Shifting Experience Of Self A Bibliography Essays Example

Marsi G. Wisniewski, M.Ed.
May, 2009
Plymouth State University


The purpose behind this annotated bibliography is to give the reader a better understanding of the very real and often debilitating experience associated with writing anxiety. The first section entitled Writing Anxiety – What is it and who is Most Susceptible consists of articles that define the term, explain who is most likely to experience it, and how it affects students’ choice of major. In the second section, Reducing Writing Anxiety, articles focus on how instructors can work toward helping alleviate the apprehension levels of their students. The third section deals with techniques that instructors can use both in the classroom and in their assessment measurements of student work.

Writing Anxiety – What Is It and Who Is Most Susceptible?

  • Bline, Dennis, Dana R. Lowe, Wilda F. Meixner, Hossein Nouri, and Kevin Pearce. “A Research Note on the Dimensionality of Daly and Miller’s Writing Apprehension Scale.” Written Communication. 18.61 (2001): 61-79.
    • Bline et al. investigated the order of the questions on the Writing Apprehension Scale and whether this order plays a role in the end result. The researchers were specifically interested to see if the use of a computer made subjects feel more or less apprehensive. They surveyed two groups of sophomore undergraduate students. One group, from a private Northeast college, completed the test in its original order. The second group was made up of students attending three other schools and was presented with a version of the test where the questions were posed in a random fashion. The researchers found that the computer played no real difference in how the test subjects answered the questions. This finding further strengthens the notion that the Writing Apprehension Scale still has validity.
  • Boice, Robert. “Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge.” The Journal of Higher Education. 63.1 (1993): 19-54.
    • This article describes the six most common causes of writing blocks: censors; fear of failure; perfectionism; past experience with authoritarian teachers; procrastination and mental health. The author provides us with a basic list of maladaptive thought patterns often associated with the blocked writer. He then goes on to talk about the strategies that appear to help writers, including: automatic exercises such as free writing and regular practice.
  • Charney, Davida, John H. Newman, and Mike Palmquist. “’I’m Just No Good at Writing.” Written Communication. 12.3 (1995): 298-329.
    • The different learning styles and attitudes that surround how students view writing were examined. The researchers found that students who are active learners are more likely to view writing as something they can develop. In contrast, passive learners tend to regard writing as something that a person is either good at or bad – a gift that cannot be learned. These beliefs had a direct translation into how well students did in writing intensive courses.
  • Daly, John. “Writing Apprehension and Writing Competency.” Journal of Educational Research. 72.1 (1978): 10-14.
    • Writing apprehension is explained as something that happens when people avoid situations where writing will be required and evaluated. Apprehensive writers tend to produce lower quality work. Daly questions whether they do this because of the apprehension or if it has more to do with the fact that they have received negative feedback in the form of lower grades. Daly also questions how this cycle begins – with the anxiety or with the poor writing.
  • Daly, John and Michael D. Miller. “Apprehension of Writing as a Predictor of Message Intensity.” The Journal of Psychology. 89 (1975): 173-177.
    • Ninety-eight undergraduate students from West Virginia University participated in a study about writing apprehension. All participants completed a twenty-six item survey called the Writing Apprehensive Test (WAT), which asked them to answer questions about their attitudes and feelings while writing. The researchers concluded that people who have high levels of apprehension and/or stress were more likely to produce lower quality written products.
  • Faigley, Lester, John A. Daly, and Stephen P. Witte. “The Role of Writing Apprehension in Writing Performance and Competence.” Journal of Educational Research. 71.1 (1981): 17-20.
    • Faigley, Daly, and Witte conducted a study about writing apprehension and the final written product. One-hundred and ten first semester college freshmen participated. Participants were given tests to determine their level of apprehension toward writing. They were then asked to write essays in various genres. The results indicate that most students with high writing apprehension produce lower quality work. Their papers tend to be shorter and have less developed language and sentence structure. The researchers argue that more methods need to be used to assess writing. They argue this because they say that the more students are evaluated, the higher the anxiety levels climb. If students are allowed to participate in different types of writing, perhaps their apprehension could become somewhat alleviated.
  • Faris, Kay A., Steven P. Golen, and David H. Lynch. “Writing Apprehension in Beginning Accounting Majors.” Business Communication Quarterly. 62.2 (1999): 9-22.
    • Researchers investigated the high level of writing apprehension found in accounting majors. This is a concerning trend, because written communication is essential in the accounting profession. Six-hundred and eight-four people were surveyed. Of all the business degrees, accounting majors had the highest apprehension levels; marketing majors, the lowest. Faris, Golen and Lynch recommend students be tested early on in their college careers, so that apprehensive writers can be identified and helped accordingly. They also recommend that students be made aware early on how much writing will be involved in their chosen career paths.
  • Kountz, Carol. “The Anxiety of Influence and the Influence of Anxiety.” Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Chicago, IL. April 1-4, 1998.
    • Kountz discusses how people experience writing apprehension differently. She illustrates this through two student examples. The first student felt anxiety because she identified too much with the text and wanted to write similarly or just as well as a revered author. The second one felt anger toward writing, because he felt his readers were too insensitive. By acknowledging the different ways apprehension can manifest itself, teachers can learn how to form better responses to students’ written work. This, in turn, will do wonders toward alleviating anxiety levels, even if just by a small degree.
  • Lavelle, Ellen, and Nancy Zuercher. “The Writing Approaches of University Students.” Higher Education 42.3 (2001): 373-91.
    • In this article, the researchers identified five factors that pertain to the writing approaches of college students: 1. elaborative – where they look for personal meaning; 2. low self-efficacy – where they fear writing and view it as a painful task; 3. reflective revision – where they demonstrate a willingness to take charge of their writing in order to make meaning for themselves and the audience; 4. spontaneous impulsive – where they overestimate their skill and fear having to deal with what they perceive as limitations; and 5. procedural – where they abide by a strict adherence to rules in an effort to please the teacher.
  • Li, Huijun and Christine M. Hamel. “Writing Issues in College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Synthesis of the Literature from 1990 to 2000.” Learning Disability Quarterly. 26.1 (2003): 29-46.
    • According to the researchers, students with writing disabilities are more prone to experience anxiety with the process. Computers can effectively be used to help alleviate some of the apprehension with this group, because of the cutting and pasting options which allow for quicker revision. Having a human reviewer, preferably a peer, read out loud what is on the computer screen can also be useful, because it enables students with writing disabilities to more easily hear their errors. These techniques combined with ungraded assignments, collaborative work, and conferences can all be of great benefit to the writer and should be incorporated into the classroom whenever possible.
  • Marbrito, Mark. “Computer Conversations and Writing Apprehension.” Business Communication Quarterly 63.1 (2000): 39-49.
    • Maribrito studied how high apprehensive writers functioned in an online communication setting. Two types of online learning environments were examined: 1. global computer conferences that were internet based and 2. local computer conferences which consisted of a more familiar group of people. Data was collected over a six week period of time. Students who participated in the asynchronous global environment appeared to be more comfortable. They were also more likely to initiate discussion and write longer responses. It appears that high apprehensive students appreciate having anonymity.
  • McCarthy, Patricia, Scott Meier, and Regina Rinderer. “Self-Efficacy and Writing: A Different View of Self-Evaluation.” College Composition and Communication. 36.4 (1985): 465- 471.
    • The authors investigated the role self-efficacy plays in how well students write their papers. They found that writers who had weak efficacy expectations had higher anxiety levels and produced papers that were not up to college standards. Those writers who believed in their capabilities had less anxiety and produced better quality papers overall. More research needs to be done to determine why some people do not accurately see themselves for the writers they are. That is, some writers vastly underestimate their abilities while others think their final products are better than they are.
  • Pajares, Frank. “Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings.” Review of Educational Research. 66.4 (1996): 543-578.
    • Pajares investigated the role that self-efficacy appears to play in students’ ability to do well in academic endeavors. The author addresses the confidence levels associated with high performance in subjects such and math and writing. Those students suffering from low self-efficacy seem to be more likely to experience high levels of apprehension toward assignments in which they feel they are not capable of doing well. This level of anxiety can directly impact the motivation needed for high academic achievement and can influence future courses of study.
  • Petzel, Thomas P.. and Marc U. Wenzel. “Development and Initial Evaluation of a Measure of Writing Anxiety.” American Psychological Association Convention. June, 1993.
    • Petzel and Wenzel conducted two experiments: one with one-hundred and seventeen first semester freshmen and the other with ninety-one. From these experiments, the researchers were able to identify nine components of the writing process. These include: empathy; expression; evaluation by others; motivation; organization; procrastination; self-esteem; technical skills; and writing anxiety.
  • Petroskey, Anthony. “Research Roundup: Apprehension, Attitudes, and Writing.” The English Journal. 65.9 (1976): 74-77.
    • In an effort to see how instructors can work towards alleviating writing anxiety, Petroskey conducted a cursory examination of some of the major writing apprehension studies. Specifically, he looked at: The Daly and Miller Writing Apprehension Test; Sanders and Littlefield’s study on test essays and freshman composition; Lim’s analysis of teachers’ attitudes toward students’ writing; Smith’s effects of class size and individualized instruction; and Mosheni’s work on the grading of creative writing essays.
  • Popovich, Mark N. and Mark H. Masse. “Individual Assessment of Media Writing Student Attitudes: Recasting the Mass Communication Writing Apprehension Measure.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 82.2 (2003): 339-355.
    • A group of mass communication majors were surveyed over the course of a college semester. Some identified themselves as having high apprehension levels toward writing; others identified themselves as having lower levels. The one’s who said they had high apprehension levels were most likely to be pessimistic about writing assignments and were less likely to be successful. In contrast, those students who thought of themselves as having low levels of anxiety were more likely to have an optimistic outlook about writing and produce better quality work.
  • Rankin-Brown, Maria. “Addressing Writing Apprehension in Adult English Language Learners. CATESOL State Conference. 2006.
    • Ten students ranging in age from 18 to 28 were surveyed and interviewed about their levels of writing apprehension. Students reported that they actively avoided writing because they worried about: self-evaluation; teacher evaluation; peer evaluation; and fear of losing their identity. They further stated that writing caused them anxiety because it made them worry about making errors. The author provides recommendations to help alleviate this anxiety. These include: teaching writing as a process; explaining feedback; and holding face-to-face conferences with students often.
  • Riffe, Daniel and Don W. Stacks. “Student Characteristics and Writing Apprehension.” Journalism Educator. (Summer 1992): 39-49.
    • Riffe and Stacks address the struggles many mass communication majors have with writing. Particular attention is paid to the Mass Communication Writing Apprehension Measure (MCWAM) as a predictor of how students will fair overall. The researchers found that many of the students who did poorly on this exam lacked confidence about their writing, feared being evaluated, and often experienced blank page paralysis. A surprising find was that some students actually saw writing as being irrelevant to their future careers. The researchers argue that the MCWAM, when handled correctly, can be an effective tool in convincing apprehensive writers that the “blocks” they experience when facing a writing task can be overcome successfully in time.
  • Stolpa, Jennifer M. “Math and Writing Anxieties. Phi Kappa Phi Forum. (2004): 84.3.
    • In this article, Stolpa talks about how pervasive writing anxiety is in our educational system. Much of this stems from children growing up believing that some people just aren’t meant to be writers. This belief is so entrenched in our society that we often see it on television shows – the character that puts off writing a term paper or finds a way to avoid it altogether.
  • Wilste, Eric M. “Using Writing to Predict Students’ Choice of Majors.” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. (Summer 2006): 179-194.
    • Two-hundred and twenty-nine undergraduate students attending a university in the Rocky Mountain region were given a questionnaire related to their feelings about writing. The results suggest that how a student feels about writing will most likely be reflected in their choice of major. Those with high levels of writing apprehension, for example, are not likely to become journalism majors. This paper has some direct implications for academic advisors. Perhaps a writing anxiety test should be administered to all students considering a communications related degree.

Reducing Writing Anxiety

  • Bizzaro, Patrick and Hope Toler. “The Effects of Writing Apprehension on the Teaching Behaviors of Writing Center Tutors.” The Writing Center Journal. 7.1 (1986): 37-43.
    • Bizzaro and Toler investigated the relationship between writing center tutors with high apprehension and the methods those tutors employed when working with and evaluating student writing. They surveyed twenty graduate tutors at East Carolina University, giving each an eighteen-item Teaching Methods Survey to determine what their teaching behaviors are and whether they use the process or product approach. The results were that tutors who feel apprehensive themselves about being evaluated are more likely to be impatient with the students. These tutors are, furthermore, less likely to wait for students to make discoveries about their writing for themselves. These results indicate a need for better training on the part of the writing center tutors, so that they will feel more comfortable with their interactions with students.
  • Bloom, Lynn Z. “The Composing Process of Anxious and Non-Anxious Writers: A Naturalistic Study.” Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Washington, D.C. March 13-15, 1980.
    • Bloom found that there were three types of categories anxious writers fall into: the intransigents that do not and will not write anything; the intermediate who can be helped to complete certain kinds of writing but not all; and the full responsive participant who will eventually write anything, often with gusto. Through her research, Bloom discovered that a great deal of writing anxiety is attitudinal. That is, when students “knew” they would put off or not do well with a particular assignment, they usually lived up to these expectations. The author argues that perhaps a solution to the issue may be to break a large assignment down into manageable smaller chunks. This would at least enable task specific anxious writers to finish a portion of their overall writing.
  • Clarke, Diane C.. “Explorations into Writing Anxiety: Helping Students Overcome their Fears and Focus on Learning.” ISSOTL Conference. October 15, 2005.
    • Clarke discusses how writing anxiety can be debilitating for some people. In fact, it can often lead to students avoiding particular courses, majors or jobs. In an effort to alleviate the anxiety that Clarke was seeing in her own students, she decided to pilot a new course at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College- Overcoming Writing Anxiety English 101. In it, she tried various techniques to help the student writers. She found the following to be the most helpful: give students the ability to revise; hold one-on-one conferences with the instructor; and keep the course at a manageable pace.
  • Dobie, Ann B., Harriet Maher, Connie McDonald, and Kathleen O’Shaughnessy. “Who, What, When, and Where of Writing Rituals.” The Quarterly (Fall 2008): 18-36.
    • Over 100 writers ranging from elementary school students to septuagenarians were surveyed and interviewed about their writing habits. Through this, the authors were able to discern that rituals appear to play a major factor in the writer’s creative process. Whether these rituals involved the environment (a particular room), time (early in the morning or late a night) or behavior (a repetitious or mundane activity such as vacuuming), all helped the writer get in the mood to write. Furthermore, these practices were seen as a means to alleviate anxiety because they enabled the writer to cope with an otherwise seemingly enormous task.
  • Fox, Roy F. “Treatment of Writing Apprehension and Its Effects on Composition.” Research Conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia. 1979
    • Fox conducted a sixteen week study to investigate the effects that two different methods had on the teaching of writing apprehension. In the first method, writing was taught in a very traditional manner. Students received feedback and criticism only from the instructor. In the second method, students were taught in more of a workshop fashion. They received feedback from both the instructor and fellow classmates. They were also encouraged to work in pairs on collaborative pieces. At the end of the 16 week study, both groups were asked about their apprehension levels. Those who participated in the workshop method were found to have lower apprehension levels overall.
  • Harris, Muriel. “Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors.” College English. 57.1 (1993): 27-42.
    • Harris discusses how writing centers provide students with tutorial interaction, something that is not possible in other institutional settings. By working one on one with students, tutors enable writers to feel more comfortable both with the writing process and asking questions they might not otherwise ask. Tutors also help students better interpret assignments and teacher comments. They are there to help reduce stress, overcome hurdles, and be more knowledgeable than a roommate or a friend. They are furthermore a great resource for getting students to think more about personal writing issues and working through revising strategies.
  • Heller, Dana A. “Silencing the Soundtrack: An Alternative to Marginal Comments.” College Composition and Communication. 40.2 (1989): 210-213.
    • Heller makes the argument that teachers do their students a great disservice when they write too many comments and suggestions in the margins of the paper. The reason is that students come to rely on the teacher telling them what to do to improve their paper. In order to get students to think for themselves, Heller says we should ask them to write a paragraph and attaché this to the front of each draft. In the paragraph, students should write about the hoped for effect and impact of the draft in question. Any comments we give should also be on an attached sheet of paper. This will ensure that they go back to make changes for themselves.
  • McLeod, Susan. “Thoughts and Feelings: The Affective Domain and the Writing Process.” College Composition and Communication. 38.4 (1987): 426-435.
    • McLeod discusses the link between emotions and writing. She argues that these emotions can be broken down into three broad categories: writing anxiety, motivation, and beliefs about one’s ability to write. If instructors can help students work out whatever is hindering their progress, then students may be able to get past these hurdles and work towards using their emotions toward a positive outcome. For example, they can use their emotions to learn how to better allocate their energy and take necessary breaks so that they can make the most productive use of their time.
  • Reeves, LaVona. “Minimizing Writing Apprehension in the Learner-Centered Classroom.” The English Journal 86.6 (1997): 38-45.
    • Reeves argues that apprehension toward writing and self-efficacy are not necessarily linked. There are a lot of other factors that go into it: socio-economic status, past experience, etc. She reminds us that even professional writers become apprehensive at times and that this is perfectly normal. In order to help alleviate this apprehension as mush as possible for our students, she recommends doing the following steps: write more; discourage appropriation of voice; listen to fearful writers; talk about past writing experiences; find patterns in students’ errors; contextualize and customize; conference during the drafting stages; collaborate with students for evaluation criteria; coach peers for effective response; validate intrapersonal communication- self-talk; be aware of possible gender differences; vary writing modes; monitor attitudes; introduce discourse communities; talk about writers you like; give and attend public readings; and share your own writing with the class.
  • Smith, Michael W. Reducing Writing Apprehension. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1984.
    • The author of this report talks about how writing apprehension plays a role in any writing class and that teachers have to learn how to address it. He goes on to provide us with some strategies that have worked successfully in various classrooms: teaching writing as a process; giving clear directions; sharing your grading criteria; allowing students to work in peer groups. These, coupled with assigning some ungraded written work, will work toward alleviating students’ anxiety levels about their papers.
  • Sommers, Nancy. “Across the Drafts.” College Composition and Communication. 58.2 (2006): 248-257.
    • Sommers discusses the Harvard study which followed 400 students over their undergraduate career to see what role feedback played in the complex story of why some students prosper while others do not. She found that students who receive thoughtful feedback that focused on a few patterns of error, as opposed to every mistake, were more likely to improve. In addition, students who received constructive feedback instead of constant praise were more likely to grow as writers. Sommers tells us that writers need plenty of practice in order to get better. This practice needs to occur in and beyond the first year experience. It especially needs to happen within the student’s discipline.
  • Tighe, Mary Ann. “Reducing Writing Apprehension in English Classes.”Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English Spring Conference. Louisville, KY. March. 26-28 1987.
    • Tighe begins her article by defining writing apprehension and telling the reader that adverse critical comments seem to be the main source of the problem. She then goes on to discuss methods that she herself has adopted in an effort to reduce the apprehensiveness levels in her lower level freshmen writing classes. By incorporating journals, allowing ample time for students to complete assignments during class, and encouraging peer critiquing, she found her students’ anxiety diminished and their writing levels improved. At the end of the article, Tighe provides some activities that may be useful for other instructors to achieve the same results.
  • Veit, Richard. “Reducing Anxiety in Writing Instruction.” Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English. Cincinnati, OH. November 21-26, 1990.
    • Veit discusses what he considers to be the absurdity of giving students grades. He argues that grades make students anxious and teachers should st5rive to keep that apprehension at a minimum. To do this, they should work toward eliminating traditional evaluation methods to a final portfolio only system. Veit justifies this by telling us that this methodology enables writers to operate in much the same way professionals complete drafts, revise, write more drafts and then a complete a final product. In the latter half of the article, Veit mentions using free writing activities in the classroom to help promote brainstorming and low stress writing.
  • Wachholz, Patricia B and Carol Plata Etheridge. “Speaking for Themselves: Writing Self- Efficacy Beliefs of High – and Low-Apprehensive Writers.” Journal of Developmental Education 19.3 (1996).
    • Wachholz and Etheridge conducted a study to examine the self-efficacy beliefs of 43 second semester freshman. They found that students who were less confident in their own abilities were more likely to do poorly both with individual papers and will classes overall. The reason is that teachers tended to equate achievement with motivation. While both high and low apprehensive feel a great deal of uneasiness when they know they will be evaluated, it was more pronounced among the high apprehensive. In addition, high apprehensive are more likely to see writing as something that is an innate quality and can, therefore, not be improved upon. Walchholz and Etheridge provide strategies at the end of this paper to assist instructors on how to help alleviate anxiety. Some of these include incorporating ungraded work and to focus on patterns of errors, not all mistakes made.

Creating a Low Anxiety Classroom Environment

  • Bernstein, Alison. “Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing by Mina P. Shaughnessy.” The School Review. 86.2 (1978): 292-294.
    • Bernstein does a nice job of giving us a synopsis of Shaugnessy’s work, the crux of which was to focus on how students write. Shaughnessy believes that there are patterns of errors that students tend to follow over and over again. Only after these patterns are identified can students truly begin to consistently improve their mistakes. Also, by breaking writing errors down into manageable chunks to examine, instructors can help students improve their finished products without making them feel overwhelmed by the writing process as a whole.
  • Clark, Irene L. “Portfolio Evaluation, Collaboration, and Writing Centers.” College Composition and Communication. 44.4 (1993): 515-524.
    • Clark discusses the shift to portfolio grading in the University of Southern California’s writing courses in the fall of 1991 and its direct effect on the university’s writing center. Portfolio grading helps students learn the value of revision and how to better view writing as a process instead of a first draft-final draft approach. The idea of using this as a means of determining grades in lieu of a final exam, therefore, makes pedagogical sense. However, when universities move toward this approach, they need to remain cognizant of the fact that this approach will place extra demands on the writing center around impending due dates. Too many visitors cause students to have to be turned away. This raises the level of writing anxiety tremendously. Clark argues that the best course of action would be to have the English department work closely with the writing center to establish a system that would serve the students in the best possible way.
  • Curtis, Marcia, and Anne Herrington. “Writing Development in the College Years: By Whose Definition?” College Composition and Communication 55.1 (2003): 69-90.
    • This article is based on a longitudinal in which four UMass at Amherst students participated. These students were given writing assignments in an effort to focus on their self-reflections as well as their connection with public interests. The researchers were interested in how such writing can be adequately evaluated.
  • Dickson, Kenneth J. “Freewriting, Prompts and Feedback.” The Internet TESL Journal. 7.8 (2001).
    • Dickson provides some very useful techniques regarding the use of free writing in the classroom. He begins by telling us that free writing works best when done at the beginning of class. It doesn’t matter whether it is an open topic or a focused free write. Dickson talks about five different kinds of writers that can sometimes experience problems with the technique: the reluctant writer (who stops repeatedly, writes briefly, and is always looking around); the always-has-to-be-correct writer (who always use an eraser or corrective liquid); the keyboard tapper (who frequently tries to access pocket electronic dictionary); the talker (who disrupts others); and the copier (who looks in his notebook for inspiration). Dickson tells us that all these issues can be conquered if the teacher remains highly involved. The author goes on to provide ideas for prompts and then concludes with the importance of class discussion about what people wrote.
  • Elbow, Peter and Pat Belanoff. “Portfolios as a Substitute or Proficiency Examinations.” College Composition and Communication. 37.3 (1986): 336-339.
    • Elbow and Belanoff talk about writing classes taught at Stony Brook and how they moved their assessments from proficiency examinations to a portfolio grading system. By enabling students to submit pieces of their choice, it puts ownership back into the hands of the authors. Students were responsible for writing a brief information cover sheet to introduce each paper, and their portfolios were evaluated by teachers that were not their own. This helped the writers to better see the value of making sure each paper could stand on its own. It, furthermore, took the “reader” authoritarian voice” away from the classroom teacher – allowing them to view him/her as more of a coach in the process.
  • Elbow, Peter and Mary Deane Sorcinelli. “How to Enhance Learning by Using High-Stakes and Low-Stakes Writing.” McKeachies’s Tips: Strategic Research and Theory for College and University Teachers. 12th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005: 192-212.
    • The authors define and discuss the differences between high stakes and low stakes writing and how they can be successfully incorporated in the classroom. Low stakes writing enables the student to write without worrying about formal structure and mechanics. High stakes writing includes formal writing assignments that often determine the student’s grade.
  • Ellis, Shelley. “Word Processors and the Developmental Writer: A Teamwork of Tradition and Technology.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 49.1 (1995): 55-66.
    • This article addresses basic writers’ attitudes towards composition. Particular consideration is paid to the art of revision and how it improves noticeably when students are permitted to use word processors in the classroom. An argument is made that students can develop their writing in this type of environment, because it is seen as more laid back. Also, the use of cutting and pasting commands can enable them to learn the art of revision without having to invest as much time as the traditional approach would require.
  • Gottschalk, Katherine. “Uncommon Grounds: What Are the Primary Traits of a Writing Course?” College Composition and Communication 47.4 (1996): 594-99.
    • Gotschalk talks about the variety or ways teachers teach composition. While some may use traditional approaches and others may incorporate more modern methods, neither one is right and neither one is wrong. What is important is that students learn to become more comfortable with writing and discussing subject matters more deeply and more intensely.
  • Harris, Muriel. “Collaboration Is Not Collaboration Is Not Collaboration: Writing Center Tutorials vs. Peer-Response Groups.” College Composition and Communication. 43.3 (1992): 369-383.
    • Harris talks about peer response groups and writing center tutors as being useful tools to help writers. Peer groups help establish a solid classroom community where students can feel more comfortable with sharing particular papers. Writing centers also help anxious writers, because the tutors there are seen as non-judgmental and can, therefore, help students hone in on both patterns of errors and issues with fluidity of content. Both types of collaboration should be encouraged in the writing classroom.
  • Kinsler, Kimberly. “Structured Peer Collaboration: Teaching Essay Revision to College Students Needing Writing Remediation.” Cognition and Instruction. 7.4 (1990): 303-321.
    • Kinsler conducted a study on a writing remediation environment at a commuter college in New York. She specifically sought to examine the role that peer collaboration can play in the development of writing abilities. Participants were put into groups of four. One person would read his/her paper while the others were given specific listening roles and accompanying worksheets. One listener was instructed to pay attention to the unity/main idea of the paper and whether it was clear to the audience; one was told to ask relevant questions about the thesis and to pay attention to the supporting paragraphs and provide suggestions for improvement; the third listener was asked to pay attention to the organization and coherence of the piece. He/she had to also provide examples of logical connectors the writer used during the essay.
  • Krause, K.L. “The University Essay Writing Experience: A Pathway for Academic Integration During Transition.” Higher Education Research and Development. 20.2 (July 2001): 147-168.
    • Krause surveyed students after they submitted their first major writing assignment. Participants reported that they found the assignment to be daunting, not at all like their high school experience with writing. They reported that having access to face-to-face contact with both their instructors and their peers was extremely helpful in terms of understanding expectations. They also found peer feedback to be of tremendous value and helpful in alleviating writing apprehension.
  • Reynolds, Mark. “Make Free Writing More Productive.” College Composition and Communications 39.1 (1988): 81-82.
    • This short article provides some extremely useful ideas on how to use free writing exercises to help students brainstorm for first drafts of papers. By allowing students to free write, the author argues, we enable them to get their get their initial thoughts on paper. Furthermore, free writing is a low stress exercise that can be extremely beneficial for apprehensive writers. After the initial writing is complete, students can go back and examine things such as tenses, words they tend to overuse, etc. This is a great way to encourage self-analysis of written work.
  • Roermer, Marjorie, Lucille M. Schultz, and Russel K. Durst. “ Portfolios and the Process of Change.” College Composition and Communication. 42.4 (1991): 455-469.
    • Roermer, Schultz, and Durst conducted two pilot studies at the University of Cincinnati. The purpose was to explore the use of portfolios as an alternative assessment measurement in their three semester composition program. The researchers felt that it would help teachers evaluate students on their best work as opposed to a timed exit exam that did not reveal much about the accumulation of knowledge the student acquired over time. It is important to note that, upon the initial proposal of this study, the researchers were met with some hesitancy. Instructors worried that portfolios would place an extra burden on their time, and that students would be anxious about waiting until the end of the composition sequence to receive a grade. The results showed that, while it took a few years to get used to the portfolio assessment, it was eventually well received. Both teachers and students found it to be a fairer way of determining a writer’s growth.
  • Southwell, Michael G.. “Free Writing in Composition Classes.” College English. 8.7(1977): 676-681.
    • Southwell discusses using free writing to help students in remedial writing courses. He argues that two rules should always be followed: 1. Students must be instructed to write continuously for the entire time, and 2. The teacher should never collect it. The first will get students in the habit of writing and in doing so will alleviate the blank page syndrome. The second will liberate them from the fear associated with saying something incorrectly. One of the most important ways free writing helps students is that it enables the writer to write with choice, about something they want to write about. It gets their thoughts onto paper in a very constructive way. Once students have gotten used to doing this, the teacher can introduce them to more focused free writing exercises where students are encouraged to write about a single topic.
  • Stover, Kim. “Riposte: In Defense of Freewriting.” The English Journal. 77.2 (1988): 61-62.
    • Stover discusses the benefits of free writing in the classroom. She says it is an excellent tool for alleviating writer’s block, because it doesn’t allow a writer not to start. It is a way of putting honesty down on paper, and it works nicely as a beginning point in the process of writing essays – free writing, rewriting, editing, finished work. It is also an excellent way for students to discover surprises about what they want to say. That is, writers often do not know what they want to say until the actually sit down and just write without formal thought about what they are putting on paper.
  • Walsh, S.M.. “Writers’ Fears and Creative Inclinations—How Do they Affect Composition Quality?” Annual Spring Conference of the National Council of English. Washington, D.C.. March 25-28, 1992.
    • Walsh investigated the correlation between students’ essay scores on exams and their levels of writing apprehension. He found that attitude is the key component to effective change. If a student feels more open toward writing, that individual will improve. Consequently, if a student feels like a poor writer, his/her essay might reflect this attitude. Teachers, Walsh continues, can be extremely influential when it comes to apprehension levels in their classroom. Reasonable efforts should be made to cultivate and enhance student interests, and instructors should strive to provide positive feedback whenever possible.

As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.

Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.

“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”

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Poke holes

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.

“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”

But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.

“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?

“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”

Critique your own arguments

Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.

“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”

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Fine, use Wikipedia then

The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.

“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”

Focus your reading

Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.

Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.

You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.

“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”

There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.

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Look beyond the reading list

“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”

And finally, the introduction

The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.

“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”

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