August 1966 – the summer of the Dartmouth Seminar, which many have said sparked the genesis of the US field of composition, a field whose primary object of study is writing at the post-secondary level. 1966 – the year fifty-some scholars and teachers from the UK, the US, and Canada, representing diverse disciplines, met over three weeks to exchange ideas and test their thinking about English and writing, language and speech, growth and development: comparing and contesting, hashing out and reflecting. And now, August 2016 – fifty years later, it’s time to test our thinking again, to exchange and reflect, with new questions, new partners, and new energy, this time with a full focus on research.

We have learned, via that research, to recognize an extraordinary array of cognitive, social, institutional, and cultural influences operating in the scene of “college writing” around the globe, with even words “college” and “writing” as contested terms.

  • We see disciplines as different as anthropology, geography, creative writing, neuroscience, psychology, education, literacy studies, didactics, applied or computational linguistics, modern languages, political science, history, digital humanities, English, or cultural studies deeply influencing and informing writing research.
  • We know that writing growth and development do not have obvious endpoints or uncomplicated applications.
  • We have realized, in contrast to 1966, that the UK, the US, and Canada own neither “English” nor “writing.”
  • We have committed ourselves to understanding questions of identity and power in our research and teaching.
  • We are grappling with global forces of assessment and publishing.

Our purpose now is to create the opportunity for an important moment in the field, a focus on the diversity of research traditions,questions they try to answer, and how these traditions should speak to each other. A focus on research traditions, methodologies, and methods in writing research from many disciplinary perspectives should, in part, broaden what “doing writing research” means.

Writing researchers have suggested that methodologies and methods of research are not the same thing. We will take that distinction as our key frame:

  • Do methods work as neutral tools, useful and useable in any configuration, or are they always constrained by epistemological frames?
  • How do researchers make choices about engaging with methods?
  • What might be the cultural, linguistic, technological, political, ideological, social, ethnic, racial, or socio-economic interests shaping or driving those choices?

We are hosting a Conference, preceded by an Institute. We aim to create the spirit of inquiry, the productive debate, and the summertime inspiration of that first time fifty years ago, while focusing on new questions with new voices. We hope you will join us!


The Conference is August 10-12. The program may be found here.

The Conference asks: what is the state of the art in writing research today? What are the driving research questions? From which disciplinary frames? Using which diverse methods? Informing local practice in what ways? Engaged via which 21st century digital tools, global contexts, and language realities?

These questions are taken up by scholars from multiple disciplinary perspectives. See:

For more information, see Conference.


A small focused Institute will precede the Conference, from August 1-8, and will directly inform the Conference via the plenary speakers and some of the competitively-selected speakers. The conference plenary speakers, including Chuck Bazerman, Deborah Brandt, Ellen Cushman, David Galbraith, Sinfree Makoni, Clay Spinuzzi, and Chris Anson will work on the questions of writing, literacy, and language research methodology and method in conversation with twenty-five Institute participants. These working paper authors will present their new work as plenary talks at the Conference; the Institute participants will respond to the plenaries and present their work in concurrent sessions.

For more information, see Institute.