Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Williams, Bronwyn T.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Wolfe, Joanna

Committee Member

Kopelson, Karen Lynn

Committee Member

Ryan, Susan

Committee Member

Larson, Ann Elisabeth


English language--Rhetoric--Study and teaching; Academic writing--Study and teaching


Much of the important writing students will be tasked with in their college careers calls upon them to approximate the writing styles academics and professionals use to shape and advance their respective fields. Many disciplinary values are encoded within the such texts. Learning these styles can be difficult for students who lack the experience and ingrained habits that their instructors may take for granted. In most cases, college writers are outsiders peeking in from the outskirts of academic and professional discourse. Also, the “Expert Blind Spot” (Ambrose et. al) can make college instructors oblivious to the nuances of the writing styles they take for granted, which can make acquisition of those styles difficult for their students. These factors can lead to students feeling that different courses/disciplines are giving them contradictory lessons in writing, which often leads them to pay more attention to the differences in teachers instead of the differences in disciplinary habits. These conflicts or contradictions in instruction can become “double binds,” which are intractable roadblocks caused by the inability to reconcile two contrary commands or signals. This project utilizes Genre Theory, Activity Theory, and research in writing across the disciplines to examine conflicts and double binds students face in the disciplinary writing classroom and what role writing prompts play in ameliorating or exacerbating those difficulties. It does so by tracing across four disciplines (philosophy, psychology, nursing, and biology) several common conflicts and double binds encountered at the intersection between ideal academic writing and the realities of the classroom environment (and in the case of one chapter, the complicated boundary between academia, the classroom, and the workplace). This dissertation illuminates common conflicts and double binds inherent in disciplinary writing instruction and makes an argument for effective writing prompt design as an important mediating tool in promoting effective thoughtful student writing. When students know what the rules of the assignment are, they can act more confidently within those boundaries and more easily gain disciplinary awareness and confidence as authors and agents.