Writing and Rhetoric

a student at Notre Dame's Writing Center

Writing and Rhetoric* aims to help students learn how to craft an argument based on different sources of information. This entails teaching students a general set of reasoning strategies that they can use to persuade an audience. Our course in argument is essentially a course in rhetoric, the art of discovering what to say and using language to share what people know, believe, and value. In turn, rhetoric provides a way to think about writing as part of a discourse that aims to bring about understanding of some public issue and, perhaps, agreement or action. Our emphasis on rhetoric is in keeping with the University’s civic goals: to nurture in each student a sense of moral responsibility as citizens.

Students learn the following in becoming more prepared to read and write in the University: (1) identify an issue amid different and conflicting points of view in what they read; (2) frame and sustain an argument that not only includes both the analysis and exposition of information, but establishes what is at stake in accepting their views; (3) provide relevant evidence to support a given point of view; (4) identify and analyze potential counterarguments; and (5) develop basic skills for writing a research proposal, for conducting original research (i.e., through archival research, surveys, or interviews), and for using the library’s print and electronic information resources; and (6) learn to use and recognize conventions of language in writing academic papers.

Writing and Rhetoric also aims to help students develop such critical reading skills as the ability to identify a writer’s line of argument, to evaluate the claims a writer makes in light of the evidence given to support those claims, to identify the basic assumptions underlying a writer’s argument, and to evaluate the implications of an argument.

Assumptions about Learning and Teaching

Five assumptions guide the curriculum in Writing and Rhetoric: reading is integral to writing, so that students need to learn to think critically, weighing their own ideas in light of what others write; students need to understand how to use print and non-print sources as both readers and writers, since writing is multi-modal; students can learn to write through collaborating with others; and students can learn all of these things when writing is taught as a process of inquiry that entails reading situations, identifying issues, and forming questions.

1. Because reading is integral to writing, students complete writing assignments that are based on reading––both professional and student writing.

Like all courses at the university, Writing and Rhetoric is organized around a theme and a set of readings. Students typically analyze and use nonfiction prose as sources of their arguments, although students also draw upon other media, including art, music, film, and advertisements.

2. Because critical thinking is an important component of university writing, students learn to weigh different and conflicting points of view in formulating their own positions.

To acquire these skills, students write argumentative essays, integrating their interpretation of different assigned readings, resources the students find on their own in the library or through primary research (e.g., focus groups,
 interviews, content analysis).

3. Because research is an important component of university writing, students conduct library and field research in order to support an argument.

Research encompasses the discovery and purposeful use of information to move readers to think or act in a way that writers want them to. The emphasis here is upon use and the ways writers can shape information in ways that enable writers to enter conversations. Conducting original research increases students’ capacity to frame questions and define issues to guide inquiry, to read critically in order to identify relevant sources of information, to test an assumption or hypothesis, to expand the tools of research students have acquired in the past, and to make a contribution to a conversation of ideas.

4. Because learning is a collaborative, cooperative experience, students to learn how to handle and give constructive criticism on writing and argumentation when working with peers. These collaborative skills are ones that should improve their own ability to read, write and think critically.

Students can accomplish in groups what they cannot always accomplish by themselves. Readers in the group can “stretch” the writer to think in new terms, attempt to use new strategies, and consider novel points of view. In 
turn, readers can challenge writers in ways that create conflict, forcing writers to weigh different views in advancing an argument. This entails learning how to be critical – an important part of learning how to write.

5. Because writing is a process, students write and revise drafts before they submit what they believe is their best writing. If we expect that they will read their own writing critically and to apply what they are learning, then 
students should be involved in assessing what they write. In turn, assessing student writing can enable instructors to reflect upon their own instruction.

To emphasize writing as a process of writing and rewriting submit all drafts that a given student has written, comments that both peers and the instructor have provided during the semester, and students’ reflective memos, describing their understanding of the extent to which their drafts fulfill their goals as writers. Such an approach stresses the work that students’ writing accomplishes as a form of communication.

Approved April 20, 2005, by Academic Council

*At the time that this rationale was approved, "Writing and Rhetoric" was known as "First-Year Composition."