Writing across cultures: Contrastive rhetoric and a writing center study of one student's journey

Christine M Fox, University of Rhode Island


As student populations in colleges and universities continue to diversify, composition programs do not always meet students' varying needs. English as a Second Language (ESL) students appear to fail mainstream writing courses at higher rates than their traditional counterparts, yet mainstreaming continues to be mandated, often due to budgetary constraints. Many programs offer multicultural writing courses, but these, too, are often ineffective for many students. Meanwhile, as Paul Kei Matsuda shows, there is a decided split between the disciplines of composition and ESL. Since ESL scholars have a much stronger history of working with diverse student populations than composition scholars do, this study aims to look to ESL scholarship, specifically to contrastive rhetoric, to explore more effective methods of teaching writing to students with varying needs. ^ This case study takes an in-depth look at one student's journey writing across cultures. Ming, a Chinese immigrant who has been in the United States for approximately ten years, is a junior at the University of Rhode Island who struggles with writing. Over the course of one semester, three of her projects were studied in depth. Data include transcripts of audiotaped tutorial sessions in the URI Writing Center, Ming's assignments and papers, and the researcher's notes from interviews with Ming following the tutorial sessions. ^ The new contrastive rhetoric (Connor, Kaplan, Purves) insists that external factors such as culture, education, and media influence the rhetorical patterns writers use. Through a lens of contrastive rhetoric, it becomes clear that most of Ming's difficulties when writing stem from a lack of familiarity with the conventions of U.S. academic discourse or of what her reader expects from her text. The source of much of this is cultural. While Ming's experiences are not generalizable, an in-depth look at her experiences foregrounds some of the issues that contrastive rhetoric addresses, making them more tangible. Instructors informed by contrastive rhetoric are more attentive to the cultural difficulties many of our students face and are therefore better prepared to assist these students as they learn to write in an unfamiliar context for an unfamiliar audience. ^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Christine M Fox, "Writing across cultures: Contrastive rhetoric and a writing center study of one student's journey" (2003). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3141842.