English Ph.D. Dissertations


Writing in the Age of Mobile: Smartphone and Tablet Multiliteracies and Their Implications for Writing as Process

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing) PhD

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Donna Nelson-Beene (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)


This dissertation compares the writing practices of students on desktops and laptops with their writing practices on mobile computing devices, namely tablets and smartphones. While there is much scholarship on computer-mediated writing (e.g., Eldred, 1991; Dave and Russell, 2010; Haas, 1989; Hochman and Palmquist, 2009; Palmquist et al., 1998), there has been less attention paid to how mobile computer devices mediate writing practices and promote (digital) literacies. This study used mixed methods, specifically quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews. Using a process-oriented first-year research writing class as a research site and the research paper as the genre of analysis, the study found that there are significant differences between the writing, research, and reading practices done on these computing devices. The student survey found that students indeed use mobiles for academic writing purposes, are less likely to revise on mobile devices than on desktops and laptops, and generally make local edits to global revisions when they do revise. It also found that students are more likely to access sources that are not typically considered scholarly, preferring to use unscholarly and advertisement-supported sources. The literacy narrative took a closer look at the research practices of a student in the first year writing program. Several emerging themes arose that are relevant to writing studies, including that the period between high school and the first year of college is a critical time in acquiring and losing different literacies, socioeconomic sponsors and barriers greatly influence writing practices, and some students' expectations and values make them unsure of the place of mobile technology in education.