Writing is part and parcel of nearly every human endeavor and many human endeavors owe their existence and essence to writing. As Walter Ong, S.J., suggests, no matter the course of your life—personally and professionally—writing is one of the primary ways we navigate that life’s contours and complexities. By virtue of this virtue, English 300 traces the roll of writing through a variety of societal endeavors. Likewise, this course introduces students to the field of rhetoric and writing through a sustained engagement with its practices and principles. Students produce a variety of documents (across a variety of genres) in terms of and in the context of key theoretical understandings of that work: namely, rhetorical theory, ethics, information design, and decision architecture. As future professional communicators, students will be continually required to analyze (that is, theorize) audiences, activities, organizations, and contexts. Successful writing practice is always predicated on a prior theoretical understanding or framework.

In addition to addressing the theory/practice key binary, the course is organized around two key metaphors: writing is mapping and writing is decision architecture. Briefly defined, mapping can be understood as the purposeful selection, arrangement, and presentation of information in a usable, primarily visual format for a specific audience. It is an active and creative process, and not merely the passive conveyance of data. Decision architecture is the rhetorical (understood both symbolically and materially) structuring of environments to promote or prescribe certain actions, decisions, or behaviors. These guiding metaphors influence every stage of the course, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. In this course and in the writing track at large, writing is not merely the transmission or translation of data or information for an uninformed audience. Rather, it is the generative act of creating, maintaining, and reshaping professional and other social environments which in turn structure and guide the thinking and behavior of others (actions with inherently ethical implications).

With this in mind, the course asks the following questions: what is writing?, what do (professional) writers do?, and who does (professional) writing? Throughout the semester, students engage readings and one another, complete a variety of in-class exercises, and produce a range of documents in exploring (both theoretically and in practice) the work of professional writing. All work in the course stresses the importance of primary research, document design, effective writing, and audience awareness, considerations that will shape the professional lives of students.