English Language and Literature ETDs


Tommy Pierce

Publication Date



Standardization and the treatment of error is a central concern in the increasingly diverse college composition classroom. Writing teachers who wish to prepare students for success in the disciplines, but do not wish to be gatekeepers or guardians of a privileged variety of English, face a dilemma. This dissertation points toward an approach to error and standardization that avoids the prescriptive vs. descriptive dichotomy of whether to treat or not to treat error through. I also advocate bringing a perspective informed by sociolinguistics, second language writing, and discourse studies to the forefront of the WAC conversation on diverse student writers and error. In Chapter One, Beyond the Tipping Point,' I illustrate the ever-increasing diversity of pre-college and college writing classes, and consider the key characterizations of developmental and second language writers. In Chapter Two, 'Theories and Approaches to Diversity and Standardization,' I discuss the current college writing context as part of the historical trend toward the democratization of higher education. This consideration of previous influxes of diverse groups into higher education lays the groundwork for considering current notions about diversity and standardization. Chapter Three, 'The Contested Terms of College Writing,' outlines my research methods. I use qualitative research methods within a hermeneutic approach in order to describe attitudes toward diverse student writers and standardization prominent among writing across the curriculum scholars. Chapter Four, 'What We Talk about When We Talk About Diverse Student Writers,' provides a description of my analyses. A prominent tendency in the field of Writing Across the Curriculum is to construct diversity through the lens of error. The WAC Journal, as the premiere journal in the field, is indexical of this representation, and so was the logical choice for sampling the conversation. In Chapter Five, 'A Reasonable Approach to Error,' I present the range of responses most prominent in the group of texts that were analyzed for this project, and outline my key findings, which suggest that many researchers interested in WAC support an approach to error that balances the need for correctness with the need for innovation. Finally, Chapter Six summarizes my key findings, and points to Sophistic tendencies in the WAC conversation on diverse student writers and error.'

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Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Paine, Charles

Second Committee Member

Pence, Lucretia P.

Third Committee Member

Jeffery, Jill V.




Rhetoric, Composition, Diversity, Second Language Writing, Basic Writing

Document Type