Overview of Writing-related Principles and Practices

In the Department's content-oriented curriculum, writing development is expressed in terms of "writing tasks" that are closely tied to the content/theme of a given unit through the texts that provide the basis for that thematic work.

To the extent possible, these thematically bundled texts reflect a variety of carefully chosen genres, understood as typified, situated rhetorical actions. These serve as models for textual practices at all levels (e.g., from textual organization to lexicogrammatical choices) and are intended to facilitate student's ability to link all modalities of language use (reading -- writing -- speaking) and to generalize from one instance of language use to another.

As far as writing development is concerned, this genre-task linkage expresses itself in two ways:

(1) at the textual level, in terms of the genre students are to emulate in their writing, the likely register, author position, and intended audience, and other characteristics such as length, all of which are chosen in terms of students' acquisitional level;

(2) at the sentence level, primarily in terms of subject-specific lexicogrammatical features, (i.e., preferred/typical grammatical constructions and thematic vocabulary, particularly various "chunks" and collocations).

While this interrelationship between genre and task is highly desirable, it also results in a noticeable task-effect which can affect student performance from one writing assignment to the next due to the, at times, considerably different requirements and possibilities of a specific genre. From a curricular standpoint, however, it is important to track and assure continued progress in students' writing ability:

  • from personal and narrative writing, primarily in congruent forms of semiosis, toward increasingly more elaborated, public, and professional forms of writing (e.g., institutional and professional writing; academic discourse in various subject fields; creative writing) in more synoptic forms of semiosis (see Halliday, 1994).

To that end, the department developed a number of procedures and documents about writing development and writing performance across the curricular levels.

December 7, 2002 (updated November 15, 2003)