National Writing Project

TR 55. Writing from Sources: Authority in Text and Task

By: Stuart Greene
Publication: National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Technical Report
Date: 1991

Summary: Fifteen undergraduates were asked to write either a report or a problem-based essay, integrating prior knowledge with information from six textual sources. The groups differed significantly in their interpretation and performance of the two tasks.


Excerpt from Article

We know little about the approaches college-level students are asked to take in representing historical events, which include writing informational reports, or accounts, and problem-based essays (cf. Stanford, 1987). An informational report entails providing a coherent explanation and analysis of events leading up to or issues surrounding an historical event. A problem-based task entails speculating about solutions to unresolved issues, reformulating and extending the material from sources in supporting a particular interpretation or point of view.

Though Applebee (1984) has speculated that different types of writing, such as writing a summary or analysis, entail orchestrating "different combinations of skills in the process of writing" (p. 55; cf. Langer & Applebee,1987), he also observes that, even within specific types of writing, the forms and conventions of academic disciplines differ (cf. Jolliffe & Brier, 1988).

Thus, some key questions remain: how do different tasks of writing from sources influence the ways in which students construct meaning and learn the "conceptual structures" of a given discipline? In addition, how can we describe the authoritative ways that students use sources in order to make a contribution to a scholarly conversation?

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