ENGL 131: The Rhetoric of Digital Media

Terms Taught

Autumn 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Autumn 2016, Winter 2017, Spring 2017


This composition course was structured by the four learning outcomes set by the UW Expository Writing Program, which I interpreted as Writing Choices, Research, Argumentation, and Revision. The themes varied over the six quarters I taught this course, including a last-minute inclusion of a unit on “fake news” anchored by Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” after the 2016 election. But, mainly, course readings and discussions focused on the utility of information technology in education and day-to-day life.


George Orwell wrote, “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits…which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” So what are these “bad habits” and, more importantly, what is involved in taking the “necessary trouble” to address them?

One of these “bad habits” is to treat writing as a formula: read prompt, apply formula (for example, introduction + 3 body paragraphs + conclusion), turn in assignment. This quarter we will think about writing not as a formula but as a process, one through which we develop awareness of how to write for different audiences and in different genres, as well as how to use different genres to form our thinking into a sophisticated line of inquiry based on research. This is how we will define the “necessary trouble,” the habits and frames of mind, that enable effective writing.

Much of this course will be oriented around responding to (and in some cases giving) feedback on writing. Feedback will not be confined to correcting “mistakes”; we will think deeply about how better choices can be made through revision. By the end of the course you will not have “learned how to write”: this is an ongoing, lifelong process that cannot be covered in a quarter. You will have refined your writing and reading skills, and picked up habits that will help you communicate more effectively in different academic and professional settings.

Readings, discussion, and short- (2-3 pages) and medium-length (5-7 pages) writing assignments will be rooted in the following goals, and will engage with issues and ideas that matter to each individual:

  • Methods: to develop effective writing habits and understand when and how to use them
  • Research: to gather evidence, question its claims, and generate original work in conversation with it
  • Argumentation: to develop sophisticated arguments from a line of inquiry, and communicate why those arguments matter
  • Revision: to give and receive feedback that makes writing more clear, from surface-level issues to the deep reworking of an argument

You will be assessed on a self-chosen portfolio consisting of substantially revised versions of your most effective writing from the quarter, and a final critical essay reflecting on your growth toward the stated goals.