Locating and enacting writerly authority in first-year composition: A textual study of influence and evidence

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Rebecca Moore Howard


Writerly authority, First-year composition, Writing pedagogy, Authorship studies, Citation, Research writing, Plagiarism, Collaboration

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


This four part exploratory study examines Composition scholarship, popular textbooks, and teaching materials, three major sources of influence on student writing, alongside a selection of student-generated research papers, in a focused inquiry of how cultural notions of authorship intersect with, inform, and might better be informed by the outcomes of the teaching of citation practices and the construction of claims in academic prose. This dissertation asks as its guiding question the following: how do writers conceive of and practice sharing authority as they use sources in academic work? In addressing this question, it takes up the particulars of source use and claim making in the academic writing of First-Year Composition assignments as concrete instantiations of students' ability to effectively make meaning out of their own ideas in connection with others', starting with a wide-angle look at the web of notions about writers, written artifacts, and the act of writing that inform the cultural contexts of Composition within the academy as encountered by its students. In this way, it defines authority as a mutable intersection point among many factors, explores authority through the lenses of those many factors, and proposes that the rhetorical acts of citation and claim making might be key to both understanding the authority-wielding that student writers are expected to perform within the academy and to helping them learn to do so successfully. Simultaneously, this dissertation examines the cultural notions of authority and authorship that manifest in today's concerns about such ideas as originality, collaboration, plagiarism, and intellectual property, then applies these concerns and their relation to the academic expectation of writers' wielding and sharing of appropriate authority to real-life instructional quandaries about why citation lessons don't seem to stick. The project concludes with a presentation of recommendations for future study and suggested classroom practices that, if even sparsely implemented, might raise students' (and instructors') awareness of these intersecting notions in ways that both improve the quality of students' writing and source-documenting and outfit them with more rhetorical power and autonomy when conveying their ideas within the frameworks of others' expectations.