Writing by Honors program students is a neglected area in the composition field. As Guzy (2003) notes, "Unlike basic writing, discussion of honors composition is nonexistent in composition journals and conferences" (36). The minimal research that does address writing in Honors programs tends to suggest it as a welcome oasis from general university writing or basic writing courses. Only very recently have researchers like Guzy (2003) and Guralnick (2001) pointed out that Honors students do not necessarily write any better than their counterparts in the university at-large, and, in particular, are no better able to construct an academic argument in writing.
Honors students at Saint Katherine's University [pseudonym], a small liberal arts college in the mid-Atlantic region, are no exception. Unlike most Honors Programs, Saint Katherine's Program does not offer explicit writing instruction through an Honors Composition option, nor does it require students to test out of a composition course on an individual basis. Rather, Saint Katherine's Honors Program offers its students an extremely rigorous first-year experience that privileges academic writing through a Writing Across the Curriculum approach. A crucial research question, then, is whether these students are constructing effective academic arguments after a year spent in the program. This study demonstrates that, by the end of their first year, most Honors students in this program have begun to construct effective, and sometimes even exceptional, academic arguments.
Moreover, my research findings suggest that Honors students are not fundamentally more capable of creating academic arguments than general university students; rather, programmatic and professorial writing expectations, as demonstrated through in-class instruction, type and scope of assignments given, feedback given in conferences and on papers, and learning community participation, challenge Honors students and spur their development as writers in ways that the general university population does not experience.
This study blends research strategies, creates hybrid approaches, and assembles multiple theoretical perspectives in an attempt to craft a particularly robust qualitative project. In particular, the study incorporates ethnographic observation, case study interviews, and a code-driven analysis of student writing.