Writing Transfer Across Domains: Academic, Personal, and Extracurricular Writing

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Over the last decade, scholars in composition studies have devoted significant attention to the issue of student transfer at the collegiate level. That is, they ask whether and how students repurpose their writing knowledge and abilities for new and alternate writing situations. This existing research provides insight into the ways that students do or do not productively repurpose their writing experiences and suggests that successful transfer occurs less often than writing instructors might hope.

Drawing on data from a survey, focus groups, writing samples, and interviews, my qualitative study extends this existing research in three primary ways. First, I expand the scope of contexts included in studies of writing transfer. Much of students’ writing, and thus writing education, occurs outside of school. Rather than focus primarily on academic settings, as most scholarship does, my study investigates students’ writing experiences across academic, personal, and extracurricular domains. Second, my study discerns the specific ways that students relate their writing experiences across these domains. Most scholarship in composition examines how students repurpose their writing knowledge by tracing vertical transfer, or the ways students transfer their learning from one writing class to another. My study redirects scholarly attention by focusing instead on how students forge connections between disparate contexts, establishing a “transfer mindset.” Based on students’ writing samples and commentary, this dissertation analyzes five relational reasoning strategies that students use to connect their writing across contexts. Finally, this study examines how students transfer prior experiences and knowledge to create a credible persona, or effective ethos, in many writing situations. My study examines three types of sources that students draw on to project an ethos appropriate to a given writing task.

Throughout “Writing Transfer Across Domains,” I emphasize the importance of viewing transfer from students’ own perspectives and valuing students’ idiosyncratic ways of making meaning. Ultimately, this project shows that students can and do draw productive connections between their writing experiences, cultivating a “transfer mindset.” “Writing Transfer Across Domains” offers both theoretical and pragmatic insights into college students’ ability to move their writing knowledge between all the writing situations they encounter and create.