The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Andrea Olinger

Name: Andrea Olinger, English Department

Presentation Title: “Styling Science: A Case Study of Enculturation into Disciplinary Writing Style”

Date: May 2, 2013


In writing studies, the meaning of the term “style” tends to be assumed and undefined or loosely defined—as, say, a writer’s linguistic and rhetorical choices. In either case, style is typically treated as a static property controlled by the writer, with little attention given to its interpretation and reception. Disciplinary style has suffered from similar inattention, with the neat, discrete notion that different disciplines write differently often going unquestioned. Empirical research within writing studies on the co-constructed, dynamic nature of style, disciplinary or otherwise, is scarce. In this talk, I argue for a more rigorous and usable understanding of enculturation into disciplinary writing styles. Drawing on sociocultural, dialogic approaches to language, I describe writing styles as heterogeneous collections of multisemiotic resources with situated histories. I then ground this theory in ethnographic research on how academic writing styles are represented, debated, learned, and taught, presenting one particular case of writers in psychology. Through literacy history and text-based interviews with a senior psychology major and her professor—along with analyses of drafts of her honors thesis and the professor’s writing guide—I explore the difficulties of locating discipline-specific writing style, show that particular language ideologies dominate how writers understand style, and illustrate how a dialogic perspective can help us better understand disciplinary enculturation into this nebulous thing called style.