Review: Assignments Across the Curriculum: A National Study of College Writing

Dan Melzer. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2014. 148 pp. $24.95 pbk.

Reviewed by: Jason Tham, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, MN

Writing assignments are one of the fundamental pieces of classroom discourse that contain rich information about the rhetorical contexts of writing across the curriculum (WAC). This book presents Melzer’s study of 2,101 undergraduate writing assignments in 100 postsecondary institutions in the United States. By examining the rhetorical situations, genres, and discourse community contexts of each assignment, Melzer offers a panoramic view of college writing assignment patterns across the natural sciences, social sciences, business, and humanities. Among his eight major findings is the evidence that the “Research Paper” is too diverse to be a genre often divorced from rich social contexts and complex ways of making knowledge. Thus, he recommends alternative research writing in “poststructural” genres such as ethnography and hypertext. Melzer’s other observation of courses connected to a WAC initiative reveals that such courses require students to write more, write more often, and write in greater variety of rhetorical genres than non-WAC courses do. This makes a compelling case for the importance of the WAC movement.

The book sums up six recommendations for WAC practitioners, writing program administrators (WPAs), writing center specialists, first-year writing instructors, as well as high school teachers attempting to bridge the gap between high school and college writing. Among his most enthralling arguments is to require a second-semester composition course focused on introducing students to writing across disciplines, since his survey has shown that the Learning to Write across the Curriculum (WTL + WAC) approach is too complex for a single first-year composition course. For many WPAs and faculty, this is a call to reevaluate their existing writing programs. As a graduate instructor, my takeaway is that WAC seems to have a lot of potential waiting to be unearthed and WPAs should be devoted to collecting evidence of the effectiveness of WAC initiatives to ensure survival of the movement as a whole.