Jessica O'Leary


Advisor: Meaghan Brewer

Document Type



I began to work on this study in my ENG 201: Writing in the Disciplines class during my junior year at Pace University. After being asked to write a paper on what writing looks like in my discipline, I realized that my perceptions of the kinds of writing done by faculty and students in a university English department were limited and constricting as a result of the binary way in which I viewed academic and creative forms of writing. For instance, I had trouble believing that my creative writing professor studied pre-med in undergrad. I continued my research on this topic by developing a study to discover how faculty and undergraduates think about writing in an English department. In conducting this research, I hoped to redefine and illustrate potential overlaps between academic and creative writing and to propose new (perhaps more fluid or capacious) ways of labeling and conveying the kind of writing students and faculty produce. Specifically, I wanted to explore whether these are terms or categories that either groups use, or whether faculty and students’ perceptions of academic and creative writing challenge these categories.

I explored these concepts through a qualitative study. After obtaining IRB approval, I devoted one class of Meaghan Brewer’s English 201:Writing in the Discplines to a workshop where students in the class brought in samples of their own writing and then put them into categories and created labels. Students filled out a form giving a rationale for how they labeled different kinds of writing before having a class discussion. I repeated the same process in a composition faculty meeting in the English department. These activities are modeled on activities described in research by composition scholar Anne Ruggles Gere. This highly contextual, qualitative research is commonplace in composition studies and has been present in the majority of my initial literature review.

In conducting this study, my largest obstacle was the small amount of time I had to analyze the results of my activities between drafts. However, the data collected exceeded my expectations in that, like in much of the research cited in this paper, I found students had binary views of academic and creative writing despite not using them often as labels. For the most part, they described academic as being constricting and reliant on structure whereas they saw creative as a freer style that allowed them to voice an opinion. On the contrary, faculty used these terms more frequently, but thought about them in less binary ways. After having a group discussion, both faculty and students appeared to have broadened the way they looked at writing which is what I was hoping to encourage with this study. My findings suggest that faculty members need to create curricula that encourage students to see genres in more complex ways. Future research might explore how expanding the approach to teaching genre could redefine student perceptions of college writing.