a partnership between the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

Consortium for the Study of Writing in College (CSWC)


[Original home page for this site, November 2008]

Positive Results from CSWC Study Featured in USA TODAY and NSSE Annual Report

Writing contributes significantly to student engagement and learning, according to a section of 2008 NSSE Annual Report that is based on data gathered from the Consortium for the Study of Writing in College (CSWC) questions about writing. These results were also featured in USA TODAY and Inside Higher Ed.

The NSSE report states, "Results affirmed that when institutions provided students with extensive, intellectually challenging writing activities, the students engaged in more deep learning activities such as analysis, synthesis, integration of ideas from various sources, and grappled more with course ideas both in and out of the classroom. In turn, students whose faculty assigned projects with these same characteristics reported greater personal, social, practical, and academic learning and development.”

The report adds, “Taken together, these findings provide further support for the movement to infuse quality writing experiences throughout the curriculum."

The CSWC believes that WPAs and other advocates for writing can advance support for and participation in their efforts by publicizing these results at their institutions. We have gathered the relevant reports, articles, and supporting materials for your use.


The Consortium Has Grown to 73 Schools

First announced in September 2008, the CSCW grew to 37 schools by October 1, 2008.  That number has since grown to 73 schools, which makes this consortium by far the largest ever in NSSE history. This is very good news in the sense that we will harvest a huge amount of data from a wide variety of schools, which will provide considerable statistical power for answering some important questions about how writing affects engagement and attainment. It also means a wide variety of schools are represented. (See a list of the schools.)    


The NSSE directors also recognize that the CSWC's size and nature could potentially limit the usefulness of the consortium as a comparison group, and they have therefore decided to make special allowances for members of the consortium-which is good news. The CSWC is a unique kind of consortium. With other consortia, members usually share some common institutional characteristic (e.g., "Catholic Colleges and Universities," "Urban Universities") or mission. Schools join these consortia because they want to compare their students' responses to those of the other members of the consortium. However, for the CSWC, members share a common interest in determining the writing practices of their undergraduates, but they do not necessarily share institutional characteristics or missions that would make an overall comparison with the entire consortium meaningful. We'll provide more details about this issue around January (a few months before you need to choose comparison groups), but for now you should know that your school will be able to create its own comparison group from among the 73 schools in the CSWC, either by handpicking schools or by filtering them by institutional criteria. (Of course, if you are interested also in the entire CSWC as a group, those aggregated results will be posted for reference sometime after the NSSE report goes out.) We'll communicate this information through the CSWC listserv.


Future Plans


Extending the Conversation: The data from Spring 2008 experimental survey will undergo additional analysis and will yield, we hope, findings for additional research questions. These findings will be presented at AAC&U in Seattle, January 23, 2009, and at CCCC in San Francisco, March 2009.  Also, Chris, Bob, Paul, and Chuck will lead a NSSE SIG at CCCC in San Francisco.


Research Questions: In the near future, Chuck will initiate a thread on the CSWC listserv addressing this question: "What local and national research questions about writing do you want to answer?" We can share ideas and provide everyone with a better sense of the possibilities.


Webinar: Because the CSWC is a large consortium, NSSE associate directors Bob Gonyea and Jillian Kinzie will host a NSSE "webinar" about the writing survey to help stakeholders understand what has been found nationally and how they can use their CSWC data locally. This will take place around the end of September 2009. These webinars are live (you can watch and ask questions) and then recorded for future viewing. You can find previous webinars at http://nsse.iub.edu/webinars/archives.cfm. They're very good for getting a handle on NSSE and how to use NSSE results at your school.


Spread the Word


If you have colleagues who might want to keep up with the consortium's progress and exchange ideas, please let them know about this listserv. See instructions for subscribing to CSWC-L.


Partnership for the Study of Writing in College


The Partnership for the Study of Writing in College invites you to participate in its projects, which aim to do the following:

Create a national portrait of the ways writing is used in four-year colleges and universities in the United States

Explore the relationships between writing and learning

Identify effective teaching strategies that can be used in any college course in order to improve students’ writing abilities

Identify effective teaching strategies for using writing in any college course to enhance students’ mastery of course content and achievement of other important goals of higher education.


A central activity of the Partnership has been creation of 27 questions about writing that can be appended to the National Survey of Student Engagement by institutions that choose to use them. The PSWC has also prepared a parallel set of questions for use with the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement. As of Spring 2010, the NSSE questions have been used at 151 schools and the FSSE questions at 46 schools, creating a substantial body of data with responses from more than 60,000 students and almost 3,000 faculty.


There are several ways you might benefit from and participate in the Partnership’s activities.


Consider the ways you can use our analyses of the national data to support writing initiatives at your college or university.

Administer the special writing questions at your own institution. You can do so as part of regular administrations of NSSE and FSSE or, for no cost, you can use them independent of a NSSE or FSSE administration.

Suggest research question we could investigate using the national data

Link data from administration of the writing questions at your institution with other data it possesses (e.g., student grades) to investigate topics that can’t be answered by responses to the writing questions alone.

Collaborate with researchers at other institutions, for instance by pooling your data to answer questions of special interest to you.


We welcome your ideas, requests, and suggestions.


Paul Anderson 

Chris Anson

Chuck Paine

Bob Gonyea


Learn More


About the Consortium


Frequently Asked Questions


Subscribe to CSWC-L


CSWC Questions about Writing


Spring 2008 administration of experimental questions about writing


Background Information about the Project


WPA Conference 2007


WPA Conference 2008



Chuck Paine, Consortium Coordinator
Bob Gonyea
| Paul Anderson | Chris Anson
Copyright © 2008: WPA / NSSE
Page Updated November 2008