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).

November 16, 2010

Blair, Only One of the Voices

Blair, Catherine Pastore. “Only One of the Voices: Dialogic Writing Across the Curriculum.” College English 50.4 (April 1988): 383-389. Print.

Blair argues that allowing English departments to house writing-across-the-curriculum programs gives them, either intentionally or unintentionally, more power and administrative oversight over the WAC program, which conflicts with the underlying theory of WAC, which is to see writing equally spread and used across the curriculum. How English departments see and understand writing is local and discipline-specific, and the goal of a WAC program is to expand that understanding of writing; the “English way” is not the “only way” and is certainly not the “best way.” She uses her interdisciplinary WAC program at Bucknell to explain how a WAC program can be run by a cross-curricular committee.

Notes and Quotes

draws on Bakhtin, Freire to talk about understanding through dialogue – what happens in a true WAC program

don’t let English be the experts (extension of colonialism, oppressor relationships)

see a WAC program founded on “frequent writing,” not a set number of words or pages, which doesn’t serve the needs of all disciplines.

assumes some sort of consensus about writing will be reached – but will it?

“Neutral, all-purpose, one-size-fits-all, context-free writing is an impossibility; this course teaches writing from the English department point of view” (385).

“Therefore, whether we like it or not, whether we intend it or not, in teaching writing (a language use), we teach context, we teach our imaginary worlds, we teach our disciplines – their definitions, syntax, assumptions, goals, moral code, their ways of being in the intellectual world” (384).

July 6, 2009

North, The Making of Knowledge in Composition

North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1987.

Through his description of the major methodologies used by composition and rhetoric scholars, North argues that the future of Composition depends on two things: Composition’s break with literary studies and Composition’s ability to retain its plurality of methodologies, not allowing for one to overpower and prevent others from flourishing. North rejects that Composition is undergoing a Kuhn paradigm shift because he claims that the field is so diverse that it never had a paradigmatic structure. North divides the field into three branches of inquiry: the practicioners (who ask “what do we do?”); the scholars (who ask “what does it mean?”) and the researchers (who ask “what happened (or happens)?)  His book lays out a map through which to see and understand the field, noting interdisciplinary influences (humanities and science) and the influence of public policy and politics.

Notable Notes

dates the beginning of Composition to 1963 – Kitzhaber’s address to CCCC “4C and Freshman English” – move beyond just practicioner knowledge to a field, profession

what’s needed to maintain plurality of methodologies? 1. methodological consciousness 2. methodological egalitarianism 3. practice as inquiry 4. recognition and appreciation of lore

scholars include historians, philosophers, and critics

researchers include experimentalists, clinicians, formalists, and ethnographers

June 12, 2009

Cooper and Odell, Research on Composing

Cooper, Charles R. and Lee Odell. Research on Composing: Points of Departure. Urbana: NCTE, 1978.

This collection, from the 1975 Buffalo Conference on Researching Composing, wants to expand the nature and scope of research on the writing process. The editors argue that to do so, scholars in composition need to question their basic assumptions about how writing happens and be open to changing and revising their theories. Writing researchers, they argue, need to look at writers, not written products of published writers, for models of composing, and should look beyond English for answers to research questions – to rhetorical theory, developmental and cognitive psychology, education, and discourse theory. The essays – including those written by Britton, Young, Emig, and Murray – are therefore speculative and broad in scope, trying out new theories and ideas to open the door for further research and questioning in the composing process.

Quotable Quotes

purpose: “redirecting and revitalizing research in written composition” (xiii)

Notable Notes

value of teacher-research

January 26, 2009

Chaput, “Lest We Go the Way of Vocational Training”

Chaput, Catherine. “Lest We Go the Way of Vocational Training: Developing Undergraduate Writing Programs in the Humanist Tradition.” WPA 31.3 (Spring 2008) 15-31.

Chaput argues for structuring undergraduate writing majors around the conjunction between cultural studies and rhetoric, citing that this politically-active theoretical foundation will best serve students, who must communicate in a globalized, interdisciplinary, integrated world of sign-symbols and discourse systems. Rhetoric has been treated as a sub-sub-discipline (of composition and English), thus fracturing and fragmenting its study at the university, but the undergraduate writing major has the possibility of allowing students to focus on rhetoric with a cultural studies inquiry (as is done in many graduate programs.) The Writing and Culture concentration at Georgia Southern University is used as the model in the article; it is one of four concentrations in the Writing Department and is the most theoretical and humanist of all of them. Chaput is concerned with the professionalization of writing majors, arguing that undergraduate students should be trained to see the connection between rhetoric and democracy in all spheres of public discourse.

Quotable Quotes

“In an interdisciplinary world, writing programs need to interact with the rhetorical functions of politics and entertainment as they emerge in both public and private spaces” (16).

“foundation in liberal, rather than mechanical, arts” (16).

“continually working at the intersections of rhetorical humanism and cultural studies” (16).

wants majors to “be based exclusively on rhetorical humanism and cultural studies. Such a curriculum would move beyond the professionalizing, reproductive mechanism of traditional rhetorical practices, at least within the domain of composition, and embrace rhetoric as a dynamic that produces the material and textual world through cultural, political, and economic valuations” (22).

such a major gives students “the theoretical and practical tools necessary to engage, negotiate, and transform a world in which textuality dominates our personal and public lives, encouraging a politics and culture of engagement” (26).

Notable Notes

other concentrations in the major are linguistics, creative writing, and professional and technical writing.

service/applied/outreach courses

theory courses are cross-listed graduate

uses Freire to talk about rhetorical humanism goals

writing majors can’t just prepare students for workplace writing

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