Writing Commons – An Online Textbook

A resource of peer-reviewed articles about writing, Writing Commons is the brainchild of USF English Professor Joe Moxley.


By Peter E. Howard

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 23, 2012) – To Joe Moxley, words are sacred. Good writing not only tells a good story, but is important in shaping how people learn, how they approach topics and issues with critical thinking, how they convey their thoughts and analyses to others.


Helping people achieve those goals should be easy, fun and free.


That’s why Moxley and a group of like-thinkers have launched and maintain a website called, Writing Commons. The free site provides a platform to educators to publish peer-reviewed articles that promote good writing, explain theory and help college students prepare for the dreaded essay or a daunting thesis.


Writing Commons is a peer-reviewed resource for college-level writers,” said Moxley, a University of South Florida professor of English and executive editor of Writing Commons. “As we grow the site, we’re hopeful that it will be a viable alternative for students. Our mission is to not only help composition students, but to meet the needs of any student in any course that requires writing.”


When describing itself, Writing Commons says it wants to be "the open-education home for writers."  It has an international editorial board of distinguished educators from institutions across the country, along with representatives in Australia, England and Japan, and a group of dedicated review editors. Nearly 400 articles are on the site and they cover a wide range of topics in writing, from style and organization to genres and grammar.


Writing Commons wants to be considered an alternative to expensive textbooks used for college courses in composition, technical writing, creative writing and poetry.


Moxley argues that faculty who publish textbooks with traditional publishing houses lose the editorial control of their content. More often than not, those textbooks don’t sell well and the content in them – while worthwhile and showcasing the intellectual talent of the author – tends to die after an initial printing. Faculty can’t reissue the books or the content since the copyright belongs to the publisher.


And, while some faculty receive a handsome stipend through textbook royalties, financial success is routinely the exception, rather than the norm. So, most faculty not only don’t get paid a lot for publishing a book, they also can’t reuse the content.


By publishing on Writing Commons, or similar outlet, faculty maintain control of their content and get wide distribution to an audience hungry for their teaching.


“Faculty can enjoy very positive benefits from publishing their work at their own websites.  Writing Commons exemplifies this process,” Moxley writes on the site. “Together, by embracing peer production, social media, and intellectual freedom, we can extend our teaching, our professional lives, and our academic disciplines for future successes.”


Moxley said online traffic to the site has picked up during the past year, jumping from about 200 visitors daily to more than 1,000 daily visitors now.


“These folks come from all over.  It’s really fun to watch the traffic from Africa, Asia, the Philippines—from all over the world,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be helping people. I know that many students drop out of school because they cannot afford expensive textbooks. We really need to do more in terms of broadening access to education.”