NOTE: This assignment is adapted from assignments designed by Dr. Beth Brunk-Chavez at the University of Texas-El Paso and Dr. Drew Loewe at St. Edward’s University.
DUE DATE: February 18, 2013
The purpose of your short paper will be for you to track a theoretical or pedagogical concept or practice across theorists, practitioners, and/or time. In the first few weeks of the semester, we’ll be working with ideas of transfer and the nature and purpose of writing, so, in some ways, this short paper may be a critical, personal reflection on your experience with these ideas. You’ll need to pin down a particular question worth answering, and I’d like to encourage you to think of this project as a test-drive of the idea you want to work on for your longer research project. However, this project does not necessarily have to be a precursor to your semester research project.
This short paper (1000 to 1500 words) will allow you to work with course ideas in a more formal way because it should help you (and other students)
- understand a term, concept, or practice related to writing studies;
- locate a key conversation started and continued by theorists or practitioners;
- identify and follow shifts and movement in understandings of the term, concept, or practice; and,
- situate yourself within the theories of rhetoric and composition.
There is no predetermined format for this assignment; however, there are a couple of ways I can see a short paper unfolding. You might:
- compare and contrast the ideas of two or more authors we have read, with a so-what;
- research a theoretical concept discussed in one of our course readings and report in your findings the shifts and movements you’ve uncovered, along with a so-what;
- refute the core ideas contained in one of our course readings, proposing an alternate theory or approach, along with a so-what; or
- examine an artifact using one of the theories we have studied, with a so-what.
Regardless of the option you choose, the tracking/sense-making part should be foregrounded; that is, I want to see how you are situating your investigation in the conversation we start as a class (through assigned readings) so that you might see where else the conversation might lead (with additional research).
Above, I repeat the term so-what intentionally. Whatever approach you take, your short paper must state and support a claim about why your question about this term or concept is significant. The so-what has to be substantive and worthwhile, one worth writing (and reading) about. It does not have to revolutionize the field of “rhet/comp” (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.
SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING & THINKING
- Take careful notes as you read with an eye toward the terms and concepts we discuss in class.
- Choose a specific term/concept you would like to study in more detail.
- What sorts of questions might a novice (or student new to the ENGW major) have about your term/concept? Articulate these and then attempt to answer and explain their significance in your essay.
- Locate textual evidence from the primary readings that will support your position.
- Establish a context in which the term/concept will be discussed (a broad definition; why it is important; what its overall significance to rhetoric or composition is).
- 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).
DOCUMENT DESIGN SPECIFICS
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.
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 any artifacts or sources integrated from outside course readings
- Proofread meticulously
- Follow Formatting guidelines
- -10 points for each Dropped Quote.
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