Ann m. Penrose cheryl geisler

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Reading and Writing without Authority




Penrose, Ann M., and Cheryl Geisler. “Reading and Writing without Authority.” College Composition and Communication 45.4 (1994): 505–20. Print.

Framing the Reading

Ann Penrose is a professor of English at North Carolina State University, where she has taught since 1987. She earned a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Carnegie Mellon in 1987, and she has written two books (Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom[1993] and, with Steven Katz, Writing in the Sciences: Exploring Conventions of Scientific Discourse [2004]) as well as numerous articles about writing. Cheryl Geisler also earned her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon (in 1986) and is now head of the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication and joint Professor of Rhetoric and Information Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Like Penrose, she has written several books (with Davida Charney and others, Having Your Say [2005]; Analyzing Streams of Language: Twelve Steps to the Systematic Coding of Text, Talk and Other Verbal Data [2003]; Academic Literacy and the Nature of Expertise: Reading, Writing, and Knowing in Academic Philosophy [1994]; and with David Kaufer and Christine Neuwirth, Arguing from Sources: Exploring Issues through Reading and Writing [1989]).


In the following article Penrose and Geisler examine how the text of a first-year student (Janet) differs from a text on the same subject written by a doctoral student (Roger). Previous research has suggested that students like Janet simply need to gain more knowledge about a topic in order to write about it with more authority. In this study, Penrose and Geisler found that, while it would have been helpful for Janet to know more about the topic, her writing lacked authority for other reasons. Specifically, they argue that Janet and Roger had very different understandings of what knowledge is and how it is constructed. As such, their reading continues the theme of Chapter 3 on rhetorical theory in looking at how writers and readers make up their minds, and change them.

Getting Ready to Read

Before you read, try the following activity:

  • Consider a time when you wrote a research paper and felt like your sources were controlling you—in other words, when you felt like you didn’t know what to do with the sources you found.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  • How did Janet’s and Roger’s texts differ?

  • What do Janet and Roger each believe about knowledge? (As always, it will be helpful for you to consider your own writing and your own view of knowledge as you read.)


By early March, Janet is ready to set aside the notecards she’s been laboring over since midwinter. She begins to write:

This paper will define paternalism and discuss its justification. Paternalism is the action of one person interfering with another person’s actions or thoughts to help him. The person who interferes, called the paternalist, breaks moral rules of independency because he restricts the other person’s freedom without that person’s consent. He does it, however, in a fatherly, benevolent way, and assumes that the person being restrained will appreciate the action later.

Across town a few days later, Roger makes a similar decision. Setting aside his scrawled pages of notes, he, too, begins his text:

Consider the following situations:

Situation One: Mister N, a member of a religious sect which strictly forbids blood transfusions, is involved in a serious automobile accident and loses a large amount of blood. On arriving at the hospital, he is still conscious and informs the doctor that his religion forbids blood transfusions. Immediately thereafter he faints from loss of blood. The doctor believes that if Mister N is not given a transfusion he will die. Thereupon, the doctor arranges for and carries out the blood transfusion. Is the doctor right in doing this? [Two more cases are presented.)...

Sometimes paternalistic actions seem justified, and sometimes not; but always, paternalism seems at least to be a bit disquieting... The authors whose efforts will be reviewed here have undertaken the task of trying to spell out conditions which must be satisfied for paternalistic actions to be justified... [S]o a preliminary task is that of giving an account of what are paternalistic actions; that of settling on a definition in order to gain a clearer notion of what we are talking about, and of what, if anything, has to be justified.

The purpose of our study was to investigate how . . . differences in authority are played out in the academic sphere. We were particularly interested in how the lack of authority shapes the writing and reading practices students adopt.


The contrast between these two introductions is striking. Though they share a common focus on the definition and justification of paternalism, Janet’s text views the definition and justificatory conditions as established truths, while Roger introduces them as matters yet to be resolved. Janet’s text presents itself as a straightforward report about what paternalism “is” (“the action of one person interfering with another”) and what a paternalist “does” (“breaks moral rules of independency”). Janet’s only excursion into metadiscourse—discourse about the text itself and its context—is the opening noun, “this paper,” which, by its very depersonalization, locates the authority for its claims in a material artifact rather than its human author, Janet herself. Roger’s introduction, by contrast, makes no explicit claims about what paternalism is or isn’t, although eventually making such claims is clearly his intent. Instead, his text foregrounds human agents: doctors, patients, and others in paternalistic relationships, the authors of other texts on paternalism, and a “we” who share an upcoming task of exploration. Roger’s text only conditionally promises to arrive at a resolution to the “disquieting situation” upon which he and his readers have stumbled. Janet’s text promises the facts, with no acknowledgement that there are, or ever were, matters to be resolved.


Readers will not be surprised to learn that the differences between these two texts are rooted in differences between their authors’ circumstances. At the time of this study, Janet was a college freshman; Roger was completing his doctoral work in philosophy. Janet knew nothing about the study of ethics; Roger had become steeped in the tradition. Roger had accumulated knowledge of the domain, its issues and its customs; Janet had not. Roger knew how to write as an authority inside the conversation of ethics; Janet was an outsider looking in.


We had recruited Roger and Janet for our study of academic expertise because their respective positions in the academy place them in different relationships with respect to academic knowledge. The basis for this difference is complex. Roger has authority in this domain not only by virtue of his disciplinary knowledge, but also by virtue of the educational credentials through which he has earned the right to speak in this community.1 The distribution of this knowledge and these credentials is, in turn, related to factors such as age and gender. Confidence in one’s own authority is assumed to increase generally with age, but gender may also influence this development. Recent studies provide strong evidence of contrasting epistemologies, one perspective valuing community and connection, the other emphasizing competition and separateness. What it means to be an insider in the academic domain has largely been defined by the objective, competitive stance of mainstream academic argument at the expense of the personal knowledge and connective goals in which feminist epistemologies are grounded.2 In short, a number of complex variables are likely to have influenced the differing degrees of authority assumed by Roger and Janet in this context. The purpose of our study was to investigate how such differences in authority are played out in the academic sphere. We were particularly interested in how the lack of authority shapes the writing and reading practices students adopt. We expected that Janet’s position as outsider in the academic context would lead her to interact with academic texts in ways that would distinguish her from Roger, an insider, and further, that these process differences could not be explained simply by pointing to differences in topic knowledge.3

Observing the Effects of Authority


To observe the effects of differences in authority, we asked Janet and Roger to work on the same academic task in the domain of philosophical ethics: Given a set of eight scholarly articles on paternalism by five different authors, they were to write a paper for an educated general audience “discussing the current state of thinking on paternalism.” Each writer worked on the task at his or her own pace over the course of a semester, turning on a tape recorder and “thinking aloud” whenever they worked. They met with a member of the research team after each work session to discuss their goals, plans, progress and problems. Our profiles of these writers are based on our reading of their writing session protocols, interview transcripts, written notes and drafts.


We found Roger’s reading and writing behaviors to be consistent with views of knowledge as constructed. Roger seems to operate with an awareness that texts and knowledge claims are authored and negotiable. Janet’s approach was consistent with a more traditional information-transfer model in which texts are definitive and unassailable. The specific differences we noticed led us to articulate four epistemological premises which seem part of Roger’s worldview but not Janet’s:

Texts are authored.

Authors present knowledge in the form of claims.

Knowledge claims can conflict.

Knowledge claims can be tested.

We organize our observations around these premises in the following sections. In brief, we found that Janet and Roger focused on different issues when reading, set different goals for writing, used evidence for different purposes, and developed quite different understandings of the subject matter they worked with. We will argue that these process differences are in large part a function of Janet and Roger’s contrasting views of their own authority in this domain and of the role of human agents in the construction of knowledge generally.

Texts Are Authored


As the excerpts from his introduction indicate, Roger saw his task as one of examining a set of alternative positions which had been put forward by prior authors on paternalism. This focus on the authorship of knowledge claims pervaded Roger’s reading, writing and thinking. In his notes, definitional features are organized by author; his introductory section explicitly acknowledges the role of author as claim-maker (“So each of our authors is forced in the nature of the case to perform two tasks—each first provides a definition... and each then provides an account of how paternalistic actions so defined are to be justified”); and the 74 references to authors in Roger’s final text each assert a relationship between author and claim:

First, nothing in [this definition] excludes actual consent at or before the time of action, though Gert and Culver clearly seem to think it does.

Komrad... sees the problem quite differently, and seeks to give what appears to be intended as a small-blanket justification of specifically medical paternalism.

In essence, the names of the authors provided Roger with the basic categories by which he organized his knowledge.


In contrast, Janet mentions none of the authors in her draft (although an occasional set of quotation marks indicates she did have some sense of borrowing). The sections of her text are organized topically, as indicated by topic sentences such as “Paternalism can exist between different kinds of people” and “Paternalism does not always include actions that restrict the same people who are being helped.” A transitional paragraph makes this arrangement explicit:

In the first part of this paper I gave descriptions of factors that make an act paternalistic. In this part I will discuss ways for a paternalist to determine if his acts are justified...

Janet’s notecards were labeled by topic (“morality”; “consent”; “impure paternalism”) and only sporadically included authorship information. In her tape recordings, author names were mentioned an average of 4.6 times per thousand words of transcript, only one-quarter as often as Roger (15.8 mentions/1000 words). The majority of these references occurred in the initial reading phase; once Janet began to write her draft, she rarely referred to either the authors or the articles.4


That Janet mentioned authors at all is significant. She occasionally used author names as identifiers in her early notes (e.g., “G-C [Gert-Culver] definition”) but began to pay more attention to authors around the time she read the third article in the corpus, in which James Childress explicitly attacks the positions taken in the preceding articles (Childress’ piece is subtitled “A Critique of the Gert-Culver Definition of Paternalism”). Reading the Childress critique seemed to sensitize Janet to the authorship issue; at this point in her think-aloud transcripts she began to demonstrate a sense of authors “speaking” in this literature. (Ellipses indicate pauses, not deletions.)

so Gert is saying that the only time that you can really call paternalistic... is when one person’s qualified...

so Childress, the Gert Culver critique... says that example... um... young child helping drunk parent...

This sense of conversation was not consistently maintained, however, and is clearly not a central theme in Janet’s transcripts. More typically, she referred to authors with a generic it (“on page twenty... it says...”) or they (“I don’t know what they’re talking about”), though only one of the seven articles is co-authored. She often referred to the Childress article as “the critique” (“so for the critique... says that...”). These generic references suggest that Janet saw the corpus of articles (collected in a loose-leaf binder) as a single definitive source rather than as a set of multiple voices in conversation. This perception was brought home to us most dramatically in her transcripts and interview comments, where she often made reference to “the book” rather than to individual authors or articles: “I suppose I could steal [an example] from the book”; “. . . and they don’t talk about that anywhere else in the whole book”; “I still don’t think [my paper] really is [interesting]... but it’s better than the book I read.”5

Authors Present Knowledge in the Form of Claims


Roger saw the knowledge he gleaned from texts as claims to be argued for. For him, reading was a process of identifying, sorting, and evaluating the claims made by the various authors. This required him to analyze an author’s claims into parts and to think about the validity of each part separately. It also required him to be able to assign a provisional truth status to a claim, a status that could change as his work progressed. In an early session, for example, Roger voiced the suspicion that his current definition of paternalism, which included two conditions—that it be against the beneficiary’s will, and that it be for the beneficiary’s good—was incomplete. By the next session he had tentatively decided to solve this problem by adding a third “morality condition” suggested by, but not the same as, the condition given by the authors Gert and Culver. In doing so, he was rejecting an alternative position put forward by the author Childress. Towards the end of the project, however, he reversed himself, arguing as he drafted his paper that the definition of paternalism should not include this third “morality condition.” Thus, in his think-aloud protocols, we found Roger making distinctions, embracing or rejecting claims tentatively, and flatly changing his mind, all in ways consistent with his view of truth as multivalent.


Janet’s goal, however, was not to evaluate claims but to search for facts. Claims and proposals in the readings often became “facts” in Janet’s notes. For example, in response to a statement by Childress that “Some arguments for the legal prohibition of some sexual acts between consenting adults hold that such acts are wrong even if they do not harm others or violate principles of justice and fairness,” Janet wrote a note that stripped away the rhetorical context: “Some acts are wrong even if they do not harm others.” Similarly, Childress’ point, “Some arguments for the prohibition of contraception... sterilization and abortion contend that they are inherently immoral” became, in Janet’s notes: “Things that are inherently immoral such as contraception sterilization and abortion.” In ignoring both the original and current rhetorical contexts, Janet created a series of unauthored and undisputed facts.


This is not to say that Janet was unreflective. On the contrary, her protocol transcripts contain numerous instances of evaluation and response:

I don’t think that that um... governments... governments should not interfere with parents and children... unless children are being abused or seek... seek seek help...

If someone younger were reading this... younger were reading this thing would have different opinions.

Such comments demonstrate Janet’s ability and inclination to exercise critical evaluation, but these reflections were uniformly absent from her written text, suggesting she did not consider them relevant to the task at hand. As a consequence, her final text not only stripped away any evidence of the role of other authors in constructing the domain knowledge of ethics, it also eliminated any evidence of her own role.

Knowledge Claims Can Conflict


Roger’s goal of sorting and evaluating the various claims in the literature enabled him to detect controversies in the readings and to recognize these controversies as critical areas for his own work. For example, issues such as the role of consent and the need for a “morality condition,” alluded to above, are debated in the readings and became central concerns in Roger’s thinking. An early interview comment indicates that he saw the debates in the literature as his starting points:

you have to look at the literature first [. . .] [it] suggests to me ideas of what criticisms I might want to make . . . how I might want to view the different definitions say . . . or justifications in relation to one another . . . what’s better . . . what’s worse . . . who took what into account . . . um . . . it’s just a matter of generating . . . as it were preliminary hints of what to say when you do the talking.


Janet reacted to controversy in the readings quite differently. She did notice some disagreement among these authors, particularly when differences were clearly signaled as in the Childress critique. But it was clear from her interview comments that Janet was uncomfortable with controversy and had few strategies for dealing with it. She describes a disagreement over the issue of morality in the following interview excerpt:

like one of them was saying that um... in order to do a paternalistic act you have to be immoral... and then I think somebody else said you don’t necessarily... I don’t understand that... like I don’t understand why if you’re doing something to help somebody... and when... what you’re doing is going to bring about such a good consequence compared to what’s going to happen if you don’t act . . . I don’t see that as being immoral... and they say well if you like do something against someone else’s will... then it’s immoral and in order to be paternalistic you have to always... like I don’t understand that in paternalism...

Though Janet clearly sides with one of the two positions, the fact that the authors do not agree presented her with a dilemma. Her first inclination was to simply report both sides. She asked the interviewer, “do you want a definite decision... definition... can I like... say I don’t know... and give both sides?” The interviewer told Janet she would need to resolve this issue and to build her own definition. Consequently, Janet began her next work session by announcing a plan to go through her notes and write down “only what I think I agree with and it’s going to be my definition.”


This approach helped Janet position herself in the ongoing conversation, but unlike Roger who used such controversies as a springboard from which to develop his own position, Janet set out to align herself with one of the positions already available. Unfortunately, this strategy was not so straightforward. On the issue of whether or not the paternalist must be “qualified” in some way in order for an act to be considered paternalistic, Janet had trouble deciding which view to agree with:

so ah... I... I agree... with critique... that the Gert Culver definition number two... that paternalist is qualified... is a bunch of baloney... is stupid...

so um... Childress, the Gert Culver critique... says that example... young child helping drunk parent... so the purpose of this example is to show that someone who’s NOT qualified can help [. . .] it doesn’t prove anything... cause... this doesn’t prove anything... cause... um... I don’t think that a child could do anything for a parent without the parent’s consent [. . .] so I think that the critique is not good...

Janet was still puzzling over this point two sessions later as she reread her notes:

so here I’m saying he doesn’t have to be qualified... and here I’m saying... that you HAVE to be qualified... here I’m saying the critique is not good... here I’m saying I agree with the critique... so how am I supposed to write this paper if I keep changing my mind?... this is ridiculous...

At this point, Janet went through the alternatives once again and concluded that she agreed with Gert and Culver that the paternalist must be qualified to act, but with “a variation.” She did not carry out this rather expert move, however; the “variation” was never articulated and the issue is not mentioned at all in Janet’s final draft. This “choosing sides” strategy for handling controversy is consistent with Janet’s “outsider” view of her own authorship—author as reporter rather than creator—and the corresponding goal to report only that which is true. In those cases when she was able to determine which of two conflicting positions was correct, the topic made it into her paper. If she was unable to make this determination, however, the topic was omitted. This strategy clearly leaves Janet on the outside looking in. Though she weighed each view carefully, was not afraid to disagree, and at one point even considered formulating a “variation” of her own, Janet made no sustained attempt to insert herself into this conversation when she wrote.

Knowledge Claims can be Tested


Janet’s outsider position was also evident in her use of examples. While Roger continually tested authors’ claims through the use of examples and test cases, Janet used examples only to clarify or illustrate. She viewed “the book” as something to be understood and reported, not questioned or elaborated on. Examples occupy an important position in the domain of ethics, a point Roger makes in his introduction: “Examples... play a great role in writings about paternalism. They serve both to inspire insight and to correct mistaken definitions.” In this literature, cases of people paternalizing and being paternalized abound. Roger used cases not only to clarify issues raised in the readings, but to generate new issues and to test their limits, as in the following excerpt, where he considers the “morality condition” mentioned earlier:

I’ll have to discuss whether there is really a need for a morality condition [. . .] you recall the case of the two competitors, A... and B,... where B doesn’t want A to withdraw... but A does want to withdraw for B’s good [. . .] I don’t know whether that’s paternalism or not... I’m inclined to think it isn’t paternalism... though it’s something closely related... similar in spirit... it’s only similar insofar as it’s intended for the other person’s good and B is at clash with his will...

now on some of the definitions we’ve got... that would count as paternalism... but I think this is enough to say... that that’s too broad... because I don’t think this is... not like a standard case of paternalism... though it does satisfy those conditions and is for that reason... to the extent we are tempted to think that perhaps it falls under the definition of paternalism...

Roger used the case of the two competitors to compare the various positions in the literature and explore the concept of paternalism itself. He had used this case before; it appeared a number of times in his text and transcripts. He was thus able to integrate a number of issues by relating them all to this and a handful of other instances. In all, only seven distinct cases figure prominently in Roger’s work.6


In contrast, Janet used twenty-four distinct cases to think through her ideas, rarely considering any particular case more than once. She regularly inserted examples in her paper, one or two for each point she made, noting “examples are important cause if someone’s reading it... they don’t understand... that’s like how [we] make them understand.” In addition to this explanatory purpose, examples sometimes served a clarifying function for Janet herself. At one point, to answer a question prompted by one of the readings, “Do all paternalistic acts deceive, break a promise or cheat?” Janet consulted a list of examples she had generated, decided that forcing a child to eat vegetables didn’t fit any of those categories, and concluded “all paternalistic acts do not deceive, break a promise or cheat.” She did not seem to see, however, that she was taking issue with a defining condition proposed by one of the authors; her goal was simply to determine the truth of the matter. She concluded that the condition didn’t hold and therefore did not include it in her final paper. We found it encouraging that Janet thought to use examples to help her understand her source material, but because she didn’t have the goal of responding to these authors she failed to take advantage of this generative practice. Because she created new examples for every point she covered, she was not able to use them to help examine connections and contrasts. The topic remained for Janet a series of isolated facts and issues. Examples helped her move down the ladder of abstraction but never up, whereas they enabled Roger to run up and down the ladder at will, constructing categories at one moment, testing and illustrating key features the next.

Teaching Towards Authority


Writing teachers, ourselves included, would be quick to describe Roger’s approach to this task as the more sophisticated of the two, but notice that Janet’s was by far the more difficult—she sought to extract truth on an issue that cannot be so reduced. Once this truth-reporting goal was set, Janet did not have the option of discussing these authors as individuals in her paper; she could not address the inconsistencies she noticed in the readings; she was not free to present an opinion or response of her own. Her view of the academic enterprise, and of her role in that enterprise, precludes all these options.


At first glance it would seem that the solution, the way to help students like Janet enter these academic conversations, lies not in the writing curriculum but in the content areas. The traditional response to the problem of lack of authority is to try to increase the domain knowledge upon which authority is supposedly founded. Indeed, cognitive research has demonstrated the critical influence of domain knowledge on comprehension and recall (see Wilson and Anderson for a review) and on such components of writing performance as topic choice (Gradwohl and Schumacher), organization (Langer), and coherence (Newell and Winograd). Under the domain knowledge explanation, the novice’s poor command of the subject matter discourages him or her from adopting the sense of authority needed to question or respond to the texts of others. It is certainly the case that Roger’s knowledge of the domain afforded him great advantages in this situation. He was familiar with common assumptions and stock issues in the field of ethics and could easily draw analogies to related topics. But we oversimplify if we attribute all of the novice writer’s difficulties to a lack of domain knowledge. Simply teaching Janet more about the issue of paternalism or the field of ethics will not help her engage more productively with these texts. She is already sensitive to nuances in this discussion, as evidenced by her recognition of inconsistencies, and she already has a storehouse of relevant examples she could use to explore these issues. What she doesn’t have is an understanding of the academic enterprise in which this personal knowledge has value. When we argue that the remedy for students’ problems with authority is an increase in their domain knowledge, we implicitly accept their version of the information-transfer model, in which personal knowledge is denied.


We would instead argue for the role of rhetorical knowledge in the development of authority. In order for Janet to take authority in this or any other situation, she needs to believe there is authority to spare—that there is room for many voices. She needs to understand the development of knowledge as a communal and continual process. Thus, an alternative to the information-transfer model would be to insist on more interactive models of education in which a genuine rhetorical perspective is not only taught but enacted. One such model aims to encourage and value students’ individual voices in class discussion, conferences, and written feedback, often restructuring the classroom to include peer interaction and group decision-making. The basic writing course developed by Bartholomae and Petrosky at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, explicitly aims to distribute authority more evenly in the classroom by having students decide on the topics to be explored, the concepts to be valued, even the terminology to be used—practices which require students to participate as insiders by creating the community around themselves, rather than trying to “break in” from the outside. Restructuring the environment in these or other ways seems essential if we are to help students come to see themselves as participants in, rather than observers of, the construction of knowledge.


Students can also come to recognize that knowledge develops through conversation and debate by actively analyzing authors’ assumptions and motivations and the situations in which they work. Some pedagogies aim to develop this understanding through the rhetorical analysis of texts, others through self-conscious exploration of writers’ processes and contexts. Haas (“Facts”), for example, asks students to interview members of particular discourse communities about how they choose, read, evaluate and acknowledge other authors’ texts. Greene has students analyze citation practices, structural conventions, and other discourse features for clues to disciplinary patterns of inquiry, and encourages students to “mine” the texts they read for strategies they may in turn employ in their own writing. Grounded in both traditional rhetorical theory and recent sociocognitive research, such activities aim to create a context in which students see themselves as authors, reading and writing alongside other authors in the development of community knowledge and norms. In such a context we can build on Janet’s developing rhetorical awareness by asking her to look for places where authors are speaking to one another—that is, by placing value on those disagreements she has noticed in reading. Some recent instructional approaches offer explicit support for the complex task of negotiating multiple positions. Higgins has students study and practice the synthesizing strategies of experienced writers, which she demonstrates via think-aloud protocol transcripts of writers at work. The textbook by Kaufer, Geisler, and Neuwirth, based on the research program that includes these case studies, teaches students to construct tables of agreements and disagreements and then synthesis trees from which they develop their own contributions to the literature. We can build on Janet’s use of examples in this context too, by encouraging her to compare authors via a common set of examples or principles.


Belenky and her colleagues report that the received knowledge perspective rarely persisted for long among their college-aged subjects, whose selective colleges provided the sort of “pluralistic and intellectually challenging environments” that tend to “dislodge” this perspective (43). The instructional approaches mentioned here are designed to create such environments in individual classrooms—to help students become aware of ongoing textual conversations and take part in those conversations. Helping students see themselves as insiders enables them to engage in types of thinking that are denied them under the information-transfer model. Only when a student such as Janet sees herself and others as authors negotiating meaning will she think to acknowledge and build upon the inconsistencies she notices, to use her store of examples generatively, to examine and value her own responses to the claims of others.


We are grateful to several anonymous reviewers whose comments influenced our thinking about academic authority and our understanding of the writers we describe in this piece. These writers were participants in the WARRANT Project, a research and curriculum development project at Carnegie Mellon University, sponsored in part by a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. Principal investigators were D. S. Kaufer, C. M. Neuwirth, C. Geisler, and P. K. Covey. This component of the project included four case study subjects, paid volunteers recruited from freshman writing classes at CMU and from the philosophy departments at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. See Geisler (Academic Literacy; “Sociocognitive”) and Kaufer and Geisler for further discussion of this writing task and research methodology.


  1. We recognize that from a poststructuralist perspective Roger’s entry into this community could be described as a move away from, rather than toward, personal authority, as his discourse and thinking are increasingly constrained by the conventions of the community. In these comparisons, however, we have taken the concept of authority at face value, focusing on the right to speak as established by the community’s expressed values—that is, through the attainment of sanctioned knowledge, experience, and credentials. See Collins, Freidson.

  2. See Belenky et al., Frey, Gilligan (‘Adolescent”; Different Voice), Gilligan et al., and Tompkins.

  3. Both Bartholomae and Bizzell (“Basic Writers”) have argued that attributing basic writers’ “failures” to a simple lack of writing skill ignores the actual lack of authority in these students’ social circumstances and the influence of this outsider position on their ability, and willingness, to adopt the writing strategies of the insider. We believe this analysis applies more generally. Even relatively skilled freshman writers, like Janet, are unlikely to view themselves as authorities in the academic context. College students’ deference to the authority of textbooks and teachers has been described in observational studies (Wall; Haas, “Biology”) and figures prominently in autobiographical accounts of educational experiences (Rose, Rodriguez).

  4. The presence or absence of author names is not a straightforward index of dependence on outside authority. For example, the other expert subject in our study mentioned none of the authors by names in his draft, but his protocol transcripts contained significantly more author references than either of the novice subjects. What distinguished experts from novices on this dimension was the role that individual authors played during the writing process. See Chapter 10 of Geisler’s Academic Literacy for a full report of these analyses.

  5. Haas (“Biology”) observed similar patterns of generic reference in the freshman year in a longitudinal study tracing a student’s college career.

  6. See Chapter 11 of Geisler’s Academic Literacy for more extensive analysis of the use of cases in the work of all four case study subjects.

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” When a Writer Can’t Write. Ed. Mike Rose. New York: Guilford, 1986. 134–65.

Bartholomae, David, and Anthony Petrosky. Facts, Artifacts and Counterfacts: Theory and Method for a Reading and Writing Course. Upper Montclair: Boynton, 1986.

Belenky, Mary Field, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule.Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind. New York: Basic, 1986.

Bizzell, Patricia. “Cognition, Convention and Certainty: What We Need to Know about Writing.”Pre/Text 3 (1982): 213–43.

———. “What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College?” CCC 37 (1986): 294–301.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. “Social Construction, Language, and the Authority of Knowledge: A Bibliographical Essay.” College English 48 (1986): 773–90.

Childress, James. Who Should Decide? Paternalism in Health Care. New York: Oxford UP, 1982.

Collins, Randall. The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification.New York: Academic, 1979.

Freidson, Eliot. Professional Powers: A Study of the Institutionalization of Formal Knowledge.Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986.

Frey, Olivia. “Beyond Literary Darwinism: Women’s Voices and Critical Discourse.” College English 52 (1990): 507–26.

Geisler, Cheryl. “Toward a Sociocognitive Model of Literacy: Constructing Mental Models in a Philosophical Conversation.” Textual Dynamics of the Professions. Ed. Charles Bazerman and James Paradis. Madison: Wisconsin, 1990.

———. Academic Literacy and the Nature of Expertise. Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1994.

Gert, B. and C. Culver. “Paternalistic Behavior,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (1976): 45–57.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982.

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Is your writing more like Roger’s or Janet’s? Do you think you hold more of an information-transfer model of knowledge or a constructivist model of knowledge?

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