ENGL 281 A: Intermediate Expository Writing

Meeting Time: 
MW 8:30am - 10:20am
CDH 128
Denise Grollmus
Denise Grollmus

Syllabus Description:


Fairfield Porter, "The Mirror," 1966


Instructor: Denise Grollmus                                                                    

Classroom/Time: CDH 128 / MW 8:30-10:20 am           

Contact: grolld@uw.edu   

Office Location: PDL B-5-M                                                                       

Office Hours: M 11-noon; W noon-1; or by appointment         


Course Description:

“The challenge for a nonfiction writer is to achieve a poetic precision using the documents of truth but somehow to make people and places spring to life as if the reader was in their presence.” –Simon Schama

“You can tell a more over-the-top incredible story if you use a nonfiction form” –Chuck Palahniuk 

“A good essay must have a permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtains round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in, not out.” –Virginia Woolf

Whenever you sit down to write a truthful representation of our reality that is beholden to verifiable fact, whether for the purpose of entertaining people, informing them, or persuading them, you are composing a piece of nonfiction. As a category of literature, nonfiction refers to broad genre of prose that includes personal essays and memoirs, profiles, nature and travel writing, narrative and lyric essays, observational or descriptive essays, general-interest technical writing, argumentative or idea-based essays, general-interest criticism, literary journalism, and so on. Whether you are writing a research paper for a sociology class or an op-ed for your local newspaper, you are working within a genre of nonfiction.

In this course, we’ll investigate the differences—both small and large—between the various genres that make up the category of writing referred to as “nonfiction.” While nonfiction is often understood as the opposite of fiction because of the way it is beholden to some “truth” or set of verifiable facts, we’ll examine how different concepts of “truth” are employed in different works and different subgenres. Not only will we analyze the conventions of several nonfiction subgenres and examine how different writers employ and break the rules of their chosen form, but we’ll also create our own works of nonfiction in which we attempt to replicate what we like, avoid what we don’t, and attempt to say something meaningful about the subjects in which we are invested.

By the end of this course, the hope is that you’ll have a clear sense of how to conduct genre analyses and then transfer that knowledge into your own writing so that you can teach yourself how to write in any mode of your choosing. We’ll focus not only on how to recognize and adapt to the conventions of various forms, but we’ll also learn how to be strategic when making certain writing choices for certain purposes. We will also focus on how to attain nuance and style in our writing, by making conscious choices at the level of syntax, word choice, and mechanics.

Course Goals:

  1. To be aware of how writing, rhetoric, and genre function.
  2. To incorporate explicit attention to writing, rhetorical awareness and disciplinarity.
  3. To understand the demands of particular writing situations, of performing in different genres, of how and why particular writing situations require specific rhetorical "moves.

Required Texts:

All readings will be available as PDFs or links on Canvas. You will need a UW Net ID and access to Canvas. Please bring readings to class, either printed out, or on a device such as your laptop or tablet.

Coursework and Assessment:

Students are expected to complete all the readings for each class, to come prepared to discuss actively, and to turn in written work on time and according to assignment guidelines. The course will center on lectures and class discussions with readings playing a key role in establishing a thorough understanding of the material. Furthermore, our class will only be as good as your participation in it.


Class Participation (free writes; group work)                                   10%               

Weekly Genre Analysis                                                                       10%

Presentation                                                                                         10%               

Personal Essay                                                                                      15%

Investigative/Narrative Journalism                                                  15%

Criticism                                                                                               15%

Final Project                                                                                         25%


Class Participation

During each class, we’ll do some sort of activity that allows you to engage with and think critically about the readings and topics that we are discussing. Activities include free writes and group work, which will be collected at the end of each class and be graded C/NC. 

Weekly Genre Analysis

For the most part, each week, you will be responsible for writing AT LEAST 250 words in which you will analyze our readings, focusing on the similarities and differences between them in order to gain a deeper understanding of the genre in question. I will hand out a prompt that gives you guidelines for how to compose these analyses—what to focus on, what to include, etc.


During weeks seven and eight, you will each give a presentation on a different nonfiction genre. These presentations will essentially be genre analyses, where you will be asked to present on the conventions of the genre and give specific examples. I will hand out a prompt with guidelines during week six, when you’ll sign up for your time slot, too. This is meant to prepare you all for your final project, in which you’ll compose within the genre of your choice.


You will compose three different essays in three distinct genres of nonfiction throughout the quarter. You will write a Personal Essay, a piece of Investigative/Narrative Journalism, and a piece of Criticism. For each essay, you will also submit a 250-500 word (1-2 page, double spaced) proposal and a rough draft for workshopping. Each final paper must be 750-1250 words (3-5 pages, double spaced). I will hand out prompts with guidelines for each of the papers.

Final Project

For your final project, you will pick a nonfiction genre of your choosing and then compose a piece within that genre. Like the essays, you will submit a proposal and a rough draft for workshopping. Alongside your final project, you will also write a 500-750 word (2-3 page) reflection on your process, which will talk about how you transferred what you learned from your genre analysis into the creation of your project as well as how you will transfer the skills you worked on and developed in the project to tasks outside of this class. The final project and accompanying reflections will be due at midnight on Monday, December 11.


In this course we will use a system of evaluation called “contract grading.” In a nutshell, that means I specify what you have to do to earn a particular course grade, and you decide what you’re willing and able to do and then sign up for the contract that works best for you. There are no surprises: if you fulfill the obligations of your contract, you get the grade you signed up for. In this class, I will assess your final essays, but that score or assessment will pretty much have nothing to do with your course grade. I think you should know where a particular piece of writing stands in relation to others’ writing and our writing criteria, but I think your course grade should reflect your learning and work. I’ll hand out contracts on the first day of class. They should be returned, signed, to me the following Monday.

Class Policies

Classroom Conduct

In accordance with the University’s Student Code of Conduct, your enrollment at UW is contingent upon the way you conduct yourself in a classroom setting. This means that you must respect the rights, privileges and property of others, and you must refrain from any behavior that would disrupt or interfere with our class. Disruptive behavior is any behavior that distracts others and disrupts their learning environment or threatens their sense of safety. If someone engages in disruptive behavior, they will receive a warning. If that warning is not heeded, then the student may be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, which may result in one’s removal from the class. Most importantly, I have a zero tolerance rule for hate speech. According to the American Bar Association, hate speech is “any speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Hate speech is grounds for dismissal from my classroom not only because it is violent, threatening, and harassing in nature, but also because it violates the purpose and framework of this course, which is dedicated to ethical communication. Hate speech of any kind is, therefore, considered a violent disruption and/or interference with the class itself. Furthermore, I encourage anyone who feels threatened or intimidated by another student in this class to come directly to me so that I can handle the situation accordingly.

Technology Policy

I’m a big fan of using technology in the classroom. We’ll be looking at a lot of examples of multimodal nonfictions in this class, as well as using Canvas and Google Docs to support our work. To that end, you are encouraged to bring your laptops and other devices to help you access online materials. However, I do ask that you do your best to refrain from using your computer for other purposes while we are in class, whether that’s texting, using social media, or doing work for another class. This is largely based on trust—I trust you to do the right thing. Consider this your warning. If that trust is violated, I will say so aloud and your participation grade will be severely affected, because you do know better. I do understand that stuff comes up even when you are in class—an urgent phone call, text, or email. In that case, excuse yourself to the hallway to deal with any pressing issues so as not to distract the rest of the class.

Attendance Policy

Your regular attendance is required and your participation grade will be lowered for poor attendance via missed free writes and group work. Please communicate with me about your absences as much as possible. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get the assignments, class notes, and course changes from a classmate. If you miss class on a day that written work is due, you are still expected to turn your work in on time. In-class work cannot be made up.

Late Policy

Be sure to manage your time wisely and anticipate upcoming deadlines, which are all listed on the course schedule. And always come talk to me if you are struggling to keep up with the fast pace of the class. I’m happy to help in any way I can. I also give extensions, but only if you ask me 48 hours BEFORE the due date.

Office Hours

I hold office hours in Padelford, room B-5-M (in the dungeons), every Monday and Wednesday, 11-noon or by appointment. If my office hours don’t work for you, email me or come see me after class to set up an appointment. Office hours are a great way to get extra feedback on how you’re doing in the class, to let me know what is/isn’t working about the course, and to work through some of your ideas for papers. The better I get to know you on an individual level, the better I’ll understand your interests and be better able to guide you and help you. Office hours are voluntary, but highly encouraged.

University Policies and Resources 

Academic Integrity Clause

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing--as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Complaints Clause

If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the Director of the Expository Writing Program, Candice Rai, crai@uw.edu 


If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/students/drs/.

Campus Safety

Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone.

–Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.

–Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.

–Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).

–Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at www.washington.edu/alert.

For more information visit the Safe Campus website at www.washington.edu/safecampus.

Writing Centers

If you want extra help on any of the writing you do in this class, I highly suggest going to one of the UW’s writing centers. You may also receive extra credit for going to the writing center, worth one missed writing reflection, free write, or quiz. In order to do so, you must get a signature from your tutor (along with date and time), and then write a 250 word reflection on what you discussed in your session, what help you got, and how you used that help in order to improve/revise/write the assignment in question. 


Center for Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment

Website: depts.washington.edu/clue 


Odegaard Writing & Research Center

Website: depts.washington.edu/owrc


Course Calendar (subject to change)


in-class activities


Wed 9/27


First Day of Instruction

Review: Genre Analysis and Rhetorical Analysis





Mon 10/2

Personal Essay

Grading contract due

Genre Analysis: Personal Essay Due

Wed 10/4


Personal Essay

Personal Essay Proposal Due




Mon 10/9

Personal Essay Workshop

Personal Essay Rough Draft

Wed 10/11

Introduction to Investigative/Narrative Journalism

Personal Essay Due on Friday by midnight




Mon 10/16

Investigative/Narrative Journalism

Genre Analysis: Investigative Journalism Due

Wed 10/18

Investigative/Narrative Journalism


Investigative/Narrative Journalism Proposal Due




Mon 10/23



Wed 10/25

Investigative/Narrative Journalism Workshop


Investigative/Narrative Journalism Rough Draft Due Tuesday at midnight




Investigative/Narrative Journalism FINAL PAPER Due Sunday by midnight

Mon 10/30


Introduction to Criticism


Genre Analysis: Criticism Due at Midnight

Wed 11/1


Criticism Proposal Due





Mon 11/6

Criticism Workshop


Criticism Rough Draft Due

Wed 11/8

Introduction to Genre Presentations


Criticism Due on Friday at midnight








Mon 11/13

Presentation Workshop

Presentation Proposal due Sunday Midnight

Wed 11/15

Presentation Workshop


 Rough draft of slide presentation and handout



Presentation Materials due on Canvas, Sunday, Midnight

Mon 11/20




Wed 11/22

Presentations; Introduction to Final Project


Presentation Materials Due on Canvas




Mon 11/27


Presentations; Final Project Brainstorming 

Final Project Proposal Due

Wed 11/29







Mon 12/4


Final Project Prep


Wed 12/6


Final Project Workshop; Evaluations


Final Projects due 12/11 by midnight

Last Day of Instruction for University:  Fri 12/8

Finals Week:  Mon 12/11 – Fri 12-15




Catalog Description: 
Writing papers communicating information and opinion to develop accurate, competent, and effective expression.
GE Requirements: 
English Composition (C)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:41pm