Elizabeth C. (Elizabeth Carol) Britt


Chris W. Gallagher, Neal Lerner

Date of Award


Date Accepted


Degree Grantor

Northeastern University

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department or Academic Unit

College of Social Sciences and Humanities. Department of English.


composition pedagogy, first-year composition, genre, research instruction, transfer, writing-about-writing


Arts and Humanities | Rhetoric and Composition


This dissertation argues that Writing-about-Writing (WAW) scholarship could strengthen its commitment to teaching writing and rhetoric through lenses of composition scholarship by paying more attention to its treatment of secondary research. WAW scholarship has enriched composition's understanding of genre and transfer, and has allowed its practitioners to use disciplinary writing to teach genre awareness. But while such pedagogies depict primary research in nuanced and recursive ways, they at times portray secondary research as a mechanical process of retrieval. Such a depiction threatens to perpetuate the very generic view of writing WAW advocates wish to subvert.

A similar tension was observed in 34 open-ended qualitative interviews and classroom observations of first-year writing students, their composition instructors, and instructional librarians at a large public university in the Midwest. Although instructors readily identified the varied and nuanced contexts of different writing situations, and often shared this view of academic writing with their students, they also portrayed research as a generalizable process, easily transferred to future writing situations. This tension arose in each of the research process "steps" identified by participants: developing a research focus, locating sources, evaluating sources, and citing sources. WAW pedagogy, with its emphasis on teaching about writing, offers tools that could help participants to resolve those tensions. At the same time, the participants' experiences with research offer challenges to WAW pedagogy.

To be successful, WAW approaches to research instruction need to approach secondary research with as much care and detail as they do primary research. First-year composition approaches to research instruction would be more effective if they foregrounded awareness about research over the discrete tools of research instruction. This dissertation concludes with three propositions for integrating more fully theorized research instruction into WAW pedagogies. Successful research instruction requires 1) an emphasis on teaching about research over how to research, 2) instructors who cultivate their own research awareness, and 3) extended collaborations between the fields of composition and library and information science.

Document Type


Rights Holder

Stephanie Loomis Pappas

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