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Edited by Cheryl E. Ball & Drew M. Loewe BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING OPEN ACCESS TEXTBOOKS
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
ISBN-13: 978-0-9988820-0-0 TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe BAD IDEAS ABOUT WHAT GOOD WRITING IS
Rhetoric is Synonymous with Empty Speech Patricia Roberts-Miller America is Facing a Literacy Crisis Jacob Babb 7
13 First-Year Composition Prepares Students for Academic Writing 18
Tyler Branson First-Year Composition Should be Skipped 24 You Can Learn to Write in General 30 Writing Knowledge Transfers Easily 34 Reading and Writing are not Connected 38 Reading is Not Essential to Writing Instruction 44 Paul G. Cook Elizabeth Wardle
Ellen C. Carillo
Ellen C. Carillo Julie Myatt Barger BAD IDEAS ABOUT WHO GOOD WRITERS ARE
Writers are Mythical, Magical, and Damaged 53 You Need My Credentials to be a Writer 60 Only Geniuses can be Writers 64 Teri Holbrook and Melanie Hundley
Ronald Clark Brooks Dustin Edwards and Enrique Paz Some People are Just Born Good Writers 71 Failure is Not an Option 76 There is One Correct Way of Writing and Speaking 82 African American Language is not Good English 88 Official American English is Best 93 Writer’s Block Just Happens to People 99 Jill Parrott Allison D. Carr Anjali Pattanayak Jennifer M. Cunningham
Steven Alvarez Geoffrey V. Carter Strong Writing and Writers Don’t Need Revision 104 The More Writing Process, the Better 109 Laura Giovanelli
Jimmy Butts BAD IDEAS ABOUT STYLE, USAGE, AND GRAMMAR
Strunk and White Set the Standard 117 Good Writers Always Follow My Rules 121 Writers Must Develop a Strong, Original Voice 126 Leave Yourself Out of Your Writing 131 Response: Never Use “I” 134 The Passive Voice Should be Avoided 139 Teaching Grammar Improves Writing 144 Good Writers Must Know Grammatical Terminology 150 Grammar Should be Taught Separately as Rules to Learn 155 Laura Lisabeth Monique Dufour and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson
Patrick Thomas Rodrigo Joseph Rodríguez
Kimberly N. Parker Collin Gifford Brooke
Patricia A. Dunn
Hannah J. Rule
Muriel Harris BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING TECHNIQUES
Formal Outlines are Always Useful Kristin Milligan 163 Students Should Learn About the Logical Fallacies 168 Logos is Synonymous with Logic 174 Daniel V. Bommarito
Nancy Fox BAD IDEAS ABOUT GENRES Excellent Academic Writing Must be Serious 181 Creative Writing is a Unique Category 187 Popular Culture is Killing Writing 194 Popular Culture is Only Useful as a Text for Criticism 202 The Five-Paragraph Essay is Rhetorically Sound 209 The Five-Paragraph Essay Transmits Knowledge 214 The Five-Paragraph Theme Teaches “Beyond the Test” 220 Research Starts with Answers 226 Research Starts with a Thesis Statement 231 The Traditional Research Paper is Best 236 Citing Sources is a Basic Skill Learned Early On 242 Plagiarism Deserves to be Punished 247 Michael Theune
Cydney Alexis Bronwyn T. Williams
Mark D. Pepper Quentin Vieregge Susan Naomi Bernstein and Elizabeth Lowry
Bruce Bowles, Jr.
Alison C. Witte Emily A. Wierszewski
Alexandria Lockett Susanmarie Harrington
Jennifer A. Mott-Smith BAD IDEAS ABOUT ASSESSING WRITING
Grading Has Always Made Writing Better 255 Rubrics Save Time and Make Grading Criteria Visible 259 Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process 264 When Responding to Student Writing, More is Better 268 Mitchell R. James
Anne Leahy Crystal Sands
Muriel Harris Student Writing Must be Graded by the Teacher 273 Machines can Evaluate Writing Well 278 Plagiarism Detection Services are Money Well Spent 287 Christopher R. Friend Chris M. Anson and Les Perelman
Stephanie Vie SAT Scores are Useful for Placing Students in Writing Courses 294
Kristen di Gennaro BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING AND DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
Texting Ruins Students’ Grammar Skills 301 Texting Ruins Literacy Skills 308 Gamification Makes Writing Fun 315 The More Digital Technology, the Better 320 Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants 325 Scott Warnock Christopher Justice Joshua Daniel-Wariya Genesea M. Carter and Aurora Matzke
Phill Michael Alexander BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING TEACHERS
You’re Going to Need This for College Andrew Hollinger 333 Dual-Enrollment Writing Classes Should Always be Pursued 338
Caroline Wilkinson Secondary-School English Teachers Should Only be Taught
Elizabethada A. Wright Face-to-Face Courses are Superior to Online Courses 351 Anyone Can Teach an Online Writing Course 356 Anyone Can Teach Writing 363 Tiffany Bourelle and Andy Bourelle
Beth L. Hewett
Seth Kahn BAD IDEAS ABOUT WRITING INTRODUCTION Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe Beginning in 1998, Edge.org has asked a diverse group of scholars, intellectuals, and artists the annual Edge Question, a question designed to spark arguments about provocative ideas to be
published online and collected into print volumes intended for a
general public audience. Edge Questions have included such questions as “What is your dangerous idea?,” “What have you changed
your mind about? Why?,” and the one that inspired this collection: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” That last question was the 2014 Edge Question, published in a book titled This
Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that are Blocking Progress. Drew first
saw the book in a publisher’s exhibit at the 2015 Conference on
College Composition and Communication, a big annual convention of writing teachers and scholars. After reading the book, especially in the context of an academic convention, Drew suggested on
social media that the field of writing studies should publish its own
collective effort to name particularly unhelpful or backward ideas
and argue directly to the public about them. Cheryl replied right
away that she would be on board, and thus this project was born.
This project is necessary because while scholars in writing studies (just as in any academic field) argue to and against one another
in scholarly journals, books, and conference talks, those forms
of knowledge-making don’t consistently find their way into the
public’s understanding of writing. Yet “the public” in all its manifestations—teachers, students, parents, administrators, lawmakers, news media—are important to how writing is conceptualized
and taught. These publics deserve clearly articulated and well-researched arguments about what is not working, what must die, and
what is blocking progress in current understandings of writing. So
our call for proposals sought contributions that provided a snapshot 2 Bad Ideas About Writing of major myths about writing instruction—written by experts for
the educated public—that could collectively spark debate and have
us rethink our pieties and myths. This collection is an attempt by
a varied and diverse group of writing scholar–teachers to translate our specialized knowledge and experiences about writing for
a truly wide set of audiences, most of whom will never read the
scholarly journals and books or attend conferences about this topic
because of the closed nature of such publications and proceedings. In keeping with the public purpose of these writings, it was
important to us that it be published open-access. Because there are
so few options for trade-like academic books that are open access,
we decided—in consultation with the authors of this collection—
to publish Bad Ideas About Writing as an open educational resource
through the Digital Publishing Institute, which Cheryl directs. Bad
Ideas will join other books in West Virginia University Library’s
nascent digital publishing project, where it will be supported by
librarians for a long time to come.
We intend this work to be less a bestiary of bad ideas about
writing than an effort to name bad ideas and suggest better ones.
Some of those bad ideas are quite old, such as the archetype of
the inspired genius author, the five-paragraph essay, or the abuse
of adjunct writing teachers. Others are much newer, such as
computerized essay scoring or gamification. Some ideas, such as
the supposed demise of literacy brought on by texting, are newer
bad ideas but are really instances of older bad ideas about literacy
always being in a cycle of decline. Yet the same core questions such
as what is good writing, what makes a good writer, how should writing
be assessed, and the like persist across contexts, technologies, and
eras. The project has its genesis in frustration, but what emerges is
hope: hope for leaving aside bad ideas and thinking about writing
in more productive, inclusive, and useful ways.
The individual entries, which we came to dub as both opinionated encyclopedia entries and researched mini-manifestos, offer
syntheses of relevant research and experience along with cross-references to other entries that take up related subjects. Instead of
the typical trappings of academic citation styles (APA, MLA,
Chicago, Oxford, etc.) that are specific to certain disciplines, we
asked authors in the Bad Ideas collection to summarize the available research and present it in a way similar to how a newspaper,
introductory textbook, or podcast might deliver such research—
not through individual citations, but through a list of resources
and further reading that would point readers to follow-up material. Introduction 3 The authors of these entries are often published experts in these
fields, so searching for their other work at a library or online will
produce additional information on these topics. We have provided
keywords for each entry as well, which correspond to the academic
terms that would appear in other peer-reviewed, published research
on these topics.
The entries cohere around eight major categories of bad ideas
about writing that are tied to the production, circulation, cultural
use of, evaluation, and teaching of writing in multiple ways. The
categories are bad ideas about:
• The features of good writing
• What makes good writers
• How grammar and style should be understood
• Which techniques or processes produce good writing
• Particular genres and occasions for writing
• How writing should be assessed
• How technology impacts writing
• Teachers of writing
Although we have categories (and there are thematic clusters
visible within the larger categories), we encourage readers to read
the entries with and against each other, looking for productive overlaps and disagreements. For instance, there are at least three entries
on the five-paragraph essay—the genre perhaps most known by the
various publics reading this book, and the most maligned by its
writers—and each entry takes a different perspective, disagreeing
as needed where the research and the writer’s experience pertain.
Without forcing a weak consensus or flattening out the individuality of the chapters, together they offer a practical, action-oriented group of rational manifestos for discontinuing unhelpful
or exclusionary ideas about a subject and activity that all have a
stake in. We hope that the collection is a conversation-starter, not
a conversation-stopper, and we hope that it provides a catalog of
support for productive conversations about how and why to stop
the bad ideas about writing and start the good. BAD IDEAS ABOUT
WHAT GOOD WRITING IS RHETORIC IS SYNONYMOUS WITH
Patricia Roberts-Miller Recently, I was at a meeting of faculty whose research and
teaching interests concerned issues of environmentalism. A
colleague from another department asked me what my area was.
“Environmental rhetoric,” I replied. He looked slightly shocked
and then commented, “Good environmentalism doesn’t have a
rhetoric.” I’m in a department of rhetoric, so I teach rhetoric, read
scholarly pieces on rhetoric, and attend conferences on rhetoric.
However, I often forget that other faculty members’ views on rhetoric might be different than mine.
A popular view of rhetoric is that it is a straightforward model
of how communication should work: A person can speak the truth
simply by using words that refer to true things in the world. If she
chooses not to use sentences filled with words that refer to true
things in the world, then she is engaged in rhetoric. Rhetoric, in
this view, is something you add on to sentences (such as metaphor) that decorates and obscures communication. If I say, “The
cat is on the mat,” I am using language correctly. However, if I say,
“The elegant feline languishes mournfully on the expensive carpet,
waiting impatiently for what he sees as his lazy servants to open a
can of salmon,” then I have added rhetoric to the first sentence, or
chosen rhetoric over clear communication.
For many people, the simpler, plainer version of the sentence is
not just a stylistic choice, it’s a moral one. Many people believe that
the addition of more complicated words obscures the meaning of
the sentence. Rhetoric, to them, is something that hides the truth.
If you look at the two sentences, though, you can see that the elaborated, supposedly more rhetorical one communicates quite clearly.
In fact, it communicates more effectively and precisely than “The 8 Bad Ideas cat is on the mat.” It might, of course, be false—there might not be
such a cat; it might not be elegant; it might not be thinking much
of anything; it might be quite cheerful; it might not like salmon.
But the same is true of the simpler sentence—there might not be a
cat; it might not be on a mat. Thus, linguistic simplicity and truthfulness aren’t necessarily connected, and linguistic complexity and
truthfulness aren’t necessarily opposed.
Or, to put it another way, for a long time, philosophers of
language insisted that language works by sentences having propositional content—“the cat is on the mat”—which can be expressed
in various ways. Rhetoric is what we layer onto the proposition.
Or, as the old saying goes, “Rhetoric is clothing on the idea.” In an
Edenic world, we would all wander around naked, and we would
all simply and clearly speak our thoughts; rhetoric is something we
must have in this fallen world.
People who believe that rhetoric hides meaning believe
that we could return to Eden by using simple, plain, and rhetoric-free language. One of several underlying assumptions is that
it’s harder to lie in plain language, or that lies are more obvious
when the language is less complicated. Therefore, we can trust
plain language and should treat complicated language with suspicion. Oddly enough, this seemingly straightforward proposition
isn’t true. In other words, this simple belief shows that an idea can
be untrue and persuasive at the same time. It is also interesting
that the master deceivers have generally relied on simple, yet false,
claims. It’s quite likely that people believed their assertions were
clear and plain and, therefore, assumed that they must be true.
The Edenic view isn’t a helpful way to think about rhetoric.
It isn’t even how language works. While it’s true that the same
thing can be said in different ways, there is a way of saying that
thing without rhetoric. “The cat is on the mat” is still a style—the
simple style—with internal rhyming and prose rhythm. It’s also
structurally the rhetorical figure of chiasmus—the sentence begins
and ends in an almost identical way. We can’t get away from rhetoric, but we can choose its kind.
As in all interesting arguments, it’s a question of how we’re
defining terms. And rhetoric has a variety of definitions. It was first
used in Platonic dialogues with very little precision. It comes from
the Greek word for a person with a certain role in the Athenian
Assembly (rhetor). It is believed that it was Plato who added the
He used rhetoric in terms of speech-making as opposed to About What Good Writing Is 9 arguing in small groups. Plato wasn’t opposed to argumentation,
and he wasn’t even opposed to some verbal sleight of hand. After
all, Socrates—often read as a kind of spokesman for Plato’s views—
relied heavily on some fairly dodgy logical moves in the dialogues.
Plato’s point seems to be that speech-making isn’t a very useful
skill because making speeches to large groups (Athenian juries
might have hundreds of people) is not very effective for getting
to the truth. It might be effective for getting others to accept the
truth one has already figured out (that seems to be the point that
Socrates is making in the dialogue Phaedrus), but, if you want to
find out what’s true, argue with another individual. Do not make
Of course, Socrates makes a lot of speeches in Platonic dialogues.
So, it is still murky whether or not Plato noticed the contradiction,
was making a different point despite noticing the proposition, or
didn’t write the dialogues to get to the truth. In fact, Plato’s overall attitude toward rhetoric is murky, even though his school, the
Academy, did have rhetoric classes. They were taught by a man
On the other hand, Aristotle, who was a teacher of rhetoric, neither defined rhetoric as style nor as something you add to
language. He described it as a discipline and a skill that enables
you to see the available means of persuasion. For Aristotle, rhetoric is about public speaking to large groups, and it is different from
philosophy. So, he did share those two assumptions with Plato.
But he didn’t agree with Plato about rhetoric not getting us to the
truth. He thought that it could get us to the truth, but that it could
also be used to deceive. It depends on the motives of the person
Aristotle loved syllogisms, and seems to have believed that all
reasoning could be done through them. In philosophy, to get to
the truth, you try to begin with a universally valid major premise
(e.g., all men are mortal). Then you have a more specific proposition related to that premise (e.g., Socrates is a man) that enables
you to draw a conclusion (e.g., Socrates is mortal). But Aristotle
said that this kind of reasoning doesn’t work in large assemblies
for two reasons. First, during a speech, people don’t have the time
to reason from universally valid major premises—if you’re arguing
about whether Philip of Macedon represents a threat, it’s useless
to try to find universally valid premises about tyrants or war or
people from Macedon. You don’t have time. Second, the kind of
things about which we make speeches—politics, ethics, military 10 Bad Ideas strategy, guilt or innocence, honor and dishonor—aren’t subject
to certainty. There are no universally valid major premises about
tyrants that will help us figure out what we need to do now and
here to assess Philip. We must rely on what is probably true.
According to Aristotle, what you learn from rhetoric is how
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