Summer 2012: Writing about Writing

“I absolutely without a doubt KNOW that this course has succeeded in raising my awareness about language and research and had supported me effectively. My whole outlook about writing has changed because I am now rhetorically aware. I am able to write more effectively because I understand the rhetorical situation (Author, Purpose, and audience) and the roles that each part plays when come to composing a paper. Then to top it off, I no longer fear or dread the process of researching, I’ve finally learned how to make research a more pleasant and accomplishing experience“ –ENGL 102 student

Course Overview: 

“If I think of my own experience as a writer, the most powerful terms I can use to discuss the composing process are not prewriting, writing, and revision, but tradition and imitation and interference and resistance.”

-David Bartholomae, “Against the Grain”

As a result of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Identify and apply patterns for participating in academic discourse.
  2. Articulate how knowledge and meaning are made differently in different discourses.
  3. Articulate how those differences influence the effectiveness of your writing.
  4. Perform, analyze, and synthesize primary and secondary research to answer a research question related to language, literacy or writing.


Major Assignments:

Assignment 1: Literacy Narrative

Overview. In this essay you will relate an experience or event that seems to have been important in shaping the kind of writer and reader you have become or an experience that illuminates the role of literacy in your life. The purpose of the assignment is to explore this experience in order to gain insight into who you are as a writer and reader and to examine the role literacy plays into your life. It should also allow you to make some personal connections to our course readings: consider how this experience or event reflects the values of your primary Discourse; what “constructs” about language shaped or where shaped by this experience; do you think differently about this event or experience after doing the readings from this course thus far?

Content. For this assignment you might choose a discrete event that was somehow important in your development as a writer and reader, a series of related events, or a phase or period of your life in which certain literate activities figured prominently. You might, for example, tell the story of an especially important moment in your life that profoundly shaped you as the literate person you are today; that moment could be related to a specific school assignment or a specific text that you read or wrote (e.g. a book that deeply influenced you or an important letter that you had to write) that was significant to you for some reason. By contrast, you might focus on a time period during which you had experiences that affected you as a writer or a reader. For example, you might have taken a specific college course that shaped you as a writer or met a teacher or faculty member who became an important influence in your life as a writer or reader. Or you might write a narrative that is some variation of all these.

Whatever experience you choose to focus on, keep in mind that it should be central in some way to your development as a writer and/or reader. You are trying to present your literate self to your readers (your classmates); that is, you are trying to convey a sense of who you are as a writer/reader and how you became that literate person. You are also telling a story that might offer insight into yourself as a literate person and into literacy in general.

Remember, too, that although this essay will be autobiographical, it is not to be an autobiography. In other words, you are not trying to tell the comprehensive history of your development as a literate person; rather, this should be a narrative of a specific experience or set of experiences that helped transform you into the literate person you are, and should ideally allow you to make intellectual connections to questions of literacy, language and discourse explored in this class.

Assignment 2: I-Search

Overview. This assignment asks you to select a research question that has to do with writing/reading/language and spend some time exploring what other researchers say (and don’t say) about your selected issue. Overall, this assignment asks you to conduct secondary research on your issue, reflect on connections between and across sources and your own thoughts and understandings, and begin to develop your own perspective in relation to the academic conversation. At this exploratory stage, your focus should be to understand “the conversation” and to record and reflect on your research through the I-search. These materials and experiences will be central to the writing of your final paper, but this assignment does not yet ask you to enter the conversation of your target secondary discourse (ie. this is not a paper about your selected topic, but a record of your research towards that later paper). Instead, the purpose of this assignment is to engage in and reflect on the research process. The I-Search should address the following: a) what is your working hypothesis that you are exploring through this research? b) describe and evaluate your sources and your experiences finding them. What problems did you encounter? What databases or searching strategies did you use, and how did they work for you? Did you hit any “dead-ends” along the way? and c) What were your major findings or conclusions?

Content. An I-Search paper has three major parts:

  • The story of your search This section tells readers what you knew about your subject before you began your research, what you wanted to know, and the research steps you went through to find out what you wanted to know—including both the steps that led to useful information and the steps that turned out to be dead ends.
  • What you learned In this section, you give readers the results of your search—both the answers you found and the answers you did not find. Address future directions your research will take as you explore your research question.
  • Your reflections on the search You use this final section to tell readers what the experience has taught you about conducting and documenting a search.

Assignment 3: Contributing to the Conversation

Overview. Through our shared course readings and your reflections on your own literacy practices, you have begun to enter the conversation of Writing Studies, or Rhetoric and Composition. You have also conducted some research into a particular research question within the field, and have done some thinking about the stakes of that specific research conversation within the larger disciplinary conversation. For this last major assignment, you are going to conduct primary quantitative or qualitative research that will add to the discipline’s understanding of your particular research question, and present your findings as part of the disciplinary conversation, demonstrating how your findings support, contradict, complicate, extend, or otherwise add to what has been discussed in about your topic in the field to date.


  • To demonstrate an understanding of and engagement with the disciplinary conversation about your topic through the presentation and integration of peer reviewed academic sources in your own writing.
  • To conduct primary research to add to the understandings of your research question that you have developed through secondary research.
  • To integrate your own voice into the research conversation about your topic.
  • To demonstrate a full understanding of research as conversation by acknowledging and addressing multiple perspectives and opposing views within your presentation and paper.

Content. This task will be broken down into two major tasks:

1.      Presentation of Findings- a polished presentation of your primary and secondary research findings to an audience of your peers.

2.      Final Research paper integrating primary and secondary research- a polished academic paper that provides an overview of the research conversation you are entering, demonstrates a “gap” in the research, and attempts to fill that gap in research with your own research findings.