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What's with the Cats, anyway?
Why all the cats? Well, the internet allowed for the creation of this book, and
catskittehs created theOne of the primary reasons this book features so many cats is the fact that the various macros (and now memes) associated with cats are also memes about language and the manipulation of language. I am a fan of all of these. Another reason I am using cat images here (beyond the more trivial fact that I really do like to look at images of cats quite a bit) is the fact that they are part of our campus now--I hope you've been able to see some of the feral cats that live by our classrooms--and they are also part of its history. Our Special Collections librarians can tell you more about Mrs. Hofstra's cats if you'd like to see these images (or any of the other cool things the university owns) in person.Finally, I will somewhat reluctantly mention a pertinent saying that relies on what I hope is a now a dead metaphor: "there's more than one way to skin a cat." Although I can not bear to imagine this sort of harm done to an animal, the basic idea conveyed by that phrase is useful in its implication that you may use multiple approaches to achieve a desired outcome. Writing works like this metaphor in the sense that there are few "universal" rules for what constitutes strong or compelling prose––even as there are "preferred" approaches in every academic discipline that may constrain some (or all) aspects of your written work.Throughout this semester, you'll hear me make statements along these lines:
I want to be clear here in noting that I would never do anything to harm a cat and you shouldn't either, and not just because it's against the law. But you should be open to trying different structures, diction, and approaches (and be willing to explore what seem like shallow subjects and personal proclivities in depth) as we all work on our prose this semester––and we must be mindful of the implications and consequences of our choices in each case.To stretch the skinning metaphor just a bit further, let us remember for a second that the act of removing the outer layers of a creature is a first step in scientific and humanistic inquiry, making it an apt (if also queasy-making) analogy for writing and any other mode of learning. Good writers will move their readers beyond a surface-level, fuzzy understanding of their subject, peeling back the layers of fur and fat in order to expose the hard stuff, the bone, muscle, and matter inside. As a student of writing, your job is not only to learn about the complexity of that matter by reading assigned texts actively, but also to pay attention to the skeletal system and vital organs that enliven anything you read. Note, for instance, the various elements that writers use to structure writing, from the grammar and diction that construct readable and meaningful sentences to the order of paragraphs and framing devices that set up claims and support for them.Finally, I will add that sometimes I find writing every bit as awful as I find the mental image of cat-harming. Writing for me isn't always (or ever) pleasurable because it is difficult, and the gains we make as writers are not always easy for others to detect. They aren't even visible to ourselves sometimes. Perhaps this fact alone more than justifies the inclusion of some pictures of cats.(By the way: I'm compiling good cat links here.)
- "Context and audience will play key roles in determining whether your choices are effective or not."
- "There's no such thing as a good source or a bad source in the abstract. What matters is how you intend to use it, whether it genuinely and solely supports what you intend for it to support, and the degree to which a source and your use of it meet specified standards of intellectual integrity."
- "Well, maybe. But try it anyway and see how it goes. Ask others to read it and provide feedback."
- "Hmm. I don't know if that will work. But I can't know for sure until I see it in motion. Put it in motion."
- "Either way will be fine probably. The real question is this: what will be the way that inspires you to keep moving ahead with this subject matter?"
You may return to the Table of Contents or Learn more about the nutty cat nut who wrote this book.
What is this book?
About "Writing With Substance"
This book is the composition textbook or reader in my Fall 2014 section of First-Year Writing. Or perhaps it takes the place of them.My decision to write it stems in part from multiple sources of discontent with the books I've known and used before, at least one of which I'd gladly use again if I could:
In addition to my feelings about other books, my interest in writing this book was fueled by the very existence of the platform Scalar, which allows us to experiment with content and style and revise in accordance to readers' feedback and at any point I learn something that inspires me to update or change it. Because it is free and not published or owned by a corporation, the book can exist here solely for the purpose of sharing a love for education and intellectual growth rather than as a product sold for profit or a CV line for tenure. In short, Scalar is a lovely model of how academic writing should work. It allows me to promoting and embody the principles that have made me the scholar I am so that my first-year writing course can be a wonderful model as well.Finally, I've written this book because I want to show that you can be fun, stylish, and silly and still write with substance.
- Rosa Eberly and Edward P.J. Corbett's The Elements of Reasoning, has not been updated in a very long time. And because my university houses Rhetoric in the School of Communications, it isn't the best fit for a Writing Studies course in a Liberal Arts (and more specifically, Humanities) department. Yes, I do know that Rhetoric was one of the original liberal arts. As they say on the internet, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
- Speaking of what "they say," I initially loved the concept of They Say I Say, but I did not love that the so-called "Moves that Matter in Academic Writing" were accompanied in the version with readings by a bunch of essays that were not academic scholarship. By that selection, a professor is forced to concede you can learn all about academic writing from reading the Cato Institute or The Washington Post. I did not find all of the essays they included to be objectionable in some way, but once I realized that many students weren't really reading the lists of formulas, or were too readily concluding that they simply needed to learn how to agree or disagree, I decided not to adopt it.
- I started my career teaching with Writing Lives, a book edited by Writing Program Assistants at the Ohio State University. It was primarily an edited collection organized around the concept of literacy (or different kinds of literacy), and though I think both I and my students enjoyed the book, it no longer exists. My next book was Ramage and Bean's Writing Arguments, which uses the Toulmin approach and encourages discussions about enthymemes and warrants. I found those terms useful in my own writing, but I didn't think that vocabulary was used enough (or at all) across the curriculum to provide a common language that students could take with them as the moved forward in their studies.
- I taught with John Ruskiewicz and Andrea Lunsford's Everything's An Argument for quite some time, followed by Lester Faigley's Good Reasons for quite some time, and though I have fond memories of those authors and found their books to be excellent, I wanted to find a way to talk about writing that wasn't rooted entirely in proving something. I also have had a poor time in the past two years getting my students to read from textbooks that are so obviously college textbooks. This experience reflects my own limits as a teacher as much as any limitation in a composition reader or scholar, but it, as much as anything, is behind my attempt to provide my own.