Challenges and potentials for writing centres in South African tertiary institutions

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South African Journal of Higher Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

There are many challenges involved in developing and running Writing Centres in tertiary contexts in South Africa. These challenges include recognizing the role Writing Centres need to play in the redress of basic academic literacies. They also involve emphasizing writing as a mode of learning where higher cognitive functions such as analysis and synthesis are developed through spoken and written language. Academic discourse takes a distinct written form, comprising often unspoken conventions which dictate appropriate uses of lexicogrammatical structures. Each discipline also has its own particular 'dialect'. Acquiring these 'foreign' methods of communication poses a challenge to many students, not only English Additional Language students. One of the main challenges for Writing Centres is to provide access to academic and disciplinary discourses through making explicit how texts work in a critical manner, whilst at the same time inducting students into these discourses. This article examines some key tensions in Writing Centre practices in the South African context, including debates about decontextualization, skills versus practices, process versus genre approaches to writing, the challenges and opportunities of the one-to-one. It explores how the Writing Centre at the University of Cape Town tries to address some of these challenges, and looks at the potentials for Writing Centres in tertiary institutions.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in South African Journal of Higher Education in 2010, available online: