First Year Composition Program: ENGL 204

English 204 Rhetoric and Composition II

Concentrated rhetorical approach to 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. Students with credit for ENGL 204 may not take ENGL 103 or ENGL 203. Not used in calculating English major or minor GPA. Grade of C or better required to satisfy English core competency requirement.  PRQ: Placement only through English Core Competency Examination or a score of 30 or higher on the ACT combined English/Writing Test.


The purpose of English 204 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 204 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.


English 204 assumes that personal writing always develops from the competition, constraints, and contradictions within societal structures and values. Students must therefore learn to read carefully and sensitively the writing of others; to respect cultural, political, and historical diversity; and to question the rhetorical appeals of written discourse which authorize the social identities of race, class, and gender. Students should also learn to read carefully the professional and scholarly literature of one or more disciplinary fields. 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 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 initially 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. It further encourages them to assert with growing confidence their own authority as writers within the conversations of the university community.

Students should have extensive practice in the incremental production of expressive, expository, and persuasive writing. They should learn to employ rhetorical strategies appropriate to these modes of writing and to differentiate among the demands of personal, public, and professional writing. 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. They should also write increasingly to show that they understand the contexts, authority, and logic displayed in the writing of others. They should learn to represent this writing 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 arguments in the writing of others. They should be able 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 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, additionally, to develop their own perspectives on arguments they observe in all media, to articulate with some force their disagreements, their skepticism, or their reservations about the argumentative stance taken by other writers. They should develop a conscious set of intellectual values by which they judge 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.

Writing assignments in the course should progress from writing expressively about some issue of public concern, to reporting on the public discourse of professional writers, to writing that participates in that discourse. Students in English 204 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 be held to the conventions of "standard English" form in punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

Classroom Practice

The English 204 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 organize the course in several ways: by topics, by disciplines, by a developmental sequence of 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. 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.

Significant time and attention should be given to the investigative skills of note-taking, summarizing, paraphrasing, and synthesizing sources presented in a variety of 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 point of this instruction is to learn the value and logic of attribution or  reference, not simply to memorize citation form. When 204 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 journals, critical annotation, 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 should actively intervene to guide students in the process of developing informal writing into polished, documented essays. Students should learn to listen attentively not only to critical response to their writing from teachers but from their peers as well. The classroom should reinforce the understanding that writing is socially interactive, always emerging from and responding to the contexts of community.