I'd like to start by objecting to the nice little binary set up between "personal" and "academic" writing. I like the little boxes with the "goals" and "examples" of each group displayed on page 7. While I know that the article concedes that there may be a cross-over between the two, I get the impression that Mlynarczyk (hereafter M) feels that this is the exception and not the rule.

However, "technically" all personal narratives (according to Bruner's model) would also fit into his model of academic writing which tries to "convince with formal and empirical truth" (7). "Empirical" is defined as provable by experiment or experience. It depends upon observation. How is a student's experience (as recorded by them) not empirical? Are they not an expert on their own experience? Of course I understand the experiment section. The statistics. 38% of immigrants report....etc. But why is this more valued than an actual immigrant narrative from a student? If the student found a narrative in a book, it would be cited and accepted. But if it is their own experience, they are told to keep themselves out of it? That just devalues what students have to offer. Sorry. So back on track...

The idea of poetic language and its goals also perplexes me. If I write a poem, does it have a specific goal that is similar to the goal of all other poems? Is its meaning always implicit? What about political poetry. I think some stuff I've read is pretty explicit. In addition, it often makes an argument.

Moving on, I think the distinction between personal and private is recognized too late in M's article, and possibly not realized fully, which is evidenced by the fact that M asked to read a student's private journal. I think that was completely out of line, and if I had been the student, I would have asked M if she would bring her private journal for me to read. All in all, I think journal assignments that are meant to be about connections to self should be private - meaning that teachers should not read them. Otherwise the writing is always going to have that teacher audience (and the anxiety that comes from that) attached to it.

I like Elbow's idea that first year composition should be about writing. Imagine that! It bothers me that other subjects - literature, biology, math - all exist on their own merit. We read literature for the sake of reading literature, not because we will have to read memos one day. Yet we only seem to value writing in its relation to other subjects.

I think Bartholomae's position does more than just acknowledge the power structure; it reinforces the power structure. In addition, by valuing things like quoting and paraphrasing and using others words before their own, he is doing little to teach them how to form their own unique arguments.

How many research papers do we get that are simply a regurgitation of what everyone else thinks? How is this considered academic discourse? Isn't that just mimicry? Don't we want our students to learn to integrate others research into their own unique thoughts? If so, then why are we first telling them their thoughts don't matter (only to later state that they lack a clear thesis or original idea)?

The course on philosophy that was "not about [students'] opinion[s]" is really about the same regurgitation. How could it be anything else if it disallowed student opinions? Is that academic writing? M seems to say yes. I say no.

M seems to privilege "academic" writing, using personal writing only as a starting point, as pre-writing, a means to something else. In addition, she shows the same bias of thinking that personal writing is easier than academic writing. She writes that students who get arrive in college already having this academic mode probably acquired the ability in "challenging high school courses" (23). I suppose that the less "challenging" course would not have used academic discourse because it was supposedly too hard? I don't know. I think the implication is that personal writing is a stepping stone to other forms. However, I see no evidence of one being easier than the other.

It is possible, given her confusion on the matter, that M is actually referring to private writing - which might be easier because it has an audience of one. I don't know.

M also states that "A basic writing course that focuses exclusively on helping students move toward Elbow's mountain - crafting powerful personal narratives using poetic language - will not adequately prepare them [students] for the traditional assignments they will face later on" (23).

Of course she gives no proof of this. Nobody does. It is just an assumption, though it is always stated as fact. However, even in the article we read about writing in prisons, we saw evidence that those who engaged in more personal (and maybe even private) letter writing generally had better essays.

I don't think there are two mountains. I think it is the same mountain. I don't know anyone who can climb one really well, but can't get up the other. Analogies aside, I don't see how one type of writing could not help another. A student may not have as much practice in a particular genre, but the more a student writes (in any genre) the better able they will be to convey something to an audience.

Heather Dorn <<<<<<< (Now Spell checked)

Mlynarczyk‘s article was very informative for me. Like a lot of the stuff discussed in comp. studies, I had heard of the debate b/w personal and academic writing, but I never knew the details. I had no idea that Elbow and Bartholomea had public debates at the Cs in 1995. That’s kinda cool—I would have liked to been there. I think more than anything though, the article defined some terminology and illustrated yet another area of contention in comp. studies.

I think both types of writing have value and depending on what is being taught, the “expressivist’ nature of personal writing, as Mlynarczyk points out when discussing Britton, Sapri, and Bruner, allows one to reflect on learning in a language that is most familiar and comfortable. One can incorporate new concepts without worrying about how to sound academic—thereby cementing the concepts. Isn't that what we do as we post our Reponses or discuss in class?

I enjoy the way Mlynarczyk places value in both forms—one can facilitate the other through process. How would this look as an assignment—I would argue, much like the portfolio sequence does. The student experiments with the new ideas and concepts they are learning and reflect on them in personal writing…through process the writing can develop into that academic discourse that seems to be so highly prized…While some may argue that this places emphasis on the end product, I would assert that one can see the learning that has taken place…from daily posts or initial personal drafts on a topic that leads to a synthesis of knowledge that is then communicated in the academic genre. One cannot truly write an academic paper with proficiency (now, that’s a loaded term) unless they have explored and digested the topic at hand. The Academic paper would make not sense (most likely).

I can see examples of this in my own writing, reading, and learning. Remember at the beginning of the semester I used the “bla, bla, bla” for all the terminology and concepts that I did not understand? Well, there is still a lot of bla, bla, bla, but now I have learned what a lot of these terms and concepts mean and have reflected (as I am now) on how they connect to me as a student, future teacher, writing consultant, etc. I found meaning through my exploration of these things I previously had no familiarity with through these very posts. I can see a change. All of this will culminate in my research paper—a formal academic type of writing. I could not write that paper before; I had to wait until I was able to tackle the concepts enough through my personal writing.

Anyway, as I ramble, I am ever aware that some value academic over personal. I see it as I grade for teachers who what a critical analysis, not a “How I feel about this” paper. I think, as with a lot of the other issues brought up about writing, such as standards, language marginalization, power and oppression etc., that it is our responsibility to each personal and academic as a genre that is used for specific rhetorical purposes.


Personal and Academic Writing: Revisiting the Debate By Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk

I was trying to distinguish personal writing, academic writing, expressive language, and reflective journal writing. This article plus the Table 1 (7) made me see the difference. Mlynarczyk mentioned “I have increasingly come to realize the importance of going beyond personal writing to help basic writers to acquire academic discourse, to read and to write intelligently about their reading. At the same time, I have also come to believe that all students-and especially basic writers-need to reflect on expressive language in order to acquire genuine academic discourse” (5). I agree with this quote. I kind of think this is the first step to the writing process to arrive to the academic discourse.

I like that Table 1 separate the “three theories of language use-Bruner’s, Sapir’s, and Britton’s-resonate and overlap with one another in interesting ways as shown…” (7). Here on “Bruner’s theory is descriptive in that he looks at the finished products-novels or scientific papers-rather than focusing on the thought processes that resulted in those products” (8). He does not consider what goes in the middle of the process. The finished product will be to one extreme or the other extreme.

Mlynarczyk cited Elbow “For Bartholomae, all instruction is influences by the social context in which it takes place, and he wants students to become aware of the dynamics of college classrooms, where teachers have more power than students and where students’ texts…” (9). Is he talking teacher structure or the Stretch Model?

I liked Elbow’s belief, “who wants students to trust their own language” (10). Students need to learn to trust their voice and gain their confidence. All their education life, the students have been told to distrust their language, just like Bartholomae believe. How can these students learn how to write? I did not like Bartholomae theory to “push against the cultural commonplaces that sometimes pre-determine how and what they write” (10). That has been the problem, students do not know how to write because they are pulled in different directions on how to write, who to follow, and see what does the teachers expects from them. A problem I see is “they move closer to the language of their instructors, the language of the academy” (11). How can a student learn how to write when there is no standard way only what the teacher expects? Where is the private language closest to the self?

From the beginning of the students’ education, they are programmed to distrust their own language and after the damage is done, the educators claim the students do not know how to write. What students need to be taught first is learn to write from the self, with no negative criticism and work toward the public, academic writing discourse. These students have lost their confidence in their own voice. Everything begins with a personal feeling into the “academic material” (19).


Mlynarczyk’s provides a thoughtful analysis of the personal/academic writing debate. While the arguments presented were interesting in relation to our class discussion, I would like to question some of the definition informing the debate and the analysis. In her summaries of the positions (e.g. p.7), Mlynarczyk discusses Bruner, Sapir, and Britton without questioning the underlying idea/assumptions, i.e. that narratives and “logico-scientific” language (discourse) have different goals (Bruner), that everyday speech is more expressive/less referential than scientific discourse (Sapir), and that language can be more or less public (Britton). I would take issue with, or at least like to discuss, all three models/assumptions. Narratives establish empirical truth in much the same ways as logico-scientific discourse (stories are told “empirically” in that they test out a hypothesis and relies on theory—I did this, she said this, and then this happened—all with the purpose to “transcend the particular” (the stories we tell ourselves and others are not ends in themselves); narratives are also arguments in that they promote/support a view/claim about the world. Social narratives are simply not defined/analyzed in those terms. You could also apply the characteristics of narratives to l-s language: empirical arguments are essentially attempts to be evocative and life-like, and particulars are powerful because they are used to support the principles and concepts—the particular is the only aspect of knowledge we can access (and the empirical process, e.g. the scientific method, relies on reductivism to support theories).

Britton’s model assumes that language can be kept closed or set apart by the “author,” which is problematic if viewed from a social-constructivist/post-structuralist perspective. Language cannot be held “close to the self,” unless it is a private code, and meaning is hardly more explicit in transactional language. The “scientific report” may use different referential and rhetorical moves, and may thus seem different from, a story or poem, but I would argue that both make (and don’t make) meaning in the same way.

This may not make much sense in this brief written posting, so I hope we can spend at least some time discussing this next week.


Anne's Response

I would like to start by saying that I agree with Heather about the distinction made between personal writing and academic writing. I think that personal writing can most definately be academic. A personal account of your parent's divorce can also also be an argument to enact some sort of change in the divorce court system. It just depends on your approach. Villanueva's "Bootstraps" is a personal narrative, but it is also theory.

Mlynarczyk addresses the definition problems in the debate through the theories of two psychoanalystics, Jerome Bruner and James Britton. She focuses on the two theorist’s similar ideas on the divisions in cognitive and linguistic performance because of their similarities to the personal vs. academic writing debate. Bruner separates “cognitive functioning into two distinct modes…’narrative mode’ and ‘paradigmatic (or logico-scientific) mode’” (6). Britton’s distinguishes between “‘two distinct [language] orders” which he defines as “expressive” and “referential language” (6). The issue have with the use of these two theorists and the debate itself is the binaries they create. I don't understand why there has to be those binaries. Why can't we use our narrative mode at the same time our paradigmative mode? Or our expressive and referential language together?What then happens to authors of the personal academic essay? Are they anamolies that can use both together? I know Britton also has the additional category of "poetic language," and that he believes that they are all used together in a continuum, but by separately defining them, can they ever really be used all together?