Emily Isaacs was trained in research in composition by her University of Massachusetts-Amherst professors – Anne Herrington, Peter Elbow and Charles Moran – and completed a qualitative research project that provided case study research of three university basic writing instructors. The training she received in composition theory, practice, and research methods has proven invaluable as she has moved into the areas of assessment research, writing program administration, and writing faculty development. Recently she has completed two major projects: a study of writing program instruction, administration and support at 106 state universities (Writing at the State U, forthcoming, Utah State University Press, 2017), and a rhetoric, Intersections, co-authored with Catherine Keohane.


Writing Placement that Supports Teaching and Learning

“A Bird’s Eye View of Writing Centers: Institutional Infrastructure, Scope and Programmatic Issues, Reported Practices.”  With Melinda Knight. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 37.2 (Spring) 2014.

This article, co-authored with Melinda Knight reports on a study of 101 U.S. writing centers that reveals both the central of writing centers in the U.S. higher education landscape, and also the persistence of variation in approaches to individualized writing instruction. We suggest that, with a few significant exceptions, writing centers are positioned as adjunct to other educational activities on campus.


UnsustainableCover“Everyone Love It and Still It Closed: When a Writing Program Isn’t a Core Mandate.”  Eds. Jessica Restaino and Laurie JC Cella. New York, NY: Lexington Books, 2013

Ellen Kolba and I came together for this chapter in an effort to understand how a great program that supported student writers in a public school system and simultaneously trained pre-service teachers had lost support and been cancelled. We are reminded of how program development is always re-building as much as it is building, as we inevitably work in contested, political, and ever-changing landscapes.


 “A Public School ‘Centerless’ Writing Center: What Remains After the Closing? “A Public School ‘Centerless’ Writing Center: What Remains After the Closing?”With Ellen Kolba. In Unsustainable: Owning Our Best, Short-Lived Efforts at Community Writing Work, ed. Laurie Cella and Jessica Restaino.  Lexington Books, 2013.

In this collection, co-edited by my Montclair State colleague Jessica Restaino, I once again teamed up with my community partner and friend, Ellen Kolba to contribute a chapter.  This time we return to the site of The Writers Room to describe and explain how the program became defunded.  Today, with children in the schools and as a volunteer who goes into classrooms to work one-on-one with young writers, I am as struck as ever to the loss that defunding The Writers Room caused.  Students need adult listeners!, and teachers with twenty-five students in their classes need other adults to help them.


“Assessing the Impact of the Outcomes Statement.”  The WPA Outcomes Statement: A Decade Later.  With Melinda Knight.  Eds. Nicholas Behm, Gregory Glau, Duane Roen.  West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2012.

Melinda Knight and I contributed this chapter that looks at the impact of the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition on 101 “top” institutions that we have been studying through a “public face” approach, examining catalogs, websites, and other public documents.  We find relatively small impact of the WPA Outcomes statement as evidenced in public documents.


journal-of-teaching_writing “Process Writing Instruction In Practice: When Revising Looks Like Editing.” Journal of Teaching Writing 27.1 (2012): 51-78.

With the help of several students, and a generous ninth grade English teacher, this article details a study of revision.  Using independent raters, this study found that students’ writing improved through a process of revision that was supported by time, peer review, specific writing instruction, and parent-volunteers trained as writing coaches through an innovative program developed by Ellen Kolba and Sheila Crowell, The Writers Room.  With this study I also came to see how valuable small revision is—adding or changing sentences even –, and suggest that we consider small revision as success, not failure.


Writing Placement that Supports Teaching and Learning““Writing Placement that Supports Teaching and Learning.”  With Catherine Keohane.  WPA: Writing Program Administration, 36.3 (Spring) 2012.

In this article I worked with my Montclair State University colleague Catherine Keohane to describe and report on our research documenting the effectiveness and value of our in-house writing placement system. This system offers an alternative to DSP (Directed Self-Placement) and standardized tests, putting teachers in the frontlines, with placement essay writing fully integrated within the writing curricula for both the basic and college writing classes. While not perfect, the system provides for an online system ( that saves money and time and facilitates tracking, and is broadly supported by students and faculty.


SAT_writing-placement “SATs for Writing Placement.”  With Sean Molloy.  College English 72:5 (2010): 518-38.

With Sean Molloy, a graduate student in a class that I approached with reluctance but which was probably one of my very best, Writing Assessment, this article tells the tale of one program’s success in replacing the use of SATs for placement with an in-house system that reinforces our program’s values of revision, writing over time, and writing in response to reading.  We present empirical data that demonstrates the SATs low value for writing placement at our institution.


Before and After the Tutorial“The Emergence of Centers for Writing Excellence.”   Before and After the Tutorial: Writing Centers and Institutional Relationships.  Edited by Robert T. Koch Jr., William J. Macauley, Jr., and Nicholas Mauriello.  Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2011.  131-150.

In this book chapter I draw on my research on what I call the centers for writing excellence movement, examining the way this writing center model is able to garner administrative and public support, and profiling the work of several centers that, in various ways, have been successful in developing well-supported and ambitious writing centers.



“Mutual Benefits: Preservice Teachers and Public School Students in the Writing Center.”  With Ellen Kolba. Writing Center Journal 29 (2009): 52-74.

Ellen Kolba, co-founder and long-time director of The Writers Room, and I wrote this article for two primary reasons: to showcase an extraordinary program of training parent volunteers in effective work as writing coaches, and to describe a university-community partnership that provides valuable training to pre-service teachers and real value to public school students.


Teaching-General-Education-Writing“General Education Writing: Is There a Place for Literature?”  Pedagogy 9 (2009): 97-120.

In this article I join the scholarly discussion on the place of literature in writing instruction, arguing that there is, in fact, a place for literature in the first-year composition curriculum.  The argument is based on local opportunities – embracing literature allowed for a second course in writing; a cultural studies approach that regards literature as text and cultural artifact; and an administrative structure that provides faculty development and support to ensure strong writing instruction.


Finding-and-Riding-the-Wave-“Finding and Riding the Wave: Recasting Writing Center Mission for Best Support.”  Writing Lab Newsletter November, 2008.

I wrote this article in the hopes of providing support to other writing center directors and advocates in reinventing their writing centers so their full value can be recognized and realized. Like much of my scholarship, this article came directly from my work at Montclair State University. I’m delighted today to see that the Center for Writing Excellence is thriving  today.


What Is Research and Writing “What Is Research and Writing?”  Promise and Peril in Writing Program Administration.  Eds. Theresa Enos and Shane Borrowman.  West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2008.

This chapter reflects on the familiar but not yet resolved issue that graduate students in composition often face: the competing pressures of writing program administration and scholarly research.  As I look at this work today, I am struck by how much I’ve changed.  Then, I was running a writing program and a writing center, with more classes to teach than I have today, and with virtually no experience and little support beyond kindness.  Today I run only the First Year Writing Program, and though it is larger, more expansive and I believe more effective than ever, I also have more support in the wonderful colleagues in first-year writing who work alongside me.  And, now I am writing a lot more, which is surely no surprise.


Public Works: Student Writing as Public Text. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Boynton Cook, 2001. Public Works: Student Writing as Public Text. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Boynton Cook, 2001.

For this edited book collection, I worked with Phoebe Jackson, a friend and colleague from my years at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, to raise questions about the ethical challenges that arise when teachers choose to “go public” with student writing.  “Going public” is a tradition that goes back to Donald Murray’s writing classrooms in the 1960s and which, at the millennium, experienced renewed popularity with the rise of what was then called service learning, and through easier access to the internet.  Today we still have to ask: what are the risks for students of writing for the public?


Re-Starting-a-Writing-Life“Re-Starting a Writing Life: Building a Home without a Bulldozer.”  Writing-on-the-Edge.  10.2 (Fall/Winter 2000): 12-17.

I wrote this article in the hopes of providing support to other writing center directors and advocates in reinventing their writing centers so their full value can be recognized and realized.  Like much of my scholarship, this article came directly from my work at Montclair State University.  I’m delighted today to see that the Center for Writing Excellence is thriving today.