Key Terms & Concepts for the ISU Writing Program

NOTE: This is our version of an Urban Dictionary – we’re trying to give practical explanations of the some of terms we use commonly in the program.

Download a PDF of Key Terms

FOR INSTRUCTORS: Resources for Teaching Key Concepts

Activity System

According to David Russell, activity systems are cooperative interactions aimed at achieving a goal. As a lens, the activity system helps us to analyze the psychological and social processes of achieving that goal. Each system has a goal(s), which is achieved through the work of people and the tools they use.

There are five key things that you should know about activity systems:

  1. They are historically developed, meaning that they developed over time and interactively with the culture in which they operate.
  2. They are inherently social--that is, they are changing systems of interaction between people, their environments, and their culture.
  3. They are dialogic, meaning that they are in constant conversation with their objectives and how best to achieve them.
  4. They are collective, rather than individual. Activity systems are not the product of one, but of many.
  5. They are always changing and adapting to meet the needs of participants within the system.

Understanding activity systems is key to understanding how a given genre works, as genre is the tool (or tools, as an activity system may require more than one genre) that the participant(s) use to achieve the objective. To take a genre out of its activity system is to remove its reason for being. Understanding activity systems also allows us to see the complex ways that they interact with people and communities.


While there are many different games that rely on the player’s ability to manipulate a ball, they’re not all the same. Each game is its own activity system, with its own objective, and each game has its own ball as its tool. Even similar games, with similar objectives, might have different balls (think of baseballs and softballs). Each ball is specifically designed for working with the players to achieve the objective of the game. Some skills in ball handling are generalizable (just as with writing), but players/participants must work with the specific rules and tools of each game to be successful in achieving their objectives.

For further reading:

-Check out Angela Sheets’ article “Angela Rides the Bus…” from issue 5.1 of the GWRJ. Angela does a great job showing how different participants and tools interact to achieve the goals of a simple activity system: riding the bus.

-Read David Russell’s article, “Big Picture People Rarely Become Historians,” which shows how important it is to be aware of activity systems as you are writing.

Antecedent Knowledge

Antecedent Knowledge is a term we use to describe all the things a writer already knows that can come into play when a writer takes up any kind of writing. For example, if you are asked to write a timed essay, and you've written them before, you'd certainly use that antecedent knowledge to help you write the essay. That's just common sense. But Antecedent Knowledge can also be tricky because we're not always fully aware of all the knowledge we are using when we write, and sometimes we use knowledge and experience that are actually NOT useful in a situation. As another example, if you are asked to write a paper, and the instructor says, "I don't want a 5-paragraph essay!", you might find yourself creating an essay that looks a lot like a 5-paragraph essay, even while you are trying NOT to write one. It's weird, for sure, but it happens all the time! In our program, we refer to Antecedent Knowledge and Antecedent Genres (a 5-paragraph essay would be an antecedent genre for folks who have lots of experience writing them) because we think it's really important for folks to be as aware as possible of the different kinds of knowledge they are using, both so that they can know when it would be helpful and so they can know when it would actually hurt their writing in a specific situation.


Our take on Cultural-Historical Activity Theory is developed from the work of Paul Prior (see CHAT article in the Grassroots Writing Research Journal online archive for a more detailed description). In our program, we use CHAT to help us think about and study the complex genres that we encounter in the world. In traditional rhetorical models, one might describe the author, the audience and perhaps some of the features of the genre. CHAT allows us to focus on any aspect of the myriad elements of textual production, so it is more robust than these other methods for investigating texts. The key terms in CHAT are:

  • Production: Production deals with the means through which a text is produced. This includes both tools (say, using a computer to produce a text vs. using a cell phone to produce a text) and practices (for example, the physical practices for using a computer vs. using a cell phone have some similarities, but also many differences). Production also considers the genres and structures that can contribute to and even pre-shape our ability to produce text (think of filling out a job application form the form directly controls the kind of information we can produce, and consequently, the kind of image of ourselves we can project to potential employers). If we got to make a video instead of filling out the paper form, we could create a very different self-representation.
  • Representation: The term representation highlights issues related to the way that the people who produce a text conceptualize and plan it (how they think about it, how they talk about it), as well as all the activities and materials that help to shape how people do this.
  • Distribution: Distribution involves the consideration of where texts go and who might take them up. It also considers the tools and methods that can be used to distribute text, and how distribution can sometimes move beyond the original purposes intended by the author(s).
  • Reception: Reception deals with how a text is taken up and used by others. Reception is not just who will read a text, but takes into account the ways people might use or re-purpose a text (sometimes in ways the author may not have anticipated or intended).
  • Socialization: Socialization describes the interactions of people and institutions as they produce, distribute and use texts. When people engage with texts, they are also (consciously and unconsciously) engaged in the practice of representing and transforming different kinds of social and cultural practices.
  • Activity: Activity is a term that encompasses the actual practices that people engage in as they create text (writing, drawing, walking across the hall to ask someone else what they think, getting peer review, etc.).
  • Ecology: Ecology points to what we usually think of as a mere backdrop for our purposeful activities in creating texts: the physical, biological forces that exist beyond the boundaries of any text we are producing. However, these environmental factors can become very active in some situations in shaping or interacting with our textual productions (think of putting on a play outdoors when it's raining, or think of the people of New Orleans using the internet to find family members after Hurricane Katrina).
  • A NOTE on other definitions of CHAT: Angela Sheets, in her Grassroots Writing Research Journal article "Angela Rides the Bus: A High Stakes Adventure Involving Riveting Research, Amazing Activity Systems, and a Stylish Metacognitive Thinking Cap" (GWRJ, 5.1, p. 134-5), provides two additional definitions of CHAT; one with pictures!


Many of us learn about the term Citation in high school. From this Antecedent Knowledge, we tend to think of citation as oh yeah, that MLA thing my high school English teacher made me learn. But in fact the term Citation (or sometimes Attribution is used as an alternate term) can actually be used to describe anything a writer does to document the validity, truthfulness, or usefulness of their communications. In our program, we do study different kinds of Academic Citation (which can include MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, and others), which are very specific techniques for using information in written texts (including both when the information is used in the text, and the works cited or bibliography that cites all the sources used in a text). However, we also look at all kinds of writing to discover how Citation or Attribution works in that genre.

Civic Engagement

This is a term that you may hear in your COM 110 class as well as in other classes at ISU. Many teachers in both COM and ENG use this term as a way to describe conversations about how we, as individuals and groups of writers/communicators, engage with the culture and with our society (in terms of social interactions/politics, etc.). This concept is addressed within the CHAT concept of ecologies , but teachers use this term sometimes when they want to particularly focus on the social/political ramification of our writing activities. In COMMUNICATIONS, civic engagement refers to using communication for the common good within a community.

Content Research

Content Research is any kind of research a person (or group) might do to gain knowledge they plan to use in some kind of production. If I'm making a flyer my band's upcoming gig, then the Content Research I need to complete is all the information that needs to go on the flyer (the time, the place, opening or headliner band(s), age requirements, etc.). Just to keep our terms in conversation, Genre/CHAT Research for this production might include things like the graphic you want to use, the software you'd need to know in order to make the flyer look cool, the best places to post the flyer in order to bring folks to the show, the cheapest place to get flyers printed, etc.

Cultural Influences and Implications

In the Writing Program, we adhere to the idea that every piece of writing (or film, image, media) is a complex artifact - one that was not created in a vacuum, but was instead molded and shaped by the person who created it, the people who received it, and the environment in which it was created and received. That’s what CHAT (see definition) is all about - looking at the different ways culture (and history) influence texts that are produced - hence our defining of the term Cultural Influences, or, how we are defining it for our purposes here, the ways in which culture influences a text. Cultural Implications, on the other hand, can sort of be seen as working the reverse direction of Cultural Influences; by looking at the end-product text, we can determine what implications (or suggestions) are being made about the culture in which it was created.

Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that encourages researching and teaching the ways in which culture impacts both the individual and collective human experience and its intersection with the social, the linguistic, and the material. It has a strong focus on the every day aspects of social relations and power, and therefore, it is dynamic and ever-changing. As opposed to searching for concrete answers, Cultural Studies emphasizes the trajectory of the malleable social constructs we ascribe to material objects. It traces the historical and theoretical conceptualizations of human subjectivities and speculations of the post-human condition. Cultural Studies is also concerned with exploring the intersection of different fields within the humanities such as English studies, philosophy, social sciences, languages, economics, and even the natural sciences.

Design Elements

In Writing Program courses, we often work with multimodal or multimedia genres. Therefore, the concept of "design" is important for us, because it helps us to address issues such as space, layout, visual organization, etc. However, design elements actually can be used to refer to any aspect of the any text (whether it's image based, alphabetical or some combination of modalities) that contributes to or shapes content in physical/material ways.

Discourse Community

Discourse Community

A variously defined term, a discourse community is a grouping of people who share certain language using norms and practices. John Swales, however, in an attempt to give some more depth and stability to the term, specified the following six different criteria that characterize all discourse communities:  a. It ‘has a broadly agreed set of common public goals,’ b. It ‘has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members,’ c. It ‘uses its participatory mechanism primarily to provide information and feedback,’d. It ‘utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims,’ e. It ‘has acquired some specific lexis,’ and f. It ‘has threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise’ (471-473). ‘The term,’ according to Bazerman, ‘has been useful in orienting people to a sociological understanding of the varieties of writing done by students, academics and members of other social groupings, often differentiated by discipline, kind of institution, and level of education.’

According to these criteria, the class of ENG 101.10: Composition as Critical Inquiry with its instructors, consultants and students at Illinois State University, for example, could be considered a discourse community. The eight learning outcomes published in the are the publicly shared goals that all members here try to achieve. The mechanisms of intercommunication here include the website of the ISU writing program, the ReggieNet, classrooms of Stevenson Hall and course materials which are used to provide information about and feedback on composition. To facilitate this, members use a number of genres like syllabus, handouts, instructor notes, consultant notes, student notes. The course as part of the ISU writing program also has a specialized set of lexis that only members can have a fuller understanding. The set includes CHAT and its constitutive seven terms. It also admits new threshold level members like new instructors and freshmen students who are initiated into the course by experienced staff and instructors.

In short, a discourse community, the ENG 101.10 course for example, refers to a group of people who have some common publicly stated goals, mechanisms of participation, information exchange and feedback, community specific genres, a specialized terminology and threshold level of members.

The concept of discourse community is often distinguished, as Swales does, from speech community in which members share the knowledge of one form of speech plus the knowledge of its correct use. Swales observes that a speech community is built through birth accident and adoption while a discourse community uses persuasion and training to recruit new members.

Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. Issue Brief: Discourse Communities. National Council of Teachers of English Website. N.d. Web. Dec 1, 2015. <>

Swales, John. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.



Editing (generally) is a process of revising and changing a text one is producing in an effort to improve it. There are many different activities associated with editing, including the following:

  • Copyediting usually involves working with a text to prepare it for publication (or for review by other readers). The activities of copyediting often include looking closely at sentence-level issues of grammar, punctuation and style, but can also address other issues of readability, including design.
  • Developmental Editing is an activity in which an editor reviews a text and makes suggestions on general content so that an author can effectively revise.
  • Draft Editing is the kind of editing that authors engage in as they write, when they create some text and then re-read and edit it while still in the process of drafting.
  • Peer Editing occurs when a group of writers work together to comment on critique a text. This kind of editing is often part of ENGLISH classes, and is often accompanied by Revision.

Ethical Communication

Ethical communication is characterized by honesty, clarity, accuracy, open-mindedness and a willingness to listen to others.


Ethics is not a concept that is unique to Writing Program courses. Ethics refers to a system of moral principles that are held in common within a particular culture. Often thought of as what constitutes right and wrong actions to influence the outcome of a particular situation. Ethics is a term that is tied (in many ways) to the term civic engagement because it introduces the idea that acting ethically as producers of texts is valuable to our participation as citizens in civic activities. However, the concept of ethical production can also be used for discussion of specific areas of textual production, like considering design elements or thinking about citation.

Explicit/Tacit Learning

Explicit Learning refers to a way of understanding information or ideas where the teaching is usually pretty direct, and the learning is very conscious. When a 6-year-old learns to tie her shoes by her older brother explicitly teaching her a specific technique, that's Explicit Learning. But Tacit Learning is more subtle, like if the same 6-year-old just figures out how to tie her shoes by watching the older people around her tie their shoes. It is also important to remember that things that we learn Explicitly can become Tacit (and in fact need to become tacit, or we wouldn't have room in our brains for everything we do every day!). So, once we've been doing something for a while (coding HTML or playing World of Warcraft) we don't always consciously remember how we learned to do it. In writing, as in every other kind of activity, this can be both a blessing and curse. Tacit Knowledge is what we use every day to get things done. We don't think, "This is how I dial a number on my cell phone"; we just do it! But if we are using a different type of phone, where numbers are dialed very differently, our Tacit Antecedent Knowledge can actually make it harder to learn the new way of doing things. So when we're engaging in a new kind of writing, we don't even stop to think how we know how to do it. Which is fine, as long as what we already know works in the new situation. But when writers encounter situations where what they know DOESN'T work, they can find it really frustrating, and they're way more likely to fail at the new kind of writing, especially if they are unconsciously clinging to and using tacit knowledge from past writing experiences.

First Year Composition

Commonly abbreviated to FYC. Introductory college writing courses meant to teach incoming undergraduates the practices of writing and researching.

Five Paragraph Essay

The five-paragraph essay is a format of essay including one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs with support and development, and one concluding paragraph. Because of this structure, it is also known as a hamburger essay, one three one essay, or a three-tier essay. This text is common in middle school and high school. This is also seen as an antecedent genre or a transition to bridge from K-12 to college writing.

The Introductory Paragraph usually includes a mini-outline for the essay, the second to the last sentence is often a thesis, followed by a “hook”or attention grabbing sentence to the body of the paper.

The First Paragraph consists of the strongest argument and the most significant example, relating to the first “prong” in a three prong thesis. The Second and Third Paragraphs are similar to the first, explaining the second and third arguments of the thesis. The end of the Third Paragraph states that it is the end of the essay.

The Conclusion will refer back to the major points in the introductory paragraph. It has a restatement of the thesis supported by a summary of the three body paragraphs.


As you'll see as you study in ENG 101 or ENG 145, we use the term Genre a LOT! At its most basic, in our program, Genre means a kind of production that it is possible to identify by understanding the conventions or features that make that production recognizable. It is important to understand that, in our program, we (mostly) don't use the word Genre to refer to categories of things, the way it's used in music or literature (Rock, Pop, R&B, Rap or Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry). Instead, when we use Genre we're usually referring to kinds of texts that can be produced. A blog is a genre of text, but not all blogs are the same, so when a writer is trying to figure out how to write a blog, he/she needs to not only consider the broad parameters of what makes something a blog (it's online, it's usually written in dated entries that are 500 words or less, etc.), but the specific features of the kind of blog he/she wants to create. For example, a science blog might use some of the same features as a blog about food, but they may actually have more differences than similarities, and these differences can greatly impact the success of the writing. Some terms that people regularly use to describe a category (like, say, Fiction) are so broad that you can't really get much use (as a writer) out of defining the features. You need to break the genre down much more specifically. You'll find different genre terms sprinkled throughout this terms list, and they are all important and useful for understanding the work of becoming a Writing Researcher.

Genre Analysis

Genre Analysis is another critical skill, closely akin to Genre/CHAT Research. When we use this term, we're specifically referring to the activities involved in looking very closely at a particular genre (multiple samples and variations) and investigating all the different features that might be present (or features that are absent). Genre Analysis also involves looking underneath the surface features of visual design, sentence-level qualities, and style and tone to uncover how genres can subject to (and can enforce) cultural, social, commercial, and political agendas.

Genre Conventions (Features)

We use the term Genre Conventions or Genre Features to describe all the things a writer could discover (and discuss) about a particular genre that makes us recognize it as, well, what it is. For example, a Wikipedia article is recognizable to most English-language writers, even if it's written in French or another language. Why is this? Well, there are certain visual features that are specific to Wikipedia articles, and there are certain features that are common to Wikipedia articles that are also common to other kinds of encyclopedia articles. A Genre Analysis (using Genre Research) could help you to figure out what the specific conventions for a Wikipedia article are, which in turn could help you to write such an article more successfully, should you ever be inclined (or required) to do so.

Genre Juxtaposition

Genre Juxtaposition is an activity in which an author deliberately mashes-up or moves between two distinct genres. The purpose of this kind of activity is to highlight the ways that genre features work to define what we understand a genre to be. For example, if we take a grocery list and make a poem out of it, this challenges our tacit understanding of these two genres and can illustrate the importance of fully understanding the parameters of genres.

Genre Reversion

This term describes the cognitive process through which an author makes use of genres that are familiar when producing a text in a new genre. This use of prior knowledge can be helpful, but it can also cause problems for writers. For example, it might be inappropriate to use a thesis statement from a traditional school essay when writing a brochure. Reversion is particularly useful for describing these kinds of behaviors when they are done unconsciously and when they then inhibit the writer's uptake of the new genre, and it is often used in discussions of the antecedent genres that authors bring into a writing situation.

Genre Samples or Target Genres

This term describes a collection of similar genres that an author might use for various kinds of genre analysis, and as a way to study how things are done when trying to learn a new kind of writing.

Genre/CHAT Research vs. Content Research

We have a lot of definitions for words related to genre (see the genre entry). But when we talk about the difference between genre/CHAT and content research in our program (as we do in our Learning Outcome #3), we are really talking about the difference between research that focuses on how to go about creating a specific kind of text for a specific kind of situation (genre/CHAT research), and research that is seeking expert knowledge about a topic (content research). Learning to engage in genre/CHAT Research is a key skill for Writing Program courses, because it is not a skill that is generally taught in lower-level writing classes and because it involves activities that can be critical for writing when people encounter new writing situations. However, Content Research is a critical skill, not only for your Writing Program classes (and all the classes you'll take at ISU), but for living life in the age of information. We focus on both skills in ENG 101 and 145 classes.

Genres, Active & Inscribed

At the most basic level, the difference between active and inscribed genres is simply that active genres are "in progress" while inscribed genres have been produced as an artifact (literally, inscribed as in marked/carved/printed). However, different scholars use these terms differently -- some use active/inscribed to describe the difference between genres that are spoken and performed (greetings would be an example of this kind of genre, or asking someone on a date) and genres that are somehow written down or captured. This can be useful when considered in combination with CHAT theory, which notes how texts can move fluidly between these two states. Other scholars tend to use the terms active/inscribed to describe genres that are in flux and genres that are "set or stable-for-now," but this is a metaphorical rather than literal use of these terms.


Globalization is the process of international integration that stems from the interchange of worldviews, products, ideas and other aspects of culture. Globalization is most commonly thought of as pertaining to the ways in which individuals and corporations conduct business in an international setting.

Information Fluency

Information fluency is the ability to critically think while engaging with, creating and utilizing information and technology regardless of format or platform.

Information Seeking Behaviors

This is a great term, which started out being used by librarians to describe all the things that people do when they are trying to find out about stuff they want to know. In a university setting, Information Seeking Behaviors can be both general (like a competitive cyclist asking other cyclists for information about the best bike frame to purchase, or someone looking up a work on Wikipedia) and very specific (like a researcher looking through a special collection at the library or creating and literature review of all the research on a particular topic). All humans (even humans who don't use print literacy) use information seeking behaviors (because information-seeking could include just talking to other people, or just observing the world around you). But in our program we're very interested in introducing you to specific kinds of Information Seeking Behaviors that will help you effectively engage in both Genre Research and Content Research.

  • Finding Information: Using a wide range of resources, including different Milner library tools and tools for general web searching, to find information you need. Learning to organize that information so as to keep track of it and quickly evaluate what you might use and what you can't use.
  • Evaluating Information: This is a deeper process of looking at different kinds of materials you collect when you are researching and determining if the source can be used.
  • Documenting and Citing Resources: Learning about the different ways that different genres cite research and evidence. Academic citation, journalistic citation, linking citation, etc. are all ways that people use document the validity, truthfulness, or usefulness of what they know.

Multimedia Composing

Multimedia Composition refers to all the different media that writers can use when they are composing. A lot of people think of multimedia in terms of digital (that's sometimes how the word Multimedia is used, for sure). But in reality a media can be any method or tool for making a production (a text) that communicates. If you check out the definition for Multimodal Composing, you'll see that there is a wide range of modes for composing, and practicing Multimedia Composing means thinking about the tools and spaces where these different modes of communication take place. So yeah, multimedia could mean a website or a movie, but it could also mean a piece of lined notebook paper, or a computer-printed sheet, or a piece of fabric (like a t-shirt or flag), or a rock (like a tombstone), or an audio file (like for a podcast), or a canvas (like a painting), or, well, you get the idea. Thinking about Multimedia Composing means being awake to all the ways that humans use tools to make meaning in the world.

Multimodal Composing

Multimodal Composing specifically refers to ALL of the modes that humans can use to communicate that would include Alphabetic (stuff we write using the alphabet), Visual (pictures), Aural (sound), Oral (spoken) and Symbolic (using symbols that aren't alphabetic, like emoticons or emojis). Practicing Multimodal Composing means being aware that a lot of our work as writers includes much more than just a single mode. Just learning to write print-based essays isn't always the best way to understand how writing works in the world.

Mutt Genre

A school genre that is not used outside of school settings. A well-known example of a mutt genre is the five-paragraph essay.

Pedagogical Approach

A specific teaching method, i.e. a particular way of achieving transfer of learning. Can be implicit or explicit or a mixture of the two.

Peer Assessment

(See Self-Assessment). Peer Assessment is also a term from our program learning outcomes (see Outcome #2). The first thing that's important about understanding this term is that it's not like doing traditional peer review (what do you like about this text? what do you think could be improved?). The practice of peer assessment means using very intense observational skills to analyze what a text is doing. It means taking note of what's there (and what's not there), comparing the text to other texts (target genre examples) carefully, making clear statements about the gaps between intention and execution, as well as directed choices an author might be intentionally making in order to bend or break genre conventions. Peer Assessment is never (or is never only) making a statement about one's personal likes and dislikes. It is trying to see what the text is doing and how it is doing it, and then trying to help the author (or peer) to understand why you are seeing what you are seeing, using specific examples from the text.

Rhetorical Strategies

In ENGLISH, we discuss a range of rhetorical strategies (like narration, description, etc.) to analyze how specific rhetorical techniques can often dominate in a particular genre or text. For example, a fiction novel will almost always contain narration, but it might also include other elements (description, dialogue); on the other hand, instructions on how to put together a cabinet would be unlikely to include narrative as a primary strategy. One key thing to remember is that we don't conflate these terms with genres. Narration is not a genre; it's a rhetorical strategy that can be used in different ways in particular genres.

Self-Assessment (of writing)

This is another term that is part of our program learning outcomes (see Outcome #2). We're not talking here about that moment when, at 7:59 am, you finish the writing due for an 8:00 am class, after having been up all night, and think to yourself, "Brilliant! Looks good!" But we're also not talking about that moment when you've rewritten a sentence or paragraph a bazillion times and no matter what you do, it's just not right ( in fact, it might be getting worse). What we're talking about is a pretty weird cognitive thing when your brain steps back from some kind of text you've produced and tries to see it clearly and objectively. In our program, we actually focus on specific tools that can help people do this because it's really not easy. Self-assessment is not just about proof-reading and revising, and it's not just about coming up with an evaluation of a text. It's about observing a text: noticing what's there (and what's not there), comparing it to other texts (target genre examples) carefully, making clear statements about the gaps between intention and execution. There's no doubt this stuff is hard work. The value of Self-Assessment practices is that they can help writers to become more confident in the moves they make as writers. Eventually, when a writer gets comfortable with a particular genre, this kind of self-assessment isn't so necessary. But in almost any kind of new writing situation (especially when you need it to be good for some reason), skills for self-assessing writing can be both practical and useful.

Semiotic Remediation (Mash Up)

Important to social-cultural activity. A process in which a text is altered for a new purpose, allowing it a new trajectory or situating it within a different activity system.

Social Identity

Social Identity can be understood as the individual's self-categorization in relation to the social group(s) he or she belongs to (such as race, religion, class). Social Identity triggers the individual to subjectively grant favorable evaluations to his/her in-groups as opposed to out-groups in order keep a positive sense of self. In case the in-group obtains a negative review, the individual is likely to a) leave that group and join another group that may have a better reputation, b) reconsider the parameters of group evaluation, or c) attempt to enhance the in-group reputation through cooperative work by its members. This last choice is the overarching principle for collective action.


Tajfel, H. & Turner, J.C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W.G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The             Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations (pp: 33-47).


Student-ing is act or process of being a student, including but certainly not limited to activities surrounding uptake of academic material (see: uptake). Considerations of  student-ing are crucial to participation in the writing program, for both students and instructors:

  • For students, it complements writing-research identities (see: Learning Outcome #1) with regard to embodied learning experiences—e.g., which spaces are most conducive to effective reading and writing, in-class goals which differ from course goals, performative tendencies for presenting oneself in a classroom, preferred genre chains towards a target genre, etc. Explicit consideration of student-ing explores information about the student that would otherwise remain tacit knowledge and could limit growth in the classroom and beyond.
  • For instructors, tactics and expectations of uptake can be adjusted accordingly. An awareness and respect for manifestations of student-ing can address many of the emotional obstacles students face when facing unfamiliar genres, settings, and challenges. Student-ing does not exist in opposition to teaching, but at moments when it might seem so, instructors can use the concept of activities student-ing as a way to better understand the variety of factors that affect in-class performance, factors often rooted outside the classroom.

For both students and instructors, the concept of student-ing (or generally considering our actions as nouns) represents thoughtful exploration of our roles within the activity systems (see: activity systems) of our writing program, which benefits all members.


The term Trajectory is really part of our use of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory to understand what texts do and how they move around in the world. This means both how a text might move through a process of production, but even more importantly how texts move through institutions and spaces and in relationships among different people. We often look at Trajectory in terms of the shifts and changes that occur in a genre as it gets used over time, and we also look at trajectories of specific texts as they are produced and distributed.

Transcultural Writing

This is an important term for our writing program (see our Learning Outcome #8). It connects closely to Translingual Writing, so you might want to check out that definition also. Transcultural Writing is a great term for writers to think about, because it points out that nearly all humans are communicating across cultural boundaries and that our communications (remember that we're talking about Multimodal and Multimedia Composing, not just printed writing on paper) constantly blend different linguistic and cultural traditions and specific, socially-constructed ways of thinking. It s important to remember that Transcultural Writing doesn't just refer to people communicating across language or national (geographic) barriers. In fact, each human being speaks/writes/composes from a complex micro-cultural perspective, which is not exactly like any other. Within larger systems (bigger cultural and linguistic groups), different language practices can be privileged (made more important). Different language practices can both inhibit communications between humans and groups, and can lead to productive, new and interesting combinations.

Transfer of Learning

In “Tracing Discursive Resources: How Students Use Prior Genre Knowledge to Negotiate New Writing Contexts in First-Year Writing,” Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi  talk about two “educational theories Perkins and Salomon” call “ ‘low-road’ and ‘high road transfer’” (315). According to Perkins and Salomon, “Low-road transfer ‘reflects the automatic triggering of well-practiced routines in circumstances where there is considerable perceptual similarity to the original learning context’” (Perkins and Saloman qtd. in Reiff and Bawarshi 315). Low-road transfer, then, happens without you really realizing it. Say, you are an avid Twitter user; you decide to get Snapchat, which involves very short messages. You don’t have a problem transitioning because you’re used to creating short tweets. This is low-road transfer. You don’t think about this type of transfer; it just sort of happens without you noticing. Conversely, “High-road transfer … ‘depends on deliberate, mindful abstraction of skill or knowledge from one context for application to another’” (Perkins and Saloman qtd. in Reiff and Bawarshi 315). Let’s return to the Twitter/Snapchat example. High-road transfer, in this example, would be you sitting down and thinking about all the ways that the skills you’ve gained by using Twitter could apply to you using Snapchat. In particular, you might consider how you use language in tweets and snaps—you could think about the limited number of characters you have and how best to use those characters to convey a message.

An alternative to the high-road/low-road binary could be to think in terms of invisible and intentional transfer, which are less divisive phrases. They’re not hierarchical or mutually exclusive notions, but rather two different (and sometimes even overlapping) cognitive processes that work towards a similar goal.

Invisible transfer is, as the name suggests, an implicit process. This is when you are instinctively drawing from your prior knowledge and acquired skills in order to achieve your present goal. On the other hand, intentional transfer is a process that you are conscious of. You are actively relying on what you already know to learn a new skill or piece of information.

For example, imagine you’re really good at making chocolate chip cookies. If you’re suddenly asked to make cookies with raisins instead, you will only need a minimal amount of extra knowledge to do so, and you will probably just rely on the recipe you already know. This process feels pretty instinctive, and this is what invisible transfer is.

Later on, if a friend of yours who tasted the cookies decided to hire you to bake his wedding cake, you would need more than a simple adjustment. You could still apply some of your baking knowledge, but you would also need to learn more about wedding cakes in particular. This is intentional transfer: you start with prior knowledge and skills, but you consciously reflect on what you know and how to apply it to the new situation you find yourself in.

In “A Bit about Genre and Transferring of Skills,” from GWRJ 2.1, Shailen Mishra discusses one way in which invisible transfer can sometimes be problematic. For Mishra, internalized story writing strategies like scene-building, detailing, and chronological sequencing interfered in a major way when he tried to write a restaurant review for the first time. When writing in new genres, it’s important to be aware of this potential for transfer. Whether you refer to this process as intentional or high road transfer, what’s important is that you’re consider what you already know about writing and trying to be as conscious as possible about the antecedent knowledge you transfer to new writing and research situations. To that end, Mishra provides a set of guidelines for anyone who struggles with invisible transfer.  

In “Taking the High Road: Why Learning to Write Isn’t Easy and What We Can Do About It,” also from GWRJ 2.1, Meghann Meeusen explains the difference between low road and high road transfer, pointing out that while low road transfer is just fine in many situations, high road transfer can help writers to “navigate the treacherous paths of writing with far greater ease.”

Work Cited

Reiff, Mary Jo and Anis Bawarshi. “Tracing Discursive Resources: How Students Use Prior Genre Knowledge to Negotiate New Writing Contexts in First-Year Writing.” Written Communication 28.312 (2011): 312-37. Web.

Translingual Writing

Translingual (Lat. trans= “across,” lingual=”language”) writing is the concept of bringing various languages into discussion as part of the writing program curriculum. This means including primary languages, of course, but also languages learned either simultaneously or later on, referred to by numbers after the letter L, where L stands for language (like L2 for a language you learned that’s not the language you grew up speaking, and you can have an L3, L4 and so on).

Translingual writing could also refer to writing across varieties of a language:

  1. English is not the same in every English speaking country, like the UK, Kenya, Singapore, and each country has its own variety of English with its own grammar, its own set of vocabulary, and pronunciation.
  2. Varieties also exist within a country. Just  think about the US, and how the vocabulary and pronunciation is different depending on which area you’re from.
  3. It also depends on social group. For example, my friend from Puerto Rico speaks Spanish as her L1, and she speaks English as an L2, but she also communicates in Spanglish, so she knows varieties of Spanish and English.

Translingual writers bring their unique antecedent knowledge with them when composing in different genres, regardless of which language they use, or how many languages they know.

This is an important term for our writing program (see our Learning Outcome #8). It connects closely to Transcultural Writing, so you might want to check out that definition also.


Uptake is the process we go through to take up a new idea and think about it until it makes sense (if we get that far with it -- sometimes we don't!). Our uptakes are highly individual because we all have different past experiences that impact the way we see the world. Say your instructor comes in and says, "There will be an ice cream social for our class on Friday afternoon." One student thinks, "I bet there will be waffle cones!" Another thinks, "Awesome! Class must be cancelled." Still another laments, "Ugh, forced socialization!" Notice that the instructor didn't say any of those things, but because of each student's past experiences or beliefs about ice cream socials, they take up the news to mean very different things. Note: This definition was provided by Angela Sheets in her Grassroots Writing Research Journal Article, Angela Rides the Bus: A High Stakes Adventure Involving Riveting Research, Amazing Activity Systems, and a Stylish Metacognitive Thinking Cap, (GWRJ, 5.1, p. 121-37).

Uptake Genres

Uptake Genres are very connected to the idea of Uptake, so you'll want to read that definition also! If uptake involved any of the activities we go through when we are taking up a new concept or idea or skill, then Uptake Genres are any kind of production (texts) that explicitly ask us to articulate these activities. We use a huge range of different Uptake Genres in Writing Program classes (and you ll actually find these kinds of texts in other classes as well, although they probably won't be called Uptake Genres). A lot of times, when you are asked to write a reflection, that text is a kind of uptake genre. But so are exit slips (when an instructor asks you to jot down ideas or questions at the end of class). Self-and-Peer Assessment documents are definitely a kind of Uptake Genre as well. The goal behind these Uptake Genres, whether they are assigned as part of a class or you do them yourself in order to make sense of concepts you re learning out in the world, is to really try to clearly articulate HOW you know what you are coming to know, and how you learned it. You ll find often that understanding Antecedent Knowledge is key to producing a successful Uptake Genre, so you ll probably want to take a look at our definition for that term as well.

Visual Rhetoric

Visual rhetoric is part of the larger concept of visual literacies. Just as rhetoric is the art of verbal or written communication, visual rhetoric is the art of visual communication. Visual rhetoric can help answer the question “How do I understand this image?” Visuals used in conjunction with texts should be considered to expand on the text rather than for just decorative value. Key elements of visual rhetoric include typography, color, and media. The typography within an image can be formal or informal just as writing can. Sans serif typefaces (fonts that do not have small embellishments on individual letters) such as Arial, Calibri, and Comic Sans tend to be less formal than serif typefaces (fonts that do have small embellishments on individual letters) such as Times New Roman, Garamond, and Courier New. However, sans serif typefaces are commonly used for digital media because of their clean lines (the embellishments on serif fonts can make text appear muddled or fuzzy when displayed digitally at small sizes). Space used within a visual is also important factor to understanding an image as a cluttered image or text cluttered with images can create unintended anxiety in the viewer, which may distract from the visual’s intended purpose. Balance is also important to consider. Images that are balanced (they don’t have more “going on” in one area more than others—such as additional colors, objects, contrast, or brightness/darkness) in general, appear more professional. Images that are unbalanced can come across as amateur (if accidental) or edgy (if purposeful). Image quality and media used to create the image will affect representation and reception of the product, as well. A visual that is created with construction paper and crayons might come across as juvenile, while visuals created digitally that use minimal colors and sharp lines might appear more professional. Colors used in the image also carry meaning due to cultural associations. For example, red may be associated with anger; and in the United States, pink is associated with the female gender.

Writing Process

In “traditional” writing programs, the focus is usually on the finished written product. The writing process, or all the activities that go into creating that product, is not usually considered. But as writing researchers we look closely at the writing process and try to understand all that goes into it. There is no “one” way to create a text; different people have different processes, even if they are creating the same kind of text. The writing program encourages us to continually be aware of how we “do” writing in any particular activity system. It also encourages us to learn how to articulate what antecedent (prior) genre knowledge helps or hinders our writing of a text. For example, if we try to apply our five-paragraph essay knowledge when we’re writing an obituary, we will just get frustrated. As we learn how to write within new genres, our writing process will change as well. Writing is a continual process, an ongoing thing.


Writing Research Identity

The idea of having a writing research identity is part of our program learning outcomes (see Outcome #1). It is a bit of a strange term in a writing class; aren't we really just learning about commas and stuff? But actually, being a successful writer in different settings requires more than just learning specific skills, like where to put a comma or how to write a thesis statement. A successful writer also needs to use their knowledge flexibly in different situations, and must also be able to determine when new skills and knowledge are required. Building a writing research identity means you are able to think beyond just acquiring skills and begin to understand how all of your skills (and the skills you haven't yet acquired) change what you can and can't do as a writer.

Writing Setting or Situation

The who, what, when, where, why, and how that impact your writing.

Writing Technology

An artifact meant to aid in the process of producing, storing, or disseminating knowledge. Can be simple (ex.: stick and mud) or complex (ex.: laptop and internet).