An Update on The Writers of Mason Project: By the Numbers


Since our first interview in February of 2017, we’ve been very busy with the Writers of Mason project. To date, we have interviewed 42 writers, transcribed each of those interviews, and taken 189 profile pictures. We have met and spoken with writers across campus, talking writing in all its messy and awesome glory, with faculty, staff, and students. To date, we have talked with writers from: Fenwick and Johnson Center Libraries, the Students as Scholars/Office of Student Creative Activities and Research offices, Stearns Center, English, Anthropology, B-School, Game Design, Philosophy, Physics, Education, and Mason Korea.

Check in each week as the profiles on our site update.


WAC Presents an Evening with Laura Micciche


Writing Across the Curriculum is proud to sponsor “Partners on the Page,” a special event at George Mason’s annual Fall for the Book festival featuring an evening with author Laura Micciche as she showcases the power of partnerships in the writing community and the genre of written acknowledgments.

Partners on the Page will take place on Thursday, October 12 at 4:30pm on the 3rd floor of the Johnson Center in Meeting Room G.

WAC is also excited for our partner’s event, “Research in Rhetoric: Digital, Visual and Archival Methods.” The George Mason University chapter of the Society for Technical Communication brings Dr. Douglas Eyman, Dr. Laurie Gries, and Dr. Jennell Johnson together for a panel discussion about research methods in the fields of rhetoric, composition, and communication.

Research in Rhetoric will take place in Meeting Room G of the Johnson Center at 6:00pm following the Partners on the Page presentation.

Don’t miss these two great, back-to-back events!

Fall for the Book runs from October 11th – 14th. Find more information about the many incredible authors coming to campus at

Mason’s WAC Program Ranks Again!


For the 16th consecutive year, Mason’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program has been ranked among the best writing in the disciplines programs in the US by US News and World Reports. In spring 2017, US News invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of writing in the disciplines. Mason was once again included in the final listing.

Mason’s WAC program supports the efforts of faculty across the curriculum to make student writing a priority in course work for the major. Established in 1993, WAC was designed to develop students’ understanding of the writing in their disciplines, as well as their ability to communicate as professionals within their respective fields. The program fosters a number of ideals, but the core of the program advocates that students should have frequent opportunities to write in diverse contexts and for diverse audiences, to receive feedback, and to engage in revision strategies. This foundation helps students to think more creatively and critically, engage more deeply in their learning, and transfer their learning from context to context.

The list of educational institutions ranked by US News and World Reports includes Brown, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and several others.

Congratulations to Mason WAC!

To see the listings, go to:

Introducing the new Stearns Center!


The Writing Across the Curriculum Program is excited to welcome the new Stearns Center to the Mason community!

August 29th saw the opening of the brand new Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning, a merging of the Office of Digital Learning and the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence. Located in Innovation Hall, the Stearns Center brings together resources and services for faculty and graduate students looking to develop their teaching methods with the latest developments in teaching and digital learning. The Center will host weekly open labs, collaboration spaces for faculty to utilize the same technology available in their classrooms, and allows teachers to research, experiment, and learn new skills to better serve their students.

Learn more about the many incredible resources the Stearns Center can offer faculty and students:

Technology Access and Use in Writing Intensive Courses

By Bree McGregor, December 17, 2015

Part 1: Introduction

The National Council of Teachers of English describes digital literacy as “proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology” (The NCTE definition, 2013), which include utilizing a networked, social approach to designing, sharing, analyzing, and synthesizing information, and the application of ethical considerations that such complex environments require. At George Mason University, we strive to embody an innovative spirit at institutional and programmatic levels: Continue reading

Undergraduate Column: Can We Talk about Reading?


By Artie O’Leary

I have only experienced conversations about reading twice in my entire academic career. I don’t mean that we didn’t talk about the course readings themselves in my classes, we’ve talked quite a bit in many classes about the content of the pieces assigned. But these conversations often focused on content alone: What did the writer say? How is what the writer said different from what another writer said? How did what the writer say about the topic help me to understand important information related to the focus of the class? Continue reading

The Prevalence of Low Stakes Writing and Writing-to-Learn Activities in WI Courses

By Rachael Lussos

What is Low Stakes Writing, and Why is it important?

Low stakes writing and writing-to-learn activites (see table 1) include assignments such as in-class writing exercises, ungraded activities, and reflective writing opportunites. Table 1 poses the characteristics of low stakes and writing-to-learn activites in contrast to high stakes writing activites, which includes assignments like independent research and scientific papers, essay exams, and writing assignments that carry a high percentage of a final grade. Continue reading

Undergraduate Column: Showcasing Writers on Campus through the Writers of Mason Project

The Writers of Mason, a online project initiated by the Mason Writing Across the Curriuclum program and based on the popular Humans of New York book and Tumblr site, attempts to capture the diversity of writers and their experiences on campus. Each profile highlights the writing experiences, projects, and philosophies of students, faculty, administrators, and staff. I began working on the project in late fall of 2016 when I was hired by WAC director Michelle LaFrance. It has been a wonderful experience to learn how to use a camera, put together profiles, and showcase each individual writer through this project.

Since the first weeks of this work, we have published 20 profiles on our blog. But, the team has completed 45 additional profiles (readying them for publication) and taken 64 photos of participants, but creating an interviewee’s profile takes time and patience beyond the initial interview and photograph. Because we are striving to showcase a human experience, we spend a good deal of time making sure that all the details are exact. Each profile moves through a series of stages: after we set up and conduct the initial interview, we take the photograph, transcribe the interview, select the quotation to publish, and add any necessary finishing touches on the photo before editing and publishing the profile.

At the beginning of the project we drafted a script of eight questions. These questions included, “Do you think you are a good writer?” and “What feedback, negative or positive, has stayed with you about your writing?” These questions are open ended to allow for an interviewee to provide an authentic response. For example, when the interviewee is asked if he or she is a good writer, we often see members of our community hesitate to claim the title of “good writer.” People tend to shy away from calling themselves that, and will respond with, “I’m a competent writer,” “I’m a strong writer,” “I write well enough for my field,” or “I have been told that I’m good writer.” There have only been a few participants who have openly agreed that they are good at writing.

There is only one other question that has triggered such a strong response: “What feedback negative or positive has stayed with you about your writing?” This is my favorite question to ask because you can get an answer about something that happened in elementary school or something that happened during the interviewee’s college years. When a person recounts how he or she received feedback, they will share intimate pieces about that memory, both good and bad. This intimatacy and honesty is something we aim to capture during our transcription process. These are stories that all writers have in common. Writing is hard work. Most of us have had a couple of knocks along the way and, when we end up working with a mentor, we are often changed as writers, thinkers, and people.

While transcribing the interviews, a unique sense of the person who lived the story is center in my mind. The aim when we trancribe is not just to catch the exact words an interviewee has said, but the way that person has said it as well. To do this, I have to pay attention to the way people are speaking, capturing a sense of their speaking patterns in order to truly create an image of that person. People do not always speak in complete sentences. There are pauses in their speech, or sometimes there are no pauses at all. This leads to our inserting commas and using other forms of punctuation to accurately represent the pauses, inflections, idioms—all the things that allow journalists and creative writers to recreate the way a person speaks.

To transcribe all of the interviews I use a software program called F5. It has the basic controls of any transcription program, but F5 has a side bar that I can program with short cuts to help my transcribing go faster. I will code certain behaviors and sounds, like ‘I’ for being incomprehensible or ‘R’ for being a long pause. The transcription of the interview is the easiest portion of creating the profile. Once the transcription is done, I move on to selecting the quotes so my editor can choose the final quotation that best fits the photo. Sometimes there is a moment during an interview where you just know which quote you will select. People say interesting things naturally. Most often the quotes that are selected are when people seem to feel most at ease during the interview. When you are interviewing a person, the interviewee has a certain apprehension that fades away during the interview process. That is the moment when you know you’ll have a good quote. There are other times when I have no idea what quote I will use from the interview. That is when transcription of the interview becomes so much more useful. When you reread the interview, the quote you need, that you thought you didn’t get, is right in front of you. The criteria for a strong quote is that it grabs your attention, you remember it when you look away from it, and it stirs a reaction in you.

In my opinion, the hardest part of this process is getting the photo. The photo needs to be sharp, pop with the right amount of saturation, and provide that ‘wow’ effect. It has been a journey to get there. Taking a photo is more than just point-and-shoot. There are a lot of factors that you have to take into consideration. The ones that have been the most challenging for this project are time and lighting. When I go into someone’s office and conduct the interview, I only have about 5 minutes to get a good photo. If I can, I will stop by that person’s office before the interview so I can adjust my camera settings. This way I am able to take a quick and decent photo. Most of my time for the project is spent processing photos. I was once told that if you cannot see the individual’s eye lashes, then your image is not sharp enough.

After the interview is transcribed and the photo finished, the editor chooses the quotation to publish. We look for quotes that offer a unique perspective on writing, funny or interesting anecdotes about writing, and helpful tips that writers would find useful. We want the quote to reflect the over-all interview, and this means looking for the story that is hidden in the snippets of responses we’ve collected. The quotes are often pulled out of context, so it’s important that they are able to stand alone. The editor aims to preserve the personality of the interviewee through their voice. By preserving these details, the quote is strong, can stand alone, and lets the reader get a sense of the person as a writer.

Mason’s Writing Across the Curricuum program argues that campuses are, at heart, communites of writers. Everyone at Mason writes. They send emails, turn in papers, write reports, draft technical documents, edit books, communicate via texts, memos, and forms, and write reviews of other people’s writing. The writing that each individual does captures his or her story and perspective on writing. Writing is a grow-as-you-go process, and the Writers of Mason shares this within our community. In showcasing the diverse writing community and culture here at Mason, we are able to think more as studnets, teachers, and leaders about the role of writing in our work and in our complex lives. It has been great fun to meet people, talk to them about their writing, and to learn about the many different ways members of our community write. We look forward to talking to you, if we have not already.


Undergraduate Column: Talk To Us About Your Writing Process

Fenwick Library

For many undergraduate writers, being introduced and reintroduced to the writing process is an important part of learning to write in an academic community. Some of the most important aha moments I’ve had as an undergraduate writer have come from these infrequent opportunities to listen to my professors talk about their own writing, their experiences as writers, and their strategies for overcoming difficulties. I find this especially true as I take courses on the 300 and 400-levels. As my writing becomes more intensive, the insights I can gain from conversations with professors about their own writing has become invaluable. Continue reading

Will Write… But for Whom? An Analysis of WI Faculty’s Consideration of Audience in Assignment Design and Pedagogy

Amber Jensen, PhD Candidate, Writing and Rhetoric

Audience is an essential element of any writing task, yet many instructors design assignments that conceptualize themselves as the only audience for student writing. In a recent national study of postsecondary writing assignments, for example, Melzer (2014) found that 82% of university writing tasks were designed with the instructor as the primary audience. Although Thaiss and Zawacki (2006) indicate that “writing for ‘an applied audience’ helps students write at a more sophisticated level” (p. 69), the audience defined for most postsecondary writing assignments is a teacher-evaluator who verifies student knowledge, assesses their writing, and assigns a grade.

Writing studies researchers have argued against this approach for some time. When an instructor is positioned as the central actor in an academic context—the only reader, the imagined audience, and the designer of the assignment—students are incentivized to write to receive a good grade rather than to engage the types of learning situations that lend to more effective writing in the long term.

In light of this gap, this semester-long study explored how WI faculty built audience awareness into their classes and assignments. Drawing from interviews and WI course assignments, this study sought to uncover relationships between instructor knowledge and beliefs about writing for various audiences and the audiences they posed in their writing assignment.

Research Study
During the Fall 2015 semester, I was one of a research team of 11 doctoral students in the English Department who collected data from a cross-section of Writing Intensive (WI) instructors and courses across George Mason University. For this study, the research team conducted interviews with 20 faculty members representing 7 colleges and 17 programs across campus (See Figure 1 below). After the research team conducted and transcribed interviews, I analyzed them to determine how participant instructors articulated the ways in which their assignment design and/or instructional practices reflected rhetorical wifacultyinterviewedconsideration of audience within required course writing tasks. The results reveal the ways that instructors articulated their explicit or implied understandings of audience in course writing assignments and/or instructional practices.

I selected five questions from the interview protocol that invited instructors to reflect on and discuss, both implicitly and explicitly, their general pedagogical approaches in WI courses. These five questions were asked as follows:

  1. How do you envision the WI-course preparing students to write for other courses in the major and/or after graduation?
  2. How do you support students in understanding the expectations for them as writers in your field? Can you comment on how similar or different your approach may be when compared to others in your department who also teach writing?
  3. What do you like about including writing assignments in your classes?
  4. What type of writing assignments (assignments submitted for your feedback) do you include in your WI-courses? Why?
  5. How do you work with student writers on those assignments? That is, how do you offer feedback on their work, support those who may be struggling (such as multilingual writers) or help students to better meet your expectations as a teacher?

While none of these questions directly asked instructors to articulate their understanding of specific rhetorical principles, such as audience, purpose, or genre, asking open-ended, rather than leading, questions allowed me to draw inferences from the general knowledge, values, and attitudes instructors shared about rhetorical practices.

Adopting the codes developed in Melzer’s (2014) study of 2,101 assignment sheets from postsecondary institutions across the nation as a baseline, I coded each interview with WI instructors for any explicit and/or implied mention of audience as they discussed course assignments and/or classroom instruction. A second round of coding distinguished between explicit and implicit mentions of audience when discussing pedagogical choices, applying subcategories of codes for audience in instructional materials and classroom practice that included: “Teacher as Instructor,” “Teacher as Evaluator,” “Peers,” “Self,” and “Wider Audience.”

Results and Discussion

  1. Instructors as Primary Audience. GMU WI instructors reflect national norms with regard to audience in writing tasks (See Graph 2 below). Instructors are most likely to design and assign writing that explicitly or implicitly defines the teacher as the primary audience: 73% of GMU WI instructors’ comments referencing audience featured teacher as audience, whether “teacher as evaluator” (e.g. gives grades, assigns point value to writing) or “teacher as instructor” (e.g. meets with students to discuss writing, leaves comments for revision).comparison

These findings are consistent with both Melzer’s sample of 2,101 general postsecondary writing courses (in blue) and a subset of writing-intensive courses only (in red). A substantial distribution toward “teacher as instructor” in the GMU WI study is likely explained by the data collection process; instructors are more likely to represent themselves as instructors rather than evaluators as they discuss their pedagogical process and theories and beliefs about writing in an interview, whereas they are more likely to position themselves evaluators than instructors in a syllabus or assignment sheet, which was the source of Melzer’s data.

  1. Writing for a Wider Audience. Designing writing assignments to be addressed to wider audiences is central to reinforcing and modeling the rhetorical practices within disciplines and preparing students for writing situations beyond academia. While only 10 comments across 20 interviews indicated an assignment that explicitly identified a wider audience, 33 comments implicitly referenced an instructor’s classroom practice or discussion with students about how given writing tasks can be imagined toward or motivated by a wider audience (See Graph 3 below).acknowledgement

This is an important distinction to note because, although assignments may explicitly indicate the instructor as the evaluator or audience for a writing task, students may still gain important rhetorical understanding of hypothetical audiences if instructors discuss rhetorical implications of writing assignments in the context of class discussion, assignment instructions, or individual feedback to student drafts. Table 1 (below) offers a sample of interview responses that demonstrate how instructors both explicitly and implicitly connect writing assignments to wider audience in WI courses, either through assignment design or classroom instruction:

Explicit Attention to Wider Audience Implicit Attention to Wider Audience
Visual and Performing Arts:

One of their revisions has to be a 5-minute video game narrative review which they can submit to a national competition at GDC, the big game developers’ conference. I think the big idea is that it has an audience–they’re not writing for me, they’re writing for a larger audience that is industry-relevant, because those are the people who read it.”

School of Management:

“We do a lot of modeling. We also have a cultural diversity [email] where [students] have to respond to an HR issue, like how to deal with other people in the workplace. They imagine that they’re the boss, so they have to respond to that situation, company-wide.”

Athletic Training Education:

We have grading rubrics which give them the specific nuances and details we’re looking for for each assignment, but I share a lot of the journals and their submission requirements, and we talk about what authors have to go through to get an article published in a journal, and the work they had to put in to get that article.”


Applied Developmental Psychology:

“We have two big research projects that take the bulk of the draft-feedback-revision process. And that’s simply because it mimics the structure of what you would be reading in any peer-reviewed journal article.”


The examples from the School of Visual and Performing Arts as well as the School of Management exemplify how instructors explicitly identify, and even invite students to write specifically for, authentic audiences in the field, either by “imagin[ing] that [the student] is the boss, so they have to respond to that situation, company-wide” or by inviting students to submit their work to a national competition. Other instructors design their course writing assignments as part of an overall course design that introduces students to and engages them with the kinds of rhetorical situations and audiences students may encounter in their related scholarly and/or professional fields. The given example from Athletic Training Education contextualizes the students’ course writing tasks alongside opportunities for students to become familiar with academic journals and their submission requirements, which creates the potential for them to see beyond the course to where the writing task becomes relevant and contextualized to an authentic professional audience.

Summary of Results & Conclusions
This study shows that it is necessary to examine pedagogical decisions not only by collecting and evaluating course documents, but also by conducting interviews with instructors. These multiple sources allow researchers to understand the context of the choices faculty make and the ways that classroom interactions with students contribute to more effective writing. Instructors’ beliefs and understandings about writing are often reflected in their classroom practices, but may not feature directly in course syllabi, assignment sheets, and/or assessment rubrics, particularly when these documents are designed by committee.

The results of this study show that:

  1. Most instructors of WI courses at GMU design assignments that identify the teacher as the primary audience.
  2. Most instructors of WI at GMU courses do not explicitly or implicitly identify a wider, public, or disciplinary-specific audience in assignment design and classroom instruction.
  3. Some instructors of WI courses indicate attention toward a wider audience in assignment design and/or classroom instruction.

Recommended Teaching Strategies
The WAC program at George Mason University includes in its guiding principles that “students gain proficiency as writers when they have frequent opportunities . . . to [address] a range of audiences” and that “faculty across the curriculum share responsibility for helping students learn the conventions and rhetorical practices of their disciplines” (emphasis added). WAC faculty are encouraged to support student-writing development by asking their students to write for multiple, authentic, and disciplinary-relevant audiences in WI courses.

Many WI faculty at George Mason University are already developing writing tasks that include authentic disciplinary and professional audiences. Those who would like to engage students in more authentic rhetorical writing tasks might consider:

  1. Situating writing tasks in real-life settings that give students the opportunity to imagine an authentic audience (e.g., a scholarly journal, a report for a workplace committee, a submission to a creative production competition). When relevant and possible, invite students to submit their work to these audiences for real-world application.
  1. Engaging students in reading and analyzing the kinds of writing professionals and/or scholars in their particular field interact with: websites, journals, research reports, etc. Use course readings, where possible, as models for the kinds of writing students will do for the course. Faculty are encouraged to be explicit, both in instruction and in assignment design, about how the writing students do for the course fits into the disciplinary community of the field.
  1. Focusing comments and feedback on student writing to highlight how an imagined, authentic audience in the field (e.g., a boss, an awards committee, a funding organization) might respond. Rather than responding and evaluating student writing from the perspective of a teacher, consider how your feedback might change if you were positioning yourself as the kinds of real audiences in the field for which students might eventually write.

Chiseri-Strateer underscores why it is so important for writing instructors to be conscious and conscientious about students’ engagement with the discipline from a rhetorical perspective: “From the students’ perspective the literacy norms within most fields—the reading, writing, talking, and thinking patterns of the discipline—most often remain powerfully invisible, not offering ready access for them to earn membership in any discourse community” (qtd. in Russell, 2001, p. 276). Together, instructors of writing across the curriculum can invite students to be successful members of their fields by helping them imagine, and then write for, the kinds of audiences with whom they will interact as members of our scholarly and/or professional communities.


Britton, J., A. Burgess, N. Martin, A. McLeod, and R. Rosen. 1975. The Development of Writing Abilities. London: Macmillan, p. 11-18.

George Mason University WAC Program Website. 2015.

Melzer, D. 2014. Assignments across the Curriculum: A National Study of College Writing. Logan, UT: Utah State University.

Russell, D. 2001. “Where Do the Naturalistic Studies of WAC/WID Point?” In WAC for the New Millennium: Strategies for Continuing Writing Across the Curriculum Programs, ed. S.H. E. Miraglia, M. Soven, C. Thaiss. 259-298. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Thaiss, C. and T.M. Zawacki. 2006. Engaged Writers, Dynamic Disciplines: Research on the Academic Writing Life. Portsmouth: Heinemann.