Content in Writing Studies

Lauer and Brumberger’s (2019) article, “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace” has been a game changer for me across different parts of my job: teacher, researcher, administrator.

Because of this article, I think I am closer to identifying what the goals of a writing major should be–which has informed some recent course design.

Because of this article, I have a basis for thinking about what a well-served alumni of a writing program should know and be able to do–somewhat extending Weisser and Grobman’s C/S article on professionalism in the writing major.

And because of this article, some issues that have fallen by the wayside–or perhaps haven’t been taken up at all– “mechanics” (Edbauer Rice) or “functional literacy” (Selber) have become exigent concerns for me and my thinking about course design, the role of the writing major in ENGL departments, and the longevity/sustainability of writing majors.

Signature Software/Programs

Recent attention to content and professionalism has underscored the importance of a complete multi literacy. Yes, the rhetorical and critical matter, but so, too, does the functional–especially when employers expect job candidates–our majors–to have developed some proficiency in software. Because of this, I am recommending to faculty in my writing major to stick to one of the following pieces of software to allow for some recursive practice.

  • Word–not the mobile app–for doc design
  • Canva for light doc design and image editing
  • Fotor for light image editing
  • WordPress for web development
  • iMovie for video editing
  • Garageband for audio editing
  • inDesign in advanced technical editing/doc design classes
  • Mimic Social for social media campaigns

Emphasizing remediating, revising, editing the short-form

Lauer and Brumberger emphasize the importance for content-workers to be able to draw upon, transform, and develop texts in-progress: often anonymously authored or orphaned.

Writing in a digital environment increasingly means working in fragments in ways that do not resemble essays or directly benefit from students’ essayistic literacy–an idea explored by Krista Kennedy inĀ Textual Curation.

Although I’d considered remediation somewhat dated, when combined with consideration of circulation/distribution/recomposition, it offers a productive way for students to practice making small changes to a text to create profound effects. Students, for instance, have recently remixed memes and created blackout poems in my Theories of Teaching Writing course. And in Writing for the Web, focusing on SEO has become a signature of my course design.

Although notions of remediation/editing/remix are squarely grounded in ideas about free culture, my thinking about these approaches to production blended with consideration of 3rd party circulation has my syllabus and readings resembling something closer to a marketing course than a writing studies course as traditionally imaged in an ENGL department.

It seems to me that writing studies has been a bit squeamish about the commercialization and monetization of writing. Where these issues have been taken up, it has typically been in service to pointing toward a contrast or a hack or a workaround. Anson’s “Who Own’s Writing” and Edwards’ work on YouTube’s Content ID and circulation come to mind first.

But, commercialization is here; monetization is a driving force. At least half of the writing I encounter online is sponsored or an out and out advertisement. And, in the context of a writing major, I would hope our alumni are well-prepared to apply for jobs where they would be paid to produce sponsored content.

So, although not a part of rhetoric (at least rhetoric canonically understood) or an ongoing concern of writing studies, writing-for-profit is a purpose that I am continuing to contemplate and explore.

A final thought

It’s clear that the rhetorical matters–as evidenced by preceding section. But this call to pay attention to content–a dirty word in humanities circles–has been a productive heuristic for me to point to the mission of a writing major, the goals of course design, and the value of projects for students’ academic and professional development.

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