Wolfe, Joanna, Barrie Olson & Laura Wilder. “Knowing What We Know about Writing in the Disciplines: A New Approach to Teaching for Transfer in FYC.” WAC Journal 25 (Fall 2014).

  • The authors begin by noting that FYC transfer often fails because of a lack of attention to genres in disciplines or an unfortunate universalization of genre from Humanities instructors to other disciplinary writing.
  • The authors acknowledge that there are certainly a variety of rhetorical conventions across disciplines; however, they also claim that there are “commonalities” across activity systems that cross disciplinary boundaries (44). These similarities include: 1) argumentative prose; 2) insider audience of disciplinary experts; 3) privileging of reason over emotion; 4) value statements; 5) new knowledge claims; 6) attribution/citation.
  • The authors draw on EAP and ESP to foreground Comparative Genre Analysis (CGA) as their method for teaching FYC and developing transfer. CGA “involves careful comparison and contrast of the values and conventions of a genre on is already conversant in with those of other less familiar genres in order to better understand the larger activity systems in which both genres function” (45). By knowing our own genres and how rhetorical moves in those genres substantiate particular forms of knowing and values, we can better position ourselves to understand the conventions and values inscribed in genres from other disciplines.
  • For their CGAs, the authors concentrate on three factors/areas: 1) topoi or lines of argument prevalent in a discipline; 2) macrostructures used to arrange arguments in the discipline; and 3) citation conventions common in the discipline (46).
  • Some of the common academic topoi or mental places that span disciplines in academic writing: 1) pattern + interpretation – Identification of pattern to support interpretation (common both qualitatively and quantitatively). Inside this topoi, some things differed across disciplines: 1) the stasis – of the five stasis (existence, definition, evaluation, cause, proposal) – different disciplines demanded different ones; 2) the means – qual/quant difference listed above; 3) complexity – qual/quant bifurcation; 4) other topoi – sometimes pattern + interpretation go along with comparison and exception.
  • Second topoi: Conceptual lens. This “uses a concept – a term, theory or hypothesis – to organize observations about the phenomenon under study” (52). Conceptual lens’ are made up of two distinct moves: 1) present the concept; and 2) apply this concept to interpret material.
  • Some macrostructures, or a “top-level organizational pattern that provides informed readers with a frame of reference that helps them make sense of the text” (53) common across disciplines include:


  • Naming and citation – the third rhetorical move that’s common across disciplines (but practiced differently for different reasons). Different disciplines approach this differently because values and practices inform how and when to cite, whether to directly cite, and how to foreground other authors (57).
  • Some differences in citation across MLA, APA, IEEE:


  • Compact vs. diffuse disciplines: Some disciplines that have well-defined problems are characterized by co-authorship, large numbers of recent citations and low importance on individual authorship (from Peck MacDonald). Diffused have loosely defined problems and few scholars working on each, resulting in individual authorship and less current citations (58).
  • To facilitate transfer from FYC to other places, the authors argue that instructors can: 1) call attention to common topoi, macrostructures and citation practices to develop meta-knowledge about rhetorical strategies; 2) Incorporate non-thesis first macrostructures; 3) Use some CGA as class assignment . . . even in FYC.


Leave a Reply