4341 Short Paper

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Short Paper Assignment

Transfer, Writing, and SEU

The SEU Mission Statement declares that graduates “should be able to express themselves articulately in both oral and written form,” and we can see evidence of support in the mission in a variety of ways: an independent department of English Writing and Rhetoric, which includes a major with specializations; rigorous writing requirements in a variety of General Education courses (American Dilemmas); and a sustained writing project at the end of every student’s degree (Capstone or Honors thesis).

In Unit 1 readings, we explored work on how writing might (and should) be studied—letting go of its participial forms and embracing writing as a noun, as an object of study. We considered the role of activity theory in bringing writing out of its participation in the false transmission of Universal Educated Discourse (UED) and General Writing Skills Instruction (GWSI). And, even as we considered alternative curriculums for first-year writing (FYW) courses, we learned that we may still be coming up short, needing to focus not just on declarative knowledge about writing but also on threshold concepts between disciplines.

The purpose of your short paper for Unit 1 will be for you to explore the ways in which SEU might best use current research and theories within writing studies to refine its commitment to writing and writing instruction for all students throughout their careers on the Hilltop.

The Task at Hand

To do this, you’ll need to first stake out a position for what you think is currently happening. I’d like to see this come from (very) short interviews with either students or faculty members in a single discipline or across disciplines. Once you’ve collected some primary data about the nature of writing instruction as it exists on the SEU campus, you can then explore how this material does and does not align with current thinking in our field (by engaging our readings and at least one other source related to our ongoing conversation).

I want to see how you are situating your investigation in the conversation we have started as a class (through our assigned readings) so that you might see where else the conversation might lead. In this case, the additional research will rely more heavily on those interviews you collect.

The So-What Factor

In explaining how SEU should (re-)commit to research-based writing instruction, your short paper must state and support a claim about why your approach is significant. The so-what has to be substantive and worthwhile, one worth writing (and reading) about. How do you achieve this? By entering into, extending, and modifying the conversation started by others. Your idea does not have to revolutionize the field of “rhet/comp” (an absurdly high standard that I’m not sure I even understand or want to participate in), but it should not be trivial either (insultingly low standard). You’ll be more likely to build a substantive so-what if you don’t focus on the obvious. Dig deeper.

Of course, so-what is easy to say and hard to do. If you get stuck, remember that “why it matters” presupposes particular people to whom and particular contexts in which something matters. Go back to the essential point of all communication: someone sending a message to somebody for a reason. Things don’t “matter” in a vacuum. That something “matters” (or not) is inherently a value judgment with a point of view. For example, who cares about the differences between theorist A and theorist B’s arguments on question Q? Who pays the price if we misunderstand or make the wrong choice? Why is it more (or less) valuable to think of X in Y way? Thinking through questions like these helps you develop your so-what. I, of course, will help you if you ask.



  • Take (or make) careful notes as you (re-)read with an eye toward the terms and concepts we discuss(ed) in class. Make sure you’ve got a handle on the terminology and, more importantly, its relationship to the questions of the discipline.

  • Choose a specific term/concept related to activity theory and/or transfer you would like to study in more detail. For this project, you’ll want to either establish a relationship for our terms or commit to one idea (explaining why you’re not interested in the other elements).

  • What sorts of questions might an administrator—WPA, or Writing Program Administrator; Dean; President—have about why your theoretical lens is valid? How can you talk to them not like members of the field but as educators interested in fulfilling a mission of the university? Articulate these and then attempt to answer and explain their significance in your essay.

  • Locate textual evidence from the course readings that will support your position, and work out of these texts to identify an additional reading and to formulate your primary research process.


  • Establish a context in which you are working. If you’re focusing on the first-year writing classroom, then discuss why. If you want to start somewhere after that first year of college, then help us think through the spiderweb relationships.

  • Establish a logic for organizing the various contributions.

  • Conclude (your conclusion of the significance of the contributions—why we should continue to find the term/concept worthy of inquiry).


Required Sections and Headings

Like all the assignments I ask students to write, there are particular design features I would like you to use because they will assist me in responding to and evaluating your written work. Below is a sample layout for your project. If you have questions or concerns, ask.


This opening section should state the problem you are investigating. You may wish to include a brief narrative about your investment and/or interest in the research topic, but remember the goal is to help readers prepare to follow your line of thinking as you track and locate your concept, term, or practice. In more formal academic writing, this will be the only place that readers will anticipate a more “narrative” presentation of information.

Headings, Signposts, and Markers. Oh, my!

Only you know the content of your project, so there’s no formal requirement on what your heading titles should be. However, I do ask that you include no more than three (3) separate sections and that you keep the headings focused clearly on the content of each section. Don’t forget how rules of parallelism apply to headings (levels of abstraction, wording, length, etc.).


Think of this not as a rehash of what you’ve written. Instead, conclusions are horizons, limitations, questions. In your case, the conclusion should highlight the so what question you were asked to raise. It’s also okay to bring new questions to the table at this point, so long as you spell out a potential plan and rationale for further investigation. In the end, we are looking for you to tell us what we get in exchange for being patient and thorough readers and/or what is worthwhile, substantive about your point.


Content (85%)

How effectively does the short paper…

  • announce (in introduction),
  • support (with relevant, representative evidence and inferences), and
  • follow through with (in conclusion) a substantive so-what?

How effectively does the essay order, arrange, and present findings so they are…

  • internally consistent and
  • equally and fully developed?

How effectively does the essay…

  • explain the term, concept, or practice under consideration;
  • discuss and analyze key conversations in the readings;
  • identify key shifts in scholars understandings of the term, concept, or practice; and,
  • situate the writer’s perspective within the theories of rhetoric and composition. Does the essay sound like educated speech?

How effectively does the essay…

  • construct the reader as an equal, someone the writer wants to show something interesting?
  • integrated quoted material: is direct quoting kept to a minimum?
  • use summaries?

Nuts and Bolts: Form (15%)

  • 1000 – 1500 words
  • Submit/share artifacts or sources integrated from outside course readings
  • Proofread meticulously
  • Follow Formatting guidelines
  • -10 points for each Dropped Quote.

Possible Grades

90-100%: Excellent performance overall
80-89%: Strong performance overall
70-79%: Fair/adequate performance overall
60-69%: Weak/problematic performance overall
<60%: Failing, uh-oh