Writing With Substance: You Can Haz it! SRSLY!

(Stop) Arguing (For Now)

Many of the composition textbooks available to writing instructors are organized around the basic principles of argumentation.  This book likewise understands that these principles--which center on the act of constructing well-supported claims--are necessary to master in order to produce strong written work in college. It does not, however, fully embrace the contention that everything's an argument. We can understand that all knowledge is context-bound, participates in intellectual and political debates, and has been produced within a particular ideological framework, without conceding that everything we know is up for debate or simply a matter of how one argues. This book also does not subscribe to the assertion that what you say is motivated primarily by what somebody else says (the claim we see in that screen shot to the right, from this textbook). Your job as a writer is not to position yourself on some imagined spectrum of conclusions; nor is it to point out why somebody else is wrong or misguided. Both are impoverished versions of intellectual engagement––and both have a way of making us feel compelled to respond in a manner that's ultimately unproductive and unhealthy, even if it seems absolutely necessary or sort of fun. 
I'm hoping to get you excited about academic research and writing, and I have found that pressuring students and early-career writers to have an argument about something they've only just started thinking about is not very encouraging in that respect. Indeed, much of what you'll hear me say about developing claims will de-emphasize the need for an argument in comparison to some of the textbooks used in other writing courses, even the more conciliatory or dialogic models of argumentation encouraged by the textbook whose cover appears to the right, They Say / I Say. In my long career of reading and learning, I've found that the best and most substantive written works may indeed have a broad thesis or argument, but they typically support them by offering multiple, smaller-scale arguments rather than a single one. I will encourage you to develop introductions and conclusions to your writing that ensure readers understand the purpose of your papers and that foreground your most important claims and arguments. At the same time, I will also instruct you to avoid conceiving of a single or simple "thesis statement" as the first and most important objective to fulfill when you write. While there are basic formulas you can use to craft a claim, only real, genuine learning will allow you to present a substantive one successfully.
For much of the semester, rather than require you to draft and revise papers with a thesis, I will ask you to complete eight smaller-scale writing assignments that allow you to explore some topics and learn as much as you can from diverse forms of academic research and public writing. I will ask you to observe some elements of other writers' arguments, as well as discuss with you in class and in office hours how these writers use evidence to support their claims and adapt the style of their prose to suit a given audience. After you have completed many of the course assignments, we'll work as a class to identify some of the different types of claims that writers make, and then return to our reading and notes to determine what kinds of arguments we can make with the subjects about which we have chosen to learn.
As a class, we will work on the process of developing an argument by collaborating on a paper (on student data and privacy or the structures of professional labor at universities) that will draw upon much of the work we will complete over the first month of class; along with other major assignments for this course, an overview of scholarship and paper on historical perspectives, this collaboration will serve as a model and practice for the paper you will write on your own. You will formulate and revise your arguments in your paper over the course of the last third of the semester based upon peer review and additional feedback from me. 

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