First Year Composition Program: ENGL 203

English 203 Rhetoric and Composition II

Critical reading and research-based writing with emphasis on the writing process and preparing students to participate in professional and academic discussions in the three domains: Creativity and Critical Analysis, Nature and Technology, and Society and Culture. Basic research methodology, source evaluation, and collaborative projects required in all sections. Not used in calculating English major or minor GPA. Grade of C or better required to satisfy English core competency requirement.  PRQ: ENGL 103 with a grade of C or better.


The purpose of English 203 is to improve students' abilities to read critically in a variety of media the kinds of public and professional writing they will encounter as university students and to write documented papers that reflect their ability to engage, report, and argue issues of public, academic, and professional importance. This two-fold purpose commits the teacher of English 203 to help students develop more effective reading strategies, with particular attention to the skills of paraphrasing, abstracting, synthesizing, and analyzing personal and public, academic and professional writing from both print and electronic sources. It asks students to recognize how writing changes 1) in its use of facts, 2) in its organization and argument, 3) in its voice and style, 4) in its sense of audience, 5) in its medium of presentation, and 6) in its documentation as a function of the broadly defined differences between the humanities, the social sciences, and the sciences.


Students should learn to read carefully the professional and scholarly literature of one or more disciplinary fields. In school they have read mostly textbooks whose presentations tend to suppress the lively debates and on-going research and development characteristic of scholarly investigation. They should learn to contextualize a given essay or electronic source by describing the issues at stake, the history or development of those issues, the significant ideas that converge in the source, and the configuration of scholarly authority within which the writing takes its place.

Students should learn that focus, development, organization, stylistic force, and editorial correctness are standards by which writing is widely evaluated inside and outside the academic community. Students should begin to understand the disciplinary presuppositions and methodologies that guide academic writing. They should also be able to discuss and evaluate the scholarly authority claimed by writers of various media. They should, for example, learn to recognize that web pages, popular magazines and academic journals inspire different levels of confidence in their readers. They should learn to distinguish between journalism, popularized disciplinary writing, and research scholarship, and grant to each its special purpose, value, and usefulness. As a matter of course, these abilities should extend to the evaluation of electronic sources. Students should learn to characterize the investigative, argumentative, and analytical methods of academic writers. They should be able to evaluate the facts or data or assumptions upon which writers build their cases, the kinds of claims that can be made on the basis of that data, and the logic by which the claims are made.


Students should, at first tentatively, experimentally, and then with growing confidence, assert their own authority as writers within the academic conversation. They should write to show that they understand the contexts, authority, and logic displayed in the writing of others, and they should write to demonstrate their own points of view in relation to the writing of others. Most, but not necessarily all, writing in 203 should be prompted by the students' interaction with other texts, those of their fellow students, and those of other writers.

Students should learn to represent the writing of others accurately. They should be able to summarize, analyze, and synthesize in writing the arguments they read. They should be able to extend and amplify by inference and implication the arguments they find in the writing of others. They should learn to compare and evaluate the arguments made by two or more writers on the same topic. They should be able to describe points of agreement and conflicting claims in the writing on a given topic.

Teachers must take as one of their most important tasks to show students how to discover topics that engage them and command their commitment. Commitment is the foundation of the successful, genuine rewriting that is necessary if a student is not only to find a topic, but make it manageable, defend it to a discourse community, and develop it to the satisfaction of other readers. Teachers need then to guide their students in conceptualizing their topics within the broad contexts of academic discourse and to guide them in locating the public and disciplinary sources appropriate to their topic.

Students must learn to develop their own perspectives on the arguments they observe in print and electronic media. They should be able to articulate with some force their disagreements or agreements, their skepticism or confidence, their reservations or support for the argumentative or analytical stance taken by another writer. They should develop within their responses a conscious set of intellectual values by which they assess the arguments they read. Students should learn to view writing as a way to answer questions they pose for themselves; their motivation for writing must come from their own desire to examine, explain, criticize, or resolve some issue or problem that they define.

Students in English 203  will learn to read and think critically about issues in the public and professional discourse of the broadly defined academic arenas. Teachers should not expect, however, that students' documented writing will approximate the style and sophistication of professional writing. Rather their writing should demonstrate a voice that is professionally knowledgeable but publicly readable. Their writing should more closely resemble informed public discourse rather than the professional scholarship of an academic discipline. Students must also understand and manage conventions of punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

Classroom Practice

The English 203 classroom must be a place for experimentation in pursuit of the critical reading and writing goals outlined above. The classroom environment must be one in which students can exchange ideas respectfully and safely within the confines of a community of writers.

The teacher may select texts to organize the course in several ways: by theme or topic, by academic discipline, by a developmental sequence of rhetorical assignments. Teachers may set or solicit a series of topics or issues that students will investigate, report on, and argue about. Teachers may wish to specify one or more topics to be investigated from several disciplinary perspectives. Or they may wish to focus on progressively more complex writing tasks to be undertaken in the context of students' reading. They may ask students to begin with personal writing on subjects that subsequently the student develops as research exercises. As with English 103, electronic media will be integrated into the teaching methodology insofar as these tools are useful for the teaching of research skills and the production of finished documents that have evolved through the writing process. These alternatives for course organization by no means exhaust the possibilities. The reading and writing assignments and the organization of the course are largely and appropriately the teacher's province.

At the beginning of the semester, some connection should be established with the work students have done in 103 both in terms of the writing process and the use of electronic media. Since 103 tends to rely on personal experience as a source for writing, teachers may want to assign a persuasive essay based on personal experience that could become a basis for future work in 203. Significant time and attention should be given to the skills of note-taking, summarizing, paraphrasing, and synthesizing sources presented in a variety of different print and electronic media. In this connection, teachers must also explain plagiarism, a concept ambiguous to many students and inflected by their respective cultural norms. Students should learn well one system of documentation, such as MLA, APA, or CBE, as it applies to all media. Teachers understand that the goal of this instruction is to learn the value and logic of attribution or reference, not simply to memorize citation form. When 203 students go on to their majors, they will inevitably use some form of documentation appropriate to their disciplines.

Teachers should encourage students to respond to their reading by means of critical annotation, journals, reaction writing, and formal evaluation in order to avoid the voiceless writing and generic style of the traditional research paper. Students must learn to assert and maintain their own perspectives within an argumentative or analytical context. They will usually discover these perspectives by writing informally about the problems of definition, understanding, and interpretation that they come upon in their reading. Teachers will actively guide students in the process of developing informal writing into polished, documented essays, but students should learn to listen attentively to critical responses to their writing.