Writer identity and disciplinarity in the third space

Supporting emerging nursing researchers at a postdecondary learning center


  • James Daniel Arrington University of Pennsylvania
  • Myrna Cohen University of Pennsylvania
  • Ryan Miller University of Pennsylvania
  • Cassandra Lo St. Thomas Aquinas College
  • Victoria Singh Gill University of Pennsylvania
  • Min Derry University of Pennsylvania
  • Erica Saldívar Garcia New York University




Learning Centers, Writing support, Nursing Education Research, Disciplinarity


This qualitative study examines academic support practices and students’ experiences and perspectives in a graduate nursing education program that has, for many years, emphasized research and writing by requiring aspiring nurse practitioners to pursue publication in peer-reviewed clinical research journals. In collaboration with faculty, practitioner researchers from the university’s postsecondary learning center developed and facilitated group workshops and provided students with individual consultations on research processes and manuscript development. The researchers wrote field notes and researcher memos, administered workshop evaluations, and interviewed seven participants to better understand students’ writer identities and whether writing for the discipline of nursing with the support of peers, faculty, and learning instructors led to any changes in both their individual and collective sense of disciplinary identity. More broadly, this study interrogated the role of a postsecondary learning center employing an academic literacies pedagogical approach (Lea and Street, 1998; Lillis and Scott, 2007) in working with faculty to support students’ writing for a specific discipline. Findings suggest that graduate nursing students felt anxiety and uncertainty about claiming disciplinary expertise and competence as writers. This affective experience made it difficult for students to align their understandings of nursing as a discipline, rooted in their field experiences as professionals, with a more academic conceptualization that they believed to be represented by the research and writing practices required for the assignment. By engaging with the learning center as a third space (Gutiérrez, 2008), the students explored these challenges and experimented with writing practices, directions for their research, and the conceptualization of their profession as they modified their understanding of what was possible for scholarly writing and research in nursing as a discipline and what they could contribute individually as emerging scholars. This study has implications for teaching academic writing practices in nursing contexts, as well as other academic disciplines and for forming generative collaborations between postsecondary learning centers and subject experts. 

Author Biographies

James Daniel Arrington, University of Pennsylvania

James Daniel Arrington, EdD Candidate, Literacy, Culture and International Education Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Myrna Cohen, University of Pennsylvania

Myrna Cohen, Executive Director (retired), Weingarten Learning Resources Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Ryan Miller, University of Pennsylvania

Ryan Miller, Director of the Office of Learning Resources, Weingarten Learning Resources Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Cassandra Lo, St. Thomas Aquinas College

Cassandra Lo, Assistant Professor of English Education and Literacy, School of Education, St Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, NY, USA.

Victoria Singh Gill, University of Pennsylvania

Victoria Singh Gill, EdD Candidate, Literacy, Culture and International Education Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Min Derry, University of Pennsylvania

Min Derry, EdD Candidate, Literacy, Culture and International Education Department, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Erica Saldívar Garcia, New York University

Erica Saldívar Garcia, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, New York University, New York, NY, USA.


Carter, L. M. and Rukholm, E. (2008) A study of critical thinking, teacher-student interaction, and discipline-specific writing in an online educational setting for registered nurses. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing 39(3): 133–138. https://doi.org/10.3928/00220124-20080301-03

Cochran-Smith, M. and Lytle, S. L. (2009) Practitioner inquiry in trying times. In M. Cochran-Smith and S. L. Lytle (eds), Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation (pp. 5–59). New York: Teachers College Press.

Cowles, K. V., Strickland, D. and Rodgers, B. L. (2001) Collaboration for teaching innovation: Writing across the curriculum in a school of nursing. The Journal of Nursing Education 40(8): 363–367.

Fahy, K. (2008) Writing for publication: The basics. Women and Birth 21: 86–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2007.12.005

Gazza, E. A., Shellenbarger, T. and Hunker, D. F. (2018) MSN students’ self-assessed use of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of scholarly writing. Nursing Education Perspectives 39(6): 350–354. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NEP.0000000000000363

Gere, A. R., Swofford, S. C., Silver, N. and Pugh, M. (2015) Interrogating disciplines/disciplinarity in WAC/WID: An institutional study. College Composition and Communication 67(2): 243–266.

Gimenez, J. (2008) Beyond the academic essay: Discipline-specific writing in nursing and midwifery. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 7: 151–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2008.03.005

Gimenez, J. (2012) Disciplinary epistemologies, generic attributes and undergraduate academic writing in nursing and midwifery. Higher Education 63: 401–419. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9447-6

Gray, J., Grove, S. and Sutherland, S. (2017) Burns and Grove’s The Practice of Nursing Research: Appraisal, Synthesis, and Generation of Evidence (8th ed.). St. Louis: Elsevier.

Gutiérrez, K. D. (2008) Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space. Reading Research Quarterly 43(2): 148–164. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.43.2.3

Gutiérrez, K. D., Morales, P. Z. and Martinez, D. C. (2009) Re-mediating literacy: Culture, difference, and learning for students from nondominant communities. Review of Research in Education 33(1): 212–245. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X08328267

Hampton, M. D. (2019) A 5-year evaluation of faculty use of practical within-course writing development strategies in a DNP program. Nurse Educator 44(4): 197–201. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNE.0000000000000589

Hirschey, R., Rodgers, C. and Hockenberry, M. (2019) A program to enhance writing skills for advanced practice nurses. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing 50(3): 109–114. https://doi.org/10.3928/00220124-20190218-05

Horner, B. (2014) Writing in the disciplines/writing across the curriculum. In C. Leung and B. V. Street (eds), The Routledge Companion to English Studies (pp. 405–418). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315852515.ch27

Horner, B. (2015) Rewriting composition: Moving beyond a discourse of need. College English 77(5): 450–480.

Horning, M. L., Schneider, R., Beacham, B., McKechnie, A. C., Kirk, L., Emery, D. and Lindquist, R. (2020) Appreciation of the research-practice link. Nursing Education Perspectives 41(6): 361–363. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.nep.0000000000000568

Hyland, K. (2006) English for Academic Purposes: An Advanced Resource Book. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/id/eprint/15299

Hyland, K. (2014) English for academic purposes. In C. Leung and B. V. Street (eds), The Routledge Companion to English Studies (pp. 392–404). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315852515.ch26

Johnson, M. K., Symes, L., Bernard, L., Landson, M. J. and Carroll, T. L. (2007) Mentoring disadvantaged nursing students through technical writing workshops. Nurse Educator 32(4): 168–172. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NNE.0000281087.43088.f5

Lea, M. R. (2004) Academic literacies: A pedagogy for course design. Studies in Higher Education 29(6): 739–756. https://doi.org/10.1080/0307507042000287230

Lea, M. R. and Street, B. V. (1998) Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2): 157–172. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075079812331380364

Lea, M. R. and Street, B. V. (2006) The ‘academic literacies’ model: Theory and applications. Theory into Practice 45(4): 368–377. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4504_11

Lillis, T. (2014) Academic literacies. In C. Leung and B. V. Street (eds), The Routledge Companion to English Studies (pp. 361–374). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315852515.ch24

Lillis, T. and Scott, M. (2007) Defining academic literacies research: Issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics 4(1): 5–32. https://doi.org/10.1558/japl.v4i1.5

Luthy, K. E., Peterson, N. E., Lassetter, J. H. and Callister, L. C. (2009) Successfully incorporating writing across the curriculum with advanced writing in nursing. Journal of Nursing Education 48(1): 54–59. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20090101-07

Maxwell, J. A. (2013) Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M. and Saldana, J. (2014) Qualitative Data analysis: A Methods Sourcebook (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Mitchell, K. M. (2018) Constructing writing practices in nursing. Journal of Nursing Education 57(7): 399–407. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20180618-04

Northrup, D. T., Tschanz, C. L., Olnyk, V. G., Schick Makaroff, K. L., Szabo, J. and Biasio, H. A. (2004) Nursing: Whose discipline is it anyway? Nursing Science Quarterly 17(1): 55–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894318403260471

Nystrand, M., Greene, S. and Wiemelt, J. (1993) Where did composition studies come from? An intellectual history. Written Communication 10(3): 267–333. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741088393010003001

Prior, P. (1997) Literate activity and disciplinarity: The heterogeneous (re)production of American studies around a graduate seminar. Mind, Culture, and Activity 4(4): 275–295. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327884mca0404_5

Prior, P. (1998) Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the University. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rolfe, G. (2009) Writing-up and writing-as: Rediscovering nursing scholarship. Nurse Education Today 29(8): 816–820. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2009.05.015

Ravitch, S. M. and Carl, N. M. (2016) Qualitative research. In S. M. Ravitch and N. M. Carl (2016) Qualitative Research: Bridging the Conceptual, Theoretical, and Methodological (pp. 1–31). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Roozen, K. (2010) Tracing trajectories of practice: Repurposing in one student’s developing disciplinary writing processes. Written Communication 27(3): 318–354. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741088310373529

Rose, M. (2012) Rethinking remedial education and the academic–vocational divide. Mind, Culture, and Activity 19: 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2011.632055

Ryan, M. M., Walker, M., Scaia, M. and Smith, V. (2013) (Un)Disciplining the nurse writer: Doctoral nursing students’ perspective on writing capacity. Nursing Inquiry 21(4): 294–300. https://doi.org/10.1111/nin.12045

Schmidt, L. A. (2004) Evaluating the writing-to-learn strategy with undergraduate nursing students. The Journal of Nursing Education 43: 466–473. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20041001-09

Smith, C. and Boyd, P. (2012) Becoming an academic: The reconstruction of identity by recently appointed lecturers in nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 49(1): 63–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2012.647784

Stewart, L., Mort, P. and McVeigh, C. (2001) Barriers and gateways: A study of nursing students’ utilisation of learning support resources. Nurse Education Today 21: 209–217. https://doi.org/10.1054/nedt.2000.0539

Street, B. V. (1984) Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tarrant, M., Dodgson, J. E. and Law, B. V. K. K. (2008) A curricular approach to improve the information literacy and academic writing skills of part-time post-registration nursing students in Hong Kong. Nurse Education Today 28: 458–468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2007.08.001

Troxler, H., Jacobson Vann, J. C., and Oermann, M. H. (2011) How baccalaureate nursing programs teach writing. Nursing Forum 46(4): 280–288. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6198.2011.00242.x

Wardle, E. and Roozen, K. (2012) Addressing the complexity of writing development: Toward an ecological model of assessment. Assessing Writing 17(2): 106–119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asw.2012.01.001



How to Cite

Arrington, J. D. ., Cohen, M., Miller, R., Lo, C., Singh Gill, V., Derry, M., & Saldívar Garcia, E. (2021). Writer identity and disciplinarity in the third space: Supporting emerging nursing researchers at a postdecondary learning center. Writing and Pedagogy, 12(1), 111–137. https://doi.org/10.1558/wap.39774



Research Matters