Chapter 1: Introduction

1.2 Guide to “writing about writing” essay sequence

Julie Townsend

The essay sequence is intended to break up the research essay process into stages. While the textbook is divided thematically and then by essay assignment, this sequence guide is organized by essay assignment.

Essay sequence and “writing about writing”

All of the essays in this collection are themed “writing about writing,” which is a term that first-year writers initially misunderstand. Writers typically hear this term and start to panic (“how will I write four essays about grammar and punctuation?!”). Through the essay sequence, writers will discover that writing is more than commas and subject-verb agreement, speaking is more than using “proper English” in a job interview, and communication is a complex web of technology, ideas, and people. The intent of the essay sequence is to help writers dig deep and get into the details of the secondary discourses (Gee, “What is Literacy?”) that they use or plan to use in their major and how literacy in their lives is more than being able to pronounce static words on a page.

Essay sequence overview

Essay 1: argument from experience. Writers make observations about reading, writing, speaking, communication, and/or learning in a context they are familiar with. This essay is a good opportunity for writers to see “arguments” not as one-sided, polarized debates but instead as presentation of nuanced findings based on careful observations.
Essay 2: academic article synthesis. Writers find and read academic articles about reading, writing, speaking, communication and/or learning in the context they want to study. Writers also incorporate James Gee’s “What is Literacy?” into their research topic. Gee’s description of discourses (primary, secondary, and dominant) helps writers to understand literacy not as the ability to call out and read letters on a page but the ability to understand and connect words to ideas and objects in the world. The video “James Paul Gee on Learning with Video Games” helps writers to understand the process of acquiring new discourses with the metaphor of a video game and a video game manual. Schooling that is not engaging asks students to read the video game manual without playing the video game. Literacy is always in context and connected to people, events, tangible items, and ideas. Without context and human activity, what do words mean?
Essay 3: prospectus and annotated bibliography. Writers plan their essay by creating research questions, projecting the organization of their essay, discussing their understanding of the literature that exists on their topic, identifying which academic fields are interested in their topic, and creating an annotated bibliography. First-year writers are often perplexed by the idea of writing an essay about an essay. However, this planning document is necessary for writers to write an extensive research essay (3,600 words) on one cohesive topic with clarity and without repetition.
Essay 4: research essay. The previous essays help writers to create an extensive and cohesive essay that answers their research questions using observations and academic articles.

PowerPoint used in video walkthrough

Essay sequence walkthrough video with closed captions


Resources for assignments

The following sections focus on essays in this sequence and include: what to expect, instructions for writers with grading rubric, a walkthrough video, the PowerPoint used in the video, and excellent example essays by theme.




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