Considering students’ experiences with disciplinary tensions in our program development

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Published in: Composition Forum, 45, 2020.


In expanding our minor in Professional and Public Writing (PPW), we drew on scholarship exploring tensions inherent in the field’s efforts to understand and present itself as a cohesive, yet capacious, discipline. Missing from the scholarship are the voices of students. To fill this gap, we conducted focus group interviews with PPW students at Roger Williams University. Our findings suggest that disciplinary tensions surrounding conceptions of writing are echoed in students’ perceptions of their experiences and how they understand themselves as writers. Even as they assert the importance of good writing skills in the workplace, they express an appreciation for courses in which writing for a variety of audiences is conceptualized as complex and flexible. Understanding the tension between these beliefs about writing holds significant implications for our future program development, especially with curriculum and recruitment. It can also help other programs as they expand their offerings.