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Articles on Composition

Listed below are articles on this topic from the Campus Writing Program library. Short summaries and citations are provided when available.


Barnes, Carol P. and Goodhue-McWilliams, Kennith [eds.] "Those Who Can, Teach." ERIC, 1992. EDRS 352 352.

Various teachers explain their views of the teaching process through the use of metaphors and describe teaching strategies found to be effective in their own classes.

Beyer, Barry K. "Pre-Writing and Rewriting to Learn." Social Education (March 1979): 187-189, 197.

Argues for the importance of prewriting and revision in student writing. Describes prewriting activities--data analysis and data-using activities. Suggests ways to get students to revise the substance of their papers: checklists or peer review.

Bizzell, Patricia. "What Happens When Basic Writers Come to College?"College Composition and Communication 37.3 (1986): 132-139.

By looking at the academic community as a language community, basic writing programs can help basic writers more effectively because this type of view encompasses both language usage and critical thinking employed by the academy. Although it is difficult to ascertain the world view typical of basic writers upon entering college, it is easier to generalize about the academic world view: a world in which absolutes give way to commitments. Students learn that they can choose to align themselves with various positions, based on what they believe to be the merits of the argument. This transition may be harder for basic writers, partly because they stand to lose the most, but the ultimate gains will be worth the effort.

California Berkeley (Univ. of, at ). Actual author: Steve Tollefson. "Encouraging Student Writing, A Guide for Instructors." Office of Educational Development, University of California at Berkeley, July 1988.

Chapters for faculty discuss how to construct writing assignments, how to evaluate written work, how to avoid plagiarism. Chapters for students discuss theses, introductions, active vs. passive voice, how to write research papers.

Clark, Irene L. "Some Ideas on Readability." Writing in the Center: Teaching in a Writing Center Setting. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1985. 72-75.

Gives 12 simple rules that writers can follow as they write or revise to make their prose more readable. Rules include: use natural SVO order, use verbs rather than nouns, prefer concrete over abstract, avoid "to be" verbs, cut unnecessary words and cliches.

Coogan, David. Electronic Writing Centers: Computing in the Field of Composition.Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing Company. 1999.

Coogan theorizes the electronic writing center as a dialogic space where students and tutors learn to value those off-stage voices and contradictory impulses that inform their writing. This approach is opposed to that in which the writing center is a fix-it shop and the computer is a type of teaching machine. The text has five chapters: "Tutors and Computers in Composition Studies," "Email `Tutoring' and Dialogic Literacy," "The Medium is Not the Message," "The Idea of an Electronic Writing Center," and "Computing in the Field of Composition." An appendix, "African-American Poetry as Catalyst for Exploring Discrimination," includes a 4-week teaching guide on poetry and discrimination for junior and senior high school students.

Curtis, Marcia, and Anne J. Herrington. "Diversity in Required Writing Courses." Promoting Diversity in College Classrooms. (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 52.) Ed. Maurianne Adams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. 71-84.

Summarizes development of culturally diverse curriculum for a freshman comp course. Also describes assignments used to encourage students to deal with cultural/ethnic/etc. diversity.

DeBeaugrande, Robert. "Forward to the Basics: Getting Down to Grammar." College Composition and Communication 35.3 (1984): 358- 367.

Argues that most people have a working understanding of grammar as it is actually used in normal conversation. But when grammar is taught, it's most often taught as an abstract set of rules to be applied. Author argues that people would have an easier time constructing grammatically correct sentences if we put this active grammatical knowledge to use. Suggests techniques writers can use to detect sentence fragments or comma splices, identify subjects and predicates, find verbs that must agree with subjects, and label verb tenses. (Techniques are similar to those described in Muriel Harris, "Teaching One-to-One.")

Edwards, Bruce L. "Tagmemic Rhetoric." No citation; manuscript with attached photocopied pages.

Manuscript defines tagmemic rhetoric, summarizes its history, and briefly reviews a text that uses a tagmemic theory of rhetoric, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change, by Young, Becker, and Pike (1970).

Flanigan, Michael C., and Diane S. Menendez. "Perception and Change: Teaching Revision." College English 42.3 (1980): 256- 266.

Describes a method for teaching revision in a freshman comp class, using structured revision guides completed by peer "editors," and discussed among editors and writers. Argues that this combination of editorial commentary and peer review enables students to view their writing more objectively, and gain a stronger sense of audience. Comments emphasize how the reader/editor made sense of the writer's text, what the reader was led to expect and why.

Gefvert, Constance. "Training Teachers of Basic Writing." Basic Writing: Essays for Teachers, Researchers, Administrators. Eds. Lawrence N. Kasden and Daniel R. Boeber. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1980. 119- 140.

Justifies the teaching of a special course for teachers of basic writers. Describes readings and course design, and presents a model syllabus.

Graves, Richard L. "A Primer for Teaching Style." College Composition and Communication 25.2 (1974): 186-190.

Teachers often remark that they feel frustrated in their attempts to teach writing, while at the same time they devalue teaching style. Because good style seems to be a hallmark of good writing, it makes sense for teachers to adjust their classroom priorities. The problem, though, is that style seems to be vague. This article, however, offers a variety of techniques to enable students to understand style, and how it contributes to writing. For the most part, these techniques concentrate upon defining and illustrating various rhetorical terms, possibly out of hope that the students will then be able to apply the concepts to their own work.

Hairston, Maxine "Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing" College Composition and Communication 43.2 (1992): 179- 193.

Warns against a trend she's noticed: the use of composition courses as political tools for social reform rather than student-centered writing workshops. Argues that literary critics and theory-crazy grad students have wrongly infused ideology into the teaching of writing. Suggests that a culturally-inclusive curriculum can be had by focusing on the experiences of the students rather than by forcing a 'multiculturalist' agenda.

Harris, Muriel. "Individualized Diagnosis: Searching for Causes, Not Symptoms, of Writing Deficiencies." With a comment by Vincent Puma, and a response by Muriel Harris. College English 40.3 (1978). Reprinted Tutoring Writing: A Sourcebook for Writing Labs. Ed. Muriel Harris. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1982.

Original Harris article discusses a questionaire used in her writing lab to determine how motivated the student is to write, how important s/he sees writing as being, etc. Puma commentary argues that tutors need more info than this: more about the underlying cause or nature of the grammatical/mechanical errors a student makes. In her response, Harris agrees with Puma and discusses some of the questions she asks tutees to pinpoint the information the student lacks, or the misinformation the student holds.

Jacobs, Erica. "Improving the Literature Class as We've Improved the Writing Class." No citation. 56-63.

Describes the success of incorporating into literature classes techniques commonly used in writing classes: small group work to answer specific questions about a piece of literature; peer review of drafts; and writing that relates personal experience to some aspect of the topic considered in the piece of literature.

Jaeger, George. "One Year Later: Description of a Freshman Composition Class Taught Completely Online by Computer and Modem Hosted on a BBS." No citation.

A report on a composition course taught by computer, with no face-to-face interaction. Argues that face-to-face interaction is not necessary for one-to-one interaction; that collaborative learning can occur under these circumstances; and that in general this is a good way to offer composition courses.

Kaufer, David S., and Erwin R. Steinberg. "Economies of Expression: Some Hypothesis." College Compostion and Communication 39.4 (1988): 453- 457.

It is important to consider the context and purpose of all information before applying general stylistic editing rules. We should analyze what information is necessary for the reader's understanding, and edit accordingly.

Kintsch, Walter, and Douglas Vipond. "Reading Comprehension and Readability in Educational Practice and Psychological Theory." Perspectives on Memory Research: Essays in Honor of Uppsala University's 500th Anniversary. Ed. Lars- Goran Nilsson. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1979. 329-365.

Discusses the inadequacy of readability formulas, stating specifically that neither the predictor variables nor the measure of readability that the predictors are correlated with are defined adequately. Moreover, the formulas are completely atheoretical. The authors suggest a model of readability based on theories of reading comprehension. They take several passages differing in readability and identify characteristics that affect readability: number of propositions per paragraph, number of new concepts per proposition, and coherence (path from every concept to every other concept). Then describes a hypothetical comprehension process that fits with the theory above.

Klare, George R. "Assessing Readability." Reading Research Quarterly 1 (1974-75): 62-102.

Describes formulas used for measuring the readability of a piece of writing, including the Fog Index and other formulas. Describes both original and revised/recalculated versions. Most of these formulas include at least a word/syntactic variable and a sentence/semantic variable; beyond this the complexity of the formulas varies widely. Summarizes manual and computerized application aids available also. Points out that these formulas yield indices of readability, but say nothing about causes of high or low readability, and don't indicate how to write readably.

Kroll, Barry M. "Some Development Princples for Teaching Composition." No citation. 258-271. Note on p. 1: "This essay originally appeared in a slightly different form in Teaching English in the Two-Year College 7 (1980): 17-21. (c) East Carolina University."

Suggests principles that use cognitive development concepts of Piaget in freshman comp: Provide writing problems; emphasize writing as a process; facilitate social interaction; recognize the importance of attitudes; extend language facility (fluency); deal forthrightly with errors (i.e., do error analysis).

Lybbert, E.K. and D.W. Cummings. "On Repetition and Coherence." College Composition and Communication 20.1 (1969): 35-38.

This article explains the difference between unity and coherence in writing, and considers ways in which repetition and parallelism can be used to make writing more or less coherent.

Matalene, Carolyn. "Contrastive Rhetoric: An American Writing Teacher in China." College English 47 (1985): 789-808.

Summarizes the author's experiences as a composition teacher in China. Outlines differences between Chinese rhetorical conventions (importance of indirect approach, rigid format for argumentation, flowery prose, importance of reading and citing the classic literature, etc.).

Morris, John O., and Margaret C. McLaren. "Responses to Readability Issue," and "Another Approach to Readability." Journal of Business Communication (Spring 1982): 51-58.

Responses of 2 authors to articles by Selzer and by Tibbetts, in a previous issue of the journal on readability. Morris argues that readability formulas aren't as widely used as Selzer indicates, and suggests that length limits on sentences and paragraphs can help avoid unclear writing. McLaren agrees with Selzer that formulas are hopeless, and in their place suggests rules for readable prose, similar to those of Tibbetts.

Peterson, Linda. "Repetition and Metaphor in the Early Stages of Composing." College Composition and Communication 36.4 (1985): 429-443.

Peterson uses a series of drafts of a statement by Richard Wright about his autobiography Black Boy to illustrate how repetition and metaphor are used by a writer at various stages in the writing process. She suggests that these are often generative strategies to be used in the early stages of the writing process, and should be differentiated from the later stage of editing for style and clarity. Repetition and metaphor often help the writer clarify meaning to themselves. Most expository prose then becomes a way of working out the implications contained in the metaphors used.

Raybin, Ron. "The Technique of the Infelicitous Alternative." ERIC ED 049 249.

Illustrates the use of a teaching device in literature or composition classes: the infelicitous alternative, or "the find-out- what-it-isn't-to-discover-what-it-is approach." The basic approach: present a poor alternative to the correct or desired characteristic or wording, and have students tell you why that isn't as good as the actual wording, characteristic, etc.

Selzer, Jack. "Readability is a Four- Letter Word." Journal of Business Communication 18.4 (1981): 23-34.

Points out that readability formulas are widespread in business, government, teaching, etc., and criticizes the use of formulas to assess the readability of prose. Argues that the formulas don't always predict readability accurately, mainly because they don't take whole-paper level concerns into account. Also, formulas don't help writers produce more readable prose--formulas suggest that shorter sentences or words will increase readability, and this isn't necessarily the case. Finally, he suggests that formulas, by emphasizing product over process, have detrimentally affected the teaching of writing.

Shaughnessy, Mina "Common Errors." Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. 90-159.

Chapter 4 of Shaughnessy's text. Suggests that basic writing instructors need to differentiate between performance-based errors and grammatically-based errors in order to address the needs of basic writers more effectively. Examines the types of errors students may make, and implies strategies for lesson planning.

Shaughnessy, Mina. "Syntax." Errors and Expectations. New York: Oxford UP. 1977. 44-89.

This is the third chapter of Shaughnessy's book. Whereas practiced writers look at syntax in terms of stylistic choices, a basic writer looks at syntax in terms of correctness. Unfamiliarity with the dialect of formal writing often leads basic writers into predictable error patterns, but traditional grammar drill fails to give these writers a good grasp of how to employ effective syntactic strategies as part of their writing process.

Sommers, Nancy. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers." College Composition and Communication 31 (1980): 378-388.

Case studies of freshmen and experienced writers (academics, journalists, editors), each of whom wrote 3 essays and revised each essay twice. Analyzed changes from draft to draft. Results: student writers change individual words when they "revise;" worry a lot about repetition; don't know how to identify or deal with larger concerns in a paper. Experienced writers see drafts as attempts to structure their argument, to deal with concerns of audience. Experienced writers use more different types of revision activities; see the paper as a whole; and revision as a recursive process.

Tibbetts, Arn. "Ten Rules for Writing Readably." Journal of Business Communication 18.4 (1981): 53-62.

Gives 10 rules writers can use as they write or revise to make their writing more readable. Rules include using genuinely familiar words, avoiding abstract nouns, breaking sentences into clear units that are separated by commas and marked by signalling words, and varying sentence structure.

Williams, Joseph M. "The Phenomenology of Error." College Composition and Communication 32 (1981): 152-168.

Discusses the difficulty of defining grammatical/mechanical errors, and the wide variation in definitions and judgments about the seriousness of different errors. Defines categories of error based on whether a rule was violated or not and whether we (readers) notice or respond to its violation or not. Discusses errors that fall into each of these categories.

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