Special topics courses in non-fiction writing

Special writing topics courses for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students

For upper-level undergraduates and graduate students interested in advanced writing topics, the Writing Program offers a cluster of advanced writing courses. To ensure that students receive individualized attention to their writing, enrollment in each course is strictly limited to twelve students. No exceptions!

Courses offered in 2018-19

Writing Speeches: Reagan and Obama (ENGL 11404/LLSO 28203) (Winter 2019, undergrad only) Political speech-writers and political philosophers have been known to sneer at each other: the writers see the philosophers as ivory tower dreamers; the philosophers see the writers as brainless hacks. This course will be an experiment in linking the extremely pragmatic and the extremely conceptual. Working from a few of the most successful speeches of Presidents Reagan and Obama, we will look to see how the pragmatic and the philosophical shape each other. We will spend roughly half our time on speech-writing nuts-and-bolts, and half our time on some of the philosophical commitments reflected in the language of these two political leaders. (In addition to the speeches themselves, the course reading will include philosophical texts that will provide a frame for examining these commitments.) The course requires weekly exercises, most of which deal with nuts-and-bolts, but a few will analyze the conceptual groundings of the speeches. (Faculty: Larry McEnerney)

Other courses we've offered

Writing Argument (English 11701/31701) Writing Argument is a pragmatic course in the rhetoric of arguments. The emphasis on "rhetoric" means that we won't be asking whether an argument is internally valid; instead, we'll look at what's on the page, and ask why it is more or less successful in persuading readers. The emphasis on "pragmatic" means that we'll focus mainly on your own arguments.

Students in the course can expect three kinds of work: writing new arguments, analyzing arguments, and revising. The central goal is for you to use a method of analyzing arguments that will enhance your ability to write arguments, arguments that succeed with your readers, in your field. And you'll revise the argument you make for your field, probably many times.

In most weeks, we'll spend each Tuesday in small groups, discussing your exercises. We'll spend each Thursday in a plenary session, one in which we expand upon, refine (and criticize) the rhetorical analysis of argument. In the final week or so of the course, we will look at arguments that class members have chosen for discussion, and we'll look at other approaches to argument. Faculty: Kathryn Cochran.

Writing Persuasion: Environment (English 12704/32704; ENST 12704) (Spring 2019) A writing-intensive course in persuasive techniques that influence opinions and attempt to change behavior. This year our focus will be on an issue that presents a challenge for persuasion theory: the environment. People are notoriously slow to change their beliefs and behavior on environmental issues, and persuasion theory suggests reasons why this might be the case. Environmental problems ask readers to weigh costs that affect one group against benefits that might accrue to someone else. They involve time frames ranging from moments (which are easy to think and write about) to millennia (not so easy) to geological epochs, a time scale so remote from our experience as to be opaque to the imagination. Environmental problems are complex in ways that make them difficult to capture in a coherent, emotionally compelling narrative. Many individually innocuous and seemingly unrelated environmental events can converge over time to produce consequences that are counter-intuitively larger and graver than their causes. This felt disparity between actions and outcomes can violate an audience's sense of fairness, biasing the audience against a persuasive appeal.

This course will examine how writers on environmental problems have tackled these persuasive challenges when writing for non-scientific audiences. The readings will be short pieces and that attempt either to explain environmental issues or to persuade readers to adopt a course of action. Half of the assignments will analyze rhetorical techniques used the readings; in the other half, students will put these techniques into practice in their own essays. Over the course of the quarter, each student will develop a portfolio of pieces on an environmental topic of his or her choice. Readings will include selections from Rachel Carson, Robert Cialdini, Amy Harmon, Elizabeth Kolbert, Aldo Leopold, George Marshall, Bill McKibbin, and Cass Sunstein. Faculty: Tracy Weiner

Composing Composition (English 32705)  Many academic teaching positions in a wide variety of fields now require instructors to include a writing component in their courses. Whether you're in the humanities, the social sciences, or the sciences, some teaching of writing may lie in your future, and preparation for this eventuality can be an important part of your job application process. This class is intended for graduate students who plan to work as teachers or who are entering the academic job market. Our goal is to give you scholarly context and practical exercises that will help prepare you for the challenges of writing-related jobs in institutional contexts ranging from large research universities to community colleges to small liberal arts schools.

In this course we'll study some of the most widespread and influential methods of teaching writing in use at such institutions. We will have two goals. First, you will have the opportunity to practice integrating the findings of writing scholarship into the syllabi, assignments, and classroom techniques that you'd use both here and at other institutions. Second, we will help you prepare to discuss the teaching of writing in applications to and interviews for academic jobs and fellowships. To these ends, we will use as taking-off points for discussion influential scholarly work on the teaching of writing. The anticipated reading load will be two or three articles per week. In weekly practicum seminars, you'll develop over the course of the quarter a writing assignment sequences and a sample syllabus for a projected writing-intensive course in your field. At the end of the quarter, you'll discuss your syllabus in a mock interview and prepare a teaching statement for use in job interviews.

Please note: this course is NOT required for teaching positions in either the Writing Program or the English Department. It is intended to assist students who face the challenge of using teaching and classroom experiences here as a basis for teaching writing at other institutions with varying institutional structures, student demographics, and theoretical commitments. Potential topics will include: writing across the curriculum, writing in the disciplines, technical writing, multilingual writers, developmental writing, digital rhetoric, online instruction, writing assessment, visual rhetoric, multiple literacies, service learning, and community engagement projects. Faculty: Tracy Weiner, Linda Smith, Kathy Cochran