Introduction to English 100

UW-Madison English 100 Program

This introduction to English 100 will help orient you to the big picture of the course. Because English 100 instructors have varied interests and experiences, your particular class may differ from the one your roommate or a friend is taking. However, all sections of the course share the same goals, and nearly all rely on the same three-sequence structure with connections to common readings.

You may already appreciate the central role writing plays in your everyday life and academic career, as well as in other contexts. Since you’re already an experienced writer, you might wonder why a class like English 100 is required for you. We can offer a few reasons for you to think about. Mostly, we’d like you to consider that learning to write is a lifelong process, and all writers have more to learn about writing. If those statements don’t make sense to you now, they should by the end of the semester.

As this course will emphasize, writing is a complex social activity. One size — or approach — doesn’t fit all situations. Interaction with other people matters. Writers need to take into account their purpose for writing, the context they’re working in, the audience or readers for their work, and often other factors. These all inform why you write, what you write, and how. To put it more simply, new writing situations require new writing strategies. Here you are at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The UW is a new situation. And every class or discipline is, too.

Certainly, we can  appreciate some general qualities of “good” writing—such as clarity of thought and language—but there are many more qualities of effective writing that connect to specific situations. So while the types of writing that you’ve done during high school  developed and focused your writing for that context, you’ll find that the writing you do now will require a variety of different strategies and practices.

As an introduction to college composition, English 100 prepares you to identify your purposes for writing and to make informed decisions about the choices you face when you write. What kinds of questions do you need to ask in order to approach and execute your writing effectively? Even in the context of the university, purposes and decisions vary widely. Some writing strategies can be applied across courses, regardless of discipline, or within co-curricular and extracurricular activities, or even as you begin to create materials for your career beyond the university. But you also need to recognize when to use  strategies that require specialized knowledge about how information is communicated or how arguments are made in the discipline you’re working in.

Writing Is a Process of Discovery

English 100 is designed to emphasize writing as a process of discovery and to give you many opportunities for the kind of practice that builds self-knowledge. Some of the readings you’ll do for this course will provide examples of effective writing. Others will focus on “writing practices” that provide ideas for approaching any writing project, though especially writing in this course.

Invention, drafting, research, revision, and editing can be considered stages of the writing process, but this process is rarely linear. Most writers move between these stages as they discover new ideas and information, come up with fresh ways to say things, and adjust their lines of reasoning.

You’ll move through this recursive process several times during the semester as you explore and develop ideas; sharpen and clarify descriptions, narratives, and arguments; and, finally, present your work in clear, organized, and effective ways.

Writing to Build Rhetorical Awareness

English 100 also emphasizes the development of rhetorical awareness, in other words, the understanding of how writing and language can be engaging and persuasive in particular situations. An important element of rhetorical awareness is understanding audience. Who are you writing for? In your class, you’ll find opportunities to engage with a variety of audiences, from members of a peer review group who will respond to your drafts, to your instructor who will work with you on revisions, to your entire class and possibly others with whom you might share your research presentations.

Although each section of English 100 has a distinctive personality, nearly all sections are organized around three sequences, with each building on the rhetorical work of the one(s) before it.

Sequence 1. A Narrative Approach to Concepts, Invention, and Inquiry

In Sequence 1, you’ll use narrative strategies to explore concepts, ideas, and experiences. Narrative writing, simply called storytelling, encourages you to draw evidence from a wide variety of phenomena in the world and also in your life. Assignments in Sequence 1 allow you to trace how an inkling of an idea — whether it arises from curiosity, memory, or the material world around you — can move to a fully realized line of inquiry. Effective communication with those around us depends on the ability to take our own experiences and connect them in meaningful ways to the experiences of other people. We often do this through telling stories, by using specific and perhaps unique experiences as evidence for more general or common qualities or conditions. This process of abstraction and storytelling can begin a process of building knowledge.

Sequence 2. Conversations: Writing to Inform

Much of the writing you’ll do in college is connected to texts produced by people who have ideas about the same topic on which you’re working. Academic writing is often thought of as part of a conversation, because of the way writers and researchers build on, respond to, and disagree with one another’s work. As has already been mentioned, writing is a complex social activity, and it can be particularly complex when managing multiple sources and perspectives.

As understood in Sequence 2, writing that informs is writing that organizes and explains a variety of information and thoughtful points of view gathered through research on an event, topic, object, or issue. An important first step in this intellectual process is to locate relevant material related to your interest. For instance, if you’re  interested in an event that involves freedom of speech, you’ll need to learn where to look for sources that will help you understand issues and arguments related to freedom of speech controversies, as well as to your event. Then you’ll need to choose sources that provide a range of perspectives you can investigate or study.

The writing you do in Sequence 2 will build this kind of information literacy as you’re guided  through a process of discovery, learning to find and use texts or other sources that are reliable even when providing diverse points of view. Along the way, you’ll enter into written conversations that provide context for your own ideas and writing. Sequence 2 writing assignments will include summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing information so that others understand the knowledge you’re  discovering. This kind of writing – or this kind of purpose for writing – is valuable in many contexts within the university and workplace. It can also provide a foundation for further investigation and for developing your own contribution to an academic or other public conversation.

Note: In the shortened summer term, the work of Sequences 2 and 3 are often integrated into a single sequence of assignments.

Sequence 3. Critique: Developing an Approach through Research and Argumentation

The final sequence of assignments asks you to  develop a critique, that is, to approach a topic or issue in a curious and analytical way that allows you to develop your own perspective on it.  Part of your job will include designing and executing a research plan to guide your investigation. The writing you produce should make some form of an argument about your researched topic, supporting your views with specific reasons and evidence. It’s important to note that making an argument does not mean taking sides in a simplistic pro or con manner. It also does not assume you have reached a definitive answer. Arguments can be made as a way to explore an issue and raise intelligent questions.

Sequence 3 builds on your earlier practice in using texts, developing narratives, considering audience and purpose, and incorporating other peoples’ ideas into your own writing. Rather than asking you to produce a report or “research paper,” as you might have done in high school, this course  provides an opportunity for you to develop a critical perspective on a body of knowledge or to craft a set of questions around a well-researched issue. The essay you write or multimodal project you create will often incorporate an argument as you build a case for a particular course of action or shift in perspective.

For example, one approach to the sequence might have you looking at ideas about a topic that you first formulated at the start of the semester. Let’s use the freedom of speech example again, and let’s say the focus of your investigation involves a book that was banned from your high school library. You decide you’d like to explore how to help a school board look beyond local concerns in making decisions about this kind of situation. In that case you decide to begin by placing your particular story about the banned book alongside scholarly conversations on the history of censorship, and then you follow this by interviewing a librarian for their views on banned books. Using your research, you could then test your original position and, with your instructor’s guidance, write up your conclusions as an informed opinion, position paper, or narrative research essay.

Writing at Wisconsin

Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison happens in all kinds of locations and through a wide variety of practices, from sitting on the Terrace with your laptop, to using a pen and notebook in a lab, to being surrounded by papers and books in your dorm room or the library. As you begin your career at Wisconsin, you will see that writing is everywhere. Your experience writing in English 100 is an invitation to participate in the university community, contribute to scholarly conversations, and become an engaged learner. Welcome!


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