• In a seminal essay, David Bartholomae asserts that novice writers need to “invent the university by assembling and mimicking its language.” Instructors and librarians who work with beginning academic writers confirm Bartholomae’s assertion. Our research asks how, precisely, novice writer-researchers go about inventing the university before they have an understanding of the disciplines in which they are asked to work. We suggest that novice writers in the first steps of knowledge construction tend to mimic the structures of knowledge, rather than to create coherent narratives of understanding. This finding has implications not only for how we understand student learning, but also for how we teach students to find, make sense of, and compose knowledge.