How to Use This Book – Students

Welcome, students! Whether this textbook has been assigned for your class or you’ve discovered this book on your own and are teaching yourself, I hope it is an accessible and enjoyable resource to support your learning about writing, rhetoric, and the world.

Although your instructor may provide more specific information on how they want you to use this text, I will provide a bit of guidance to help you acclimate to it.

Student-Centered Writing and Learning Communities

First and foremost, I want to acknowledge one major goal of this text: to center the student learning experience among a community of learners. Most of the exemplar texts included here are actual student work that I’ve encountered over my career as a teacher. Almost always, the texts in anthologies are exclusively by professional writers. While this sets a high standard, many of my students tend to think that polished, publishable, and impactful writing is not theirs to create. Instead, this text showcases outstanding student work as evidence that you, and other student authors like you, are very capable of producing beautiful, moving, thorough, thoughtful, and well-informed rhetoric.

Furthermore, the use of student writing relates to this book’s focus on writing as process, not product. We’ll discuss this further in the General Introduction, but I want to give you fair warning that the student essays included here would not meet some readers’ standards of “perfect.” They exemplify some techniques very well, but may fall short in other domains. These student authors, just like professional authors, realize that a piece of writing is never actually finished; there are always ways to challenge, reimagine, or polish a text. As you read model texts, whether they are written by students or professional authors, you should ask yourself, What does this author do well, and what could they do better? In what ways are they fulfilling the imperatives of the rhetorical situation, and what advice would I give them to improve? To support this critical perspective, each text included in the main sections of the book is followed by a “Teacher Takeaway”: ideas from college professors reacting to the work at hand. While these takeaways are not comprehensive, they offer a starting point for you to interpret the strengths of a model text.

Teacher Takeaways

Reactions from actual college professors are included in boxes like these.

As I see it, the best educational experiences happen in what I call learning community. No matter how much support one teacher can provide for their students, your opportunities for growth multiply exponentially with the support of your classmates and college resources (like a Writing Center or research librarian).

It’s important to consider your writing class as one very particular learning community. Doing so acknowledges that:

  • Writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Almost all writing involves an exchange between a writer and a reader. Even on the professional level, the best writing is produced collaboratively, using feedback from a cohort of trusted peers. You may have been trained to believe that your schoolwork is your business and no one else’s. This text emphasizes collaboration instead: we can be more successful, confident writers with the support of the readers around us.
  • Writing is hard. Learning, and especially learning to write, demands a certain amount of vulnerability. By working from a place of shared vulnerability, you will discover ways to ensure that vulnerability is productive and maintain a certain degree of safety and support through a challenging process. My students are often pleasantly surprised by how much more meaningful their learning experience is when approached with an investment in shared vulnerability.
  • Communities are, to some extent, horizontal. The vertical power dynamic that plagues many classrooms, where the all-knowing teacher deposits knowledge into their ignorant students, must be dismantled for true learning to take place. You need to be able to claim the knowledge and skills you build in the classroom, and you can only do so if you feel you have a stake in the mission of the class.
  • Communities have shared goals and values, but also diversity within them. Each member might have a different path to that goal, might have different needs along the way, might have additional individual goals—but there’s value in acknowledging the destinations we pursue together.
  • Learning communities are not just communities of learners, but also communities that learn. No matter your expectations for your writing course, our communities will have unanticipated strengths, needs, successes, and failures. Communities that learn adapt to their unique makeup in order to make shared goals more accessible to everyone.

Why does this matter to you? Because building and sustaining a learning community is a valuable experience which will serve you as a writer, a student, and a citizen. Furthermore, living writers have more to offer one another than any textbook could. Writers write best among other writers. Learners learn best among other learners.

Although you will learn writing skills from this book, engaging in a learning community will allow you test and sharpen those skills.

At the same time, your future writing situations, whatever they may be, will be among complex discourse ecologies—specific groups of readers and writers with specific tastes, interests, and expectations. In this way, working within a learning community teach you to more actively evaluate your rhetorical situation.

Rhetorical Situations

In this book, you’ll notice a focus on rhetorical situations, which are explained more thoroughly in the General Introduction. Put simply, the act of writing is a response to a rhetorical situation, and no two situations are the same. Think about the differences and similarities between the following kinds of writing:

  • A letter to your grandmother about your first semester in college
  • An editorial advocating for immigration reform
  • An e-mail to a craigslist user about the futon you want to buy
  • A flyer for a Super Smash Bros. tournament in the Student Union

Different circumstances, different audiences, and different subjects require different kinds of writing. These differences ask writers to think critically about genre, language, style, and medium. More importantly, it means that there is no one method for creating “good” writing, no one-size-fits-all, step-by-step guide to success, despite what some of your previous teachers may have claimed.

Because you and each member of your learning community has a vastly different future ahead of you, it would be impossible to teach you all the ways you will need to write throughout your lives—especially not in a single college term. Instead of learning rules for writing (rules which will invariably change), it is more valuable to learn the questions you should ask of your future writing situations and produce texts that are tailored to those situations.

In this book, you will explore and work within three rhetorical situations. (The beauty of the rhetorical situation, of course, is that no two writers using this book will have the exact same constraints; nevertheless, you will share similar experiences.) Because many college composition programs value the nonfiction essay form, this textbook focuses on three different kinds of essays: a personal narrative, a textual analysis, and a persuasive research essay. The goal of writing these essays, though, is not to become a master of any of them. Instead, the goal is to practice interrogating the rhetorical situations and tailoring your work to be more effective within them.

As you learn more about rhetorical situations, think about the many forms that rhetoric takes. Although you are likely using this book for a class with “Writing” in the title, another primary goal of this book is to encourage the critical consumption and production of rhetoric in all its forms. Very little of the writing, reading, speaking, and listening you do is in traditional essay form, so the learning experiences included in this book and your class should be applied to the other sorts of reading, writing, speaking, and listening you do throughout your life: how can you bring the same thoughtfulness to a Facebook status, an online news article, a class syllabus, a conversation in the dining hall, or a Socratic discussion in class?

Navigation

This textbook is organized according to the following general formula:

Section Topic

Section Introduction

Chapter on a Rhetorical Mode or Skill

Instruction

Activities

Model Student Work

Chapter on a Rhetorical Mode or Skill

Instruction

Activities

Model Student Work

Chapter on a Rhetorical Mode or Skill

Instruction

Activities

Model Student Work

Culminating Assignment

Rubric

Guidelines for Peer Workshop

Model Student Work

Under “Additional Readings,” you will find more sample work by both student and professional authors.

You can take a more specific look at either Table of Contents. (The second provides detail on the readings included.)

imageKey words and concepts are formatted like this [with Emphasis style applied] the first time they appear, and they are defined briefly in the Glossary. Near the beginning of each chapter, you will find a table of vocabulary, like the one to the left, for terms used in that chapter.

Feedback

As with any piece of writing, I acknowledge that this textbook will never really be “finished”: it could always be better. You, as a student using this book, have a meaningful perspective on it. I wholeheartedly welcome your feedback—on content, format, style, accessibility, or otherwise—as I continue ongoing revisions to this text. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your criticism, positive or negative, at shaneabrams.professional@gmail.com.

Chapter Vocabulary

Vocabulary

Definition

a network of learners and teachers, each equipped and empowered to provide support through horizontal power relations. Values diversity insofar as it encourages growth and perspective, but also inclusivity. Also, a community that learns by adapting to its unique needs and advantages.

a specific category, subcategory, style, form, or medium (or combination of the above) of rhetoric. A genre may have a “generic imperative,” which is an expectation or set of expectations an audience holds for a particular genre of rhetoric; the foundational assumptions that particular genres carry.

the circumstances in which rhetoric is produced, understood using the constituent elements of subject, occasion, audience, and purpose. Each element of the rhetorical situation carries assumptions and imperatives about the kind of rhetoric that will be well received. Rhetorical situation will also influence mode and medium.