003) suggests that students should “receive and respond to a variety of information sources” (p. 144) in visual, oral (i.e., auditory), and textual formats, while the DQP states that students will be able to conduct inquiry from non-English language sources3 (Adelman et al., 2011). The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (CWPA et al., 2011) deals with writing from sources as an aspect of critical thinking and analysis of text materials, a process of conducting research from sources, knowledge of source attribution conventions, and incorporating electronic sources in multimedia productions; including elements related to use of sources in four of five dimensions of writing skill suggests that source use is particularly important for higher education.

With respect to the process dimension, skill in monitoring the writing process “from drafting to proof-reading” (Binkley et al., 2010, p. 22) is an important aspect of writing in ATC21S and is a major dimension of the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (CWPA et al., 2011), but no other frameworks address this issue. In fact, the LEAP VALUE rubrics (Rhodes, 2010) specifically exclude notions of writing processes or strategies from their framework for student learning outcomes. However, as underscored by the Framework (CWPA et al., 2011), these strategies and processes are a critical aspect of writing at the college level and, thus, should be included in any comprehensive definition of written communication.

To summarize, based on the review of frameworks presented here, it is clear that in defining written communication, we must consider facility with multiple types (i.e., genres), forms (i.e., media), and audiences, in addition to the importance of the context and purpose for writing, and the importance of skill in manipulating both conceptual content (i.e., development and organization of ideas, critical analysis, and use of sources) and linguistic information (language, syntax, and mechanics; tone of voice and register) to suit the current communicative goals. The writing process (planning, drafting, and revision) is also critical.

Theoretical Perspectives on Writing From the Research Literature

It is evident from the frameworks reviewed in the previous section that writing is a complex skill, involving multiple dimensions, and that different perspectives on writing may differentially emphasize some of those dimensions. In this section, we explore theoretical perspectives that underlie these various dimensions of written communication competency and the importance of these dimensions for becoming a skilled writer. This survey of extant research literature is intended to enrich our definition of the construct and to suggest which dimensions might be more or less critical for higher education. Consistent with previous efforts to summarize the writing construct (Cumming et al., 2000), the work surveyed here suggests that writing involves cognitive processes situated within particular rhetorical or social contexts.

Sociocognitive Perspectives on Writing

Both social and cognitive perspectives on writing converge on the notion that writing is, by definition, social and purpose-driven (e.g., Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Graham & Perin, 2007; Zimmerman & Risemberg, 1997; also see Deane, 2011). Genres of writing, for example, serve specific social goals and purposes (Bazerman, 2004), and those rhetorical goals shape and constrain the types and methods through which information should be recorded and shared with others when writing within a particular genre. In higher education, the focus is typically on transactional writing (i.e., writing to communicate or exchange information, ideas, or arguments with others in order to achieve particular purposes, such as to inform, persuade, or explain information to others; Burstein et al., 2014). Therefore, writers must consider the nature and needs of their audience(s) in order for communication to be successful (cf. Clark & Murphy, 1982). Sociocultural perspectives also emphasize that cultural conventions and social situations impact literacy practices (Perry, 2012), such that attention to the social context for writing is critical for both assessment and learning (cf. Behizadeh & Engelhard, 2011). This is consistent with work in the learning sciences suggesting that learning to write is best conceptualized as a process of socialization into a literate community of practice, whereby writers are guided by expert practitioners to gradually take increasing responsibility for producing the forms and genres of writing that are valued within a discipline or research community (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Instruction should strive to make writing socially meaningful to students (Alvermann, 2002).

This sociocognitive perspective has been applied to support the design of competency models and assessments. As an example, a model of ELA literacy incorporating social, conceptual, and linguistic dimensions has been developed under the Cognitively Based Assessment of, for, and as Learning (CBAL™) research initiative at ETS (Bennett, 2010). The CBAL ELA competency model (Deane, 2011; Deane, Sabatini, & O'Reilly, 2011; Sabatini, O'Reilly, & Deane, 2013) specifies the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills that are necessary to learn in order to participate in key literacy practices (e.g., learning from informational text, engaging in argumentation, conducting inquiry and research). It is possible to conceptualize the various levels of knowledge and skill required for participation in literate activities as dealing with different types of knowledge representations (i.e., social, conceptual, and linguistic—including discourse, verbal, and print4—levels; Deane, 2011). Broadly, expert writing can be considered to involve a set of receptive skills (processing and comprehending information from source texts), expressive skills (synthesizing information from source texts and translating one's ideas into written words), and deliberative skills (applying appropriate strategic and meta-cognitive knowledge), which rely on the social, conceptual, and linguistic representations. A written product is the result of interactions among complex cognitive processes, as well as the knowledge of and skill in adapting one's production to meet the social and rhetorical constraints on what kind of writing must be produced to achieve one's purposes (Behizadeh & Engelhard, 2011). Thus, writing can be appropriately conceptualized as a set of sociocognitive practices (Behizadeh, 2014; Deane, 2011; Deane et al., ), which experts can deploy strategically to achieve particular goals.

The CBAL ELA model specifies how the skills that support participation in various literate practices may develop, from novice to expert-level performances, by positing a set of hypothesized learning progressions (LPs) for the skills that constitute and contribute to performance of those key practices. These LPs can be used to support the design of assessments that target specific component skills (e.g., distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, making cross-text synthesizing inferences), while modeling the integrated practices required of professionals (e.g., writing a research report). At the most advanced levels of practice, writers are expected to take into account their purpose, audience, and disciplinary knowledge; in conducting research and inquiry, for example, writers are expected to present and support an original synthesis, review and evaluate evidence from relevant literatures (including seminal sources within the discipline), and to articulate how one's work contributes to and extends current knowledge and discourse about the issue (Sparks & Deane, 2014). These types of performances may not yet be achieved by the time students enter college, but are consistent with those expected in advanced undergraduate, graduate study, or professional practice. For more information on this effort, see http://elalp.cbalwiki.ets.org/.

Cognitive Processes of Writing

As described above, skilled writing requires the deployment and coordination of complex cognitive processes. A prevailing cognitive model, the Hayes-Flower model of writing (Hayes & Flower, 1980), specifies writing as consisting of interactions between the task environment (i.e., features of the writing assignment, such as the topic, audience, and context or purpose, and any text one has produced so far), the writer's long-term memory (i.e., knowledge of the topic, knowledge of the audience, and general plans for writing), and the writing process (i.e., planning, translating, and reviewing). Each aspect of the writing process is goal-directed and requires self-regulation. In the planning process, the writer retrieves relevant knowledge from long-term memory, evaluates the usefulness of the retrieved information, selects the most useful information, and organizes the information into a writing plan. Then the writer translates all these operations into sentences that can be understood by others. In the reviewing process, the writer reads or rereads the existing text and revises it when writing goals have not been satisfied (e.g., “I should address this counterargument to persuade the audience” or “I need to explain this complex idea in simple words”). These processes are recursive and interactive, as planning, translating, and reviewing can be triggered by one's goals.

Expert writers demonstrate qualitatively different writing processes compared to novices. Hayes and Flower (1980) found that skilled writers typically established their main writing goals and subgoals early in the writing process, while unskillful writers spent little time planning. Attention to one's goals for revision similarly explains observed differences in revising behaviors between expert and novice writers (Fitzgerald, 1987). First, expert writers typically spend substantial time and effort in revising their drafts (e.g., Holland, Rose, Dean, & Dory, 1985), but novice writers ignore the revision process or have little idea about how to do it well (Graves & Murray, 1980). Second, expert writers revise their work to improve its overall quality and to clarify the ideas that they want to convey to their audience (Hayes & Flower, 1986), while novice writers view revision as a task to correct grammar, spelling, diction, and punctuation (Faigley & Witte, 1981; MacArthur, Schwartz, & Graham, 1991; Sommers, 1980). Novice writers have an impoverished understanding of the revision process, resulting in revisions that are irrelevant to the meaning of the text, unconnected to genre considerations, and insufficient to help improve the quality of writing. While the ability to revise develops over time (Fitzgerald & Markman, 1987), many college students cannot perform this task adequately (Kinsler, 1990), suggesting that revision skill may differentiate more expert from less skilled writers.

Knowledge-Telling Versus Knowledge-Transformation

Another key difference between the writing practices of experts and novice students is in their approach to and conceptualization of the writing task with respect to content development and organization. In complex writing situations, where a writer must maintain and work toward achieving multiple goals, it is challenging for novice writers to handle all of the writing constraints without any support. Therefore, novices tend to approach the writing task as simply telling what is known about the topic (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987). In fact, many students, including some in college, compose using this knowledge-telling approach, because knowledge-telling may help reduce the burden of other cognitive processes, such as planning and revising, which makes the task of producing text manageable. However, students using this approach often overlook their rhetorical goals, the needs of the audience, the organization of the text, and the writing genre (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Graham & Harris, 1997), reflecting a lack of goal setting and self-regulation. In contrast, expert writers and domain experts are likely to use a knowledge-transforming approach, which involves viewing the writing task as a problem-solving process. Writers who adopt this approach do not only deal with knowledge and beliefs related to the topic, but also consider the rhetorical goals of the composition; experts make decisions about how to represent this knowledge best in terms of the appropriate language for the intended audience, which is directly reflected in the structure of the text (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987).

Reading and Writing From Sources

Reading and comprehending source texts gives writers content knowledge about which they can write (e.g., Hayes, 1996; see also Hillocks, 1987, 2005). Expert researchers across multiple domains rely on synthesis of multiple sources to situate their ideas within a particular literature and to build support for their knowledge claims (e.g., Bazerman, 1985; Goldman, 2004; Goldman et al., 2010; Latour & Woolgar, 1986). Writers of arguments, reports, and other research-based genres of writing must interpret sources, determine what information is relevant to their task and purpose, and decide what quotations or paraphrases to embed in the text to support their ideas. These reading-writing connections, including the importance of critically analyzing and using source texts to support one's writing, are emphasized in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, as described previously. However, according to reports from the National Adult Literacy Survey (Kutner, Greenberg, & Baer, 2006), fewer than one third of college graduates surveyed were proficient in comprehending prose (extended texts, such as newspaper articles) and other documents (practical directions, such as a prescription medicine label), suggesting that many college students' writing difficulties may be due to failures of reading comprehension.

Even students who read proficiently may have difficulty writing syntheses or arguments because they fail (and perhaps do not know how) to evaluate or to cite sources appropriately. Empirical research demonstrates that attention to sources (i.e., author expertise, publication venue, possible biases) supports understanding and integration of information from multiple documents (e.g., Bråten, Strømsø, & Britt, 2009; Britt & Aglinskas, 2002; Sparks, 2013; Wineburg, 1991), suggesting that students who are more attentive to the characteristics of source documents are better equipped to write essays or reports based on those sources. Unfortunately, empirical research generally suggests that undergraduates fail to attend to source information unless given specific instructions or tasks to consider it critically (e.g., Britt & Aglinskas, 2002; Rouet, Britt, Mason, & Perfetti, 1996; Sparks & Rapp, 2011; Wiley et al., 2009). These difficulties with sourcing likely contribute to several common issues observed in undergraduates' source-based essays, including plagiarism, inclusion of quotations without source attribution, excessive use of quotations (i.e., quote pastiche), little use of explicit citations (e.g., “according to Carnegie,…”), and little evidence of synthesis across sources (Britt, Wiemer-Hastings, Larson, & Perfetti, 2004). In one study, Britt et al. (2004) asked 108 undergraduates to write opinion essays from a set of seven sources on a history topic, finding that “only 28% of the essays included at least one explicit reference. Considering that no participants made more than two explicit references, it appears that undergraduates are not fully proficient at sourcing” (p. 2). Students tended to cite one to two key sources rather than incorporating content and ideas from across a variety of documents. However, findings from experimental tasks that require students to write and cite sources from memory may not fully generalize to situations where students write essays with source texts and notes available to them, such as in classrooms or assessment situations. It remains an open question whether these contexts might encourage additional attention to critical analysis and incorporation of sources.

Given the preceding theoretical discussion, it is worth considering the extent to which these research perspectives on written communication correspond to the instructional goals and outcomes observed in educational settings, both within higher education and in K–12, where college readiness is a particular concern. The following section outlines the writing skills that are important for success in college writing.

Writing Instruction and Learning to Write in College

Writing for College Readiness: Connections to Common Core State Standards

In developing a framework for written communication at the college level, it is critical to have expectations concerning incoming students' knowledge and skills. To understand what writing skills are expected of someone who is ready to take on college-level work, one can consider the upper levels of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA/literacy (National Governors Association & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010), with a particular focus on the writing standards for Grades 11–12. As these standards define the highest levels of K–12 performance, they are equivalent to the incoming skills expected of a first-year undergraduate who demonstrates readiness for college-level writing literacy.

As seen in Table 3

The critical essay paper

What do you have to do?

In the Higher English Critical Essay paper you are required to write two essay answers. One and a half hours are allocated to this paper (i.e. 45 minutes for each essay). Each essay is worth 25 marks. You must answer on two of the following four separate genres (i.e. on different types of text).

Section A: Drama

Section B: Poetry

Section C: Prose (either fiction or non-fiction)

Section D: Film and TV drama

What are the examiners looking for?

At the top of the paper you are given some general advice about the marking standards the examiners are using (known as ‘performance criteria’).

The following areas are being assessed:

  • The relevance of your essays to the questions you have chosen, and the extent to which you sustain an appropriate line of thought
  • Your knowledge and understanding of key elements, central concerns and significant details of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your understanding, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of how relevant aspects of structure/style/language contribute to the meaning/effect/impact of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • Your evaluation, as appropriate to the questions chosen, of the effectiveness of the chosen texts, supported by detailed and relevant evidence
  • The quality of your written expression and the technical accuracy of your writing


Before the questions you will find a reminder that “answers . . . should address relevantly the central concern(s) / theme(s) of the text and be supported by reference to appropriate ... techniques.”

The next page shows a list of techniques that are likely to be used in drama, prose, poetry and film and TV. The technical terms in these lists are the jargon of English literary criticism and it is important to make sure you know what these words mean.


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