What is Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)?

“Writing is everywhere and everywhere necessary.”

~David R. Russell (6)

According to David Russell, “the WAC movement is an effort to improve education by encouraging students to write in many fields for content areas.” As a true grassroots movement, it began in 1970 and continues with growing strength today. Russell suggests that WAC may be the “largest and longest-lived educational reform movement in the history of American higher education that did not develop a formal organizational structure.”1

Initially no unified theory propelled the growth of Writing across the Curriculum efforts. Rather, programs grew because of need in response to the unique issues at each institution of learning. Thus, WAC programs across the country share similarities but also exhibit differences reflecting the teaching and learning needs of the faculty in that locale. WAC has since developed a substantial intellectual grounding, but programs remain true to their roots—very communal by nature. WAC runs on communal participation, and WAC changes to fill community vacancies. This fits well into the goal of most WAC programs, helping faculty see writing as a “social process, dependent on the communities, organizations, and purposes for which student—and professionals—write” (Russell 9).

Our Writing Across Emory (WAE) program also seeks to be egalitarian. Though from time to time, experts will be hosted here at Emory, WAE utilizes workshop facilitators, encourages full participation across the college, and creates a space to share practices and questions about improving teaching and learning through writing.

As set out by Elaine Maimon in 1997 at the International WAC Conference, WAC programs include these bedrock principles2 :

  • Writing is a complex process integrally related to thinking
  • WAC means active learning across the curriculum
  • Curriculum change depends on scholarly exchange among faculty members
  • Writing helps students make connections
  • WAC helps faculty make connections, with students and with each other
  • WAC leads to other reforms in pedagogy, curriculum, and administration.

  1. Russell, David R. “WAC’s Beginnings: Developing a Community of Change Agents.” McLeod, Susan H. and Margot Iris Soven. Composing a Community: A History of Writing Across the Curriculum. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2006. 3-15. He notes that the general education movement might be the only other contestant for this distinction (3). Russell’s recollections fuel these remarks. 

  2. Maimon, Elaine P. “Time Future Contained in Time Past.” National Writing Across the Curriculum Conference. Charleston, SC, 1997.