University of Utah

The Writing Wars:  Scholarship and the Construction of Knowledge

Fall 2009
Office: 308C MBH Audrey Thompson mailbox in 307 MBH
Office Hours:
Tues 2:30-4:30 & W 12:00-4:00
and by appt. 587-7803
ECS 6629-001 & 7629-001 voicemail: 587-7803
meets W 4:35-7:05 in 237 OSH

Course Description

How do different approaches to scholarly writing work? What are their textures and silences? How do they address an audience? What are their strengths and their limitations? What do they assume about meaning and knowledge? About persuasion, engagement, and transformation? Can published educational scholarship include poetry? Should Spanish be translated for English-only readers of academic articles? What is the relation between narratives and theories? What is the status of clarity — is it a democratic appeal to inclusion or an oppressive mechanism for making everything fit the dominant discourse? What status do reason, coherence, objectivity, and accessibility have, in progressive educational scholarship?

Over the past decade or more, what counts as scholarship in education has become a matter for dispute, with newer — either more artistic or otherwise transgressive — approaches to scholarship challenging the assumptions built into traditional approaches to scholarship. Traditional approaches to scholarship aim for transparency and accessibility, expecting claims to be presented in a linear, more or less scientific fashion. Alternative and oppositional approaches, by contrast, may enlist forms of knowledge making from outside the sciences (and sometimes outside the humanities as well). This course will examine competing approaches to knowledge construction and dissemination in educational scholarship. A key question we will be asking is how we learn to respond to different kinds of scholarly writing. When something makes demands on us for which we are not prepared, what would it take for us to be able to let the text work on us?

We will be looking at specific examples of each type of writing to understand how it does its work and how it succeeds and/or fails in addressing its audience and its materials. In addition, the course will offer practical suggestions for and practice at pursuing each kind of scholarly writing. Finally, we will be considering a variety of theoretical arguments for and against these approaches to scholarly writing.

As the purpose of the course is to understand how different approaches to scholarly writing work, how they work on readers, and how we would need to be prepared to respond to different types of writing, taking risks in writing is an important part of the course. In addition to reading and analyzing different approaches to writing, therefore, students will be experimenting with four different approaches (in very short, compact form). Students will be encouraged to take some risks in these experimental papers and will be asked to read one another's work and provide written feedback. Although the final paper will be somewhat traditional in format, the emphasis in the other course writings will be on experimentation that allows students to better gauge the power and possibilities, as well as the limitations, of each of the four approaches discussed.

Required Texts:

The readings will be available on electronic reserve at the Marriott University Library or will be provided in class.

Course Requirements

Requirements for the course also include regular attendance and participation; in-class process writing; posting as scheduled to the class listserv; several short (two-page) written assignments that experiment with the various writing types; and a final paper. The final paper should offer arguments and counter-arguments regarding the positions it describes, and should support the arguments with reference to the readings, lectures, and discussions. While outside readings certainly may be included, the primary emphasis should be on the readings from the course. (Outside readings are not required for any of the papers.) The final paper should be 12-15 pages in length. There is no final exam.

Postings to the class listserv will include the following assignments: 

  1. strengths and limitations of the approaches taken in the readings; 
  2. assumptions about textual trustworthiness in the readings; 
  3. the "best of the month" first sentence in a scholarly book or article (not from the class); 
  4. practice pages and paragraphs in the different writing approaches discussed in the course


In writing the final paper, you should take into account the following criteria:

1)  The paper should focus on one or more issues regarding the writing wars. (These might include, for example, the question of whether scholarly writing can and should be generally accessible, and what the considerations related to this are; how writing is related to knowledge; issues of objectivity and neutrality; the role of emotion and experience in scholarly knowledge; the kind of worldview represented by particular approaches to scholarly writing; what counts as clarity, persuasiveness, rigor, etc.). The issues criterion means that there should be an argument in your paper.

2)  You should discuss at least two of the modes or traditions we have talked about in class, although one of these can be primary. For example, you could talk mostly about genre-based writing in comparing it to transgressive and transparent writing. (Keep in mind that genre-based writing is a type of artistic writing. You can talk about artistic and genre-based writing as two modes but don't compare and contrast them, as they do not have competing goals. Genre-based writing is a highly specific type of artistic writing.) Or you could compare and contrast transparent and artistic writing, giving each of them equal time. Possibly you would make an argument for a kind of transparent writing that weaves in some elements of artistic writing but subordinates these to the transparent project (etc). It is not required that you actually write in more than one mode. I suggest that you rely on the transparent mode at least strategically, to a fair degree, as this is the language of power and a code you need to know. As you are learning other scholarly modes of writing, it is best to practice them in small amounts rather than rely on them to do all your work for you. (Keep in mind, too, your limited audience, i.e., me. I will be able to respond to some things better than others. For example, I am better at responding to narrative than at responding to poetry. Check with me before embarking on anything too avant garde, as I may have to tell you that I am not able to respond adequately to some undertakings.)

3)  Naturally your paper should draw on and be informed by both the readings and the class discussions. In the interests of a well focused and compact paper, please do not combine this assignment with an assignment for a different course. This should be a paper distinctively for this course. This is not to say that you cannot draw on other things you have read, naturally, but it is to say that it should be clear that this is a paper that emerges from this course and that is pushing you (and me) to think further about the issues raised in the course.

Doing a specific textual analysis of a provocative article from the course and bringing other articles to bear on it would be one way of approaching the final paper. An epistemological and political journey is also a possible approach to the final paper, insofar as it focuses on issues raised by the course and is informed by readings from the course. It is better to have a tight, focused paper than an overly ambitious paper that you try to squeeze down, so with a topic like this, I would suggest focusing on some aspect of the journey — for example, going back and forth between different ideas about objectivity or accessibility; what writing in Spanish might have meant to you at different points in your school career and how this ties in with the issues raised in the course; or how you have struggled with ideas about the role of emotion and experience in academic writing.

Class Participation

Come to class having read the articles carefully. Also read one another's writing carefully, with an eye to helping others achieve their writing goals. Listen at least as much as you talk. The goal in this class is not to be authoritative but to recognize and explore the value and limitations of different approaches to scholarly writing. This means taking some risks. It is vital that students listen to one another respectfully and give one another uptake.


Wed. 26 Aug.                                     I. Introduction: Academic Ways of Meaning-Making


Dinitia Smith, "When Ideas Get Lost in Bad Writing," The New York Times [Arts] (February 27, 1999): A19, 21.
Judith Butler, "A 'Bad Writer' Bites Back," The New York Times [Op-Ed] (March 20, 1999): A27.
John McGowan, "Nussbaum vs. Butler, Round One," guest post on Michael Bérubé Weblog (Thursday, August 11, 2005).
John McGowan, "Theory Tuesday: Nussbaum vs. Butler, Round Two," guest post on Michael Bérubé Weblog (Tuesday, August 23, 2005).

Electronic handout: Some Questions We Will Be Asking about the Readings

Wed. 2 Sept.                                     II. The Debate over Clarity


Roger Andersen, "Overwriting and Other Techniques for Success with Academic Articles," in Academic Writing: Process and Product, ed. Pauline C. Robinson (Basingstoke, UK: Modern English Publications in association with the British Council, 1988), 151-58. [ELT Documents #129]
James Miller, "Is Bad Writing Necessary? George Orwell, Theodor Adorno, and the Politics of Language," Lingua Franca 9, no. 9 (December/January 2000): 33-44.
Henry Giroux, "Language, Difference, and Curriculum Theory: Beyond the Politics of Clarity," Theory into Practice 31, no. 3 (Summer 1992): 219-27.
Francis Schrag, "On Style in Theorizing," Educational Theory 46, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 151-59.

Handout: Guidelines for Student Responses to Peers' Papers

Wed. 9 Sept.                                     III. Transparent Writing: The Structure of the Argument


Lawrence Kohlberg, "Indoctrination versus Relativity in Value Education," in The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), 6-28.
Avon Crismore and Rodney Fransworth, "Metadiscourse in Popular and Professional Science Discourse," in The Writing Scholar: Studies in Academic Discourse, ed. Walter Nash (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1990), 118-36.
Edward. R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching out Corrupts within, 2nd ed. (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, January 2006).

Handout: Checklist for Transparent Scholarly Writing

Please bring to class two copies of the first 2-3 pages of a paper you have written for another class OR the first 2-3 pages in which you lay out the argument (which may not be the actual first pages of the paper). We will be spending some class time in small-group exercises concerned with issues such as clarifying the structure of the argument, honing language, shaping detailed imagery, and identifying foils. If you do not have such a paper that you want to use for the class, write 2-3 pages on a topic in which you have an ongoing interest, laying out the foil and the argument..

Saturday email assignment due:  12 September

Using the principles of transparent writing (which include clarity, simplicity, brevity, accessibility or transparency, direct action verbs, and precision), write either 1) a 2-page paper on why you think a particular course (graduate or undergraduate) should be offered (or else should be made mandatory) OR 2) a 2-page paper on a controversial topic that you think teachers should know about, setting forth the issues in terms as objective-sounding as possible. The purpose of this assignment is to gain practice at transparent writing and to realize some of the strengths of the transparent tradition.

Wed. 16 Sept.                                     IV. Audience and Absence

Guest Speaker: Dr. Cris Mayo, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


George Orwell, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. IV: In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 127-40.
William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, "An Approach to Style," in The Elements of Style, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000), 66-85.
Katha Pollitt, "Amber Waves of Blame," The Nation 288, no. 23 (June 15, 2009): 10.
Patricia White, "Reading the Code(s)," in UnInvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Bloomington: Indiana University Chicago Press, 1999), 1-28.

Before class, prepare one typed page of comments for one person whose 2-page assignment you received via email. (Partners will be determined in advance.) Also read the assignments of the other two people in your group.

Saturday email assignment due:  19 September

Tell a story you've always wanted to tell because it nags at you; or write a 1-2 page analysis or description of a classroom interaction; a wake-up experience in a relationship or in reading a book or article; a family tradition; a geographic setting; or any other description-based topic that has significance for something you would like to write about in connection with your studies (it could be a hobby, a sport, a humorous anecdote). Again, use the principles of transparent writing. In writing this piece, do not start with an outline. Start with an image or other sensory experience and spin off the writing from that, going back later to revise and reshape it in emergent ways. After you have written the story, write 3 sentences or a paragraph to start you on your way towards an analysis or argument. (Do not finish the analysis or argument; simply suggest the direction it would take.)

Wed. 23 Sept.                                     V. Authority in Transparent Writing


Sandra Harding, "Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: `What Is Strong Objectivity'?" in Feminist Epistemologies, ed. Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter (New York: Routledge, 1993), 49-82.
Liz Stanley, "'A Referral Was Made': Behind the Scenes during the Creation of a Social Services Department 'Elderly' Statistic," in Feminist Praxis: Research, Theory and Epistemology in Feminist Sociology, ed. Liz Stanley (London: Routledge, 1990), 113-22.
Charles Bazerman, "Codifying the Social Scientific Style: The APA Publication Manual as a Behaviorist Rhetoric," in The Rhetoric of the Human Sciences: Language and Argument in Scholarship and Public Affairs, ed. John S. Nelson, Allan Megill, and Donald N. McCloskey (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 125-44.

By class period, have prepared one typed page of comments for one person whose 2-page assignment you received via email. (Partners will be determined in advance.) Also read the assignments written by the two other people in your group.

Wed. 30 Sept.                                     VI. Institutional Politics and Transparent Scholarly Writing


Margaret J. Marshall and Loren S. Barritt, "Choices Made, Worlds Created: The Rhetoric of AERJ," American Educational Research Journal 27, no. 4 (Winter 1990): 589-609.
James W. Chesebro, "How to Get Published," Communication Quarterly 41, no. 4 (Fall 1993): 373-82.
Tullen E. Bach, Carole Blair, William L. Nothstine, and Anne L. Pym, "How to Read 'How to Get Published'," Communication Quarterly 44, no. 4 (Fall 1996): 399-422.
Mari Matsuda, "Affirmative Action and Legal Knowledge: Planting Seeds in Plowed-Up Ground," Harvard Women's Law Journal 11 (Spring 1988): 1-17.

Saturday email assignment due:  3 October

Choose one or two partners from the class with whom to write a 2-page description of what you think is both productive and limiting about conventional academic writing. Use the principles of transparent writing to shape your writing of the piece. Pay attention to how collaborative writing works differently than single-author writing. You won't write about the collaboration, but be prepared to talk about it (ideally, take notes).

For this assignment, written peer critiques will not be required.

Wed. 7 Oct.                                     VII. Critiques of Transparent Scholarly Writing


Jane Tompkins, "Me and My Shadow," in Gender and Theory: Dialogues on Feminist Criticism, ed. Linda Kauffman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 121-39.
Joyce Trebilcott, "Dyke Methods," Hypatia 3, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 1-13.
John Farella, "The Wind in a Jar," in The Wind in a Jar (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993), 35-53.

Wed. 14 Oct.                                     Fall Break: No class

Wed. 21 Oct.                                     VIII. Artistic Scholarly Writing


Elliott W. Eisner, "What Artistically Crafted Research Can Help Us to Understand about the Schools," Educational Theory 45, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 1-7.
Carol Gilligan, "In a Different Voice: Women's Conceptions of the Self and of Morality," Harvard Educational Review 47, no. 4 (November, 1977): 481-517.
Patricia J. Williams, "The Death of the Profane," in The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 44-51.

Recommended: Picture This

Handout: Checklist for Artistic Scholarly Writing

Saturday email assignment due:  24 October

Choose a topic that you think tends to be (or is likely to be) misrepresented in the transparent, universalist, direct-access-to-meaning tradition (perhaps discrimination against gay and lesbian students; what it means to communicate across racial divides; the problem of large college lecture formats; the ethics of friendship) and write 1-2 pages on this topic. (Your discussion will be partial; write the paragraphs as if they were an important part but only a part of a longer paper.) Follow the principles of artistic scholarly writing: engage the attention and emotions of your readers, encourage them to trust your voice and your experience or insight; bring them into the meaning you are trying to create (rather than leaving them outside as objective observers and judges); help them to appreciate the distinctiveness of what it is that you are describing or discussing. The writing should be an invitation to a conversation (which does not mean that your tone has to be "nice" — it can be frustrated or angry, for example. But it should not be dismissive and it should not signal "end of conversation"). The purpose of this assignment is to gain practice at artistic writing and to realize some of the strengths of the artistic tradition.

Wed. 28 Oct.                                    IX. Critiques of Artistic Scholarly Writing


D. C. Phillips, "Art as Research, Research as Art," Educational Theory 45, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 71-84.
Franci Washburn, "The Risk of Misunderstanding in Greg Sarris's Keeping Slug Woman Alive," Studies in American Indian Literatures 19, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 184-96.
Suzanne de Castell, "Literacy as Disempowerment: The Role of Documentary Texts," in Philosophy of Education 1990, ed. David P. Ericson (Normal, IL: Philosophy of Education Society, 1991), 74-84.

For next time, prepare one page of comments each for two other people in the class whose 2-page assignments you received via email. (Partners will be determined in advance.) This discussion will take place over email.

Wed. 4 Nov.                                     X. No class meeting, but read one of the essays assigned below


Richard A. Posner, "Narrative and Narratology in Classroom and Courtroom," Philosophy and Literature 21, no. 2 (October 1997): 292-305.
Claudia Salazar, "A Third World Woman's Text: Between the Politics of Criticism and Cultural Politics," in Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History, ed. Sherna Berger Gluck and Daphne Patai (New York: Routledge, 1991), 93-106.
Deborah Gordon, "The Politics of Ethnographic Authority: Race and Writing in the Ethnography of Margaret Mead and Zora Neale Hurston," in Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Text, ed. Marc Manganaro (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 146-62.

Discuss one another's papers over email.

Wed. 11 Nov.                                     XI. Genre-Based Scholarly Writing


Laurel Richardson, "Writing: A Method of Inquiry," in Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd ed., ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Pub., 2000), 923-48.
Kevin K. Kumashiro, "Second Route: Rereading Normalcy in Christopher's Stories," in Troubling Education: Queer Activism and Antioppressive Pedagogy (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2002), 97-108.
Brent Kilbourn, "Fictional Theses," Educational Researcher 28, no. 9 (December 1999): 27-32.
Octavio Villalpando, "Self-Segregation or Self-Preservation? A Critical Race Theory and Latina/o Critical Theory Analysis of a Study of Chicana/o College Students," International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 16, no. 5 (September/October, 2003): 619-45.

Handout: Checklist for Experimental and Genre-Based Scholarly Writing

Saturday email assignment due:  14 November

Using either a paper you have already written or an ongoing writing project, select an idea or argument that would "open up," become clearer or more vivid, be made richer or more complex, or otherwise benefit from being pulled out and recast as a 2-page genre moment (part of a television screenplay, a poem, an autobiography, an email exchange, a fairy tale, or a science fiction scene, for example). Use a genre you know well as well as one that would be useful or provocative for your paper. The purpose of this assignment is to gain practice at genre-based writing and to realize some of the strengths of that scholarly approach. Alternatively: You and a writing partner from the class may work together to produce the 2-page genre piece. If you choose to write together, each writing partner should also write one to two paragraphs about what makes joint writing different from independent writing.

Wed. 18 Nov.                                     XII. Transgressive Scholarly Writing


Scott Richard Lyons, "Rhetorical Sovereignty: What Do American Indians Want from Writing?" College Composition and Communication 51, no. 3 (February 2000): 447-68.
Patti Lather, "Fertile Obsession: Validity after Poststructuralism," The Sociological Quarterly 34, no. 4 (November, 1993): 673-93.
Jeanette Winterson, "Testimony against Gertrude Stein," in Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 45-60.

Handout: Checklist for Transgressive Scholarly Writing

Saturday email assignment due:  21 November

Write one page on a topic that seems to you to invite transgressive treatment (a controversial topic, an untouchable or clichéd topic, or a normalizing theory, for example), using the principles of either transparent-transgressive or artistic-transgressive scholarly writing. Write a second page in which you explain or discuss the purposes that your transgressive approach was intended to meet. (Presumably these will be purposes that some other approach could not meet.) This assignment is intended to offer practice at transgressive writing and to demonstrate some of the strengths of that approach.

Wed. 25 Nov.                                     XIII. Writing Workshop


William Zinsser, "Visions and Revisions: Writing On Writing Well and Keeping It Up-to-Date for 35 Years," (Spring 2009).

Bring to class the 3 strongest pages from your draft of the final paper (or the three pages you most want help on). Students will work in small groups to give one another feedback. If you prefer, you can bring in 2 or 3 pages from an earlier class assignment that you have reworked and want more feedback on.

Wed. 2 Dec.                                     XIV. Critiques of Transgressive Scholarly Writing


Denis Dutton, "Writing Good, Bad, and Classic," Philosophy and Literature 21, no. 2 (October 1997): 500-11.
Steve Fuller, "Whose Bad Writing?" Philosophy and Literature 23, no. 1 (April 1999): 174-80.
Gerald Graff, "Academic Writing and the Uses of Bad Publicity," in Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism, ed. Marianna Torgovnick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 208-19.

By class period, have prepared one page of comments each for two other people in the class whose 2-page assignments you received via email. (Partners will be determined in advance.)

Wed. 9 Dec.                                     XV. Embodiment in Writing

Readings: Choose 2 of the following:

Jennifer Kelly, "`You Can't Get Angry with a Person's Life': Negotiating Aboriginal Women's Writing, Whiteness, and Multicultural Nationalism in a University Classroom," in Creating Community: A Roundtable on Canadian Aboriginal Literature, ed. Renate Eigenbrod and Jo-Ann Episkenew (Penticton, BC and Brandon, MB: Theytys Books/Bearpaw Publishing, 2002), 147-86.
Megan Boler, "The New Digital Cartesianism: Bodies and Spaces in Online Education," in Philosophy of Education 2002, ed. Scott Fletcher (Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society, 2003), 331-40.
Elspeth Probyn, "Problematic Selves: The Irony of the Feminine," in Sexing the Self: Gendered Positions in Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1993), 32-57.
Lauren Smith, "Staging the Self: Queer Theory in the Composition Classroom," in Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality, ed. Calvin Thomas, with Joseph O. Aimone and Catherine A. F. MacGillivray (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 68-84.

Wed. 16 Dec.                                     Finals Week: No Class Meeting

5:00 p.m. Final paper due in lieu of exam

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