About WI Courses


For a good part of this century, writing was assumed to be a concern of only English departments, and students who had trouble writing would often say, "I'm not very good at English."

Research shows, however, that good writing is a concern of nearly everyone, from police who have to write accident reports to engineers who coauthor environmental impact statements.

Research also shows that police, engineers, mathematicians, and philosophers have different standards for determining what is good writing.

Much of this research didn't occur in a laboratory. Rather, it involved ethnographers in sociolinguistics and communication who observed and recorded what people do in their day-to-day lives.

Here, in slightly technical language, is a summary of some of the ethnographers' basic findings.

  • All meaningful language use--speaking, reading, writing--takes place within a language community and is understood and learned only within the particular language community.
  • The forms of "good" language use vary from one language community to another. Standards of "good" writing vary from culture to culture and, in a university, from discipline to discipline.
  • Students improve as writers through practice, particularly when provided with instruction and guidance while they are working on pieces of writing within the context of a specific discipline.
  • Writing promotes learning; what we learn through writing we are more likely to retain and more likely to understand.

So that students become aware of these differences, Mānoa's WI courses are being offered in many different departments. Students in these courses learn how to do the kind of writing that meets the standards of specialists in a particular subject area. 

Writing-intensive classes:

  1. provide students with opportunities to improve their writing;
  2. help students learn subjects better through writing about them;
  3. give students opportunities to discuss their writing with the instructor; 
  4. help students to meet a UHM graduation requirement.

A WI class may differ little from other classes in which professors have paid significant attention to student writing. In WI classes, students will probably do some writing in class on questions that arise in lecture or discussion, and they may also be given several writing assignments. Professors may ask students to write in new ways, and he or she will help as students engage in these new types of writing.


Bazerman, C. (1981). What written knowledge does: Three examples of academic discourse. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 11, 361-87.

Gumperz, J. (1971). Language in social groups. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Heath, S.B. (1971). Ethnography in education: Defining the essentials. In P. Gilmore & A. Glatthorn (Eds.), Children in and out of school: Ethnography and education (pp. 33-55). Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Herrington, A. (1985). Writing in academic settings: A study of the contexts for writing in two college chemical engineering courses. Research in the Teaching of English, 19, 331-359.

Hymes, D. (1972b). Models of the interaction of language and social life. In J. Gumperz & D Hymes (Eds.). Directions in sociolinguistics (pp 35-71). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Szwed, J. (1981). The ethnography of literacy. In M.F. Whiteman (Ed.), Variation in writing: Functional and linguistic-cultural differences (pp.13-23). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.