Transfer research: Baird & Dilger

Since 2010, we've been studying writing transfer in the major, complementing the large body of work which focuses on first-year writing. We seek to understand how writers adapt writing-related skills and knowledge across contexts through interviews and analysis of student and faculty writing. Our study is sited at a regional state comprehensive university, again complimenting more traditional sites like the flagship public university.


May 2021: We will be guest-editing a special issue of Composition Forum in Summer 2022: "The Discourse-Based Interview: Forty Years of Exploring the Tacit Knowledge of Writers." Please review our call for proposals and if you have questions contact us. Proposals are due Wednesday, September 1, 2021. Learn more about the special issue and our methodological study of the discourse-based interview.

October 2019: We've got IRB approval to study the discourse-based interview, extending our original transfer study and building on our work at C&W 2019.

June 2019: We're presenting at Computers & Writing 2019.

April 2019: Baird has been accepted for the Elon research seminar!

July 2018: Baird is now associate professor of English at Bowling Green State University.


Baird, N. P., & Dilger, B. (2018). “Dispositions in Natural Science Laboratories: The Roles of Individuals and Contexts in Writing Transfer.” Across the Disciplines: A Journal of Language, Learning and Academic Writing. 15.4 (2018): 21-40.

Writing transfer scholarship is more systematically investigating the influence of dispositions, which are internal qualities that influence how individuals react to learning contexts. In this article, we consider dispositions in science laboratories, which are important contexts for WAC/WID instruction, especially at institutions where these courses serve majors and other students simultaneously. Drawing on data from a larger longitudinal study of writing transfer in the major at a state comprehensive university, we offer case studies of two science laboratories developed from interviews with students and faculty, supported by analysis of student writing and instructional materials. Faculty approaches to teaching scientific writing varied in their engagement of “verification” and/or “inquiry” approaches to instruction, and also in ways they attempted to motivate prior knowledge, prepare students for future contexts, and help them develop scientific identities. Students’ responses also varied, and dispositions strongly influenced the degree of success of pedagogical goals. Our findings contribute to efforts to identify the dispositions critical for writing instruction and to diversify the specific WAC/WID contexts where writing transfer is being considered.

Baird, N. P., & Dilger, B. (2017). “Metaphors for Writing Transfer in the Writing Lives and Teaching Practices of Faculty in the Disciplines.” WPA: Writing Program Administration, 41.1 (2017): 102-24.

Writing transfer scholarship has established a consensus about the metaphors used to describe writing transfer: simpler concepts like application ” suggest movement, but do not reflect the cognitive work transfer requires for writers. Adaptive concepts such as “transformation” or “recontextualization" are more accurate. But has this consensus been operationalized in writing programs, particularly in WAC and WID? How do writing instructors in the disciplines define transfer? We offer answers based on fifteen instructor interviews from our longitudinal study of transfer at Western Illinois University, a state comprehensive university. We find that while many instructors recognized that transfer is complex and adaptive when considering their own intellectual growth, most used simpler metaphors and approaches when teaching writing. Few instructors in our study encouraged their students to see transfer as complex and adaptive. Instead, most used a simple model, and many ignored or forbade engagement with prior knowledge entirely. We describe the metaphors our participants used to approach transfer in teaching, compare these instructors 'professional development with their classroom work, and conclude with implications for instruction and program design.

Baird, N. P., & Dilger, B. (2017). “How Students Perceive Transitions: Dispositions and Transfer in Internships.” College Composition and Communication, 68.4, 684-712.

Report on a longitudinal study of transfer, investigating dispositions in two participants’ internships. Prior knowledge helped one student overcome negative attitudes toward school. With less experience and disruptive dispositions, the second student was less successful. Thick descriptions of their experiences are followed by implications for supporting transfer in internships and for future research.


This research was supported by a CWPA Targeted Research Grant, the CCCC Research Initiative, the WIU College of Arts & Sciences, and a WIU University Research Council Grant. We thank our participants for sharing their experiences with us. We also thank Mark Mossman and Sue Martinelli-Fernandez for their support of our project, Kevin Roozen and Betsy Perabo for reading drafts of essays, and for their help with interviews, analysis, and transcription, our research assistants Susan Reid, Nan Norcross, Ruby Kirk Nancy, Emily Terrell, Tim Nicholas, and Beth Towle.

Copyright © 2005–2019 Bradley Dilger and Neil Baird.