This book came about through countless hours of collaborative labor from multiple teams of people spanning four years. Students at Saint Leo University who were enrolled in the honors-level first-year-writing courses from 2017 through 2020 created and revised the content in each chapter, building material as they learned it. As a result of this write-as-you-learn approach, the chapters in this book will not sound as polished or authoritative as those from a professionally developed book written by disciplinary experts.
That was the whole point.
From years of experience teaching courses on rhetoric and composition using an approach inspired by Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs’ Writing About Writing, I grew weary of telling students about the importance of writing to an audience and then telling them that the texts we would read had been written for an audience of writing scholars. Students had to devote serious cognitive effort toward filtering the source material for what they thought was relevant—a significant challenge when first being introduced to a field.
The Need for This Book
This book exists to fill a gap, to occupy a very specific niche for a curiously diverse student body. Saint Leo University seems small and unknown, hosting around 2,500 students (mostly recent high-school graduates) on our tiny campus in rural Florida. Yet with a huge online population (mostly mid-career professionals) and satellite education centers across the United States (hosting mostly active-duty military members), our diverse student body approaches 16,000 strong, making us among the largest Catholic schools in the nation—dwarfing schools like Notre Dame with far greater visibility and name recognition. With a diverse student body comes the need for flexible resources. This book first and foremost is a living document, intended to change along with the needs of our student body and future course design adjustments.
Furthermore, no single open-source text directly addresses both the concepts of rhetoric and composition and research and inquiry, which our course sequence is designed to do. This broad approach—teaching rhetorical flexibility and discipline-agnostic research skills—will be of particular benefit for students who are not rhet/comp majors and those at liberal-arts institutions, where flexible, synthetic thinking often outshines specialized knowledge. This book fits those needs, providing a free resource targeting a specific approach to knowledge creation and dissemination.
Intention & Structure
Very few of Saint Leo’s students will pursue degrees in rhetoric and composition—as of this writing, we offer neither a graduate degree nor an undergraduate major in the field. As a result, using source texts from disciplinary journals (an approach adopted by Wardle and Downs and sensible in their contexts) doesn’t meet the needs of our student body. This book, then, exists to present the foundational concepts of rhetoric, composition, writing, and academic inquiry in terms our students will use and understand—to present complex ideas in an approachable format. Students have written each chapter in this book with the knowledge that they are responsible for guiding future students through the difficult material using whatever tricks and approaches have worked best for them.
That material is organized around the curriculum implemented at Saint Leo in Fall 2020. The parts and chapters of this book align with our course sequence as follows:
Rhetoric & Writing Studies (WRI 121)
- Reading Rhetorically, presenting the results of Christina Haas and Linda Flower’s 1988 study as motivation to use rhetoric to improve reading skills and strategies
- Rhetorical Situations, presenting the framework introduced in 1997 by Keith Grant-Davie’s work building on the foundations of Lloyd Bitzer in 1968, showing how understanding the situation surrounding a piece of text can often be more important than understanding its context—and that writing can be much more successful when that situation is taken into consideration
- Discourse Communities, introducing John Swales’ 1990 framework for identifying groups of writers who build a common sense of identity through specific characteristics he presents and James Paul Gee’s 1989 introduction to the types of discourse (or Discourses, as he would have us intentionally capitalize and pluralize it) used by communities of all types
- Genre & Lexis, following Amy Devitt’s 1993 reframing of genre as a specific document type, rather than a categorization system and drawing careful attention to the distinctive vocabulary of discourse communities
- Authority & Belonging, introducing students to such infamous case studies as Alan (Wardle, 2004) and Roger and Janet (Penrose & Geisler, 1994) to show different approaches to writing one’s way into a community—examples that often resonate with students at this point in the semester
- First Drafts, sharing wisdom from Anne Lamott’s delightful 2004 piece and case studies from Mike Rose’s 1980 study of writers’ block
- Editing and Revision, helping students prepare and polish final drafts of their documents by looking at Carol Berkenkotter’s 1983 study of Donald Murray’s revision-centric writing process
- Building a Portfolio, guiding students through the process of compiling their best work into a portfolio a la Nedra Reynolds and Elizabeth Davis’s Portfolio Keeping (2014), appropriate for holistic assessment a la Ed White (1984, 2005)
Curiosity & Academic Inquiry (WRI 122)
- Preparing for Research
- Habits of Mind, introducing students to the way academics view, question, and investigate the world around them
- Reading & Writing as a Researcher, building off the Rhetorical Reading chapter above to help students develop the reading skills specific to conducting academic research
- Brainstorming, helping students think through the kinds of questions they might spend a semester investigating
- Conducting Research
- Evaluating Sources, introducing concepts like the CRAAP test and other information-literacy skills
- Secondary Research, discussing the process of library research and online searches for academic purposes
- Synthesizing Research, showing how secondary research can come together to give a sense of the academic conversation surrounding an issue
- Publishing Research
- Creating a Rhetorical Situation, showing how the concepts from early in the book come into play after conducting research, when exploring options for idea dissemination
- Writing for Public Audiences, presenting guidance on adapting research findings for a non-academic audience, applying the skills of the first half of the book to the work students do in the second half
- Building a Portfolio, revisited to reinforce students’ understanding of the function and potential of a writing portfolio
The course sequence illustrated above does not use every chapter of this book because our curricular goals changed during its development. If your institution’s course sequence aims to prepare students for primary research or to write specifically in the discipline of writing studies, the following chapters may prove beneficial:
- Proposing Research
- Primary Research
- Writing for Academic Audiences
By incorporating those chapters into an introductory research course, you can help guide students to conduct their own limited research studies and create journal-style research papers to report their findings.
Adding those chapters prioritizes the type of research and reporting commonplace in writing studies, and students might get the impression that our way of reporting research is the way to report research—a conclusion antithetical to the emphasis on rhetorical flexibility presented in this book’s first three parts. If you choose to integrate those chapters, be sure that decision is pedagogically appropriate in your context.
However you use this book, we hope you and your students find it helpful, approachable, and instructive. If you have suggestions for ways to expand, enhance, or otherwise improve this book, please reach out—this project, like all our teaching efforts, will never be finished.