Program Philosophy

The Program Philosophy

The philosophy of our Writing Program is simple: we believe in writing as an ongoing process as well as a finished product. Convinced that good writing is always rethinking and rewriting, we emphasize revision and require multiple drafts of all portfolio papers. We endorse and practice collaborative learning in the classroom by designing the writing workshop around small groups in which students share feedback to reinforce teacher commentary. Effectiveness of communication is our primary goal.

Writing is not just the act of recording already known data; it is also a process of discovery, analysis, and synthesis. We want students to discover how they can use writing to learn at the same time they are learning to write. We hope that students will become aware of their own individual writing processes because once they recognize those processes, they can produce a piece of writing on any subject in both academic and professional situations.

Goals for Introductory Writing Courses

The Program in Writing and Rhetoric has two introductory writing courses, WRT 101 and WRT 102. In both courses, the emphasis is on developing a foundation of fluency and correctness in standard written American English, understanding the rhetorical issues in addressing particular audiences, and learning the particular conventions of academic discourse.

Because writing is a complex skill that develops only with repeated practice, we emphasize many of the same skills in WRT 101 and 102, but the complexity of the writing tasks increases progressively across the courses. Below are five core skill areas that are emphasized in both courses.

  1. Critical and Creative Thinking Skills
  2. Writing Process Strategies
  3. Rhetorical Strategies
  4. Genre Knowledge
  5. Grammar and Usage Skills 

    Critical and Creative Thinking Skills We teach the interconnected skills of close reading of texts and writing as a means of developing new knowledge and critical thinking. To this end, we employ a variety of strategies and types of assignments such as:

    • uncensored, un-edited writing to generate thinking for a variety of purposes: discovering personal connections to subject matter, reflecting on learning, exploring ideas for possible development into formal essays
    • exposure to a variety of reading materials in several academic disciplines
    • assignments that teach a variety of ways critical reading methods: double-entry journals, informal reading responses, summaries, annotated bibliographies, etc.
    • writing assignments that elicit critical and creative thinking
    • reflections that require the writer to analyze his/her process of accomplishing a writing assignment
    • courses with single or multiple themes that encourage sustained intellectual inquiry and writing on a particular subject matter in several assignments

    Writing Process Strategies We teach strategies for managing all phases of the writing process in accomplishing writing assignments, so that students gain greater control over their final drafts. Strategies taught can include:

    • A variety of brainstorming techniques for generating writing material
    • Freewriting to get past writer's block and begin drafting
    • Research skills, including use of the STARS catalogue and on-line academic data bases
    • Revision skills, including gaining control of paragraph structure and essay structure and giving and receiving feedback on drafts
    • Copy-editing and proofreading skills to achieve mostly error-free prose in formal writing assignments.
    • Strategies for writing during pressured writing situations

    Rhetorical Strategies We teach students a variety of rhetorical strategies for achieving a given purpose in addressing a particular audience.º Strategies taught can include:

    • developing a point through description, anecdote, example, analogy, statistics, definition, deductive/inductive logic, etc.
    • methods of ordering discourse
    • methods of argument and persuasion
    • avoiding logical fallacies (hasty generalizations, circular reasoning, etc.)

    Genre Knowledge We teach the conventions of academic discourse: thesis-driven, well-reasoned, persuasive writing with appropriate integration and documentation of sources. Specific genres taught include:

    • Textual analysis (a particular academic essay that takes another text or texts as its subject matter)
    • Researched essay (an academic essay that takes a position and presents a reasoned, thoughtful exploration of an issue, drawing on outside sources; for example, expert opinion, eyewitness accounts, facts, reasons, etc. Careful documentation of outside sources is required.)
    • Students may also gain experience writing in other genres, including
      • informal essays
      • editorials, letters to the editor
      • survey reports
      • profiles
      • ethnographies
      • personal narratives, etc.

    Grammar and Usage Skills While we respect a multitude of voices, dialects, and discourse styles from students' home cultures and do not expect informal writing to be polished, we expect our students' polished writing to be in standard written American English and virtually free from errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. To that end we employ a variety of strategies:

    • teaching mini-lessons on sentence structure, diction, and punctuation in the context of the student's own written work at the editing stages of the writing process.
    • assigning exercises on sentence-level skills as necessary on an individualized basis
    • teaching proofreading strategies, including reading one's writing aloud, having another person read one's writing aloud, and reading sentence-by-sentence starting with the last sentence of the essay
    • maintaining standards for correctness as a part of the grade on any formal paper.

The Writing Workshop Environment

In the 1970's and 1980's research was done on the composing processes of expert and successful writers vs. novice and unsuccessful writers that revolutionized the writing classroom. Experienced and successful writers, it was learned, regularly wrote multiple drafts, worked on developing the ideas in their essays before editing, and sought feedback from others. Less successful and novice writers wrote only one draft, were focused on correctness rather than ideas, and rarely sought input from others.

In the SUNY at Stony Brook Writing Program, we provide a classroom environment that teaches and reinforces the behaviors of successful writers. We help students practice expert writing processes by requiring students to write multiple drafts of their essays, by encouraging them (through our assignment sequences) to develop their ideas fully before editing, and by organizing our classrooms into peer editing workshops to help students get feedback on their writing.

A successful workshop environment assumes that students write in nearly every session and that all other work, such as reading assignments, discussion, and so on, explicitly supports the act of writing. Students are producing their own texts, responding to one another's texts, or analyzing texts written by classmates or others. A workshop environment means that students work with one another: planning, writing, analyzing, evaluating, revising, rewriting, editing, reading, rereading, and publishing.

Our teachers are not the experts who control the class by being at its center. They are more like coaches-- assisting, commenting, enabling. Their lesson plans and group tasks provide the basic structure for each class period, but the students must do the work. Teachers offer help when and where it is needed, but that help generally is prompted by requests from students.

Program in Writing and Rhetoric • Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5340 • 631.632.7390
Writing Center • 631.632.7405