First Writing Project: Purpose, Audience, Assignment

We are starting the process of moving into the drafting of the First Writing Project, called “The Ethos of Literacy.” The initial drafting is due Friday. One strategy you should take into beginning to think about any writing project that you will undertake, in my class or any other: carefully read through the assignment and any related materials (such as a rubric or guidelines for evaluation). With your notebook, you can begin to annotate any questions you have about the assignment and also jot down initial ideas that come to mind. I call this composting. This reading of the assignment will help you think about purpose and audience for the project–it will vary by class and circumstance. A rhetorically effective project will engage with its audience and focus its purpose; a weaker project will fail to do so. One thing you might do at this stage of the project is take the assignment into the Writing Center (and/or into a meeting with me) and ask questions and start the composting process with another.

I copy here the description of Writing Project 1 (also available on the page Writing Projects) and the audience and purpose for the projects:

Purpose: To engage in the development and revision of a critical argument in writing that responds to a problem relating to the texts and ideas we are exploring in the course. In other words, you will be developing in each assignment a thesis-governed essay. In addition, the purpose in each case will be to focus in on a particular element of critical writing and thinking (what I take Emerson to mean by “creative reading” that will enable you to practice and develop he arts, or what we would now call the “mechanics,” of effective writing for use in any of your college courses, and beyond.  These are the learning focal points we will address one at a time, using terms from classical rhetoric:  ethos, pathos, logos.

Format: The writing projects should be approximately 3-5 double-spaced pages (12 point font, standard margins) or 750-1250 words (approximately 250 words per page), unless otherwise noted.  Each project will be submitted to Canvas as well as posted to your blog. The copy uploaded to Canvas must include this preface either on the document or submitted in a comment. The preface includes:

  1. What the project is: Abstract of your argument (2-3 sentences).
  2. What is working: identify at least one element of your writing  (from the rubric and/or your to-do list) that you have focused on and believe is strong in this project.
  3. What else you could do: identify at least one element or your writing that you will keep on your to-do-list and believe could use further attention and feedback.

Any project missing the preface will not be graded; it will be returned to you and marked as late until resubmitted with proper format. Your essay should also include your statement of the Honor Code pledge.

All citations (direct or indirect) should use MLA format. For guidance on proper MLA citation format [in-text citation; works cited at end] consult the Purdue OWL.

“Approximately “means that a piece much shorter than 3, or much longer than 5, is in need of revision and rethinking for the purposes of the given assignment. The final project will be longer and have additional requirements.

Audience: I am only the initial reader of your essay. Since we are emphasizing that writers seek to communicate their writing in a variety of public/published forms, you need to consider a larger audience for each of the essays–and let that audience inform your writing and revision. Generally speaking, your audience for these projects will be readers who are interested in what first-year students at Washington College are writing and learning. This means that they have a basic knowledge of this course and its assignments, but no specific knowledge of the texts you are discussing or ideas you are exploring. One goal of mine is to have you submit a final version of one of these essays for publication in a digital magazine I am developing for first-year writers at Washington College. Readers of that magazine will be: your peers, other professors on campus, your parents, future students–all interested in getting a better view of how first-year students at WAC think and write.  There are also numerous other publications on campus for you to consider such as The Medium, The Collegian, and The Washington College Review. This is your audience.

Writing Project #1

Coming to Terms with Intellect: The Ethos of Literacy

Develop a 3-5-page essay that reflects on, and argues for, your definition of the meaning of literacy. Think of it as “what it means to be (or perhaps not be) a reader and/or a writer”–particularly for someone in your position, in college. (Literacy suggests both the reading and the writing of words–literally, letters; I will leave it up to you to decide to focus on reading or writing or, if you think it effective, both).  Since this is your definition, your “defense (or revision) of literacy,” the essay will explore how your personal experience as a reader or writer (or perhaps a non-reader/non-writer) informs your definition and reflection; since this is a definition of literacy’s meaning (synonyms here would be “significance” or “character”) informed by your experience, it is also an argument–since others likely won’t agree with you, and you likely don’t agree with other definitions of the character of literacy that you have encountered. From your perspective as a reader and writer, how is literacy significant, important, misunderstood, overvalued, etc?

You have some useful  models to consider (Graff, Birkerts, Berry, Harris) for how strong and engaging critical writing and argumentation can be effective and deliberate in using autobiographical reflection and personal experience to develop a focus and argument about an idea (in this case, defining the meaning of literacy). Our rhetorical focal point for this project, ethos, emphasizes the ways writers strengthen their argument by paying attention to the development of their ethos.

  • The Question you will be answering in this essay (think of your thesis as the answer to this question): What is your view of the meaning (purpose, value) of literacy and how has that view been shaped by your experience as a reader and/or writer?
  • Learning Focal Point for this project: Ethos. We will discuss and workshop ways that Ethos is developed through  critical reflection and by “coming to terms” with our ideas and argument. As Harris argues (Rewriting), “coming to terms” with an argument requires strong reflection from the writer. Think of this reflection as effectively citing/quoting from your own experience and thinking.
  • Citation requirement. Another way you will develop your focus your attention and your argument: cite and explain what Birkerts or Graff or Harris say about reading/writing–and use that to then focus on your own view in response.  Your essay must have at least one direct quotation in it (from either Birkerts, Graff, Harris, or Berry), effectively incorporated into your argument for this essay.
  • Some suggestions for developing your argument and its focus:
      • Identify and respond to a problem:
        • Use another to set up the problem: Although Birkerts argues that reading is X, in my view reading is Y.
        • Use your earlier self/views to set up the problem: Although I used to view reading/writing as ___, now I understand that ____.
      • Another way to focus is to narrow your scope: you will need to focus on some key autobiographical examples of your engagement with reading/writing (say 2 or 3) that help demonstrate and develop the overall significance you are writing about. This is where the reflection comes in–taking your time with your argument and its complications rather than quickly listing off some experiences you have had.
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