"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       


Chapter Introductions

Many students new to college have learned to reduce writing to a few rules. They have mainly been taught a few structures for writing, but they have not been taught to think in terms of which structures are most appropriate for a given rhetorical situation. They have been drilled in sentence structures and taught a few specific introduction or conclusion strategies, such as beginning with a dictionary definition or a question, and ending with a summary. But they’ve not been taught the more general principles behind introductions and conclusions and when opening with a question might be less effective than beginning with a specific case. They’ve been drilled in grammar and usage, but they’ve not been given the deeper thinking behind different levels of diction and the social contexts of idioms or even the uses of slang.

Chapters in Pretexts for Writing are meant to deepen students’ thinking about the rhetorical nature of writing. They are coached in being rhetoricians, and this means finding what is appropriate for different kinds of writing, rather than thinking about rules to follow. Rules are never exhaustive, but they are usually restrictive. Hence, we often hear students, when we talk to them in conferences about their writing, saying things like this: “I didn’t know I was allowed to do that.” Whether it has to do with beginning an essay with an anecdote, or not using the words “In conclusion…” to begin their last paragraph, or using the first person pronoun “I,” they’ve learned to follow rules or face getting a bad grade. However, a rhetorician is a problem-solver. The following chapter orientations suggest how to best use Pretexts for Writing for these purposes.
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Chapter 1: What Matters about Writing Processes
The first twelve pages of Chapter One constitute the beginning of an argument that students might be invited to respond to. First, there is an argument that writers are all individuals with very different needs. And they could have very different writing habits. The first sentence of this proposition is almost a truism for them. It is the second part that will require more discussion. What should those different writing habits consist of? This opening section also presents the argument that writing is a subject that can and should be taught, with invention a primary way to change some habits writers may have internalized through previous assignments. There are different classroom practices one might use to bring this home, perhaps the first one being the individual and group exercise on page 25. Also important is engaging students in the Mozart/Beethoven continuum and the idea that different assignments require different approaches and strategies. The central issue here, though, is to present invention not as a few tricks but as an important part of writing that includes thinking about audience, form, tone, and content. Most writers put a great deal of thought into their writing before they begin to write a rough draft.

Chapter one begins with discussion of two items: first, analogy and comparison are introduced as ways of language use and thinking; second, writing is introduced as a subject. The first writing activity involves students in thinking through analogy and comparison, the way that many writers work. The comparison that students are invited to explore here, of course, is between writing and some other art/activity they may be familiar with. The initial writing, which could be done in class or extended out of class, can get them engaged in thinking about and questioning how they think about writing. The first feature in the chapter is designed to invite thinking about analogies and how they work. As a first class discussion after introductions, they might be led into thinking about how analogy works in writing. Following this, they might come up with their own comparisons.

A central concern of this chapter involves the way that students engage in process. Donald Murray once wrote that invention was 85% of a writer’s process (4). For many students, who have mainly been taught in school genres, the reasons for an extended period of invention might seem puzzling. Chapter 1 tries to introduce them to the main reason for developing invention strategies: complexity of assignments in terms of thinking, purpose, and audience. That is what is behind the Mozart/Beethoven contrast first suggested by the poet Stephen Spender. The greater the complexity, the greater the unknowns, the greater need to invent, to explore that unknown. The chapter also includes some of the usual invention technologies typically taught in writing courses, but the important slant to keep here is that they are strategies to help writers explore and develop new ideas.

This chapter also suggests several paper ideas as well for getting students to write reflectively on their own writing process and on the way people might write in the major they are choosing. This assignment might start with their own self-assessment, but it could also move into a report built around interviews they conduct with professors in their chosen major. In addition to interviewing professors, they could interview their peers about writing process and then go out into the local community to interview professionals who already work in the field they aspire to enter. What do professionals in their chosen field do when they write? Do they have to write professionally? What do their peers do when faced with a writing project? Students might also read and analyze interviews with authors about process and give a report on their findings.

There are also features that allow for other kinds of engagement with language and thinking.

Finally, Chapter One is a good place to introduce the personal narrative and writing that engages conflicts they’ve faced with some belief they’ve been raised to accept as true. This writing is to be respected for the explorations it can invite into values and how our values inform our ethical understanding of other issues we plan to engage in writing.

Work Cited
Murray, Donald. “Teach Writing as a Process, Not Product.” In Victor Villeneuva, ed. Cross Talk in Composition, 2nd ed. Urbana: NCTE, 2012.
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Chapter Two: Pretexts on Organization
Many first-year texts put the most emphasis on forms for writing. In fact, it is one of my contentions in this book that this emphasis actually divides invention from organization, divorcing the generation of ideas from the forms they take. Whether they are called forms, “modes,” or “patterns,” these patterns of organization are often presented in textbooks and taught in classrooms as ends in themselves. Purpose, aim, audience, and content are secondary. This way of teaching merely continues the pattern of teaching begun with the high school five paragraph theme, a pattern of teaching that needs little reflection or process.

This is controversial, I know, but it is my main reason for beginning the discussion with a critique of the five paragraph theme. I am convinced that this focus on organization is one of the ways that teaching process is made irrelevant. My interest is in returning the emphasis back to invention, and Chapter Two offers an introductory discussion on organization, and the emphasis is placed on discovering the best way to organize ideas for an audience. This introductory discussion is then deepened in the chapters to follow on personal writing, including the narrative, and the chapters on writing arguments.

The central teaching of this chapter, whether explicit or not, should be emphasized in this way: Arrangement is another aspect of invention. What is covered here is actually a subset of the first chapter. Invention is about discovering your topic and your ideas about your topic, of course. But it also concerns thinking about your audience, tone, and the arrangement of your ideas.

Time in this chapter might be spent on the ways that the five paragraph theme can be expanded on to include concerns of audience. The different kinds of writing, especially exposition and argument, could be emphasized differently according to what you are teaching. The essential structure of the essay, with its beginning strategies, body strategies, and conclusion strategies, might be presented through the use of some model themes on topics students are interested in. In addition to essay examples that show writers developing their ideas in different ways, students might also be asked to arrange an idea in different ways. They might write about the different ways that people tell lies, or examine three reasons why people do not accept a central idea, whether it has to do with belief in God or acceptance of global warming.

Talking about new introduction strategies that invert the opening generalization or the dictionary definition might be considered. Questions about the three points of the five paragraph theme thesis might include why the three points are random, why there might not be more points, and questions about new ways to transition between points in the six paragraph theme, where one of the point is more important than the others and placed differently–say, as the last point with two paragraphs and announced by a transition such as this: “However, a point of greatest concern to all involved is _____.”

A final concern in this chapter that invites students to recognize the patterns of organization in the essays they are reading is important, as it gives students a way to begin thinking more deeply about genre and less about a priori patterns.
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Chapter Three: Writing from Personal Experience
This chapter begins with the controversies surrounding personal writing, which are worth considering, even though students often enjoy writing personal narratives and reflecting on themselves and their experiences. These assignments often become the most engaging part of a writing course to them. Certainly, there are good reasons to engage them in narrative and personal reflection. As Carter notes (21), writing on experiences can deepen understanding and awareness of our experiences. At the same time, Yancy et al. (82) have found that expressivist writing pedagogies do not serve well in terms of transfer knowledge to other humanities and science courses.

Three points are worth some focus here if we want students to benefit from expressivist writing assignments. First, the best way to approach any kind of assignment is by giving students ample opportunity to reflect in comparative ways and using specific Composition content terms for what they are doing. As they write a personal memoir or narrative, they should be open to understanding how audience and genre change as they are given journal writing assignments that invite them to compare the similarities and differences between these assignments and the more typical kinds of literary analysis papers they were required to write in high school. These reflections should happen during and after the writing of them. The goal here is for students to develop some awareness of the ways that the assignments differ in terms of audience, genre, and rhetorical situation–all terms they should be learning as they write.

A second point is more specific to the technique of narrative writing itself, but it can also have some carry-over to other assignments, and that concerns the ways that a strong narrative can and should carry its central idea implicitly. While teaching narrative techniques, I point out that while a thesis may not work to unify a narrative, writers still think about why they are writing and allow their meaning to emerge. This point is richly illustrated in Lisa Louie’s story, “Prelude and Fugue,” on page 70. I stress the way that detail and arrangement are tools a writer can use to express a central focus in narrative, and this is something to consider with other genres of writing.

A third issue I like to focus on in this chapter concerns the way that we observe and perhaps create our worlds, the ways that we can tend to confirm our beliefs by looking for evidence or simply drawing conclusions without really reflecting on what we are seeing. This is the way that prejudice, sexism, and racism work. On page 58, a section focuses on the two parts of our observations, what we see and what we conclude. Usually, without reflection, what we see and what we conclude are simply merged. We see an old man and we simply assume certain qualities or characteristics that we associate with being old. I suggest that we pay attention to both, and the text offers an activity (page 58) that requires students to go to a public place and write down what they observe. You might deepen this by having students go to places in groups of four, sit down, and start noting what they observe. Following this, they should return to class and compare what they wrote down, what they noticed, and what they concluded. How were their personal views/beliefs implicated in what they wrote down?

Personal Essays and Profiles are the two main assignments in this chapter, and both might be used to engage students in other views than their own. Both require students to eventually focus their work around a main idea. In the profile, I require that students meet with and interview a person who is not only interesting in terms of their life story or occupation, but also holds views that differ from theirs. In this way, they begin to engage in a personal level with other ideas than they might have thought about.

Finally, the personal essay at the end of the chapter by Katelyn Crombie (page 65) is a great example of how students might explore the complexities and contradictions of identity.

Works Cited
Carter, Michael. Where Writing Begins: Toward a Postmodern Reconstruction. Carbondale: SIUP, 2003.

Yancy, Kathleen Blake, Liane Robertson, and Kara Taczak. Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing. Boulder: Utah State Press, 2015.
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Chapter Four: Writing Arguments in Community
Chapter Four continues the focus placed on invention while also introducing argument, another form of writing that students may believe they already know about. The first section of this chapter addresses what students have often experienced of argument in their communities and on TV–what they have seen of persuasion or agonistic forms of argument. Persuasion is often accomplished through emotional or naked appeals to desire or felt needs, as in advertising. In agonistic arguments, debate is engaged with the purpose of winning. In neither case is the discourse engaged through listening to other points of view. Argument is seen as a kind of battle to be won at all costs.

A Word about enthymemes:This chapter seeks to consider other motives for argument, most particularly the motive of finding the best possible opinions on an issue. Perhaps the most difficult material of Chapter 4 has to do with the reflection on enthymemes, what Aristotle called the soul of rhetoric. This is material that may be foreign to students who have had no experience with deductive reasoning. It may seem pointless to focus on, except that it provides a contrast to the contemporary view of argument as agonistic, as winning at all costs, and causing divisions. Enthymemes are considered informal syllogisms, where an obvious part of the reasoning is omitted because it is, well, obvious or, perhaps, not universal. “Of course Candidate Trump will make a great president. After all, he’s a successful businessman, isn’t he?” The syllogism behind this informal reasoning can be teased out to read like this: “All businessmen make great presidents. Donald Trump is a businessman. Therefore, he will make a great president.” The major premise of this deductive syllogism is, of course, what goes unstated, “All businessmen make great presidents.” There may be different motives for leaving this out. Perhaps it need not be said. Perhaps it is a shared value. Or perhaps, when it is stated so clearly, it might appear as what it is, a probability, not a universal truth. It can be argued against. But stated in the informal pattern above, it can seem to carry weight and be persuasive.

The ancients saw this unstated premise as a way to understand how persuasion works, how peoples’ values are in play, and what is available to refute or affirm. The enthymeme, where the unstated premise is shared, can bring people together. In this sense, the ancients saw rhetoric not as agonistic but as a form of consensus building. Where, they asked, can we find agreement? If we find agreement in our premises to our thinking, then it is possible to find agreement in our conclusions. This is the reason to focus on this ancient and, perhaps, unclear material. It shows how the ancient speaker looked for areas of agreement, thought about an audience’s values and opinions, and sought for ways to bring them into play.

Of course, too many today only want to know rules for arguing, or ways to win an argument supporting their views on abortion or gun control, divisive issues, to say the least. They have little patience for thinking about argument using these classical terms. Why seek consensus when we know that the other side is simply wrong or immoral. But we need to stress that we are introducing our students to a form of argument that resembles philosophical dialectic more than it does a modern TV commercial. What
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