Content Matters: Curriculum development challenges in academic writing programs


  • Andrew Gordon Johnson Monash University


academic writing, composition, curriculum, North America, content


While still uncommon in the Australian HE context, a growing number of institutions are offering units for credit specifically focused on academic writing outside of specific disciplinary contexts or serving students from across disciplines (AALL, 2015; Barthel, 2013). Given a longstanding consensus in the field that teaching ‘form’, ‘mechanics’ or ‘skills’ in isolation from specific disciplinary content is problematic, the question of what content to have students write about in such units is raised. Drawing on interviews with staff and students in North American writing programs, where credit bearing academic writing programs have been a standard feature of higher education at all levels for more than 50 years (Berlin, 1987; Graves & Graves, 2006; Smit, 2004),this paper identifies three key curriculum challenges: 1.) to inspire or engage; 2) to link between prior knowledge and writing experience and the academic context in higher education, and 3). to enable transfer of writing knowledge to new contexts. The different approaches to the ‘content challenges’ identified in the interviews, as well as more generally the views and experience of practitioners and students provide important perspective for the Australian Language and Learning community. The discussion of curriculum in writing programs specifically references a current debate in the North American composition community prompted by the ‘writing about writing’ (WAW) movement (Adler-Kassner & Wardle, 2015; Downs & Wardle, 2007; Wardle, 2009;) to argue that while there remains diversity in approaches, attention to discourse and genre theory in writing instruction is a valuable element of curriculum design.

Author Biography

Andrew Gordon Johnson, Monash University

Lecturer in Academic and Professional Writing, School of Media, Film and Journalism. Faculty of Arts. Monash University.




How to Cite

Johnson, A. G. (2018). Content Matters: Curriculum development challenges in academic writing programs. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 12(1), A193-A212. Retrieved from