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Writing in the Disciplines

The University of the Pacific has identified written communication as one of the core competencies students will develop during their time at the university. Strong writing skills prepare students to enter the workforce, continue their graduate studies, and succeed in either endeavor. Pacific cultivates student writing proficiency in several ways: small class sizes, practical experiences, and dedicated faculty--each of which contributes to deep student learning. Strong writing instruction is the core around which this learning is built.

The goals of the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) Program, first implemented in the fall of 2006, are to assist faculty and students at Pacific in the improvement of student writing within their majors and individual disciplines and to encourage more active, engaged learning through writing-intensive courses. We offer strategies for innovative teaching methods in writing instruction and tutorial support from the Writing Center for all levels of writing--from the Pacific Seminars to senior capstone courses.

Writing in the Disciplines at Pacific is based on four central principles:

  1. Writing is both a central form and reliable measure of critical inquiry. Lucid, incisive writing can only result from clear, sharp thinking.
  2. Writing is a systematic process that involves multiple drafts, solicitation and use of feedback, revision, further responses, reflection and final editing.
  3. Good writing has a clear purpose and is discipline-, audience- and context-specific.
  4. Improvement in writing occurs over time and is best understood as a life-long process.

There are two pervasive myths about college writing: first, that the teaching of writing should be the primary responsibility of the English or composition departments; and second, that one or two first-year writing courses, if administered properly, will adequately teach students the conventions of academic writing. However, reliance on the protocols underlying these myths does not prepare students for future personal and professional writing demands.

Through deliberate choices, Pacific uses a Writing in the Disciplines approach which envisions writing instruction as the shared responsibility of staff and faculty in all programs of study. Students are not expected to master academic writing their freshman year, but are provided the means to develop their writing through their entire academic experience. The advantages of this approach are many. Writing is, in essence, "owned" and "quality controlled" by specific disciplines. Students learn how to think and to write first-hand from experts in their major fields.

Faculty Support and Development

The art of teaching writing requires a delicate balance of skill-focused instruction while maintaining student engagement and motivation. It involves simultaneous focus on particular assignments and meta-cognition about what concepts can be generalized. Or, as Norton Juster put it: "'s not just learning things that's important. It's learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters."

The policy choice to teach writing in the disciplines requires all faculty to engage in deliberate thought about best practices and in careful planning of an intentional writing curriculum within a major. In these pursuits, institutional support for faculty development in teaching writing is essential.

University Writing Programs supports faculty in the teaching of writing in several key ways. We urge instructors to:

  • Consult with the Writing Center Coordinator for one-on-one conversation to discuss specific concerns about composition pedagogy and/or to arrange for a classroom visit for help facilitating a writing lesson or activity.
  • Browse the teaching resources posted on the WiD Canvas Site, and the hard copy collection handouts in the Writing Center (second floor, main library), all of which are freely available for use with classes.
  • Utilize the Writing Center. In addition to providing individualized tutoring support for student writers, the writing mentors in the Writing Center can help instructors work with their classes. For example, on a peer review day, you might bring your class into the SWC so each student group could have a writing mentor facilitate the session. (Note: contact coordinator Ciara Swan at to schedule such a visit. We operate on a first-come-first-served basis.)
  • Request the support of a Classroom-Based Writing Mentor (CBWM) dedicated to a specific course. CBWMs serve as instructional aides to assist in improving the writing skills of students enrolled in the same class. A course instructor must recruit an individual to serve as a CBWM. Such individuals should be Pacific students who have distinguished themselves as capable writers and who are familiar with the instructor's teaching style and course content. Please contact Ciara Swan at if you would like to know more about this service.