First Year Composition Program: ENGL 103

English 103 Rhetoric and Composition I

The writing and revising of expressive, expository, and persuasive essays accompanied by the reading of nonfictional prose.


English 103 familiarizes students with the nature of communication in general and with the process of writing in particular. Students learn to read critically a variety of modes and genres. They write extensively in a process of self-discovery in order to situate themselves in the academic community and in the world beyond. They engage these communities through both print and electronic writing technologies, and learn that all reading and writing are structured forms of interaction between writers and readers.


English 103 assumes that the production of writers texts occurs within a context of other writing. Students should learn to read and think critically about a range of student, journalistic, academic, and professional writing. Since personal writing always develops from the possibilities and constraints within societal structures and values, students must learn to read carefully and sensitively the writing of others; they must learn to respect cultural, political, and historical diversity while at the same time questioning the rhetorical appeals of written discourse which authorize the social identities of race, class, and gender. They should learn to discern the competing voices of social meaning as the context in which they contribute their own writing.

The ability to read critically also involves the understanding of criteria by which good writing is judged. Students should learn that focus, development, organization, stylistic force, and editorial correctness are standards by which writing is widely evaluated, both within and without the academic community. Sensitivity to these qualities in the writing of others should extend to a concern for those same qualities in the student's own writing. Through the critical reading of others' writing, however, students should learn that these qualities, like other social values, are evidenced in a multiplicity of forms, increasingly including those of electronic communication.


Students should learn that the production of written texts is an extensive process which develops progressively and recursively through the discovery of subjects for writing, the collection of material relevant to those subjects, the focusing and ordering of that material, the development of coherent texts, the rethinking and revision of those texts, and the editing and publishing of polished prose. The course assumes that students have something to say and helps them to discover ways to express themselves effectively. It encourages them to explore and to expand the contents of their experience and to experiment with different kinds of writing as a way of developing their knowledge, of giving voice and shape to it, and of sharing it with divergent audiences. Students should learn the ways in which writing emerges in response to rhetorical situations--the efforts to find a voice, to identify an audience, and to define a purpose.

Students should have extensive practice in the incremental production of expressive, expository, and persuasive writing. They should learn to employ strategies appropriate to these modes of writing and to differentiate among the demands of personal, public, and professional writing. The course assumes the personal voice to be constituted by the already-internalized voices of public discourse; it assumes the public domain to be constructed in voices of the economic, political, educational, and cultural institutions that reflect society's ordering of itself, that offer a hierarchy of careers, and that establish possibilities of personal identity. Students should learn to appreciate the significance, complexity, and power of their own writing as an effective means of engaging and negotiating the cultural constraints on their daily lives.

Classroom Practice

The English 103 classroom is largely a workshop where students write. The teacher may lecture about pertinent rhetorical matters, and the class may engage in large and small group discussions of thematic and rhetorical matters in assigned readings, but the class should regularly write. The course assumes that reading, writing, speaking, and listening are social, interactive, and mutually reinforcing, and it should seek actively to encourage these activities. Ideally the students and teacher constitute a community within which individual diversity is acknowledged and appreciated for the strengths it affords for the improvement of individual expression.

Use of the electronic media in the classroom extends and enhances the discourse community; it provides yet another forum to engage students' voices and facilitate written communication within and beyond the classroom. More specifically, classes may integrate technologies including word processing, e-mail, newsgroups, mailing lists, course web sites, personal home pages, and other Internet applications to facilitate the teaching of writing through synchronous and asynchronous communication.

The teacher may organize the course in any number of ways--by thematic readings, by rhetorical concerns, by strategies of critical thinking, etc.--but these matters of organization and structure are, in light of the overall aims of the course, the prerogative of the teacher. At the outset of the semester teachers may wish to incorporate a diagnostic activity for the purpose of generally gauging the students' sense of themselves as writers and users of writing technologies. Students may be urged to reflect on their growth as writers by keeping throughout the semester a journal of personal responses to the class, to the electronic environment, to the course readings, to the process of writing, to their course community, to the daily demands of campus life. Such notebooks, which can exist in either printed or electronic forms, may serve as spaces where students collect, brainstorm, map, and free write to develop the material for their essays.

Although much of the writing in English 103 may draw on the student's personal and public knowledge, students should begin to explore how library resources and their own experiences (including their other classes, surveys, and interviews) provide a wealth of information within which they may develop their own points of view. At some point during the semester the class will meet in Founders Library for the purpose of orientation to the resources available in the university libraries. Teachers should inform their students about the university's concern for integrity in academic work and should discuss the department's statement on plagiarism.

Teachers may generally prescribe the parameters of writing assignments, but students should be encouraged to develop topics for writing from their own interests and experiences. Teachers typically will require essays to be developed through pre-writing and drafting exercises appropriate to both traditional and electronic environments. Such exercises will harness the relative strengths of each environment to encourage the student to grasp the writing process as a truly recursive one involving false starts, failures, reconceptualizations, and (perhaps numerous) revisions. The students' best writing may be collected and evaluated as a portfolio at the end of the semester. This writing, which reflects the crafted result of the writing process, will focus primarily on the production of the traditional printed essay, but may include other kinds of writing, such as web pages.

Certainly the teacher will intervene throughout this process to offer the students response and direction in their efforts at different stages of writing. The teacher is encouraged, however, to share this role of responder, coach, and critic with the students. Students should learn to listen not only to the teacher's responses, but also to the reactions, suggestions, and evaluations of their peers as part of the regular audience for their writing. The classroom on a regular basis should be a workshop where students share and respond to each other's free writing, drafting, and polished prose. Such an approach to student-centered activities reinforces the understanding that writing is socially interactive, always emerging from and responding to the contexts of community. The community may choose to evaluate, select, and share class work by taking advantage of the publishing opportunities afforded by the electronic environment.