Shelley Reid .

English 309
Introduction to Nonfiction Writing

Assignment Guide

Fall 2008  --  TR 10:30-11:45  
Professor E. Shelley Reid


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First Portfolio WW1: Description WW2: Reflection
Reader's Prep Cards WW3: Profile/Report WW4: Right brain
  WW5: Argument Feedback Guide
  Writer's Commentary Reading Analyses
  Letter Peer Review
Portfolio 1 Grading Portfolio 1 Quality Grade Portfolio 1 Participation Grade
Second Portfolio Portfolio 2 Participation Grade Portfolio 2 Short Participation Assignments
  Revision Exercises Writer/Reviewer Checklist


Four Start-Up Assignments

1.  Reader's Prep Card

Bring a 4x6 notecard (or printout) to class with some "jewels" or "thought points" from the assigned readings that you'd like to share with your group.  For the first RPC only, you need to try one each of the following:

  • Fan's comment:  Something that you really liked from a reading

  • Player's comment:  Something you liked because you're a writer and you notice these things and/or want to emulate them

  • Analyst comment: One of those "things that make you go 'hmmmm,'" either based on the content/issue or based on the author's style or other writing choice

  • Skeptic's comment:  Something that made you raise an eyebrow, say "Nuh-uh" or "Not me," reach for your wikipedia connection, or just wonder generally what-the-hey?

  • Learner's comment: Something exact that you noticed/learned that writers can do or choose not to do, that you will soon try to apply to your own writing

Each point should contain some or all of an important quotation, the location of the quotation (author + page # or other locator), and a quick note-to-self about your reaction.

Future RPCs should include 3-5 shareables of your choice from the most recent readings.  You'll turn these in; they'll be marked check/check-plus (most should earn check-pluses).

2.  1 page story

Type up a one-page nonfiction (= true!) story to share (this time only, "one page" = "whatever you fit readably on one page"). It can be about you or about someone else.  You should skip the background info and get straight to the heart of the story.  Bring two copies to share with peers; you'll turn one copy in for feedback (graded complete/incomplete, 1/0).

3.  Initial Learning Goals paragraph and portfolio planner

Type up a paragraph explaining a little about who you are as a writer, what you are or hope to be working on as a writer right about now, and what you hope to gain from this class.  If you have questions or concerns about writing or about the class, you can include those.

Then fill out a "Portfolio 1 Planning Sheet":  which Writing Workshops do you plan to participate in (everyone must participate in WW1) and which other assignments might you want to do a little extra with? Tally your possible points. This is just an opening exercise; it doesn't commit you to any particular actions or assignments (graded complete/incomplete).

4.  Annotation

Photocopy or print out one assigned reading, and annotate it. (Alternately, annotate and then photocopy or print out the reading.)  You should include at least 10-15 annotations -- beyond any highlighting or simple underlining -- that demonstrate several different types of annotation (reactions, connections, questions, translation/summary).  This will be graded check/check-plus/incomplete, 1/.8/0.


First Portfolio Assignments:  150 points

Format Guidelines:  All assignments (except journals) are to be typed, double-spaced, and stapled, with standard (1 or 1.25") margins, using a standard font (Times, New York, etc., 12- or 14-point), unless otherwise specified.  Where required, APA or MLA formats for in-text citation and works cited pages are equally acceptable. 

No separate cover page or title page is necessary, though all essays should have titles.  Please also put your name and the date (updated as necessary) on each assignment. 

Finally, please proofread any workshop drafts or assignments you turn in.  We'll talk about why you shouldn't obsess about your "grammar" too early in the writing process, but it's simply polite to provide a relatively clean copy when you're sharing your writing with other readers.  Also, clearing out the tiny errors you can find makes it easier for readers to help you improve your writing in ways that aren't so obvious to you.

For this class, one page is defined as 275-300 words, regardless of font/margins.


Workshop Essays:  20 points guaranteed for each completed, on-time draft (3 required; extra workshop drafts earn 10 points guaranteed)



Writer's Workshop 1 -- Description/Place

Draft a 2-4 page essay that uses specific, vivid language to describe, purposefully,

  • a specific object or event that is part of your life right now (let's save profiles of people and memories of summer vacations for future workshops), or

  • a place, a kind of place, your "place" in a larger context (or the place of someone you know well), the way a place or a person's-place can change, etc. 

Since we're "writing for change" in this class, you should write with a goal in mind (and not keep that goal hidden): what do you hope to change in your readers? what's your point? You should draw primarily on personal experience or knowledge, but you need to go beyond description/exposition ("what is the place like," or "how many colors does it have") and begin to persuade an educated audience to see something exactly the way you think it should be seen. What do you want your readers to believe or feel about this object, event, or place/ment?

Research: Turn in two pictures or texts about or representing the "place" or a place like it. Write a "Research Note" (3-6 sentences) regarding how these sources change, expand, and/or support your own musings. Also, what other research might you conduct about this topic?

For the Workshop, bring copies with Feedback Guides (see below) for your writing group. Also, bring a pocket folder for me containing

  • another copy of your essay

  • a copy of your feedback guide

  • your research documents

  • and your Writer's Commentary (see assignment below)



Writer's Workshop 2 -- Memory/Reflection

Draft a 2-4 page essay that brings some important idea from inside your head into very clear view so that you and a reader can learn something new from it.  Try to choose something you haven't written about before, or write about an unexpected aspect or view of something more familiar to you.  Instead of writing about "A Huge Turning Point In My Life" or "What I Want To Be When I Grow Up," you might choose to write about

  • a "still point" or "characteristic moment," something that carries weight for you but might otherwise fade into the background

  • a definition or discovery of (a part of) yourself or your world:  for instance, the kind of writer/reader you are, and/or how you got to be that way; what your childhood neighborhood or workplace is/was really like; what it means that you hate cantaloupe or like "Lost" or secretly want to be a dancer

  •  a puzzle: something you're unsure of, or don't remember clearly, or can't anticipate -- but that you keep picking at, psychically

Research: Turn in 5 interview questions you could ask a specific person (who?) about this topic. Write a "Research Note" (3-6 sentences): what would be the benefits and/or disadvantages of conducting this interview? what other research might you conduct about this topic?

In writing this essay, try to focus on discovery: as you write to explain something you are (somewhat) familiar with to an audience of peers who cannot read your mind, you have the opportunity to learn more about the subject yourself, to clarify your thinking. If you start with a broad concept ("I'm a procrastinator"), remember that one-time-only examples will move your reader more (and reveal more to you) than predictable generalizations. If you start with a narrow image ("that day on the beach when I was five"), remember to invite your reader toward discoveries and conclusions, rather than leaving everyone to "decide for themselves."

For the Workshop, bring copies with Feedback Guides for your writing group. If this is one of your Required Three, bring/post another copy in a folder along with a feedback guide, your research documents, and your Writer's Commentary (see assignment below) for me. If this is an extra draft, you may submit just the essay and feedback guide for my feedback.


Writer's Workshop 3 -- Report/Profile

Draft a 2-5 page essay in which you provide exact information to an audience that needs/wants it, in a style that is appropriate to the situation as well as engaging and accessible.  You may write from your current expertise, but you must consult at least two outside sources as part of your writing process.

Research: Bring/post 2 relevant, rich, credible sources: one obvious or close to the topic, one a stretch—something that's relevant but perhaps not immediately obvious, such as an article about 60s counterculture as background for an essay about My Dad The Geek. Write a "Research Note" (3-6 sentences): given this info, what's one new angle/question/issue you could explore, in this or another essay? what other research might you do on this topic?

You may begin with a standard report topic ("all about mollusks") or a profile of a person, group, or place ("my Uncle Tony"), but even in writing informational documents, good writers usually have a slant or an angle that helps both the writer and the reader stay engaged and move forward.  Sometimes that slant comes from your position (expert/newbie); sometimes it comes from choosing a piece of the topic to focus on (is clam-digging dangerous for kids?); sometimes it comes from anticipating the needs of a particular audience (who needs to know what, and why?).  You might consider choosing a topic that lets you write from knowledge but also learn a thing or two

  • focus on a less-common historical, legal, medical, environmental, political, musical, technological (etc.) element of or approach to a person or subject you know well

  • pursue a question that's important to you (and others) but has no single, clear answer

  • write about a familiar person from an unfamiliar angle -- or about a completely unknown person whom everyone (in your audience) should know (about) but probably doesn't

  • write an explanatory document that is actually needed but doesn't exist in your workplace, hometown, family, or school (etc.)

To write this essay most successfully, you'll need to have a vivid, precise idea of who is in your target audience and what they do -- and importantly, do not -- want or need to know.  As you write, you may change your audience-concept; as you change your audience-concept, you will include different information and present it differently.

In this draft, if you include information you found in outside sources, please use a standard academic citation format (MLA/APA) for in-text citations and your bibliography.  We'll talk later about whether a revised version of this essay would need these kinds of citations, depending on the kind of publication you'd be aiming for.

For the Workshop, bring copies with Feedback Guides for your writing group.  If this is one of your Required Three, bring another copy in a folder (or post one to WebCT) along with a feedback guide, your research documents, and your Writer's Commentary for me. If this is an extra draft, you may submit just the essay and guide for my feedback.



Writer's Workshop 4 -- Review/Multimedia-Multimodal/Humor

Draft a 2-5 page essay -- or an equivalent effort in multi-media/multi-modal production -- in which you reach out to engage your audience's emotions.  You may but do not need to create a direct argument, though you should be aiming to move your audience in some specific directions.  Your purely-textual writing talents are still important here:  word choice, organization, specificity, logic.  You'll add more right-brain elements here, though, as you experiment with ways to engage other parts of your reader's brain:  his or her appreciation of beauty and/or power, response to color and design (or to sound and rhythm), sense of humor (or other visceral response), and/or general humanity.

Research: Bring/post/link to a copy of a text in the general genre you're writing in. Write a "Research Note" about what the author(s) did or did not do in this text that can serve as an example to you as you write your own version. Also, what other research might you do?

If you write a review of a book, movie, restaurant, MP3 player, basketball team, hybrid car, chocolate bar, concert, or fitness center (etc.), you'll need to make your criteria for evaluation clear to your readers, and balance summary/description with evaluation.  You may write a single-object review or a comparative review; you should try not to write only from distant memory but to write about something you can see/do now.  Try to read around in some similar-topic reviews to get the rhythm of the kind of piece you want to write. Don't forget the sensory details—what exactly did/does it feel, sound, smell, and taste like?—and don't forget examples/similes to show what you mean by "charismatic," "lively," "noisy," or "exquisite."

If you compose a new-media or multi-media piece -- or draft the outline, storyboard, script, or plan for one -- remember that your non-alphabetic element(s) need to serve a clear purpose within your overall move-the-reader goals:  what can you accomplish with visual (or audio, hypertext, flash, video, design) elements that adds value to the textual elements?  No bells-and-whistles "just because they're there," please.  The same caveat applies to a multi-modal piece -- one that involves various textual genres in addition to nonfiction prose:  if you're including haiku or autobiographical vignettes in your proposal for broader on-campus recycling, they should be designed or chosen carefully to elicit crucial audience responses.  If you're taking on a new kind of media or combination, consider choosing a topic that's familiar to you, to help you not overextend yourself.

If you write a humor piece, think carefully about details and nuances rather than going off on a rant.  Good textual humor treads some fine lines:  it elbows rather than bludgeons the reader, carefully balances the familiar with the absurd, and picks up energy from the smallest details:  words, timing, sentence rhythms, allusions.  As you write, you might deliberately imagine what would constitute "crossing the line" at several points, and decide how far you want to go or pull back.  Prose humor is often patient, as well:  craft your set-up with as much care as your punchlines.  Check your model-text for places it shows these nuances.

All Workshop 4 projects should still belong clearly in a nonfiction writing class:  no textless photo essays of weird road signs, no 25-word emo-rock songs, no webpages that have more Flash puppies than full sentences, no booklets of limericks or lyric poetry about lost love. 

Workshop 4 projects need not be cute or floofy: nonfiction writing in these broad categories also include serious reviews of color laser printers for a school's technology committee, brochures or websites for a small business (real or imagined), and pointed political satire.

For the Workshop, bring/post copies with Feedback Guides for your writing group.  If this is one of your Required Three, bring/post another copy along with a feedback guide, your research documents, and your Writer's Commentary for me.  If this is an extra draft, you may submit just the essay and feedback guide for my feedback.


Writer's Workshop 5 -- Arguing for Change

Draft a 2-5 page essay that begins to argue for specific change(s) to/for a local or familiar situation, person, organization, procedure, attitude, or statute.  Try to choose a topic that has special interest to you, to people in your intended profession, to people in your hometown or family, or to friends in your community or an organization you belong to. 

It may help to stay local with the angle you take and the recommendations you make, even if the general information you're interested in has national or global connections.  It will definitely help to choose a specific audience who can help make this change happen as your target audience, and choose a specific way to "deliver" your ideas to them.  Vague topics ("make the world a better place") or vague audiences ("all adolescents/ Buddhists/teachers/dog-lovers") will make achieving success with this kind of writing very difficult.

Generalized topics for generalized audiences -- particularly topics about which people hold unshakable opinions, such as the death penalty, abortion, gun control, environmental protection, violence, freedom of speech, whether Martians have rights, etc. -- may not be appropriate for this essay unless you can conclusively demonstrate that you have a new, local angle and a very local audience that could indeed be changed by reading what you write.  Essays arguing about taste or interpretation (the feminist implications of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or the craft of Crash) will be harder for you to mesh with the eventual requirements of this assignment -- and besides, you get lots of practice writing those already, while this is your opportunity to "try something" new.

Research: Bring/post copies of 2 rich, credible sources directly related to your topic; at least one of the sources should come from a scholarly source (ask me if you have questions about this) and demonstrate academic-level research/analysis. Annotate at least one source, and write a "Research Note": how can research help you address a reluctant/resistant audience?

In writing-for-change, outside research both helps you understand why change hasn't happened yet and helps you persuade your audience to move with you toward change.  If you use outside material in this draft, please cite it appropriately.

For the Workshop, bring/post copies with Feedback Guides for your writing group.  If this is one of your Required Three, bring/post another copy along with a feedback guide, your research documents, and your Writer's Commentary for me.  If this is an extra draft, you may submit just the essay and feedback guide for my feedback.


1.  All of these essay drafts should be considered "beginning places," not The Final Word.  Some drafts will necessarily be incomplete.

2.  All assignment descriptions are starting points, not limitations:  if you would like to try something not exactly listed here, please talk/email with me about it.

3. Because this class focuses on writing for an audience, you should aim to write essays that you can share with peers. However, if you discover that you have written an essay that is so personal that you do not wish to share with (all of) your peers, please contact me before the draft workshop so that we can discuss alternative arrangements.


Feedback Guide:  Required for all workshop drafts

On a separate sheet of paper, put your name, your essay's title, the workshop date, and a "heat rating" (we'll talk about this in class).  Type out 3-5 questions/issues that you hope your readers will respond to after they've read your essay.  Ask as specifically and honestly as possible: try not to ask, "Is the organization ok?" when what's going through your head is really more like, "I think I have too many things going on in paragraph 4, but I can't figure out how to fix it."

You might vary your questions in one or more of these ways:

  • ask for suggestions ("how can I . . . ?") rather than asking yes/no questions

  • reveal your goals ("I want parag. 3 to ___, but I'm worried that it ____")

  • ask about ongoing issues ("I'm trying to get better at ___; how can I improve page 2?")

  • request exact reader responses ("When did you figure out that I ____? Where did you most feel ___?")

  • share your ideas for revision/expansion ("I'm thinking about adding ____; should I?")

You may use copies of the same Guide for all your readers, or write up different questions for different readers. 



Writer's Commentary:  10 or 8 points each; minimum 3 required (5/4 points each for any 4th or 5th commentary)

Write 1-2 pages of reflective commentary from the writer's point of view -- a little like a DVD commentary voice-over track -- to turn in with your essay draft.  Your goal is to "pull back the curtain" and make your writing process visible and nameable so that (1) you can learn how to notice, control, improve, and/or cope with your own processes, and (2) you can help me see how best to help you learn more as a writer.

You should reflect, as honestly as possible, on the following: 

what you want(ed) to accomplish in this essay (point, audience, & purpose -- if you were going to hand this essay to someone, who would that be, and what would you want as the result? )

what was hardest and/or easiest about writing the essay (why?)

what you're learning about writing as you write (revise), and what helps you learn (or limits the learning process)

You may also reflect on one or more of the following, or any related issues:

what parts of the essay seem to be working well (or not) & why

any experiments you did or risks you took in writing; any "rules" you broke

what you have changed (so far) as you've revised, or hope to add later

what you've done or would like to do similarly or differently in another essay

anything you want(ed) to include or do in this essay but didn't

any questions you have about the overall essay or specific parts of it

what you'd like to learn more about -- for this essay, or for future essays

This is a "writing-to-learn" assignment, not a craft assignment:  your style, grammatical correctness, and organization will not affect your commentary score.

To earn a check-plus, try to dig deep on questions of interest to you for the particular assignment rather than cranking out an ordinary one-sentence response for all questions on the list.  Once you've written a sentence or two, you might ask yourself "how" or "why" or "so what" questions to help push yourself past the obvious answer into a space where discovery and learning are more likely.  My comments on your essay will be in part a response to your commentary; the more specific your explanations or questions are, the more direct (and hopefully helpful) my comments will be.



Reading Analyses

Writers learn in part by noticing what other writers do.  Reading as a writer is thus different from reading as a literature student, reading for entertainment, or reading for information.  In completing a reading analysis as a writer, you should plan to read the text at least twice, all the way through, so that you have time to notice what's really going on, and think about how you can learn more about strategies to use in your own writing.  You may write about pieces or elements that didn't impress you as well as those that did.

A check-plus RA will smartly choose and concisely explicate examples with a minimum of summary; it will demonstrate your ability to notice the nuances as well as the broad strokes of good (or not-so-good) writing; it will wrestle with complications; it will show clear, realistic, specific thinking about how to adapt another writer's strategies to improve your own.

Bonus: Up to 2 points for doing an RA on a non-assigned reading. (Attach a copy if needed.)

Bonus 2: Up to double points for doing an RA on something written by a Fall For The Book author and going to that person's presentation. (Add a paragraph about the presentation at the end of your RA; attach a copy of at least a few pages of the piece you read.)

3x3 Online Reading Log + Response: 10/8 points first log + response; 5/4 points each thereafter; up to 1 point per extra response (max 10); minimum 1 set required

A 3x3 reading log should include about a page (275-300 words) of your own writing.  This is a microscopic response, focused on details.  Choose and copy out three sentences from one recent assigned reading (pay attention as you copy -- don't just turn into a typing automaton!).  For each sentence you copy, write two different responses, 2-4 sentences each:

  • respond as a reader:  what did the sentence make you think of?  what questions or reactions did it raise?  how did or didn't you connect to what the writer said?

  • respond as a writer: what is the writer doing in this sentence that another writer could try (or avoid)?  what's happening with the words (verbs, adjectives, diction), images, sounds, rhythms, tone, implications? what's happening "between the lines" here?

Your response to someone else's log should comprise a rich paragraph or two:  go beyond "me, too!" to add something new to the readerly or writerly conversation, or to question or challenge the analysis.  You should probably read a few logs to find one that makes you want to respond.

When posting to Blackboard, please use Copy/Paste (ctrl-C/ctrl-V) rather than attaching a document; try giving your log an interesting subject header to lure other readers in.

Comprehensive Analysis:  10/8 points first CA, 5/4 points each thereafter; minimum 1 required

A comprehensive analysis should be about 2 pages long; this is a macroscopic response, focused on context and purpose.  You should answer five questions (not necessarily in this order or with equal emphasis):

  • who's the primary or target audience for this piece? (what exactly makes you think so?  are you included?)

  • what is/are the author's main goal(s) or purpose(s) for this piece?

  • in what ways does the author reach (or miss) his/her audience or goals?

  • what organizational, argumentative, or other rhetorical choices does the author make that strongly affect a reader?

  • what two or three new-to-you writing strategies used by this author, large or small, could you try to incorporate (more) into your own writing?

You'll need to provide evidence to support your answers:  short direct quotations and/or examples, with explanations of how the words on the page convey meaning or purpose.  The CA must be more analysis than summary:  as your audience, I've already read the piece, and am most interested in the kind of responses that only you could generate.


Letter: 5 or 4 points; 1 required (up to 3 points each for additional letters)

For the letter potluck, draft one long (300+ words) letter or two short (100-200 words) letters to a distinct audience with a clear purpose.  Your letter must address a problem and/or seek to persuade a resistant reader; it may be professional or personal, addressed to an exact real audience or a very vividly and specifically imagined audience.   Pay attention to tone and to time, and keep in mind that people often store letters for years, and/or share them with others.

Bring two copies of your letter(s):  for one copy, attach an audience-analysis paragraph, and annotate the letter with 3-5 comments about strategies you're using to reach that audience.  A check-plus letter will effectively tackle a sticky situation, persuade a resistant audience, handle language especially deftly, and/or propose a "third way" to mediate a problem.


Extra Peer Review: 5 or 4 points each (optional; max 15 points)

Within one week of a Workshop, read the workshop draft of someone who wasn't in your group and provide specific written feedback (one copy to the author, one copy to me).  You should include three kinds of comments:

  • Pre-reading comments:  from looking at the title and the first few sentences, what do you expect or hope this essay will cover?  what questions would you like the author to answer?  what experience or interest do you already have regarding this topic?

  • Textual annotations:  identify exact phrases and sentences that move you as a reader (why?), as well as places where the author could revise to be more clear or have a stronger effect on readers.

  • Post-reading comments:  These may include your "readerly" reactions -- letting the author see what was happening in your head as you read the piece -- as well as your "writerly" praise and suggestions for revisions.  Try to help the author re-see this piece:  what (else) could grow from this beginning?  Be sure to respond to any questions in the Feedback Guide.

Your comments should include both specific praise -- what works for you?  why? -- and specific suggestions and examples of what the writer could try as he or she revises.  The comments should total about 1-2 pages' worth of writing.  At this stage, remember that we're not focused on editing or correcting errors, though if a writer's style is particularly well-suited or ill-suited for the audience and purpose, you may comment on that. 

A check-plus review will balance what the essay's author wants to do/know with new perceptions or specific suggestions; will point out omissions, opportunities or patterns that aren't obvious to a casual reader; and/or will strongly support the author in learning or imagining ways to write (this essay) better.




Journal/Exercises: 5 points each (max. 15 points total)

Keep a writer's journal, handwritten or typed (or combination), that helps you develop your writerly skills for this class. A journal should include at least 2-3 separate entries. Your journal entries may include (but are not limited to)

  • extended, regular freewriting

  • prewriting, planning, or writer's-block-breaking, related to workshop assignments

  • writerly notes about what you're reading

  • reflective writing about what's hard or easy for you as a writer or writing-learner

  • responses to exercises suggested in Writing True or another writer's handbook

  • thoughts on peer comments and/or plans for revising workshop drafts

Please don't "double-dip":  your journal writing should not replicate other writing you are turning in for credit, for this or any other class.

To earn journal credit, complete at least 1500 words of writerly writing, and attach a Cover Paragraph in which you highlight the two or three aspects or entries from the journal that have most helped you with the writing you are doing for this class (how so?).  Journals will either earn full credit or, time allowing, be returned with the option to revise and resubmit for credit.



First Portfolio Grading

There are many ways to assemble your First Portfolio.  You can complete more "big" assignments or more "small" ones; you can try a lot of new things or focus on a couple of kinds of writing or learning; you can work harder in the early weeks and give yourself a breather later on, or vice versa. (You must complete three workshop drafts with commentaries to earn a passing grade on this portfolio.)

You'll need to pace yourself a bit.  To encourage you to write steadily while trying lots of new things, I'm limiting what you can turn in right at the end, and giving you the option to "carry over" some points to the Second Portfolio (so you won't feel you've "wasted" effort early in the semester).

No more than 15 points can be earned on materials turned in after October 9.

(Exception: points earned for WW5 & Commentary.)

Up to 6 points (>150) on this portfolio may be carried-over to your final portfolio.

Please keep track of your own portfolio-building efforts.  You can use the space below to help you plan ahead and keep track of your progress so far.

Sample First Portfolio Pathway







Workshop 1






Commentary 1






Workshop 2


. . . .

Commentary 2


. . . .

Workshop 3






Commentary 3






Workshop 4






Commentary 4






Workshop 5






Commentary 5




. .

Reading Analysis


20 (3x)

20 (3x)



3x3 Log & Resp.


20 (3x)

19 (3x)

13 (2x)






8 (2x)


Extra Peer Rev.

10 (2x)






. .

10 (2x)

10 (2x)











First Portfolio Quality/Growth Evaluation:  25 points

To earn an "A" for the overall quality and growth demonstrated in your First Portfolio, the collection of pieces needs to exhibit several (but not necessarily all) of the following characteristics:

  • Engaging, thoughtful, provocative, gracefully written workshop drafts

  • A range of writing styles/topics/approaches; adaptability to different audiences/purposes

  • Evidence of risk-taking and/or experimentation as a writer

  • Evidence of growth in or improvement of key writing strategies

  • Awareness of and attention to controlling personal writing strategies/habits

  • Consistency and/or regularity in practicing good writing




First Portfolio Preparation & Participation:  35 points (max.)

  • 1 point available per class meeting ( = 15): attendance, body and mind; general preparation for and participation in class discussions; assistance in building a community of writers

  • 1 point available per check-plus Prep Card ( = 7)

  • 1 point per completed Startup Assignment (= 3): story, goals, annotation

  • 1 additional point available per workshop day (= 5): attention to peers' texts, requests, and comments; provision of specific, helpful comments and suggestions

  • Additional modifications (up to 5 points up or down) at my discretion for exceptional community-building participation or a pattern of nonparticipation



Midterm Conference with Reflective Letter & Proposal:  50 points


After spring break, you will schedule a 20-30 minute conference with me during which we'll review your progress so far and your specific proposal for the writing you'll do during rest of the semester.  You should come prepared to take an active role in the conference, articulating your goals and asking questions to help you move forward.   (You will turn in your First Portfolio at the conference.)

Reflective Letter

Prepare a 1-2 page reflective letter identifying some key elements of what you've learned and/or accomplished as a writer via the assignments in your First Portfolio.  You may also/instead discuss what you were hoping to learn/accomplish but haven't (yet), and/or what kinds of goals you now think are better suited to your writing/learning. 

Your letter should refer specifically to your goals as a writer, for this course and generally.  You should note specific examples from the writing in the portfolio, and draw connections among pieces of writing you've completed so far.  The reflection may be informal in tone/style; it will be graded based on criteria similar to those of the Writer's Commentary.


In a 2-4 page proposal, explain your plans for the second half of the semester and persuade me to approve those plans.  Use formal but accessible language.

Your proposal should contain five sections, each identified with a subheader:

  • a brief Introduction in which you indicate your overall goals (and reasonings therefor) as a writer in the next 7 weeks

  • a Commentary Overview:  key peer & professorial comments that have helped you more clearly see yourself as a writer, and/or that will help you improve your writing

  • a Revision Proposal in which you identify at least two earlier pieces of writing that you plan to revise and/or expand for the Second Portfolio; you should note the key challenges you expect to face, and outline the main work that you expect to be doing for each revision

  • a Schedule for working on these revisions (go beyond the due-dates on the syllabus), presented in table format

  • a Conclusion in which you convince me that your plans are reasonable (you can get the work done) and beneficial to you as a writer and writing-learner in this course

The proposal is a formal piece of writing; a grading rubric will be handed out before spring break to help you see and address the criteria. (Your proposal and your letter may have some overlap in topics.)



Second Portfolio Preparation & Participation:  40 points (max.)

  • 1 point available per class meeting or conference (= 13): attendance, body and mind; general preparation for and participation in class discussions; assistance in strengthening a community of writers

  • 1 point available per check-plus Prep Card (= 3)

  • 1.5 additional points available per workshop day (= 4.5): new draft, guide, & commentary/letter prepared for each workshop; attention to peers' texts, requests, and comments; provision of specific, helpful comments and suggestions

  • Completion of Participation Assignments (15 points)

  • Additional modifications (up to 5 points up or down) at my discretion for exceptional community-building participation or a pattern of nonparticipation


Participation Assignments: Writers Revising

Research Plan: As you know, all writers do research -- to help them get the details that show what they mean, to better understand and/or gain credibility with an audience, to find out who's already writing what about a topic, and even to find inspiration for new angles, aspects, or issues to address.

As part of looking for possible source material for one of your to-be-revised essays, you will complete a new Research Guide (see handout on Blackboard). 

Peer Review Review (and Responses) Assignment: In most professional settings, the revision and editing process is a negotiation with multiple steps, not just a single peer review session.

Step 1: PRR. Look over the commentary you received from Revision Workshop A. Then, try out at least three revisions (not just edits) recommended by your readers. Make your revisions visible on your Wiki: in the document, use colors and/or comment features to highlight the changes. At the top of your revised essay page, type a short note to explain whose advice you took and what you tried with it.

Step 2: PRRR. Then check back to see what your peers changed, and let them know how they did. Give this your most careful, helpful, editorial eye: Of the changes they made, which one do you think is most successful, and why? If you were going to be picky (editors often are!), at what one place would you suggest that they still need to stretch a little further or try a different tack? You should respond to at least two peer revisions.

Target/Model Assignment: Effective writers know that readers understand their ideas better when the structures and approaches of their writing match readers' expectations.  Publishing writers frequently do "market research" to find out what a publication values; business or institutional writers often look for previously-drafted documents on which to model their responses.

Locate two model pieces of writing that can help you decide how to effectively present your ideas. Neither piece can come from an assigned essay for this class; at least one must come from beyond our textbooks. "Cousin" writing -- that is, writing that's not exactly what you're doing, but that shares some features with it -- is acceptable. Make a print copy of each. If possible, also copy a Table of Contents showing what else is in that issue/book.

Annotate each copy with comments about the writer's form, style, arrangement, etc.

Conclude by writing a brief informal "Notes to Self" paragraph: what strategies will you try to apply in your own writing? where will you vary your approach to match your own audience/purpose?

Bonus 3pts: Turn in a copy (or photocopy of cover and table of contents) of an unfamiliar magazine or other publication you could publish your writing in, with a note (3-5 sentences) about how/why you'd adapt to this venue.

Grammar Guru Assignment:  Writers who can teach others key stylistic or grammatical elements of good writing are better at attending to those elements, and others, themselves. 

Review the handbook you've chosen; attend to sections on sentences and punctuation as well as style (wordiness, variety, etc.).  Choose at least three sections to focus on, ones discussing grammatical rules or principles that you think are difficult to remember, complex to operate, hard to spot when proofreading, etc.  Don't wimp out and choose "how to use a period"!  You can limit your focus to a part of a rule, if you'd like -- one kind of semi-colon use, for example.  Take some notes on these sections, and create two sample sentences of your own to demonstrate each principle.  You will be asked to teach these three rules to your group. 

Then write an 8-10 sentence paragraph on a topic of your choosing.  In this paragraph, which you will share with your peers to test their knowledge, you should have at least sixincorrect sentences that demonstrate common errors related to the rules you chose.  (These sentences should be original creations, not handbook copies.)  Also, include at least onegrammatically correct sentence that resembles your incorrect sentences; try to create a sentence that will challenge your readers at least slightly as they try to determine its correctness.  Do not label Incorrect/Correct sentences.

Type your paragraph -- double-space to facilitate corrections.   Bring 5 copies of your sample paragraph with you to class; on one copy only, write in the corrections.  Bring your notes to turn in as well.



Second Portfolio:  200 points (max.)

Portfolio Evaluation:  Portfolios will be graded on writing quality, as well as on the following:  completion; thoughtfulness and effectiveness of revisions; demonstration of growth, risk-taking, and/or "stretch marks"; evidence of having achieved an awareness of writing processes, rhetorical contexts, and yourself as a writer; and the cohesiveness of the writerly vision or development narrative presented in the final version.  This grade will be holistic: it will take into account all elements of the portfolio, without assigning a point value to any particular part.

Note:  You should give some consideration to the organization of this portfolio, so that it "goes to show" something about you as a writer or supports a larger narrative about your writing or you as a writer.

Your Second Portfolio should include the following:

Annotated Table of Contents: brief introductions to sections of your portfolio to explain why you've selected these pieces or organized them in this particular way (approx. 2-5 sentences each)

A copy of each Workshop Draft with my comments and Commentary (even the one[s] you're not revising)

Your Midterm Reflection and Proposal (copies with my comments)

Evidence from your two-part peer review (peer comments + your responses)

A new revision/expansion of at least two pieces of your earlier writing for this class, to total 12-15 pages of writing

A new Writer's Commentary or Intro Letter for each essay that has been revised/expanded since your previous commentary

Any necessary supporting documentation for research-based writing (photocopies of print sources, etc.)

At least 2-3 other pieces of writing you did -- Reading Analyses, Journal Entries, Letters -- that seem relevant to and can be integrated into your writerly story

A 3-5 page reflective Introductory or Concluding essay that ties the portfolio together, explains how the pieces therein best represent your efforts and achievements as a writer, and reflects on your status/progress/plans as a readerly writer.  This is your "final exam" for this class -- a place to show what you know and what you are learning about writing and being a writer.

Final Portfolios are due by Wednesday, December 10, 5:00 pm.

Late portfolios will earn a 5% (10 point) grade penalty per day late, and cannot be accepted after Monday (12/15) 5:00 pm.


Explanation of letter-graded evaluations

A "C" denotes a competent response to the assignment or task at hand:  the essay or portfolio meets, to some degree, all the basic audience expectations, and demonstrates that the author has put significant time and effort into communicating his/her ideas to his/her targeted audience.  Essays have a thesis (or controlling idea), present some support, move from point to point in an orderly fashion, and contribute to the broader conversations on the topic.  Portfolios are complete and organized, and show that the writer is beginning to develop clear revision strategies.

A "B" rewards a strong example of writing and thinking.  In addition to meeting the "C" level requirements, an essay or portfolio demonstrates insight into the "gray areas" of the topic, provides original or very thorough support that is tightly woven into the overall argument, reads smoothly at both the sentence and paragraph levels, and/or exhibits a personal "voice" or style.  It demonstrates that the writer is also a thoughtful reviser and is conscious of his/her writing.  It has few if any grammatical errors.

An "A" is reserved for essays and portfolios that are a delight for the reader -- and that probably provided some moments of delight for the writer.  Even more than in a "B" assignment, it is easy to see that the author anticipates and responds to possible reader questions, uses a wide range of supporting evidence, engages the reader in a provocative conversation, takes risks as s/he writes and revises, provides unexpected insight, and uses language with care and facility.

"D" and "F" level assignments do not meet the basic expectations of the assignment/task.

Explanation of check-based evaluations

Generally, a "check" denotes a complete, thoughtful response to the assignment.  The writer is using the assignment to go beyond describing what s/he saw or did to reflecting on the how and why and what else? questions related to it.  In this piece, the writer contributes his/her own exact thinking, rather than summarizing others or producing "Engfish."

A "√+" indicates a response in which the writer attends to details, wrestles with complex and perhaps unanswerable questions, takes a lively tone and/or an unexpected point of view, handles language gracefully, and/or engages issues central to his/her or a peer's learning-to-write.

Optional Re-Vision Exercises

Stuck? Try one of these with your draft to get re-started on your writing.

  • Originality check: Locate three sentences that only you could have written.  Copy those into a new file, or to the bottom of your current file.  Choose one, and write just about that sentence's ideas, generating new material not currently in your essay, for as long as you can, dredging up as many details or memories or proposals as you can. (If you didn't find an only-you sentence, write one -- begin with "I"! -- and write from there.)

  • Memory Outline:  Open a new file.  Without looking at your draft, write a sentence-outline of the essay.  (In a sentence outline, you write one sentence per paragraph/section that either restates the argument/idea as you might write it in your essay or describes the main idea/purpose of the section.)  Your goal is not to exactly replicate the original essay's structure, but to outline the essay you think you have written and will be writing.  Once you have an outline, try something with it:  move a few pieces around, add a couple pieces, delete a few pieces, jot down a memory or fact that occurs to you, etc.

  • Alternate Universe:  Imagine someone who is linked to your essay's topic but who would see it from another point of view significantly different from yours. (If you're writing a persuasive piece, perhaps choose someone from the "skeptical and intelligent" resistant/opposing audience.)  Imagine that that person gets to stand up at Thanksgiving dinner or write a short letter or scribble in a personal journal:  what would he/she most want to say about the topic of your essay?  Write 1-2 paragraphs from that perspective; be as detailed as you can, even if you have to guess a little or make things up.

  • Add, move, change, cut:  Complete or make notes about how you would complete each of the following steps.  You're not allowed to skip a step; aliens are holding your pet-rock hostage, and you need to try something in each of these cases to get it back.

    • Choose a paragraph that's important to you for setting a scene.  Make notes about how you would add a word or phrase, move a word or phrase, change a word or phrase, and cut a word or phrase in it.  (For "change," don't wimp out:  choose an important element, and significantly change it -- not changing the meaning, but intensifying the reading experience.)

    • Choose another paragraph that's important to you for making a point or a reflection.  Make notes about how you would add a sentence, move a sentence, change a sentence, and cut a sentence in that paragraph.

    • Consider your whole essay, and make notes about how/where you would add, move, change, and cut a whole paragraph. (Be brave!)

  • Random focused freewrite:  Momentarily shift your essay to single-space so that a lot of it gets onto one screen.  Close your eyes and touch the computer screen three times.  Boldface the word or short-phrase -- something with meaning, not "the" or "said" -- nearest to where your finger lands each time. Put those words/phrases into a new document (or at the bottom of your current document) and use them as the spark for a freewrite, either separately or in combination.  Try to dig or wrestle, to generate ideas not already in your essay:  what do you really mean or want your readers to get from those words? might someone else read them differently (would you read/have read them differently when you were younger or are older)? what other words or scenes come to mind? what are the opposites of those words?

Writers' Checklist

Adapted from Perl & Schwartz pp. 80-84

Beginnings, middles, and endings:

  • Do readers need more-- or less -- back-story?

  • Should it "begin at the beginning," or with a different attention-getting scene or idea?

  • Is there a narrative arc and narrative tension to move readers along?

  • Does the essay make a promise, and then deliver on it?

Going deep:

  • Where does your essay challenge common assumptions?

  • Where can you reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary, or show unexpected connections?

  • Are you "facing the dragon," or do you need to confront tensions more?

  • Does the writing connect with readers at more than one level?

  • Do you need to show more to help readers "see what you mean"?

Getting the balances right:

  • Where might you change the balance between "emotional truth" and "facts"?

  • Is there just enough foreshadowing to let readers have an "aha!" moment?

  • Is there any place where you are too obvious or overstate a point?

  • Where could you add a riff, take a risk, or break a rule to make the essay your own?

Staying focused:

  • Does everything in the essay serve the story? What could be cut?

  • If there is a split focus, does everything come together at the end?

  • Will readers know what the story was, and why it was important?


  • Does your introduction reach out to your target audience?

  • Have you followed most of the genre or topic conventions of your target publication?

  • Are your diction, tone, and structure tuned to match your audience and purpose?

Checking the details:

  • Is the pacing about right?

  • Does the essay have a strong voice?

  • Are there any places where the dialogue or diction are too flat or too "Engfishy"?

  • Have you cleared out clichés in your phrasing (and your thinking)?

  • Are key sentences polished so that they shine?




Last updated August 2008 Email Shelley Reid