This is a course in the craft of writing, specifically
the craft of writing in the humanities. I choose the word craft
carefully. Writing can be art, and the greatest written works are
among humanity’s greatest achievements. Whence the genius
for such works derives is an eternal mystery, and one can no more teach
someone to be a great novelist, dramatist, or poet than one can teach
someone to be the next Joshua Bell or Kevin Durant. But the writing
most of us need to perform in order to achieve success in our academic
and professional careers, communicate with our colleagues, friends, and
the public, and clarify and record our own thinking fortunately does not
fall into that mysterious and lofty category. It is more like carpentry:
one learns to build a table that will stand solidly on its own, support
whatever weight it is supposed to bear, and be aesthetically pleasing.
While we may not all be able to produce a Chippendale, all of us can learn
to make a serviceable and attractive table (maybe a step up from Ikea)
if we are given the tools and are willing to apply ourselves. Likewise,
we can all learn to write prose that helps us achieve our professional
goals. That is fortunate, because few skills are as important to
your overall success in your course-work and your life as your ability
to take your thoughts and put them down on paper in such a way that they
reach a reader’s mind more or less unaltered, and that your reader
then finds them persuasive. Do that poorly and you need to prepare
yourself for a life of misunderstandings, frustration, and disappointment;
do it well and some degree of success is nearly certain. Ultimately,
this course aims to provide you with skills that will help you convey
your ideas effectively, both in future course-work and professionally
in your chosen field.
The Students as Scholars Program and its Objectives
section of English 302 is participating in GMU’s “Students
as Scholars”(SAS) program. Across campus, students now have increased
opportunities to work with faculty on original scholarship, research,
and creative activities through their individual departments and the OSCAR
Assignments in English 302 will help prepare you to be contributors to
knowledge in your field, not just memorizers of facts. You will
understand how knowledge is created and transmitted in a field/discipline
• understand key methods and conventions of scholarly research
in your field/discipline
• articulate and refine your own question for scholarly inquiry
• situate your investigation in an ongoing context/conversation
in your field
• and design a final project that adds new perspectives and/or
data to the conversation
In order to achieve the goals of the SAS program, it
has designated the following Student Learning Outcomes. For primarily
text-based research that prepares students to make original contributions,
SLO-1, Discovery: Understand how they can engage in the practice
of scholarship at GMU
Discovery: Understand research methods used in a discipline
Discovery: Understand how knowledge is transmitted within a discipline,
across disciplines, and to the public
Inquiry: Articulate and refine a question
Inquiry: Follow ethical principles
Inquiry: Situate the scholarly inquiry [and inquiry process] within
a broader context
Inquiry: Apply appropriate scholarly conventions during scholarly inquiry/reporting
assignments in this course will be tied to various objectives from this
list, but on the class calendar and on the specific assignment.
must own the following:
with Style: Conversations of the Art of Writing (third edition)
by John Trimble
MS Word (either the PC or the Mac version) or Apple’s
A writer’s handbook
A flash-drive or portable hard-drive on which you keep your document
A good dictionary
Trimble’s book is short, engaging, and filled with
clear and helpful advice. As the subtitle suggests, his style is
relaxed and conversational. Many students have told me it is the
only book on writing they have ever enjoyed and kept using long after
the class is over. I strongly suggest you mark it up thoroughly
as you read it to make it specifically useful for you.
financial note: I know the bookstore is pushing the renting of textbooks,
and that even with books you buy, it tells you that you will get back
money if you do not write in your books. But think of it this way:
you are spending tens of thousands of dollars to attend college and acquire
an education. The best way to make use of books you are studying is to
gloss them heavily. Indeed, you cannot get the full benefit from
them if you do not do so. Does it make sense to get less than the full
value of your education so that you can someday get back enough money
for two or three lattes or one mediocre pizza? Maybe the situation
is different with a biology textbook that costs $275, but a paperback?
And if that does not convince you, consider this: do you think Barnes
& Noble, which owns our bookstore, is really trying to do you a favor
with those offers? Fact is, the company makes more money on used
textbooks than new ones, and even more money on rented textbooks. Write
in your books!
use MS Words Comment function to mark your major writing
assignments. For that reason, you must have some version of MS
Word — not Works, not an open-source program that
mimics Word, though Apple’s Pages is also acceptable.
Patriot Computers (in the Johnson Center) sells MS Word and MS
Office to students at a large discount. Meanwhile, anyone who
does not keep copies of his or her work on a flash-drive or portable hard-drive
these days is asking for trouble. (Note: keeping them “in the cloud”
or online sounds great until you try to access them and for some reason
wireless or internet access is slow or non-existent.) We will sometimes
be working in a computer classroom, and you will need to access and save
files, so you must bring your flash-drive or portable hard-drive with
you to every class.
must own a good writers handbook. When you make grammatical
and stylistic errors, I will point them out and expect you to look them
up in a handbook. Some of the better handbooks are Muriel Harriss
Prentice-Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage, Diane Hackers
A Writers Reference and Rules for Writers, and
Andrea Lunsfords The Everyday Writer. Many others
are available. I do not care which handbook you own, as long as
it is relatively recent. If you do not own any of them, buy one.
The primary difference between them is the way they are organized; the
material is mostly the same. Some of you may own the classic The
Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White, which is wonderfully
short and filled with good advice (and some that is idiosyncratic and
even a little weird), but it does not deal with grammar in any comprehensive
way, so you should consider it supplemental to these others
For this course you also must own a good dictionary. I know you
are all used to using the dictionaries built into your computer or available
on the web; I often use OneLook.com,
which accesses several dictionaries at once. However, dictionaries
built into computers tend to be relatively feeble, and web-based dictionaries
are inconvenient when reading. An actual text dictionary is
more useful. Be careful, though, because anybody can call a dictionary
Websters; the name is now in the public domain and means
nothing. The best reasonably-priced dictionaries available are the
Merriam-Webster Tenth Edition, The American-Heritage Dictionary,
and The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. The Shorter
Oxford English Dictionary is even better, though more pricey ($175).
My favorite inexpensive dictionary is the Little Oxford English Dictionary,
which is hardcover but only about six inches by four inches, quite portable,
and about $10 on Amazon (it is on my Amazon book-list). Of course,
the complete Oxford English Dictionary is the greatest dictionary
in the world, though unwieldy in its two-volume Compact edition
($400) and prohibitively expensive ($1300-$8000, depending on the binding)
in its full-sized version. You may access the complete OED
Mason library databases, though again web-based dictionaries
are much less convenient than a book.
Exercises and Quizzes
Exercises will be short assignments designed to prepare you
for the major essays. You will complete them and bring them —
sometimes multiple copies of them — to class, where we will discuss
them and work with them in groups. If you do not attend class that
day with the exercise in hand, you cannot get credit for an exercise.
Note that sometimes I collect exercises, and other times we work with
them in class, so I simply check to make sure you have brought your completed
work with you. I do not accept exercises late or by e-mail for credit.
Sometimes I may also give quizzes on material you we have read or discussed
in class. I do not announce them in advance, and they cannot be
made up due to absence.
For every major writing assignment, you will receive the works of
some of your peers. Using guidelines I provide, you will offer your
help and advice on each essay, submitting your response both to your peers
and to me. I will grade these based primarily on the apparent effort
and attention given and their organization, secondarily on the quality
of advice you offer.
Writing Assignments and Reflective Commentaries
You will produce three major writing assignments of different types
during the semester. Each will be judged on the basis of how well
it fulfills the assignment, including issues of purpose, structure, tone,
audience, persuasiveness, style, grammar, and format. Initially,
you will submit each essay to a group of your peers for their feedback.
Note that this version of the assignment should not be a first draft.
Inevitably, you will improve your own work by revising it on your own,
so it is a waste of everyone’s time to make us do what you could
already have done. The work you submit should represent the best
you can do, and will be judged accordingly.
After receiving feedback from your peers, you will then revise the assignment
and submit this revised version to me for my evaluation I will evaluate
it according to a rubric designed specifically for that assignment.
Each major assignment must be accompanied by a reflective commentary that
describes your experience and details the changes you made and the reasons
for them during the revision process. You may also be required (or
choose) to submit a second revision of our first major essay in order
to address problems I have noted. If you do, the revised grade will be
averaged with the initial one. Note, though, that you may not submit a
revision of that essay if you did not submit it initially.
submit your assignments as .doc or .docx files. Also, I insist you
always keep back-up files of your work on a flash-drive or portable hard-drive;
in 2013, claiming a computer glitch destroyed your essay is like claiming
your dog ate your homework.
I believe that learning requires an active engagement on
the part of both the students and the teacher. You cannot simply
sit back and expect to receive knowledge the way a child receives a tetanus
shot. At the very least, you must participate by paying close attention
to everything that goes on in class. Ideally, you should also ask
questions and risk exposing your ideas to your classmates. A
writing class, especially, is a cooperative venture — as much workshop
as class — and cannot be conducted solely via lecture.
many of the class’s activities depend on your participation, and
failing to contribute fully, whether through absence or lateness, for
example, will affect your scores on these assignments. Note this
comment from the student handbook: “Students who fail to participate
(by virtue of extensive absences) in courses in which participation is
a factor in evaluation may have their grades lowered.”
At the end of the semester, SAS requires you to submit a metacognitive
essay, in which you reflect on your experience in the course and evaluate
your own progress as a writer.
A healthy percentage of success in life depends simply
on showing up where and when you are expected. If you are the kind
of student who has trouble showing up, you will struggle in any composition
On the other hand, students who never miss a class tend to do well in
that absences or lateness on the days your peer group meets are particularly
disastrous. Even being late for a peer response session will result in
a penalty to your peer response grade.
Although absences are always bad, if you know ahead of time that you will
be absent, you should tell me. Regardless, you are absolutely responsible
for finding out what happened in class.
Policy on Late Work
of this course is conducted as a workshop, which means you submit your
work to your peers as well as to me. Your peers depend on you.
For that reason, the penalties for lateness are severe. Assignments
are due when specified. I do not accept exercises or peer responses
late. Revisions receive a 10% penalty to the points available per
day or part of a day of lateness, meaning that a revision that you send
to me one day and one hour late will receive a 20% penalty to the available
points. Note that it is your responsibility to examine your message
after you send it to be certain you successfully attached the document.
Consistent lateness will virtually guarantee failure of the course.
available in this course are as follows:
(in-class and out-of-class) and quizzes
and Aesthetic Response Essay
Bibliography and Review of Current Scholarship
strong in-class participation will earn students up to a 3 point bonus
on their final grade. Students may demonstrate strong in-class participation
by avoiding absences and late arrivals, joining class discussions,
asking appropriate questions, and taking an active role in class activities.
final grades in this course include A+ (97.0 points or above), A (93.0-96.9),
A- (90.0-92.9), B+ (87.0-89.9), B (83.0-86.9), B- (80.0-82.9), C+ (77.0-79.9),
C (73.0-76.9), C- (67.5-72.9), D (60.0-67.4), and F (below 60).
Note, however, that if you earn a C- or worse, you will need to re-take
grant incompletes only in circumstances beyond the students foresight
and control, and only when I have a reasonable expectation that the
student can complete the course successfully.
By university regulation, you must request an incomplete in writing.
Basic Rules of Conduct
A class, like a society, requires that all participants
observe a certain code of civilized behavior. The following are
the minimum standards I ask you observe (some of these are pretty obvious,
but believe it or not every one of them is here as a result of past experience):
on time. Arriving late is disruptive. Running a class
is like driving a stick-shift: it takes time to shift up to
cruising speed. When you walk in after the agreed upon starting time,
you interrupt the class and make it start out again in first gear.
It is rude. However, arriving late is still better than missing
the class. If you do arrive late, come in as quietly as possible
and take your seat. If the class is engaged in a group activity,
come to me (of course you should wait a moment if I am actively talking
with students) and ask me to place you in a group.
The outside world should not intrude on our class. Please disable
any cellular telephones, text messaging devices, pagers, and devices
with alarms, or leave them behind. Reading and sending text
messages, especially, is extremely disrespectful to the class.
Any student who texts during class will receive no credit for being
in class that day.
may bring a laptop computer or tablet to class, and we may occasionally
meet in a computer classroom. Computers can be extremely effective
writing tools, especially if you do not treat them as if they are
just typewriters hooked up to TVs. However, they can also prove
tremendously distracting. Reading e-mail unrelated to the class
or cruising the web is disrespectful and will be result in you being
considered absent that day, which also means that you will not receive
credit for any exercises due.
Wait until the class actually ends to pack up. Few things are
more annoying than having to raise my voice at the end of class because
people are sliding their books off the desks and unzipping and zipping
While I know that you have other obligations, our class is not the
time to fulfill them. Doing work unrelated to the course during
class is not allowed.
Attendance implies body and mind and so requires consciousness.
Putting your head down on the desk or closing your eyes because you
are tired is unacceptable at any level above nursery school.
At any moment, one of three things will be happening in the class:
either I will be talking, a student will be talking (asking or answering
a question, participating in a class or smaller group discussion),
or everyone will be concentrating silently on the task at hand. In
every case, courtesy demands that you pay attention, and not engage
in your own private conversations. But please feel free to ask
questions and express your ideas that kind of talking demonstrates
your involvement and is generally a good thing.
class is only 75 minutes long. You should seldom, if ever, need
to leave the classroom otherwise. If the need arises, and you
cant wait, by all means go in peace. I trust you will
return quickly, and not abuse my patience and generally kind disposition.
George Mason University’s Honor
Code requires all members of this community to maintain the highest
standards of academic honesty and integrity. Cheating, plagiarism, lying,
and stealing are all expressly prohibited. In fact, the list of
offences is redundant: cheating is fraud; plagiarism is theft.
These are the two clear felonies of the academic community.
Note: the GMU Honor Code has been revised for this semester.
If you have not examined it recently, please do so.
means using judgments, opinions, research, or phrasing from another source
without giving that source credit. Common knowledge does not fall into
this category, but knowledge researched, compiled, or organized by a particular
person does. Writers give credit through the use of accepted documentation
styles, such as parenthetical citation; a simple listing of books, articles,
and websites is not sufficient. This class will include direct instruction
in strategies for handling sources as part of our curriculum. However,
students in composition classes must also take responsibility for understanding
and practicing the basic principles of good scholarship. To avoid plagiarism,
meet the expectations of a U.S. academic audience, give their readers
a chance to investigate the issue further, and make credible arguments,
1) put quotation
marks around, and give an in-text citation for, any sentences or distinctive
phrases (even very short, 2- or 3-word phrases, if they are distinctive)
that writers copy directly from any outside source: a book, a textbook,
an article, a website, a newspaper, a movie, a song, an interview, an
encyclopedia, a CD, a baseball card — whatever
re-write (not just change 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 paraphrased information
an in-text citation for any facts, statistics, or opinions which the
writers learned from outside sources (or which they just happen to know)
and which are not considered “common knowledge” for the
target audience (this may require new research to locate a credible
outside source to cite)
a new in-text citation for each element of information — meaning
not rely on a single citation at the end of a paragraph, because that
is not usually sufficient to inform a reader clearly of how much of
the paragraph comes from an outside source
a Works Cited or List of References list at the end of their essay,
providing full bibliographic information for every source cited in their
different disciplines employ different citation styles, and different
instructors may emphasize different levels of citation for different assignments,
writers should always begin with these conservative practices unless they
are expressly told otherwise. Writers who follow these steps carefully
will almost certainly avoid plagiarism. If writers ever have questions
about a citation practice, they should ask their instructor.
All of that said, let me be clear. Any act of academic dishonesty
will result in my reporting you to the honor committee and recommending
failure of the course (not merely the assignment). In every case
in which I have done this, the honor committee has accepted my recommendation,
and in several cases has imposed additional penalties. This may
sound harsh, but you will find similar guidelines at every college in
the country. It does not get any more serious than this. I
will use available plagiarism-finding tools to check your essays as I
The University Writing Center
The university’s Writing
Center, located in Robinson A114, is one of the best resources
you will find on campus. It has an outstanding website that offers a wealth
of online resources
for student writers. You can schedule a forty-five minute appointment
with a trained tutor to help with any phase of the writing process. The
Writing Center even offers some services online, but please plan ahead
and allow yourself at least three days to receive a response.
Note Regarding Students
Students with documented disabilities
should present me with a contact sheet from the Disability Resource Center
as soon as possible so that together we may plan appropriate accommodations.
If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations,
please see me and contact the Office of Disability Resources at 703-993-2474.
All academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.
In this syllabus, I spell out clearly what I expect of
you. What may you expect of me? You have the right to expect
that I am knowledgeable about the subject, that I will be prepared for
class, that I will return your assignments to you reasonably promptly,
that I will indicate clearly where you need to apply yourself in order
to improve as both a reader and as a writer, and that I will give you
positive feedback whenever possible. It also means that you can
count on my honest evaluation of your work. If I say something positive,
believe it. If you perform poorly, I will certainly let you know.
However, I will not chase you: if you are struggling, ask to meet
with me. More fundamentally, you can expect that I want you both
to succeed and to enjoy the experience, and will do everything within
my power to help.