Communicating an Important Topic or Idea in Your Field

Contributed by Steven J. Corbett

Course Name/Level: Writing-intensive or Writing in the Disciplines Course, English 200W: Writing Context: A Comparative Approach to Written Academic Communication

This writing assignment is an example of one that reflects the principles in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing. You can view a list of other assignments, activities, and program-wide approaches.


Brief Course Description for Assignment/Activity

Students explored what it means to write (and think, and act) like an academic in various fields. The first half of the course students investigated writing related to the field of study/department they were interested in joining (or were already a member of). They also explored how writing and thinking gets done in other academic and professional fields and disciplines through the shared acts of writing in various rhetorical styles and genres. The second half of the course students further engaged in research, reading, and writing in relation to their chosen field/discipline of study. They continued to learn from their peers about writing and thinking in other fields/disciplines of study as well.

Framework Connections

These assignments incorporate most of the elements of the Framework. They ask students to exercise multiple habits of mind: to think creatively and critically about a specific topic or idea in their field; to think openly and flexibly about the topic as they gather data and build their annotated bibliographies; to be persistent in sustaining a research project through eight weeks of inquiry, writing, review, and rewriting; and to ultimately deliver a rhetorically sophisticated argument essay—Major Paper Two—in an online environment.

Assignment/Activity Description

Major Paper Two brought together everything students had been practicing since the beginning of this writing-intensive course, one of three writing-intensive courses students are required to take at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. (Students must take three w-courses after completing FYC. But none are required to be in their major.) The learning goals and objectives for the course were originally inspired by the WPA Outcomes Statement and ask students to work toward:

1. Rhetorical Awareness and Facility

  • Students will learn and practice more effective reading strategies in various rhetorical situations, considering: purposes, audiences, contexts, subject matters, styles, and genres (for example letters, memos, reports, newspaper articles, scholarly journal articles, web pages).
  • Students will practice creating inquiry questions and theses/controlling ideas in a variety of rhetorical situations in their writing.
  • Students will practice incorporating and citing others’ ideas in their writing.
  • Students will become familiar with their own grammar and usage errors and begin to identify and correct these in their writing.

2. Writing Process Awareness and Facility

  • Students will become comfortable with the process of multiple drafting and revision—both their own and their peers.’

I tried to limit the number of primary outcomes to two, and listed sub-outcomes under these two primaries so that students understood these higher conceptual goals—rhetorical and writing process awareness and facility—as the larger umbrella learning outcomes for the course.

During the first half of the course students became comfortable with writing in various genres, including letters, reports, and argument essays. They also practiced much peer review and response on one another’s assignments, as well as much metacognitive reflective analyses on the strengths and weaknesses of their writing performances and products. The second half of the course, students continued investigating their chosen fields, but in a more focused way. For this assignment, students demonstrated all the skills they had exercised with various genres and in different writing situations to make a substantial argument about some topic or idea in their fields. During the peer review processes, and during in-class activities, students were also made privy to how their peers perceived the way some types of thinking, learning, and writing get done in various fields.

Research/Scholarship Connections

Major Paper Two brings together elements of learning theory in the careful scaffolding and collaborative peer review involved, as well as several elements of rhetorical (including genre) theory in how students had to use aspects of various genres and audience awareness in their construction of this essay.


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