Composition Studies

Composition Studies is

  • an academic discipline chiefly concerned with the study of composing
  • a subdiscipline of Writing Studies.

Composition Studies is

  • an academic discipline chiefly concerned with the study of composing
  • a subdiscipline of Writing Studies.

Scholars and researchers in Composition Studies (aka Compositionists) focus on investigating composing processes (also known as creative processes).

Related: Composing, Writing, Drafting; The Writing Process

In their introduction to Exploring Composition Studies: Sites, Issues, Perspectives, Kelly Ritter and Paul Kei Matsuda sketch a genealogy for the discipline of Composition Studies back to

  • antiquity, particularly the work of Aristotle on Rhetorical appeals and the Rhetorical Situation
  • the early 1890s when Harvard instituted the first undergraduate course explicitly on college writing
  • 1911 when the National Council of Teachers of English was formed
  • 1950 when College Composition and Communication, an academic journal was founded.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication, which is the professional organization for Composition Studies, defines the field very broadly:

The field of composition studies draws on research and theories from a broad range of humanistic disciplines—English studies, rhetoric, cultural studies, LGBT studies, gender studies, critical theory, education, technology studies, race studies, communication, philosophy of language, anthropology, sociology, and others—and from within composition and rhetoric studies, where a number of subfields have also developed, such as technical communication, computers and composition, writing across the curriculum, research practices, and the history of these fields. 

Conference on College Composition and Communication

In Stephen North’s creation story for Composition Studies (see The Making of Knowledge in Composition, 1987), he traces the roots of the discipline to Sputnik and the rise of the science along with the GI Bill in the U.S. North believes the GI Bill, which funded millions of U.S. veterans to attend colleges, created a shock to the educational system. Because many of these students funded by the GI bill were underprepared in terms of their literacy competencies, schools had to rethink their curriculum and pedagogy.

North argues the early pioneers, the first-generation of Compositionists, embraced the idea that the scientific method would provide new solutions for teaching and learning. Here, the Compositionists leveraged America’s fear that it was falling behind Russia, as symbolized by Sputnik.

Research & Theory on Composing

This provides a rough sketch of some major research studies regarding the composing processes of with graders. It addresses the complexities of composing processes.


Olson, Keith. “The G. I. Bill and Higher Education: Success and Surprise,” American Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 5 (December 1973) 596-610. in JSTORin JSTOR

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