Project History & Acknowledgements

Learn about our origin story, beginning with the publication of College Writing Online by Pearson Education in 2003. Meet the people behind Writing Commons, including our past editors and editorial boards.

Much like this deeply rooted tree, Writing Commons has grown organically within the writing studies community, anchoring itself to ongoing scholarly conversations about composing, rhetoric, and style.


Over the years, our mission has evolved in response to changes in our audience and technologies:

  1. 1st Edition (2003 to 2008)
    In 2003, Moxley published College Writing Online (Pearson) under a traditional copyright and commercial paywall.
  2. 2nd Edition (2008 to 2012)
    After receiving copyright back from Pearson Education, Moxley self-published the project @ http://CollegeWriting.Org. Like the 1st Edition, the 2nd Edition was solely written by Moxley.
  3. 3rd Edition (2012 to 2019)
    In 2012, Moxley moved the project to He invited graduate students and faculty to collaborate with him to develop open-education resources.
  4. 4th Edition (2019 to present)
    In 2019, Moxley, in consultation with colleagues and based on UX work with users, reconceptualized the audience, genre, information architecture and organizational schema for the project.
  5. 5th Edition (2023 to present)
    We are currently working on a major redesign.

5th Edition Goals

For the 5th edition, we are moving away from Ezoic as out our advertising network to MediaVine. The goal with that move is to better control the user experience–to make it more pleasant. Moving forward, we hope to double-down on our efforts at peer-production.

4th Edition Goals

In 2019, we were forced to recognize that Writing Commons had evolved in ways our original menu system hadn’t originally anticipated. With the first two editions, we were a composition textbook for first-year writing. The 3rd edition branched out to fiction and professional and technical writing. This led to the fragmentation of content. For instance, we had sorted articles on audience awareness in course folders; discipline folders (e.g., technical writing, business writing, expository writing); and rhetoric folders.

On reflection, we realized the 3rd Edition was more than disorganized. We realized, in fact, that we had created the House of Lore that Stephen North satirized in The Making of Knowledge in Composition to define lore and differentiate lore from other forms of knowledge.

The House of Lore, as it were: a rambling, to my mind delightful old manse, wing branching off from wing, addition tacked to addition, in all sorts of materials–brick, wood, canvas, sheet metal, cardboard–with turrets and gables, minarets and spires, spiral staircases, rope ladders, pitons, dungeons, secret passageways–all seemingly random, yet all connected. Each generation of Practioners inherits this pile from the one before, is ushered around some of what there is, and then, it its turn, adds its own touches. Naturally, the structure is huge, sprawling. There are, after all, no provisions for tearing any of it down. Various portions of it can and almost certainly will be forgotten and rediscovered again and again. A wing abandoned by one generation will be resettled (and may be refurbished) by another. And note, too, that there is nothing to rule out parallel discovery or re-invention, either; so the House of Lore has many rooms that look very much alike.

(North 2006, p. 27).
<em>When looking over a failed project look for the pieces in the wreckage that can be reformed<em>

In 2019 Moxley realized we could continue as we were, adding new content and revising and editing existing content, as necessary. Or, we could detonate our house of lore—raze it to the ground and start over. Frankly, Moxley would have walked if not for Google Analytics.

On a daily basis, he was encouraged by our global traffic. As the earth spun around the sun, from our perspective in Eastern Standard Time, we could see patterns: evening readers from Asia; early morning readers from Europe. At any time of day, we could see there was always someone reading Writing Commons. On occasion, large crowds gathered.

<strong>Revision Notes<strong>
  1. In 2018, we began our effort to globallyrevise our project by first reflecting on our rhetorical situation, particularly our audience. In other words, we engaged in rhetorical analysis of our project.
    • For editions 1 & 2 we had imagined a student in undergraduate writing classes. In the 3rd edition we imagined students in academic, professional, and technical writing courses. Now we were recognizing that 50% of our traffic was a global audience. And we also noticed that most readers didn’t interact much with the text, other than the page they landed on.
  2. Following rhetorical analysis of our Google Analytics and customer discovery, we questioned whether the textbook genre we’d employed in earlier editions constrained our organization and clarity. We hypothesized that a global audience of writers would find the convention of alphabetical order—a stable convention of the encyclopedia—to be a more intuitive organizational structure than that of a textbook, which tends to be tied to particular curriculums, historical periods, and communities of practice.

    Thereafter, as we engaged in drafting and revision, we came to another hypothesis: we wondered whether the genre of the encyclopedia facilitates interdisciplinarity, a core value of the Writing Studies community. We liked how reconfiguring our project as an encyclopedia genre counterbalances the segmentation of writing studies into disparate, competing subfields.

    We identified other advantages to the genre conventions of the encyclopedia: (1) the historical focus on providing all detailed information about a particular topic; (2) the scholarly tradition of paraphrasing and citing primary sources, textual research, and empirical research; (3) the tendency to historize content and show the evolution of scholarly conversations over time,
  3. For the 4th edition, we moved from Jooma to WordPress because WordPress
    1. enables us to identify multiple authors for an article.
    2. enables us to better layer content–i.e.
      • to use links and menu systems to empower the reader to go deeper, if they so wish, into research and theory
      • to show associations among ideas, and
      • to better understand relationships among concepts.
  4. To identify the thematic categories for the 4th edition, we conducted case study interviews with subject-matter experts. To explore possible organizational schemes, Cassandra Branham conducted card-sorting usability exercises with undergraduates and faculty.
  5. Between 2018 and 2020, Moxley wrote 376 new articles on topics of concern for writers. These articles introduce key words and concepts for writers, speakers, knowledge workers.
    1. We adopted a historiographical approach to many of our new articles. This involved defining the concept under discussion at the beginning of the article
      1. illustrating how the concept had evolved over time. (As an example of this, see Rhetorical Situation.)
      2. providing citations and identifying additional resources on the topic for the especially curious reader.
    2. From the STEM community, he foraged the concept of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive competencies as a theoretical foundation for literacy.
    3. From Information Studies, especially ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries), he worked with Grace Veach to update our Information Literacy resources.
    4. From cognitive psychology and the learning sciences, we developed new resources related to Mindset.
    5. For new content, Moxley decided to give authors the opportunity to choose between traditional copyright and Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. For his own contributions to the project, Moxley moved away from publishing content solely under a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 because
      1. he views the encyclopedia to be a work in progress.
        1. By ascribing traditional copyright to his articles, he is able to avoid having old versions of his articles published.
      2. he was disappointed with how others were using some of his past articles. He came across instances where others did attribute him as required and yet did so in ways that he felt were a bit deceptive. Some attributions were wehidden or difficult to find. For example, some of our work had been uploaded to an e-learning platform. If you clicked through some pages you could find the attribution, but it felt a bit loosey goosey.
      3. he also wanted to see some rewards for his time and some ways to cover costs.
  6. We added Writing Studies as an entirely new section of Writing Commons.
    1. We wanted to give faculty who use Writing Commons examples of how the site could be used for different courses.
    2. Politically, we also think of our courses as a form of radical sharing—a means of pushing back against the Balkanization of teacher’s intellectual property.  We invite teachers to reach a broader audience by sharing their courses and resources, which nowadays tend to be locked behind course management systems like Canvas or Blackboard.

3rd Edition Notes

The 3rd edition was published between 2012 and 2019 at The 3rd edition began as a modest, open-access educational resource for students and teachers of college-level writing courses, emerging from two previously published editions of College Writing Online.

At the onset, we aspired to provide the best possible composition textbook for first-year writing students — for free. Frankly, this remains a motivating factor as conventional educational resources continue to drive up costs for students, with The College Board estimating an annual cost of $1200 for textbooks and supplies in the 2019-2020 school year (College Board 2020).

Further inspired by Yochai Benkler’s (2006) work on commons-based peer production as well as the emergence of Wikipedia, we modeled the 3rd Edition after a typical academic genre: the academic journal. We created an Advisory Board and an Editorial Board and invited faculty and graduate students to submit pedagogical articles. 

In 2014, after hackers attacked and took over the site in 2014 and we had to fight to reboot a new version of the site, we began incorporating ads. The ads enabled us to better fund security and server costs.

Quentin Vieregge, the Editor-in-Chief for Writing Commons between 2011 and 2017, worked with our Advisory Board and Editorial Board to

  • peer review an additional 300 articles.
  • encourage faculty to submit articles for creative, professional and technical writing courses
  • better meet the needs of an international audience
  • publish a monthly newsletter for the Writing Studies community, unCommon News

For a brief while, we piloted My Campuses. Led by Kate Pantelides, this was an effort to showcase student work. Participating schools were Malmö University, Eastern Michigan University, and the University of South Florida.

Thanks to the hard work of our review editors and advisory committee, the 3rd edition doubled the size of Writing Commons. We peer reviewed many submissions and published original works from university and college faculty and graduate students related to fiction, creative nonfiction, business writing, scientific writing, and technical writing. We were used by the first English composition MOOCs, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, Duke University, Georgia Tech, and the Ohio State University.

Photos of former Writing Commons editors. Pick of Writing Commons community contributors to the John Lovas Award and Distinguished Book Award
Collage of photographs featuring the Advisory and Editorial Board for the 3rd edition of <em>Writing Commons<em>

2nd Edition Notes

The 2nd edition was published as College Writing Online from 2008 to 2012.

Published in Joomla, a content management system, the 2nd edition was written primarily as a resource for students in college composition courses.

1st Edition Goals

The 1st edition of Writing Commons was published in 2003 by Pearson Education under the title College Writing Online. This was the first solely online composition textbook for first-year writing students. It was awarded the 2003 Distinguished Book Award from Computers and Composition.

Screen Pic of <em>College Writing Online<em> Homepage


4th Edition

We thank

  • Alston Chapman for his kindness and substantive act of service in support of our mission. Throughout the 3rd edition and into the launch of the 4th edition in 2020, Alston served as our server administrator and chief tech guru. Thank you Alston for your help when we were in Joomla and for translating the site into WordPress.
  • Ilene Frank, Director of Library Services UoPeople ( for consulting with us on Information Literacy.
  • Jenifer Paquette, a professor at Hillsborough Community College, for her ongoing leadership on the Style sections.
  • Janice Walker, professor emeritus at Georgia Southern University, for her ongoing advice (and encouragement) regarding the organization of our encyclopedia.

3rd Edition Notes

Quentin Vieregge, UW-Eau Claire, led the effort to develop the third edition.
Under Quentin’s leadership we focused more broadly on the needs of students in professional and technical writing courses. As Editor-in-Chief until 2018, Quentin oversaw the editorial process, working with our review editors to conduct anonymous reviews of hundreds of essays.

We could not have developed the third edition without the wise counsel of our advisory board:
Linda Adler-Kassner, University of California, Santa Barbara
James P. Gee, Arizona State University
Graeme Harper, Oakland University
Susan Lang, The Ohio State University
Charlie Lowe, Grand Valley State University
MC Morgan, Bemidji State University
Mike Palmquist, Colorado State University
Alex Reid, SUNY at Buffalo
Howard Rheingold, Stanford University
Shirley Rose, Arizona State University
Kristin Sainani, Stanford School of Medicine
George Siemens, Athabasca University
Taku Sugimoto, Chiba Institute of Technology
Gregory L. Ulmer, University of Florida
Janice Walker, Georgia Southern University
Martin Weller, Open University;
Bronwyn T. Williams, University of Louisville.

Likewise, we thank our colleagues for their professional service as our review editors:

E. Jonathan Arnett, Kennesaw State University
Matt Barton, St. Cloud State University
Matt Balk, Ball State University
William Carney, Cameron University
Joel Friederich, University of Wisconsin
Tamara Girardi, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Andrea Greenbaum, Barry University
Heidi Skurat Harris, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Stephanie Hedge, SUNY Potsdam
Mitchell Ray James, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Christopher Justice, The University of Baltimore
Amy C. Kimme Hea, University of Arizona
bonnie lenore kyburz, Lewis University
Jennifer Lee Novotney, MMI Preparatory School
Angela Eward-Mangione, Hillsborough Community College
Jennifer Marlow, College of Saint Rose
Patricia Portanova, Northern Essex Community College
Daisy Pignetti, University of Wisconsin-Stout
Abigail Scheg, Elizabeth City State University
Andrea Scott, Pitzer College
Lars Söderlund, Wright State University
Todd Taylor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Ryan Weber, University of Alabama-Huntsville
Susan Youngblood, Auburn University

1st Edition Notes

Our thanks to Joe Opiela for serving as our editor for the first iteration of this text, which was published by Pearson Education.