“Formulaic Writing”

First we’ll respond to each other’s blogs.

Now, let’s talk about the reading, Wiley’s “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing…”, another button-pushing article taking on a controversy in our work!

First, please break out a piece of paper or your laptop for a freewrite:

Write about a time you learned a “format” or “formula” for writing.  (I think we all learned at least one–am I wrong?)

What was it?  How well did it “work,” and work for what?  And talk about when you outgrew the formula.  What happened that made you realize either that the formula needed adjustments or that it no longer worked at all?

We’ll start our conversations here.

As interns you’re now part of a context for learning in which:

  • Students are (once again) novices to academic writing, unfamiliar or largely unaware of the styles and strategies of advanced (Western) discourse
  • Chico State places them in a workshop (like the former ENGL 30), a basic writing program (like Butte College courses before ENGL 02), or a series of language-learning classes (as offered at ALCI) on the basis of presumed language skills or writing competency
  • Which were assessed via a high-stakes test (the EPT, SBAC, CAASPP, or EAP/ERWC) that may not reflect what students know
  • Writing done in freshman classes (ENGL 130 and other GE courses) and before, in high school, is indeed often “general” in many ways: narrative-based, response-driven, low-stakes, five-paragraph, or Jane Schaffer-method writing
  • But because you’re a tutor you could have a less-than-complete sense of what their writing assignments are, the purpose of their writing, the role it might play in the class, and how it might be graded.  You’re always outside the course, for good or ill!

First off, what does Wiley’s article add to this discussion?  What’s his point, and how might he add to, challenge, or reframe some of the stances you see above?

Second, what’s your take on the conversation I’ve crafted to date?  What I mean is, Where do you stand on issues such as:

  • The extent to which we think there’s something “basic” or “foundational” in learning to write that students need to practice before they move on to somewhere else
  • How well tutoring or mentorship seems to “work,” given what’s above
  • Our ability to help students see that there’s lots more to writing than formulas or “basics”
  • Ways to help students do a variety of things with their writing, one of which is push past formulas and “rules” and toward heuristics, strategies, and disciplinary genres and conventions
  • Ways to “fix” writing instruction in the modern university.  More of what, less of what, and why?
  • Or something else (your choice).

We’ll discuss as a large group.  I hope we’ll also push toward more questions or concepts you might want to research and write up for this next paper.


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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