TW History

Here you'll find a very brief history of Thinking Writing at QM highlighting some key people, developments and events. At the bottom of the page are a number of documents related to this history.

Thinking Writing has its origins in conversations in the late 1990s between Alan Evison (Head of Language and Learning, now retired) and Professor Leonard Olschner (School of Languages, Linguistics and Film) about the curious lack of attention given to writing in UK students’ university experience. Invitations to Cornell University’s John S. Knight Institute Consortium for Writing in the Disciplines followed. The participation of Queen Mary staff in the Consortium (in 1999, 2000 and 2001) gave real impetus to discussions and developing practice back at home. In particular Catherine Maxwell (School of English and Drama) and Josep- Anton Fernandez (formally Languages, Linguistics and Film) were inspired to develop 'writing-intensive' courses in their own specialist areas. 

Alan Evison was successful in bidding to the College for Teaching Quality Enhancement Funds for a 'Writing in the Disciplines' project based within the Language and Learning Unit.  With Sally Mitchell appointed as a part-time coordinator, this project ran from 2001-3, when the coordinator post was extended and eventually made permanent.  At this time the project had an advisory group drawn from across the College, and visits to Queen Mary by the Knight Institute's then director, Jonathan Monroe, continued to build interest from across the College. To mark the shift from short term project to embedded long term activity, and to signal our inevitable distinctiveness from Writing in the Disciplines as understood in the United States,  we adopted the name Thinking Writing (the title of  the project’s newsletter).

Read an account by Jonathan Monroe here

2003 - 2005

The Westfield Trust granted  funding to  TW over 3 consecutive years to run a scheme which enabled departments and individuals to bid for small grants that would buy them time and/or resources to develop new modules or approaches within their teaching. Funding was then continued (to 2009) via an allocation of the College's Teaching Quality Enhancement grant and we diversified its use to include, for example, development opportunities for postgraduate Teaching Assistants working with students on their writing.


Professor David Russell from Iowa State University came to QM for 3 months in 2005 under the Leverhulme Visiting Professor scheme.  David is the author of Writing in the Academic Disciplines: a curricular history (2nd edition 2002)and his visit enabled us to continue to explore the differences between US and UK approaches as well as to develop further expertise in the College.

Also in 2005, Thinking Writing gained its second member through the appointment of Kelly Peake as a researcher on a small collaborative project with Richard Andrews at the University of York and Paul Prior at the University of Illnois at Urbana-Champain. The project looked at the way undergraduates understood and experienced argument in the first year of study in Biology, Electronic Engineering and History.


As part of David Russell's visit and  in recognition of Cornell's approach, we held our own Consortium for Writing in the Disciplines with presenters from Queen Mary as well as across the UK.  The two day event consisted of plenary gatherings, including two keynote workshops, and twenty smaller parallel presentations. There was also a gala dinner sponsored by the Royal Literary Fund, which had recently published their report, Writing Matters. A reflection on issues discussed in the Consortium is included in the Autumn 2006 newsletter [link].


Dr Jan Skillen's participation in the Consortium as a keynote speaker led to our involvement in 2007 in the Developing Academic Literacy in Context project (DALiC). Led by Wollongong University, it also involved collaboration with colleagues at the Open University and Coventry's Centre for Academic Writing.

After a one week visit in 2006, Dr Irene Clark, Director of Composition at California State University, Northridge, returned to work with Thinking Writing in the autumn of 2007 as a Fulbright Senior Specialist. She led a highly regarded course for postgraduate teaching assistants introducing them to ways of thinking about and working with writing in their teaching. Irene enjoyed the experience enough to want to spend her sabbatical leave in Spring 2009 also at Queen Mary, where she repeated her course with a new cohort of teaching assistants - and helped us further develop our practice.

2007- 2010

A desire to take stock of how writing development was viewed and practiced across Queen Mary, and to develop a shared strategic approach, led us to secure a place in the Higher Education Academy’s 14 month programme: 'Developing and Embedding Inclusive policy and practice'. Our project 'Widening Participation and Students' Writing in the Disciplines' brought together a small group from across the College, with the aim of working towards a coherent and responsive set of approaches to the development of students' language, academic literacy and professional communication within their curricular programmes. The group's work included a review of existing centralised provision for student writing, a small survey of students' experiences of university writing, and detailed consultation meetings with groups of academics in 13 departments.

In May 2008 the project group hosted a 'deliberative workshop' with academic and language and learning related colleagues from across Queen Mary, where findings from the consultations were shared and proposals put forward for discussion. The year ended with the external evaluation of Thinking Writing, led by Professor Brian Street of King's College, London. This phase of the project produced a report that went to the Student Support Strategy group, and contains recommendations for further developing student writing at Queen Mary.

in 2009 Professor Morag Shiach, then Vice-Principal for Teaching and Learning, created a Student Writing Working Group to further develop a strategic approach and identify practices and priorities. It was chaired by Jane Reid from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and involved a wider group of colleagues from across the College collaborating to investigate and report on various aspects of the student experience of writing at Queen Mary. The group also contributed to discussions of QM's statement of graduate attributes which was being developed at the time.


This was the first year that Thinking Writing worked with secondary schools. Under the umbrella of the LETG Aimhigher programme, we devised and ran courses and workshops for local A-level students, using under- and post-graduate students as mentors, and developed a body of materials that mostly focussed on raising students' critical awareness of  written language [internal link]. Since Aimhigher was formally disbanded in July 2011, we have continued to develop ways of working with schools, linking with the College's widening participation and education liaison teams. Read here about some of our work with teachers [link to blog post]


A generous grant from the College's Student Experience Investment Fund enabled us to appoint Dr Nadya Yakovchuk to work on a cross-departmental project 'Enhancing the Student Experience of Research-based Learning and Writing'. The project gave a significant push to the generation of  innovative research-based modules and approaches at Queen Mary, and created insights into how student writing, individual and collaborative, can be given real purpose and value. Nadya stayed with the Thinking Writing team until Autumn 2011.

Also in 2009, Thinking Writing hosted the 'Academic Literacies' day seminar, signalling its interest in this emerging field of thinking, research and practice in the UK and elsewhere.


At the 2006 International WAC conference in Austin, Texas, Alan Evison spoke about the approach to writing development we were taking at Queen Mary, and caught  the attention of Dr Sue Hudd of Quinnipiac University, Connecticut. With Prof Bob Smart, she is co-director of Quinnipiac's  innovative 'Writing across the Curriculum' programme. In 2009 Sue applied for Quinnipiac's Galpin International Exchange grant and this gave rise to a number of fruitful visits across the Atlantic.  In addition to sharing practice, assumptions and strategy about writing and wider learning goals, the exchange had a research dimension. We aimed to explore, through interviews with key players in each institution, the organisational framings of 'writing', where it was located, how it was promoted - or not, how responsibility for it was allocated etc..


Thinking Writing Advisor, Dr Teresa McConlogue secured a grant from JISC to develop a new web resource for writing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at secondary and higher education levels and in employment settings. STEM Wishees is a collection of real student texts with short video commentaries by tutors which describe the qualities of those texts - what works well, what interests the tutor, what could have been done better - and enable the viewer to see the variation in different responses to the same task.


Alan Evison's retirement and College restructuring saw Thinking Writing moved out of the Language and Learning Unit which in turn became part of the Language Centre in the School of  Languages, Linguistics and Film.   Courses to support (mainly) international students (foundation, pre- and in-sessional programmes) are now located there, whilst Thinking Writing has found a new home alongside direct learner support (tutorials and workshops, for example) as part of Learning Development in the newly formed Student Services Directorate. We are physically located in the Mile End Library.

Further Reading

Background by Alan Evison

Background by Sally Mitchell

Timelines of early change

QM Consortium 2006 Abstracts

Academic Literacies 2009 Abstracts

Review of centrally provided support with appendices

Towards a writing strategy slides, 2008

Mitchell S and Evison A (2006) ‘Exploiting the potential of writing for educational change at Queen Mary, University of London’ in Ganobcsik-Williams L.(ed) Teaching Academic Writing in UK Higher Education: Theories, Practices and Models.   Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 68-84.

McConlogue T, Mitchell, S and Peake, K (2012) Thinking Writing at Queen Mary, University of London  in Chris Thaiss, Gerd Bräuer, Paula Carlino, Lisa Ganobcsik-Williams, and Aparna Sinha (eds) Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at Published June 30, 2012.

Documents you can download from this page: