Shelley Reid


English 309
Introduction to Nonfiction Writing

Course Information

Spring 2007  --  TR 3:00-4:15  --  IN 209
Professor E. Shelley Reid


Go to Policy Page

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Books Grading Participation/Late Work
Plagiarism Notes  


Contact Points:


Robinson A420

Office Phone:


Office Hours:

M 11:00 - 1:00; T 10:00 - 11:30; R 1:30 - 2:30



Robinson A 487



Officially speaking, this class is designed to provide space and time and motivation for you to further develop your abilities in writing nonfiction.  We will also attend very carefully to the processes that surround writing and that help writers improve their strategies:  reading, thinking about and responding to reading, anticipating the effects that contexts and audiences will have on writing, organizing ideas, drafting, reflecting on one's writing, reading drafts, revising, re-revising, editing, polishing, and starting the whole process again.  More importantly, this class will focus on helping you improve as a lifelong writing-learner, and so will provide a space to practice three crucial things:  Writing from Home, Writing for Change, and Trying Something New.



TextsWriting True (Perl & Schwartz) and  The Writer on Her WorkVol. II (Sternburg).  Also purchase one of the following two books:  Best American Magazine Writing 2005 (Lehman) orBest American Essays 2005 (Atwan).  Additional texts will be made available through library reserve.  You should also purchase a writing handbook (such as Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference) if you don't have a (relatively recent) copy of one already.


Etc.:Please buy 2-3 basic pocket folders (no plastic, no three-hole brads) to keep your writing in, and be sure to have back-up storage (disks, flash drives, etc.) for your documents. 


A Note about Portfolio Grading

This is a workshop-based class with a strong portfolio component.   You will receive very few formal letter grades on your written assignments, though you will receive a profusion of evaluative and supportive comments from me and your peers.  This style of grading -- focused on the work in your final portfolio -- emphasizes revision strongly, grading you only when your work is at its best point.

However, if at any point you are concerned about your letter-grade-standing for an assignment or overall, please come see me so we can talk about it.


Basic Weights & Measures

(See the Assignment Descriptions for full details)



First Portfolio Assignments

30% (150 pts.)

Workshop Draft with Guide (3 required)

20 points each*

Writer's Commentary (3 required)

15 points each

Reading Analysis (1 full/1 brief required)

10/5 points each (max 35)

Public Letter (1 required)

5 points each (max 10)

Extra Peer Review (optional)

5 points each (max 15)

Writer's Journal (optional)

5 points each* (max 15)

Writing Exercises (optional)

Variable (max 15)

* guaranteed





First Portfolio, Quality/Growth Evaluation

5% (25 pts.)





First Portfolio Preparation & Participation

10% (50 pts.)





Midterm Proposal and Conference

10% (50 pts.)





Second Portfolio (holistically graded)

35% (175 pts.)





Second Portfolio Preparation & Participation 

10% (50 pts.)

Final Grade Score Chart:

485-500 = A+

435-449 = B+

385-399 = C+

300-349 = D

465-484 = A

415-434 = B

365-384 = C

<300 = F

450-464 = A-

400-414 = B-

350-364 = C-

Completion Policy:  You must complete and turn in three workshop drafts & commentaries, the proposal, and two portfolio-revisions & commentaries to pass this class.

Originality Policy:  While you may certainly work with a topic that you have written about before, you may not submit, in whole or in part, any work for this class that has been (or is about to be) submitted for another class.

The 3-Point Policy: At the end of the term, I do not "round up"; there is no last-minute "extra credit."  However, if you are within 3 points (no more) of a higher grade, and I have seen clear evidence of you "going the extra mile" throughout the semester -- making great improvement as a writer, taking extra care with peer reviews, breaking a sweat with your revisions, enlivening class discussion or peer groups with your wit and/or insight, etc. -- I reserve the right to give you the higher grade.  There is no persuading me to do this with pleas or sad stories at the very end of the term or after the grade is recorded; my decision, once made, is non-negotiable.



English 309 and the Kairos of Classroom Learning:
Participation and Late-Work

Kairos is a Greek term used by rhetoricians and writers to denote the idea of taking the right action (or choosing the right words) at the right time (or for the right audience/context).  Kairos is time measured by its felt-quality, not its numerical quantity: students and writers both need to "use their time well."

Classroom Kairos:  When you listen to other views, write notes to yourself about topics, work with others' writing, and voice your reactions for others to learn from, you increase your own depth and breadth of learning.  In a collaborative, workshop-based class, as with choir rehearsal or basketball practice, attending is both a physical achievement and a mental process.

Activities in each class meeting will be valued at up to 3 points per class.  Writing exercises and discussion will contribute to this score.  If you miss a class you will be responsible for turning in any required work, but will not be able to "make up" the missed participation points.

Workshop participation requires extra concentration, and will be credited at up to 1.5 additional points for each First Portfolio workshop, and up to 2 each for the Second Portfolio workshops.  Your Workshop Group's feedback on the helpfulness of your responses will be considered in evaluating your workshop participation.  (Students who miss a workshop due to a Rare Natural Disaster may have the opportunity to make up some of their workshop participation points.)

You should also be actively present in and well-preparedfor face-to-face meetings.  Students who are sleeping, reading the newspaper, texting or answering cell phones, or working on assignments for other classes (etc.), or who are unprepared for the day's work, may lose class participation points, as will those who interfere in other students' learning. Any serious breach of good class conduct may cause you to lose all points in this category.

Please plan to be on time for each class.  If you are frequently late, you may lose participation points.  However, in an emergency I would much rather have you come late than not at all.


Assignment Kairos:  Lateness is all-too-familiar in our overscheduled society; here as elsewhere it is not without consequences.  The most important consequence, though, is to your own well-being: The quickest way to come to hate a writing class is to fall behind in it.

Late assignments are those arriving any time after class on the due date.  If you need to, you can email me a copy before class to avoid a grade penalty, though you will still need to turn in a hard copy.  If you drop off a late assignment to my mailbox in Robinson A 487, send me an email to let me know.  Please don't place assignments near, on, or under my office door.

A workshop draftmust be turned in on time for the appropriate workshop in order to "count."  All other due dates are given to help you prepare for a particular class discussion or activity, so missing the due date will count against your preparation/participation grade.

Lateness due to Rare, Uncontrollable Natural Disasters will not usually incur penalties; it is your responsibility to provide explanation/documentation of such occurrences.  (The flu is not rare, and a lack of parking spots is not a natural disaster—they're part of what we all have to survive in a typical semester.)

Computer Crises are neither Rare nor Natural, and most of them can be avoided or controlled with good advance preparation.  Lateness due to individual electronic disasters will earn sympathy but not special consideration.  Please back up your files, print often while in process, and print final assignments before the Very Last Minute.


Kairos can be a flexible concept; special cases will receive special consideration.  Overwork, as you know from your own and your friends' experiences, is not a special case.  Alien abduction is a special case.  Between the two lie a variety of cases that can be discussed.  Don't panic -- but do plan ahead when possible, and contact me as soon as possible if you run into trouble.


Other Policies

Students with Disabilities

Students with documented disabilities are legally entitled to certain accommodations in the classroom.  If you request such accommodation, you must present me with a contact sheet from the Disability Resource Center (703-993-2474).  I will be happy to work with students and the DRC to arrange fair access and support.


Policy on Plagiarism

In informal or collaborative situations, the ideas you share among your fellow students take on a collective "ownership"; suggestions offered may be freely taken.  In the case of a draft workshop or informal writing, consulting with other students may be strongly encouraged. 

Nonetheless, unless the assignment is designated as a team effort, the final assignment should demonstrate your own thought processes and original presentation of ideas and arguments. 

Learning to effectively—and ethically—blend one's own ideas and analysis with information and evidence obtained from outside sources is a significant challenge for writers in the twenty-first century.  I will give reminders about strategies for handling sources as part of our class.  However, writers must also take responsibility for understanding and practicing the basic principles listed below.

To avoid plagiarism, meet the expectations of a US Academic Audience, give their readers a chance to investigate the issue further, and make credible arguments, writers must

  • put quotation marks around, and give an in-text citation for, any sentences or distinctive phrases (even very short, 2- or 3-word phrases) that writers copy directly from any outside source:  a book, a textbook, an article, a website, a newspaper, a song, a baseball card, an interview, an encyclopedia, a CD, a movie, etc.
  • completely rewrite—not just switch out a few words—any information they find in a separate source and wish to summarize or paraphrase for their readers, and also give an in-text citation for that information
  • give an in-text citation for any facts, statistics, or opinions which the writers learned from outside sources and which are not considered "common knowledge" in the target audience
  • give an in-text citation for any facts, statistics, or opinions which the writers know but which are not part of the "common knowledge" of their target-audience (this may require research to provide credible outside-source support)
  • give a new in-text citation for each element of information -- that is, a single citation at the end of a paragraph of outside-source information is not usually sufficient to inform a reader clearly of how much of the paragraph comes from an outside source.

Unless I specifically say otherwise for this class, you must include a Works Cited or References list at the end of any essay that draws from external sources, providing full bibliographic information for every source cited in your essay.  Different disciplines, genres, and publications will have slightly different citation expectations, which we will discuss in class and in conferences. 

"Unintentional" plagiarism, or significant errors or omissions in citation, are serious problems, and they will result in serious consequences.  If you ever have questions about a citation practice, please ask me!

I will report any suspected instances of plagiarism to the Honor Council.  All judgments about plagiarism are made after careful review by the Honor Council, which generally issues penalties ranging from grade-deductions to course failure.


A few notes about emailing me

  • I spend a fair amount of time on email, and would much prefer to answer your question when you have it (and while it's still a small question) than to have you forget the question or have it turn into a large frustration!
  • It's helpful to me in sorting through my email if you can put the course number -- "Engl 309" -- in the Subject line, along with a short description of your reason for writing.
  • If you are writing from a personal email address, please include your GMU address in the email; for privacy reasons, I will respond only to that address.
  • It's easier for me to help you if you can be specific in your question or comment; it's more pleasant for me to help you when you take a little extra time to write a complete piece of communication (salutation, message, signature, absence of glaring errors, etc.).
  • I read email daily, but I don't always respond immediately; I usually do email catch-up on Friday or Saturday.  If your question is time-sensitive -- you need a response soon to meet a deadline -- please indicate that in your message.  If I don't get back to you in my catch-up time, please send me a quick reminder in case I've forgotten.


Some final thoughts about learning to write better:

Only you can ensure that you're learning at least some of what you need to learn as a writer right now.  As you look at your assignment options for this class, please

  • take time to choose your topics and assignments early and wisely -- last-minute, "oh, I'll just write about bears" approaches risk turning the writing into a task rather than an opportunity for learning and exploration;
  • be willing to "try something," to give an assignment the "old college try" to see what you might be able to learn from it as a writer or a reader;
  • and let me know if you have an idea about an assignment that would make it fit better with your learning goals; we'll see what we can work out.






Last updated January 2007.Email Shelley Reid