The goal of English 131 is deceptively simple. Ostensibly, this course is designed to help you become a better writer. But what does “better writer” even mean? And a writer of what? Of poetry? Of instruction manuals? And what does “better” writing look like? Is it a matter of making fewer grammatical mistakes (answer: in part)? Employing fancier language and academic jargon (answer: NO)? Even more mystifying: how exactly does one become this so-called “better writer?”
I swear: the point of asking all these questions is not to induce an anxiety attack. It is to illustrate the crucial first step one must take in order to improve one’s writing. That step is what we call inquiry. By being curious, skeptical, and critical—by asking questions—we open ourselves up to receiving the necessary information we need in order to better form our ideas, our beliefs, and our arguments in all contexts and rhetorical situations.
Now, to answer a few of the questions I posed above. What sort of writing will we be doing in this class? As you know, writing takes on various forms that we often refer to as genres, which can be as broad as poetry or prose and as narrow as black feminist science fiction or legal briefs. Because we are working in the context of a college-level English class, we will largely focus on academic expository writing in the humanities. When we hear “expository writing” we usually think of tediously dry research reports. But exposition is something we actually do everyday, and it is always a creative process. It appears in novels, newspapers articles, movies, and business plans. In fact, many of the tools we’ll be learning aren’t applicable only to academic exposition. They are crucial to all genres of verbal expression and are tools you will continue using and sharpening even after you leave this class.
The question of how you will improve as writers is probably the easiest to answer. We become better writers by writing. And then revising. And then writing some more. And then revising again. We also become stronger writers by becoming stronger readers. And in this class, we’ll be doing a lot of reading, writing, and revising. The class is structured into two modules that each includes two short assignments and one major project. As we write, we’ll also read from a variety of texts that we will carefully dissect and which we can model (or not) in our own work.
Most importantly, we’ll have a very clear guide for our course in the form of specific course outcomes (see below). These outcomes will help us stay on task and focus on developing those skills that are crucial to our success. As we read, write, and revise, we’ll frequently reflect on which outcomes (or goals) we’ve mastered and on which we can still improve and how. These outcomes will also help determine our overall performance in this course, which will be represented in our final portfolios.
Though I’m aware that no one has chosen to take English 131 (and that many of you might now see it as little more than an annoying requirement), it is my hope that you will come to see this class as one of the most productive, useful, and enriching of your college experience. But mostly, I hope that you will feel like a stronger and more confident writer, reader, and thinker.