Adding to a Conversation

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ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing asserts that writing is a social act. This unit encourages students to embody what it means to be “social writers” in the world. Students use the skills they’ve acquired in previous units (such as writing about their own personal contexts by interacting with texts by published writers) to enter a conversation that interests them or that they care deeply about. This unit aims to broaden the writer’s audience from the academic classroom to real-world communities and spaces. In doing so, the students are empowered to define their own audience, context(s), and genre of the essay. This unit differs from previous units in that students are asked to engage more deeply with the research process (evaluating sources; avoiding plagiarism; learning more about the contents and audiences to whom they are writing). Taking on the role of both writer and researcher, this unit aims to help students understand how their academic writing skills are applicable to public contexts and communities.

Unit Goals

  • Engage in the composing process to gain understanding of creating for different modes, media, or genres.
  • Learn about a conversation based on academic library research, including finding and evaluating sources.
  • Effectively represent a conversation based on a specific purpose and public audience.
  • Ask a research question drawn from personal interest to show ways your initial thinking substantially extends or evolves.
  • “Add” to a conversation with additional insight, research, or inquiry.
  • Cite multiple sources in-text and in a works cited page using MLA style.

Before the writing process, students usually begin with a specific question that engages with multiple contexts as their point of entry. Generative writing in this unit proves helpful in having students define their context, audience, and purpose for the paper. The research process aims to refine their focus and scope by allowing them to gather information about their topic and identify their perspective on the topic. This process is meant to be purposeful, inquiry based, and specific to the question guiding this assignment. Students typically write a short proposal or research paper. This is often accompanied by an annotated bibliography. Depending on the topic, students may also decide to engage in a different writing genre such as a magazine article or college newspaper.

The challenge of this unit is both to balance educating audiences about a topic of interest while outlining the existing research on that topic: for example, to ask a focused research question that negotiates scope, timeliness, and audience; to represent a conversation based on library research; to tailor writing to a public audience; and to extend a conversation by incorporating one’s own insight and solutions. Extending the conversation takes on many forms, evidenced by the samples of essays featured in this section. Some authors experiment with formatting; some include primary sources for research material such as personal interviews, historical documents, and social media posts. All these authors use and evaluate both academic and non-academic sources; outline how their topic engages with multiple perspectives and contexts; and make specific calls to action that are applicable to readers. In doing so, these authors articulate – with research, vision, and insight – what it means to be social writers in the world.


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UMass Amherst Writing Program Student Writing Anthology by University of Massachusetts Amherst Writing Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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