What Is Basic Writing?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2019
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Basic writing is the cultivation of written communications skills in students who may be behind their peers, for a variety of reasons. Specifically, the focus of this discipline is usually on underprepared undergraduate students in their first year of college, who may need some assistance to develop their writing abilities. Numerous theorists began developing approaches to teaching basic writing in the 1970s in the United States as college attendance began to rise and a number of colleges and universities faced a flood of remedial English students who did not have the same skills as their peers.

Some students receive inadequate preparation for college-level English in their high schools, especially in disadvantaged districts. Other students may need some basic writing courses because of cognitive disabilities that impaired their ability to acquire and retain information in high school. Such students may benefit from mentoring and assistance from a disability specialist. English as a foreign language students may also need a writing education if they do not have extensive experience with formal written English.

In basic writing courses, instructors cover English from the ground up, discussing the fundamentals of formal written English. They help their students develop skills and build on them. Over time, students can produce increasingly complex written pieces, including multi-pronged arguments, responses to readings, and other assignments. Mentoring in such a writing class may also include office hours, lab time, and other support to encourage students to develop and refine their skills.


Basic literacy skills are necessary in such classes; students should be able to read and write, and need a basic understanding of English spelling and grammar. Some adult literacy programs may provide advanced training in basic writing to prepare their students for success in the outside world. At colleges and universities, testing can help determine appropriate placement in first year composition courses, ranging from entry-level classes to more advanced courses for students with the necessary skills.

Terms like “remedial education” are no longer in widespread use for this kind of English education because of their negative associations. Rather than stressing that students are deficient and need more education, the focus is on developing skills to help students catch up with peers who may have been provided with more advantages. Such courses also support nontraditional students who may need to juggle work schedules and life needs like childcare issues to be able to attend college. Such students may want to attend a basic writing class at the start of their return to college as a refresher on formal English writing skills.


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