Peer Review

From the Editor

Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well


In the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, which became the basis of the award-winning musical, My Fair Lady, Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle arrives uninvited on phonetics professor Henry Higgins’s doorstep with one goal in mind—to receive speech lessons so that she will be qualified for a better job. In Victorian England, speech was the principal means of immediate communication, and the ability to verbally articulate ideas clearly and coherently allowed for upward mobility. In the twenty-first century, speech is still an important skill, but now the ability to write well is often the first step toward career success. When potential employers review applicants’ résumés and cover letters, those documents are evaluated for candidates’ written communication skills and writing experiences.

In 2015, Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) commissioned a report, “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,” which underscores the importance hiring managers place on written communication skills. The report notes that “four in five employers also say they would be more likely to consider an individual as a job candidate if he or she had completed multiple courses that require significant writing assignments.”

The good news is that students are making gains in acquiring these needed skills. Recent AAC&U research findings reveal that there have been improvements in students’ written communication. In 2016, the VALUE project introduced a nationwide effort to examine direct evidence of student learning across higher educational institutions in the United States. Those results were presented in On Solid Ground, a report based on two years of data collection which stated that, in relation to other studied learning outcomes, “the strongest student performance was in written communication. The results support the effect that institutional efforts focused on improving student writing over the last few decades seem to have had on writing proficiency.”

Peer Review last explored writing and the new academy in a 2003 issue, in which then-editor David Tritelli maintained, “Writing is a key competency to be addressed and practiced recurrently across the educational experience and at successively more challenging levels. Accordingly, writing can no longer be the responsibility of English faculty alone. Responsibility for writing must be truly pervasive.” In the fourteen years that have passed between these issues, improved digital information transmission has led to faster written communication and miscommunication. Therefore, the need for cogent writing in all subject areas has become increasingly important, in- and outside the classroom.

The articles in this issue of Peer Review focus on new frontiers of writing, both in composition classes and across the disciplines. Three articles explore the topic through research lenses. The first, a collaboration between the Council of Writing Program Administrators and the National Survey of Student Engagement, reveals findings on how writing contributes to student learning. The next article offers an overview of the National Census of Writing, a database of responses to over two hundred questions related to the administration, teaching, and support of academic writers from nine hundred US colleges and universities. A third piece describes the Meaningful Writing Project, a study of more than seven hundred seniors at three universities, in which students describe the roles that writing plays in their lives. Also featured in the issue are articles about writing in a vertical curriculum, teaching for transfer in the community college composition classroom, and using a school’s writing-across-the-curriculum program to inform its quantitative reasoning initiative. The issue closes with a meditation on the power of writing. These various perspectives show multiple ways that writing deepens student learning.

Unlike in the era represented in My Fair Lady, when only the privileged few expected to learn effective communication skills, all of today’s students deserve the chance to receive these outcomes. This is especially true for written communication skills. As the National Writing Project reminds us on their website, “Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing is a bridge to the future.”

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