Revolution Lullabye

February 17, 2016

Bacon, Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style

Bacon, Nora. “Review Essay: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Style.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (December 2015): 290-303.

In this book review, Bacon reviews two recent popular style manuals: Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing and Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Bacon points out the strengths and flaws of both books, ultimately arguing that although both Sword and Pinker bring important interdisciplinary perspectives to teaching style, neither of them (but particularly Pinker) draw on or engage thoroughly enough in the research and theories of composition studies. Bacon calls for more public scholarship by compositionists on writing and style, pointing out that in its absence, other scholars and fields have taken our place.

Bacon uses Patrick Hartwell’s taxonomy of grammars from his 1985 article to construct a parallel taxonomy of style: style 1 (individual style), style 2 (house style), style 3 (usage), style 4 (plain style), style 5 (elaborated style.) She uses this taxonomy to analyze the arguments and advice promoted in both Sword’s and Pinker’s books.

Sword’s book is written to academics about academic prose, and one of Sword’s central arguments is that academics don’t need to write in a boring, stiff style. Sword conducted an empirical study of academic writing in 10 disciplines, and she uses her analysis of the data (over 1000 journal articles) to suggest specific strategies academic writers can use to write better, more reader-friendly and engaging prose.

Pinker’s book is written from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and a linguist, and Bacon points out the main flaw that she sees in it: Pinker’s arguments are detached from composition studies and seem to assume that a person who understands grammar will be a better writer. Bacon disagrees and argues that the relationship between knowing linguistics and sentence structure and being able to write with a clear, dynamic style is complicated. Describing language is different than using it.


Quotable Quotes

“Moving too hastily from linguistics to writing, Pinker makes the mistake that generations of back-to-basics school reformers have made, imagining that the way to improve writers’ sentences is to teach them grammar. Composition scholars know that the relationship between an understanding of grammar and an ability to write healthy sentences is not so simple” (300).

“Gaining metalinguistic knowledge is one thing; learning to write well is another. Confusing the two leads to misguided instruction” (301).

“In classrooms and books, we talk about the rules of usage, the virtues of plain style, and the pleasures of the elaborated style in the hope that the discussion will help writers achieve more effective individual styles” (292).

October 9, 2014

Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014. Print. 

Drucker’s project in this book is to show how visual forms of knowledge not only display knowledge but create and generate knowledge. Drucker argues for humanist graphical knowledge: visual forms of knowledge that account for complexity, not simplicity, and that understand information as constructed, not context-less, given, or value-less. Drucker crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries as she traces the history of visual and graphical forms, showing how different categories of visual forms of knowledge situate knowledge and make arguments about hierarchies, relationships, and individual agencies. Her book juxtaposes her text and her argument with visual forms of knowledge from ancient hieroglyphics and stone carvings to screenshots of digital texts and maps. One of her goals is to show how the informational graphics and the interfaces that have become such an intertwined part of our everyday experience are arguments themselves, designed for specific purposes. She works in this book to bring these more invisible visual elements to the forefront and analyze them in critical, humanistic terms.

Quotable Quotes

“Humanists work with fragmentary evidence when researching cultural materials. They produce interpretations, not repeatable results. We have to find graphical conventions to show uncertainty and ambiguity in digital models, not just because these are conditions of knowledge production in our disciplines, but because the very model of knowledge itself that gets embodied in the process has values whose cultural authority matters very much” (191).

Writing and composition in a networked and digital world: “In spite of the networked condition of textual production, the design of digital platforms for daily use has hardly begun to accommodate the imaginative possibilities of constellationary composition, graphic interpretation, and diagrammatic writing…Very few acts of composition are diagrammatic, constellationary, or associative. Fewer still are visual or spatial. The predominant modes of composition in digital displays have remained quite linear, even when they have combinatoric or modular underpinnings” (183).

the future of humanistic interface: “More attention to the acts of producing and less emphasis on the product, the creation of an interface that is meant to expose and support the activity of interpretation, rather than to display finished forms, would be a good starting place” (179).

The graphical interface (our screen) is an argument, not a thing: “We ignore its graphicality, its constructedness, the very features that support its operations and make it work. We look at the interface as a thing, a representation of computational processes that make it convenient for us to interact with what is ‘really’ happening. But the interface is a mediating structure that supports behaviors and tasks. It is a space between human users and procedures that happen according to complicated protocols. But it also disciplines, constrains, and determines what can be done in any digital environment” (138-139).

“Perhaps the most striking feature distinguishing humanistic, interpretative, and constructivist graphical expressions from realist statistical graphics is that the curves, bars, columns, percentage values would not always be represented as discrete bounded entities, but as conditional expressions of interpretative parameters – a kind of visual fuzzy logic or graphical complexity. Thus their edges might be permeable, lines dotted and broken, dots and points might vary in size and scale or degree of ambiguity in placement. These graphical strategies express interpreted knowledge, situated and partial, rather than complete.” (132)

“The rendering of statistical information into graphical form gives it a simplicity and legibility that hides every aspect of the original interpretative framework on which the statistical data were constructed. The graphical force conceals what the statistician knows very well – that no “data” pre-exist their parameterization. Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128)

“Maps, like other graphic conventions, construct normative notions about time, space, and experience that become so familiar that we take them for accurate representations rather than constructions” (82).

“Visualization formats exist independent of particular media. Calendars don’t have to be scratched into stone and bar charts don’t need to be rendered by engravers with finely tooled burins – any more than scatter plots have to be generated computationally.” (67)

“The interpretative acts that become encoded in graphical formats may disappear from final view in the process, but they are the persistent ghosts in the visual scheme, rhetorical elements of generative artifacts. The challenge is to develop a terminology for the rhetorical iconography of graphical forms that is grounded in the features of spatialized relations such as hierarchy, juxtaposition, and proximity (66).

The forms of our visual communication are arguments themselves: the forms were culturally-constructed and still contain that history: “We are still Babylonians, in our use of the calendar, our measure of days, hours, and minutes, just as we remain classical in our logic, medieval in our classification systems, and modern in our use of measurements expressed in rational form. Each of the many schematic conventions in daily use and the frequently unquestioned appearance in our documents and websites replicate ideologies in graphics” (65).

“Though we often use visual means to make images of invisible things, much of contemporary life simply can’t be shown. The workings of power, the force of ideology, the transmission of values, and other abstract ideas have no specific visual form, even if they work through a material social world.

“Speed, scale, complexity, and the infrastructure in place and at work in systems of communications, production, distribution, much scientific discovery, and humanistic thought simply cannot be made apparent in visual images. But an endless stream of visualizations continues to turn complex phenomena into images, reifying abstractions, turning them into objects to be seen” (22-23).

Goal: “the urgency of finding critical languages for the graphics that predominate in the networked environment” (17)

Methodology: “draw on the rich history of graphical forms of knowledge production that are the legacy of manuscript and print artifacts as well as digital media works in the arts and applied realms” (17)

“Even though our relation to experience is often (and increasingly) mediated by visual formats and images, the bias against visual forms of knowledge production is longstanding in our culture. Logocentric and numero-centric attitudes prevail” (16).

Notable Notes


Key terms in the introduction

information graphics = “visualizations based on abstractions of statistical data…Visualizations are always interpretations – data does not have an inherent visual that merely gives rise to a graphic expression” (7)

graphical user interface – “dominant feature of screens in all shapes and sizes…In a very real, practical sense we carry on most of our personal and professional business through interfaces. Knowing how interface structures our relation to knowledge and behavior is essential.” (8)

Visual epistemology – “ways of knowing that are presented and processed visually” (8)

Language of form – “a systematic approach to graphic expression as a means as well as an object of study” (9)

Image, Interpretation, and Interface

Looks at different theoretical and methodological ways of understanding visual forms as knowledge, cross disciplinary and across history

There have been efforts in the late 19th, 20th, and 21st century to create a language for graphics – formal rules and descriptions (18)

We use visualization a lot, but it is still treated as less than, suspect (23) Maybe in part because there is no universal grammar of visualization – visuals by their nature are not consistent, don’t hold meaning with “stable, fixed, and finite rules” like words/language/mathematics does. (24)

In science, visuals were used to represent and record knowledge, not produce knowledge (26-27)

Change in the late nineteenth century (Eugene Guillamume, industrial revolution) from a graphic language based on the human body (fine arts) to one based on geometry (industrial design, design to be produced and reproduced through mechanical means) (31).

Growth of formal education/principles/methods in graphic and visual design in the 20th century, modernism (35)

20th century – rise of the use of visual/graphical/statistical displays of knowledge

Interpreting Visualization/Visualizing Interpretation

The histories of visual forms of knowledge

Forms that Drucker investigates: 1. Timekeeping (star charts, calendars, timelines; 2. Space-making (maps); 3. Administration and record-keeping (tables, charts, grids, flow charts); 4. Trees of knowledge (family trees, network diagrams, evolutionary diagrams, division and hierarchy and relationships); 5. Knowledge generators (diagrams, volvelles, Venn diagrams; 6. Dynamic systems (model processes and events, weather maps and meteorology, fluid dynamics, chaos theory and systems mapping

Distinction between “static” representations (those visual representations that are merely representations of information) and “dynamic” representations (those visual representations that can create or generate knowledge) (65).

Interface and Interpretation

Looks at digital and book interface as encoding and producing knowledge, explores what a humanistic interface design might be and entail.


Call for new rhetorics, grammars of the digital media age

January 4, 2013

Matsuda, Let’s Face It

Matsuda, Paul. “Let’s Face It: Language Issues and the Writing Program Administrator.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 141-163. Print.

Matsuda argues that writing program administrators need to establish clear policy statements for grammar teaching and grading in light of reseach that shows the complexity of second language acquisition.  Matsuda contends that it is unfair to assume language homogenity in the writing classroom – the idea that all students come to the writing classroom with the same linguistic resources – especially in light of the increasing international student population in American universities. Futhermore, Matsuda uses scholarship from second language writing and linguistics to show that even with written grammar feedback on student writing, improvement in a student’s grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awarenss may not take place or may take place very slowly.  Therefore, using the principle of instructional alignment (where outcomes, instructional methods, and assessment strategies align), Matsuda argues that second language writers should not be marked down for their grammatical errors, since it is often impossible for teachers to teach students grammatical correctness or metalinguistic awareness in just a single semester.

Matsuda points to the field’s turn away from language issues as one of the reasons why writing teachers are so confounded with second language writing issues.  He also suggests the adoption of pedagogical grammar, and encourages WPAs and writing teachers to learn methods of pedagogical grammar (which is grounded in applied linguistics) in order to help raise students’ metalinguistic awareness.

Notable Notes

nice overview of scholarship in comp/rhet that argues for and against attention to grammar and language issues (147-154)

uses the WPA Outcomes Statement to show that although attention to style and grammar is part of first-year writing outcomes, the extent to which students master style or grammar or the weight placed on style and grammar is not specificied in the outcomes. (145)

writing teachers need to provide grammar feedback – it will not guarantee learning, but it will faciliate it (not giving feedback won’t.)

Quotable Quotes

“The key is to focus on the development of linguistic resources rather than to focus on deficits” (156). Punishing students for errors can backfire when students avoid complex constructions on purpose.

“As a rule of thumb, the proportion of grammar grades should not exceed the proportion of grammar instruction provided that can guarantee student learning. If, for some reason, the program or the institution deems it important and necessary to assess students based on the myth of linguistic homogeneity – that is, to demand that all students meet the standards that can be expected only of life-long users of the dominant variety of English – then reasonable provisions need to be made to accomodate those who do not fit the profile, including second language writers and users of non-dominant varieties of English” (157).

“If grammar feedback does not guarantee learning, is it fair to hold students accountable? If we take the principle of instructional alignment seriously, the answer would have to be negative, and we need to stop punishing students for what they do not bring with them” (155).

May 23, 2011

Micciche, Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar

Micciche,  Laura. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” CCC 55.4 (June 2004): 716-737.

Micciche argues that teaching grammar rhetorically prepares students to be effective rhetoricians and communicators, and that explicitly teaching students how language functions and constructs realities is in lines with the goals of liberating education. Micciche breaks down the binary between formal, overt grammatical instruction and inventive thinking and composing, arguing that grammar should not be a consideration for the final draft but one that spurs thinking and writing. Rhetorical grammar leads to questioning relationships between people and ideas and the cultural and ideological foundations upon which knowledge is made.

Micciche used Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar and Crowley’s Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students as anchor texts to teach her students rhetorical grammar.

Notes and Quotes

Rhetorical grammar underscores the purposeful use of language – that people’s grammatical choices do make a difference.

A closeness to language

“The chief reason for teaching rhetorical grammar in writing classes is that doing so is central to teaching thinking. The ability to develop sentences and form paragraphs that serve a particular purpose requires a conceptual ability to envision relationships between ideas. Such relationships involve processes of identification with an imagined or real reader and reflection on the way our language invites and/or alienates readers. The grammatical choices we make, including pronoun use, active or passive verb constructions, and sentence patterns- represent relations between writers and the world they live in. Word choice and sentence structure are an expression of the way we attend to the words of others, the way we position ourselves in relation to others. In this sense, writing involves cognitive skills at the level of idea development and at the sentence level. How we put our ideas into words and comprehensible forms is a dynamic process rather than one with clear boundaries between what we say and how we say it.” (719)

“When we broaden the goals of rhetorical grammar, it’s possible to see how the intimate study of language it encourages has enormous potential for studying language as central to constructions of identity and culture.” (721)

Sentence-level choices give clues to an author’s ideas about power, identity, culture

Pedagogy, commonplace books: “My course is based on the assumption that learning how to use grammar to best effect requires lots of practice and a good deal of exposure to varied writing styles. To this end, students maintain a commonplace book throughout the semester in which they imitate and record passages of their own choosing.” (723-724) Gives students the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between how something is said and what is said and also gives them the chance to practice identifying and using grammatical terms and structures. – gives students a framework and vocabulary

November 10, 2010

Deis, Frye, and Weese, Independence Fostering Community

Deis, Elizabeth J., Lowell T. Frye, and Katherine J. Weese. “Independence Fostering Community: The Benefits of an Independent Writing Program at a Small Liberal Arts College.” In A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Ed. Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 75-89. Print.

The independent Department of Rhetoric at Hampden-Sydney College, a small liberal arts school, was created through an all-college, all-faculty decision in 1978 in order to centralize and improve writing instruction at the college through a required two-course sequence, proficiency exams, a campus-wide writing center, and faculty participation from across campus. (what they call an “informal approach to WAC”) (78). It is a program that is really “owned” by the entire campus, and therefore its curriculum arises out of what the entire faculty decides as what is important instead of following the trends and emerging research in composition and rhetoric. This works because it is such a small, cohesive school.

Notes and Quotes

Good discussion of proficiency exams, grammar exams, and introduction of a basic course before the sequence.  


March 28, 2009

Kress, Multimodality

Kress, Gunther. “Multimodality.” In Multiliteracies. Eds. Cope and Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 182-202.

The separation of modes in our theories paralyzes us to talk about and design things appropriate for our technologically and culturally diverse world. We need to develop a theory that can take into account the multimodal nature of all human knowledge, one that encourages multimodal design and creation. Preferring one mode over another disserves some members of society and denies them agency.

Quotable Quotes

Need to “treat all text-like objects as multimodal” (184).

“We have to rethink ‘language’ as a multimodal phenomenon. Our present conception of language is revealed as an artefact of theory and of common sense.” (184).

Notable Notes

Objects (websites, artifacts) have insignt into social practices and are semiotic and communicate meaning. We need to read objects more deeply to understand the cognitive and creative work that goes into creating them.

Gives a sample of a grammar/structure, a way to talk about visual literacy.

human senses never act in isolation

February 8, 2009

Mutnick, On the Academic Margins

Mutnick, Deborah. “On the Academic Margins: Basic Writing Pedagogy.” 183-202.

How to teach and understand basic writers has developed from studying them through their errors (Shaugnessy), to in-depth cognitive research to understand how their thinking and writing practices, to finally seeing them in the larger political and social context, analyzing how they learn to appropriate and use academic language, and how academic language affects their home language and culture. Basic writing pedagogy is interested in how students from diverse cultures and backgrounds come into and work in the university, the relationship between language and meaning, linguistic theories of error, and the writing and learning processes of adults. New pushes in basic writing pedagogy include mainstreaming basic writers in “regular” first-year composition classrooms and developing competency requirements that aren’t tied to a particular university course.

Notable Notes

First forays: Mina Shaughnessy – CUNY Open Admissions; Horner “Discoursing Basic Writing”

Cognitive process studies: Perl “Unskilled”; Sommers; Lunsford “What We Know” – showed problems in analysis and synthesis

Social and rhetorical theories: Bartholomae Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts and “Inventing”; Gilyard Voices of the Self; Students’ Right to Their Own Language; Bizzell biculturalism; Tom Fox “Standards and Access”; Alice Horning “Teaching Writing as a Second Lanuage”

students on the social margins change through education but must develop their own consciousness, the new discourses they learn affect their home ones. Basic writing courses can transform the students, teachers, administration, and institutions

January 29, 2009

Newkirk, To Compose

Newkirk, Thomas. To Compose: Teaching Writing in High School and College. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1990.

This, an expanded edition, contains essays by both compositionists and teacher-practicioners (high school and college) about teaching the writing process. It focuses on seeing students as writers and working as teachers to give them latitude to work as writers do, experimenting with style, finding entry points for starting to write, using journals to practice and learn knowledge, and developing their own critical lens through which they can revisit and revise their own writing.

Here’s an overview of the sections and the notable (to me) essays in each one:

1. Prologue: Arthur Daigon, comparing the writing process to current-traditionalist model of writing instruction (product-based)

2. Getting Started
2 essays about writers and their own individual writing process, emphasizing trusting your own instincts (Stafford and Cormier)
Donald Murray – the forces that help a writer get started: finding more information, caring more about the subject, having a audience waiting, and having a deadline
Sondra Perl – the recursive nature of writing, how writers negotiate through the forces of retrospection and projection, moving by felt-sense between the two

3. Responding
Donald Murray – the teacher’s job is to help students devleop the “other self,” teaching them how to critically analyze and understand their writing from outside themselves. We model this through our own writing and by responding to students in conferences, in class, and in discussions.
Linda Flower – the importance of writer-based prose at the beginning of the writing process, allowing an intimate personal connection to the writing and opportunities for invention and conscious thinking about writing. The shift then must happen to reader-based prose, as writers must concern themselves with how their writing is received and understood by the audience.

4. Writing and Literature – four essays about using writing as a driving force in teaching literature, making the learning of literature not just about reading texts.

5. WAC
Bryant Fillion – Canadian school survey that showed skills like reading and listening are emphasized over productive activities like speaking and writing in classrooms, the need for a shift to using language for productive ends – learning through writing across the curriculum
Toby Fulwiler – how student journals can be used across the curriculum as a commonplace notebook for students to gather and mine ideas for both personal and academic growth.

6. Style and Grammar
Tom Romano – a unit about teaching students to explictily break “Grammar A” (referencing Winston Weathers) rules and encourage the conscious development of style through innovation and experimentation.

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