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Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing to Learn vs. Learning to Write

Marty Patton
Campus Writing Program
University of Missouri-Columbia

Most writing-intensive courses mix writing-to-learn assignments (in which students write to explore and master course material) with learning-to-write assignments (in which students learn the professional conventions of writing in the discipline). While any one assignment might emphasize "writing-to-learn" in the first draft and "learning-to-write" in subsequent drafts, it is still helpful to think of assignments in terms of purpose: some assignments aim to be discovery-oriented, even in the final draft; some assignments aim to be technically and professionally correct, even in the first draft.

Writing to Learn

Thinking: 
Often inductive;
conclusions discovered in the process
of writing;
might be creative, open-ended, and
discovery oriented
Stage of writing process:
Emphasis on invention
(rather than revision)
Audience: 
Self and trusted others
Style:
Personal language in social
community
Purpose:
Might attempt to integrate for
oneself new and old understandings
(learning)

Might attempt to persuade oneself
of a position
 
Typical genres:
Journals, personal letters, notes,
rough drafts of formal papers

 Learning to Write

Thinking:
Often deductive;
conclusions understood at outset
and then justified;
might be controlled, selective, and
analytic
Stage of writing process: 
Emphasis on revision
(rather than invention)
Audience: 
Distant or unknown audience
Style:
Formal language of academic or
"discourse" community
Purpose:
Might attempt to integrate for
the public new and old understand-ings (communication)
Having taken a position, might
attempt to persuade others to take
the same position
Typical genres: 
Essays, reports, business letters,
arguments, final draft of any paper
Often "writing-to-learn" and "learning-to-write" evolve together.
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