Teaching Writing

Grammar, Grammars and the Teaching of Grammar

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:

  1. Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?
  2. What definitions of the word grammar are needed to articulate the grammar issue intelligibly?
  3. What do findings in cognate disciplines suggest about the value of formal grammar instruction?
  4. 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?”)”