Developing Writers in Higher Education (Book Review)

Teachers, researchers, and practitioners should find something of interest in Developing Writers in Higher Education. In addition to the paper book, of particular interest for Developing Writers in Higher Education is the friendly and well-executed companion web site at where you can “…find out what 169 students can tell you about writing.” The site organizes its content around two revealing statements:
  • Writing involves choices.
  • Writing is social.
The work described in Developing Writers in Higher Education considers the issue of how it is important for an undergraduate to learn to write effectively. This will help students to write after they graduate and enter the work force. The students providing input described in Developing Writers in Higher Education now work, as some examples, at Google, as a stay-at-home writer, and as a child psychiatrist. The observations of the students shed light on the focus of Developing Writers in Higher Education. This focus is on college student development and how students learn to write.The editor of Developing Writers in Higher Education is Anne Ruggles Gere. Anne is Director of the Sweetland Center for Writing, Professor of English, and Professor of Education at the University of Michigan.
Developing Writers in Higher Education reflects the work done during a study of the experiences of 169 University of Michigan undergraduates. The book draws on analysis of 322 surveys, 131 interviews, 2406 pieces of student writing, and related case studies. Some of the topics covered include how students react to feedback, students’ concepts of style and voice, and students’ understanding of digital writing. Feedback is most helpful when writers engage critically with it, whether it comes from an expert or a peer, and use it to help reach their own writing goals. That is one of the insights ini the book. And here is what one student wrote about this type of engagement.
I met with my professor, and she pushed me to reorganize my entire essay—completely switch up the structure. I had never done that. I felt like I was pouring my essay into a food processor and dumping the chopped up bits onto a new page, trying earnestly to make sense of it all. I pulled sentences from different paragraphs, combining them into new paragraphs and writing new transitions to glue that mess of an essay together… I wrote her these words in my reflection letter upon turning in the essay: You advised me to organize my essay source by source, and although I wasn’t entirely sold, you explained it well and it made sense to me… Although I was initially resistant to rearranging my essay, pushing myself to try something completely different really strengthened my writing. It was the struggle that made me realize I could step out—or be forced out—of my comfort zone and be successful.
It is fun to see what students say about learning to write as you can see.
Reviewed by Jeanette Evans
Note to readers: A version of this review is scheduled for Technical Communication, the scholarly journal of the STC.