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Writing with Authority

Writing with Authority

Students' Roles as Writers In Cross-National Perspective

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David Foster


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
224 pages, 5.5 x 8.5

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric


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About the Book

Writing with Authority: Students’ Roles as Writers in Cross-National Perspective offers a comparison of student writers in two university cultures—one German and one American—as the students learn to connect their writing to academic content. David Foster demonstrates the effectiveness of using cross-cultural comparisons to assess differences in literacy activities and suggests teaching approaches that will help American students better develop their roles as writers in knowledge-based communities. He proposes that American universities make stronger efforts to nurture the autonomy of American undergraduates as learner-writers and to create apprenticeship experiences that more closely reflect the realities of working in the academic community.

This comparative analysis identifies crucial differences in the ways German and American students learn to become academic writers, emphasizing two significant issues: the importance of self-directed, long-term planning and goal setting in developing knowledge-based projects and the impact of time structures on students’ writing practices. Foster suggests that students learn to write as knowledge makers, using cumulative, recursive task development as reflexive writing practices. He argues for the full integration of extended, self-managed, knowledge-based writing tasks into the American undergraduate curriculum from the onset of college study.

A cross-national perspective offers important insights into the conditions that influence novice writers, Foster says, including secondary preparations and transitions to postsecondary study. Foster proposes that students be challenged to write transformatively—to master new forms of authorship and authority based on self-directed planning, researching, and writing in specific academic communities. The text also addresses contested issues of power relations in students’ roles as academic writers and their perception of personal authority and freedom as writers.

A course model incorporates significant, self-directed writing projects to help students build sustainable roles as transformative writers, outlines “change goals” to help teachers develop curricular structures that support cumulative writing projects across the undergraduate curriculum, and shows how teachers can develop self-directed writing projects in a variety of program environments.


David Foster, a former Fulbright senior scholar at the University of Dresden, is a professor emeritus of English at Drake University. He is the coeditor of Writing and Learning in Cross-National Perspective: Transitions from Secondary to Higher Education.


“This is both a first-class comparative study of upper-level college writing and a powerful argument for a richer, more demanding approach to writing assignments across the curriculum. Foster is a strong advocate for demanding that students write ‘transformatively as knowledge makers’ from within their chosen discipline. This is a fascinating book and the beginning, I hope, of many more comparative studies.”—John Brereton, The Boston Athenaeum

 “A noteworthy study for our profession, Writing with Authority will inspire some important rethinking—among teachers of writing on their instructional practices, among discipline-based faculty on their orientations to socializing students into their disciplinary discourses, and among writing program administrators on constructing suitable institutional policies. This text will encourage teachers to compare their writing pedagogies with those in other countries to develop a critical perspective on composition.”—A. Suresh Canagarajah, City University of New York