Date of Award

Spring 2000

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia A Sullivan


College writing teachers often consider the reading and writing experiences students have had in elementary and high school classes as their only relevant discursive influences. When they do so they risk ignoring what is perhaps the most powerful and ubiquitous form of public discourse and communication in our society: television. This dissertation explores how the pervasive discourse of popular culture on television influences the ways in which incoming college students perceive and engage in writing and reading when they enter a first-year composition course. Through interviews with students and observations of them watching television, I have studied the skills students have developed that allow them to "read" televised communication so fluently---even critically---and examine where those skills converge and conflict with the discursive skills taught in a writing course. On the one hand, student experiences with television provide them with a sophisticated sense of narrative form, audience, plot, and irony, that can be used in a writing class to explore the same concepts in print. Conversely, television as a communicative form structured by time, without a clear authorial presence, and dominated by emotion often conflicts with what writing teachers consider fundamental properties of discourse in the academy such as depth, individual authorship, and detached analysis. I consider what implications such findings have both for the teaching of writing in a first-year composition class and for the way in which we conceive of teaching writing in a world in which communication happens increasingly by electronic and visual means.