Writing Project 3: Entering an Academic Conversation

The way in which mathematicians and physicists and historians talk is quite different, and what a physicist means by physical intuition and what a mathematician means by beauty or elegance are things worth thinking about. — Clifford Geertz


Process | Writing in the Disciplines :: Resources & HelpEvaluation Criteria

For the last few weeks, we’ve been asking questions about college-level reading and writing. You read scholars who used their own experiences and research to understand what students do and to propose recommendations for what both teachers and students should do. You tracked your own reading practices to test the scholars’ ideas and theories, and for the past few weeks, we’ve expanded our conversations about what should be happening to include discourse communities and rhetorical situations. This assignment brings all these skills and ideas together: you will create a resource document—kind of like a guide—for a novice or beginner who wishes to understand the kind of writing in the discipline you plan to enter at SEU or as profession.

What This Assignment Is Designed to Teach You, or What Is My Purpose for WP3 

(1) How to Analyze Sources Texts,
(2) How to Synthesize of Texts, and
(3) How to Rhetorical Analyze a Writing Situation

Each of these goals for WP3 fits a particular learning objective. When you think about transitioning from WP1 and WP2 into our “major” assignment for the semester, you want to keep these ideas in mind. For this assignment, you are given the task of

  1. analyzing the kind of writing completed in your major and/or discipline—and you will use your professor interview, student interview, and sample essays you collected (or you find on our Writing in the Disciplines :: Resources and Help page) to determine what kind of writing is valued in your discipline;
  2. synthesizing what you have learned in our readings—the ones you included in your annotated bibliography—about both discourse communities and shared academic conventions (think about Johns list of 10 shared conventions) in order to explain your analysis of writing in your discipline; and
  3. constructing a resource for novices like yourself who will be entering your field, which includes careful consideration of the rhetorical situation surrounding your exigence.


Your resource to writing (or reading) in your discipline should do a couple of different things. It needs to

  • provide a theoretical understanding that will help your audience understand why they need this guide,
  • offer an explanation and/or description of the kinds of writing, reading, and/or thinking that happens in this community, including small samples if appropriate or larger samples in an appendix (using those sample essays you collect or locate as well as details from your interviews), and
  •  make recommendations to a novice about how to write, read, and/or think for this community; that is, how can you help someone new to your discourse community successfully complete the writing and reading tasks expected on the Hilltop?


For this assignment, you are not going to be researching a new idea, but you are going to sending a specific message to a specific audience for a specific reason. We want you to imagine yourself entering your intended field of study. To successfully complete this assignment, you must carefully consider the rhetorical situation you are facing. Here are some questions for you to get you started.

EXIGENCE: What would be the exigence of this assignment be, in your own words? What is the issue that both calls for and could be solved with discourse? How do you understand the purpose of this resource? Here, remember that we aren’t thinking about my goals for the project but the goals you need to set when writing. Remember Grant-Davie’s advice about understanding why discourse is needed as well as what discourse is trying to accomplish.

RHETOR: What have learned about writing in your discipline? What do you still need to learn in order to write this resources?How will you fill in your own knowledge gaps? Your interview with an upper-division student will help, but do you also need different writing samples? What role do you need to play in this rhetorical situation? What authorial identity will help you both complete this assignment and reach your intended audience? That is, how will you consider your ethos in selecting evidence and structuring your claims?

AUDIENCE: Who is your audience? What do you know about them? How are you going to define and create the context for this audience?

CONSTRAINTS: What constraints may affect your completion of this assignment?

Based on the rhetorical situation, WHAT IS THE FORM and ORGANIZATION OF THIS GUIDE?

The form, genre, or style of your guide depends entirely on your audience and your purpose. We’ll do some design thinking in class to test out a variety of your ideas, but you’re going to want to answer these questions for yourself:

  1. Who will be using this guide?
  2. What information does your audience need (that you will have to supply) for them to understand its importance to them?
  3. How can you make this resource appealing and useful to this audience?
  4. When will they need, or have access, to this information?

You have some models you can consult to think about the form (or what your project will look like). The Framework had one goal, and its form differed significantly from what Rosenberg did—because, in part, she had a different audience. Johns had information she needed her audience to understand, which determined how she told them about her findings, and this doesn’t look at all like what Stedman will do.

The key to this project is not only presenting an accurate portrait of writing in your discipline or major but also designing a document that a novice would find and use.


In order to complete this project; you will want to listen to your interview with the faculty member and upper-division student in your field. You may need to go back and secure samples essays from your interviewee or from our resources page for WP3. Are there gaps that you still need to fill? Did they say something that you still don’t quite understand and or want to know more about? You have a little bit of time to explore more resources and collect additional data.

GETTING TO A PURPOSE: PreWriting and Planning

Because you are constructing the purpose for this guide, you need to be clear about the exigency for your rhetorical situation. You have an audience already—novices looking to enter the discipline—and you are the rhetor—a novice with more expertise than you had in August. Only you will know what other novices need to know about the kinds of writing (and/or reading) they’ll encounter in the discipline, and only you know the kinds of evidence and information you have that might be persuasive to someone just beginning to think about writing as a professional. Here are some prompts to get you writing and thinking as we begin WP3.

  • Consider the shared goals of the community. What seems important in this field? Some fields focus more on the pursuit of knowledge or scientific discovery, while others emphasize practical applications of knowledge for public good. What do you know about the goals of your discourse community? What brings these people together? What are they trying to do as an academic field?
  • Consider how the novice might feel when faced with the challenges of a new discourse community. What will your audience already know about writing? What will be the hardest concept or practice for them to understand as they transition into your discourse community? How can you help the novice feel comfortable in this new environment? How might you show your reader how to use the guide? Why you are a trustworthy source?
  • Consider the types of writing that are valued and used by the community. What genres of writing exist in this community? How did you find those genres? How did you understand them? When you think about analyzing the forms your community writes and develops, is there a template to help your reader can understand the writing genre of the field?
  • Consider the style of writing used in the community. What do you know about the choices writers make in your discipline? How do they use voice, tone, and conventions to reflect the shared goals of the community? Is the style more technical, reflecting a pursuit of specialized knowledge? Is the style more approachable, reflecting practical applications of ideas? What examples of the writing style can you share to help your novice understand what writing looks like in your field?
  • Consider the language used by the discourse community. What specialized terminology do you notice? What language did your interviewees use? Can you make a vocabulary list of specialized language that your reader can access easily? Could you develop a lexicon in your resource—one for the discourse community and one for helping the novices talk about writing?
  • Consider how the novice should think about writing in this discipline. What aspects of the writing in the field might make entering the field difficult for a novice? What questions should a novice ask when first writing for this community? Can you give the reader the most important questions to ask when learning to write in this discourse community?

Now, all of the above questions are focused on writing. But, you may be working with a community that places equal value on reading, or your community may depend heavily on reading and writing. You have to use your exigency to determine the focus and weight for the questions at hand.


Content and Focus (85%)

Does the final guide to entering an academic conversation…

  • explain the purpose for the guide, making clear what the reader needs to know about writing (or reading) in this discipline?
  • employ a genre or form appropriate for the audience and the stated purpose?
  • explain why the reader should be interested in learning more about this writing- and/or reading-related term, concept, or practice?
  • offer concrete evidence for how the discipline uses writing?
  • describe the meaning of this evidence in light of primary and secondary research?
  • detail what might be gained because the reader now knows this information?
  • maintain an authoritative and reliable tone for audience?

Nuts and Bolts (15%)

Does the final guide to entering an academic conversation…

  • follows the genre or form chosen, adhering to reader expectations and making deliberate and thoughtful alternations or adjustments?
  • integrate sources seamlessly and effectively?
  • use a citation format appropriate for the genre or form?
  • use meticulous proofreading throughout?

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