Academic and Professional Writing Courses

The Writing Program specializes in courses geared towards the needs of writers who are experts in scholarly, research, and professional fields. We offer our flagship course Academic and Professional Writing (“Little Red Schoolhouse”) every quarter.

Academic and Professional Writing:

Little Red Schoolhouse (ENGL 13000/33000)

Academic and Professional Writing is our flagship course that has been affectionately nicknamed “Little Red Schoolhouse” (LRS). But make no mistake, LRS is an intensive, advanced writing course that helps writers learn to communicate complex and difficult material clearly to a wide variety of expert and non-expert readers.

Special Topics Courses

We offer a cluster of special-topics courses for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. To ensure that students receive individualized attention to their writing, enrollment for each special topics course is strictly limited to twelve students.

Writing Argument (ENGL 11701)

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. Each week will be split between small-group workshops and plenary sessions that will expand upon, refine (and criticize) the rhetorical analysis of argument. In the final week, students will choose arguments for discussion and will be exposed to other approaches to argument. Instructor: Kathryn Cochran

Writing Speeches: Reagan and Obama (ENGL 11404)

Political speechwriters 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 speechwriting 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 speechesInstructor: Larry McEnerney

Writing Persuasion: Environment (ENGL 12704)

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. Instructor: Tracy Weiner