In this classic article from 1985, Patrick Hartwell takes as a point of departure one of the most stable findings in the teaching of writing: formal instruction in grammar produces no empirical benefit for improving writing. So where does that leave teachers of writing? This article takes up that question.
[T]hough I will look briefly at the tradition of experimental research, my primary goal in this essay is to articulate the grammar issue in different and, I would hope, more productive terms. Specifically, I want to ask four questions:
- Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?
- What definitions of the word grammar are needed to articulate the grammar issue intelligibly?
- What do findings in cognate disciplines suggest about the value of formal grammar instruction?
- What is our theory of language, and what does it predict about the value of formal grammar instruction? (This question-“what does our theory of language predict?”-seems a much more powerful question than “what does educational research tell us?”)”