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Composition Forum 26, Fall 2012

From the Editors

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Christian Weisser, Michelle Ballif, and Elizabeth Wardle

It is a great pleasure to introduce this special issue of Composition Forum focusing on “Writing and Transfer.” We published our first special issue on “Composition and Location” in Volume 15 (Spring 2006) and we are excited to revisit the special issue format here in Volume 26. The subject of this volume’s special issue—the transfer of knowledge in and through writing—is among the most important and timely in the field of writing studies today. Guest Editor Elizabeth Wardle has assembled an insightful collection of voices on the subject of transfer, and we believe that this volume will help to extend the larger conversations about transfer and writing in significant ways. Guest Editor Wardle provides a summary of the contents of Volume 26 below.

Readers may also notice a new section in Volume 26—a “Retrospectives” segment.  As editors, we often hear from authors who would like to add to, extend, or modify earlier published works.  We’ve all had the experience of reconsidering a previous idea or line of inquiry and wishing we had the chance to say something else about it (the phrase L’esprit de l’escalier comes to mind here.) Consequently, we’ve introduced a Retrospectives section to allow contributors to follow up on previously published research—a sort of “five years later” segment to demonstrate the ways in which that author or the field in general has expanded or reconsidered a particular perspective.  We hope to make this a regular feature in each coming volume of Composition Forum, and we hope that authors of formative works published in this journal and in other scholarly venues will consider submitting to our Retrospectives section.

We have one other very significant change to announce.  Our founding Website Editor, Bradley Dilger, will step down from Composition Forum after this volume to pursue other scholarly interests.  Bradley created much of what readers have seen at Composition Forum over the past eight years, and it is no understatement to say that the current state of the journal owes much to his tireless work and techno-creative brilliance. We will miss you, CBD. Luckily though, Bradley leaves the journal in very capable hands.  Our new Website Editor, Kevin Brock, has already begun to implement new ideas into the CF website; we look forward to working with him in the years to come.

We will continue to use Composition Forum’s Weblog to disseminate news and updates about the journal more quickly. We encourage readers to contribute timely and pertinent information to the blog. Add our feed to your newsreader to receive alerts about new volumes of CF and other news from the field of rhetoric and composition. Please send questions or comments about the Composition Forum website to

From Guest Editor Elizabeth Wardle:

This issue begins with an editor’s introduction that suggests a framework for considering the dispositions of not only individuals but also fields, and how those dispositions encourage or discourage the creative problem-solving necessary for effective transfer. This introduction is followed by a special video interview of participants in the 2011-2013 Elon University Research Seminar on Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer. Interviewees discuss their conceptions of transfer and the future of research on this topic. The interview serves as a nice segue into the rest of the issue.

For the special issue, we were lucky enough to see five excellent research articles to publication, each exploring various aspects of the “transfer” problem. Jessie Moore’s article opens the issue by providing a helpful overview of the conversation about transfer that has taken place in our field. Angela Rounsaville then draws on rhetorical genre theory and Anne Freadman’s notion of uptake to sketch out a theory of transfer for writing.Liane Robertson, Kara Taczak, and Kathleen Blake Yancey look at how and why students draw on and use prior knowledge in one of three ways: drawing on, reworking, or creating new knowledge and practices. This focus on the individual is then taken up by Dana Driscoll and Jennifer Wells, who argue for a need to better understand student dispositions, and describe four dispositions that seem to influence writing transfer. Finally, Linda Adler-Kassner, John Majewski, and Damian Koshnick push our focus beyond writing in our own classrooms to consider the role of difficult threshold concepts about writing that are shared across writing and history classes, but not always explicitly or clearly taught.

Three other types of articles round out this special issue. First, Anne Beaufort’s article is the inaugural piece in a new feature of Composition Forum that allows scholars to revisit their earlier work. Here, Beaufort revisits her 2007 book, College Writing and Beyond, to revise the recommendations for teaching for transfer that she made there (in the next issue, Doug Downs and I will revisit our 2007 CCC article “Teaching About Writing, Righting Misconceptions: (Re)Envisioning FYC as Intro to Writing Studies.”). Two very different program profiles demonstrate the complexity of designing programs to facilitate writing-related transfer. Five members of the Dartmouth Institute for Writing and Rhetoric describe their efforts to use the available literature and their own pilot research to redesign their writing structures. Julie Dyke Ford, in contrast, describes how she was invited to take a joint appointment in the Mechanical Engineering Department in order to better facilitate learning and transfer of writing-related knowledge for engineering students. Finally, Laura Martinez provides a detailed review of Rebecca Nowacek’s recent book, Agents of Integration: Understanding Transfer as a Rhetorical Act.

Abstract representation of writing transfer Framing all of this scholarship is artwork by Dana Lynn Driscoll, which we have included because the very issue of transfer (repurposing, generalization, transformation, remixing, expansive learning, lamination) seems, at times, to be more understandable through visual means, rather than textual means. I hope that Dana’s artwork will inspire some readers to engage in their own visual attempts to imagine this issue’s subject is and how it can be understood in new ways.

A number of the articles in this issue, including my own introductory article, are made possible because of the authors’ participation in the 2011-2013 Elon University Research Seminar on Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer. The research articles were carefully reviewed by Kevin Roozen and Rebecca Nowacek, and I am grateful for their collaboration and feedback.

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Return to Composition Forum 26 table of contents.