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Writing: Research and Resources

Writing: Research and Resources

Using writing assignments of various kinds to stimulate critical thinking.


Online Writing Lab (OWL) - Purdue University

A broad and deep resource for both students and teachers of college level writing. For students, the site includes tutorials on everything from the writing process to the specifics of grammatical mechanics, and for teachers it even includes PowerPoint presentations one can use to discuss many aspects of writing in the classroom.

Writing Assignments for First-Year Seminars - Hobart and William Smith Colleges

An excellent and brief overview of many writing activities one can use with first year students. Includes both formal and informal writing descriptions.

Teaching Writing Across the Curriculum - by Art Young

Now in its third edition, this book is available entirely online for free. It is written by one of the leaders of the field in "writing across the curriculum" and of great use to any teacher assigned to teach a writing-intensive class.


Bean, John C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

A practical handbook that offers many strategies for engaging students in the thinking/writing process and also specific activities one can use to implement the strategies. A very substantial resource.

Olson, C.B. (1992). Thinking/writing: Fostering critical thinking through writing. New York: Harper Collins.

Produced by the University of California's Writing Project, this book offers a theoretical framework and practical lesson structures to help you engage student thinking through writing at every level of Bloom's taxonomy.

Hubbuch, S. M. (1996). Writing research papers across the curriculum (4th edition). Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

A solid foundation upon which to build student reserach writing across the semester in a first-year class. Used by Justice, et al. (2007) for their inquiry class, this book offers separate material for the sciences and humanities, and offers structured guidance on writing reports, literature reviews, and critical papers.


Bruning, R. & Horn, C. (2000). Developing motivation to write. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 25-37.

Identifies four clusters of conditions as crucial to the development of motivation to write: nurturing functional beliefs about writing, fostering engagement using authentic writing tasks, providing a supportive context for writing, and creating a positive emotional environment. Teachers" own conceptions of writing are seen as crucial to establishing these conditions in most writing contexts.

Cook-Sather, A. (2003). Education as translation: Students transforming notions of narrative and self. College Communication and Composition, 55(1), 91-114.

A thought-provoking article in which the author explores the metaphor of translation as it applies to how college sophomores transform the meaning in a given text to fit their own lives, and also shape meanings they make of their own lives around what the text can offer them.

Flower, L., Hayes, J.T., Carey, L., Schriver, K. & Stratman, J. (1986). Detection, diagnosis, and the strategies of revision. College Composition and Communication, 37(1), 16-55.

Investigates the interplay of knowledge and intention in the revision practices of novice and expert writers. Explores this process by differentiating the strategic choices enabled by writers' monitoring of their own progress towards intentional goals. Proposes a theoretical model for the revision process with empirical transcript data.

Greenlaw, S.A., & DeLoach, S.B. (2003). Teaching critical thinking with electronic discussion. Journal of Economic Education, 34(1), 36-52.

The authors apply their own taxonomy of critical thinking to the varying levels of argument used by their students in response to open-ended, online discussion questions. Provides several examples of student posts at each level of the authors' taxonomy, and describes the logistics for the assignment itself.

Hobson, E.H., & Schafermeyer, K.W. (1994). Writing and critical thinking: Writing-to-learn in large classes. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 58(4), 423-427.

Discusses common obstacles that large classes present to any use of writing (e.g., to much to read for the professor, essays are too subjective, etc.) as well as effective assignments that overcome these barriers. An overview of five specific assignments is given including in-class short response questions, mid-period short response questions, group responses, self/peer assessments, and a "question box." Examples of how these assignments are integrated into large classes are given, as well as how these activities support critical thinking.

Liu, K. (2006). Annotation as an index to critical writing. Urban Education, 41(2), 192- 207.

In this study, students' annotations of two short readings were compared to two corresponding written essays. Participants were 40 freshman undergraduates in an introductory writing class. In line with the main hypothesis, students who were more skilled at annotation of course readings produced higher levels of critical thinking in writing samples. These findings suggest that one tool for increasing students" critical thinking in writing is through teaching skillful annotation of course readings.

Mayo, J.A. (2003). Observational diary: The merits of journal writing as case-based instruction in introductory psychology. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 16, 233-247.

Participants in this study were 285 undergraduates in an introductory psychology course. Students were divided into three groups:

  • those asked to write short descriptions of examples in their daily lives where basic psychological principles were observed (observational diary)
  • those who completed chapter summaries, or
  • students not given any written homework assignments.

Results indicated those students in the observational diary condition had significantly better academic performance in the class, compared to either other treatment condition. In a questionnaire completed by the participants, those in the observational diary condition indicated this activity promoted critical thinking and interest in the course content. Furthermore, students in the observational diary condition had much higher favorability rating of this learning activity compared to either of the other treatment conditions. Thus, observational diaries appear to be an effective instructional strategy for engaging students in course content and increasing critical thinking.

Penrose, A.M. & Geisler, C. (1994). Reading and writing without authority. College Composition and Communication, 45(4), 505-520.

Tracks the two very different developments of written ideas across the authoring of papers on the same topic, by a college freshman and a doctoral student. Given the same eight scholarly articles, they were both asked to write a paper "discussing the current state of thinking on paternalism" and performed many think-aloud activities while they wrote. The details of the process offer a revealing look at the differences between novice and expert writers, especially in the extent to which they assume some kind of authority in their authorship.

Simpson, E., & Courtney, M. (2007). A framework guiding critical thinking through reflective journal documentation: A Middle eastern experience. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 13, 203-208.

Provides a framework to promote critical thinking skills through journal writing. This instructional strategy was used in the context of a clinical practicum with the underlying purpose to help nursing students enhance their clinical practice. The framework for reflective writing was divided into four parts: reflection, speculation, synthesis, and metacognition. In the reflection phase, students were asked to reflect on the experience on which they were writing, including exploring assumptions and searching for meaning. In the subsequent speculation phase, students looked for inconsistencies and making connections in the situations. Next, students were asked to review the experiences and evaluate how they applied to future plans. Finally, during the metacognition phase, students explored their thought process in coming to a clinical decision and learning to continually question their actions that led to a decision.

Tierney, R.J., Soter, A., O'Flahavan, J.F., & McGinley, W. (1989). The effects of reading and writing upon thinking critically. Reading Research Quarterly, 24(2), 134-173.

The authors of this article conducted an empirical study to determine whether writing and reading in combination increased critical thinking, in comparison to reading or writing alone. This hypothesis was tested in a sample of 137 undergraduate students. Results indicated that students in the writing and reading condition demonstrated higher levels of critical thinking, as measured by students' level and quality of revisions to a written work sample. The authors posit that combining writing and reading produces a synergy that promotes integrated and complex thinking about material and ideas.

Wade, C. (1995). Using writing to develop and assess critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 24-28.

This describes short writing assignments utilized to enhance critical thinking. These assignments are centered around eight critical thinking skills identified by the author: asking questions, defining problems, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering alternative interpretations, and tolerating uncertainty. These eight learning goals were then integrated into the courses taught by the author of the article. Article provides examples of each assignment.