Where We Begin
Welcome to Culturally Responsive Composition: A Writer’s Handbook! Have you ever wished for a handy guide that would steer you in the right direction through all of your college-level reading and writing assignments? This text aims to be that kind of guide. Written by a college writing and literature instructor with over 20 years of experience in the field, this interactive, multimedia text draws from decades of experience teaching students who are entering the college reading and writing environment for the very first time. It includes examples, exercises, and definitions for just about every reading and writing related topic you will encounter in your college courses that require critical thinking and essay writing skills.
In this Open Education Resource (OER) text, we will enter the world of academic writing by exploring how to craft the college essay. We will do this through an interactive discussion of the six main stages of the writing process and the six main elements of the essay format. While no essay can be fully reduced to a simple series of steps or formulas, we will see that the essay does provide a coherent template, an ancient and powerful structure, through which we can engage the world of ideas and communicate our own perceptions and discoveries in meaningful and academically productive ways.
We will also examine how emerging technologies, along with multimodal instruction and composition, are changing the notion of how to teach and how to do college essay writing. And, most importantly, how our various subjectivities influence not only the ways we approach any topic, but also how we develop voice, tone, style, organization, and our academically-informed relationships to authority, tradition, and the ever changing world of ideas.
Remember this is a process. There is an old saying, “writing is rewriting.” The goal is not so much to arrive at a perfect piece of writing as it is to engage the spectacular and complex world around us with increasing clarity of thought and vision. And, hopefully, with a sharpened sense of the importance of careful listening, open inquiry, honest evaluation, and organic synthesis as vital steps on any path towards greater understanding.
An essay is an attempt to know something about the world with more depth of perspective, focus, and clarity. When we write an essay, we are opening ourselves up to the full spectrum of human (and nonhuman) knowledge and wisdom, while simultaneously reaching for new connections to the truth and its relevance to our lives. It is a sacred, scientific, and self-empowering task. One that we continue to perfect as long as we are alive and curious.
As mentioned above, this text also explores multimodal composition, culturally-sensitive approaches to writing, and themed course content structures to aid in the co-creation of a diverse, empowering, and engaging writing process that encourages students to both learn more about the world through the process of academic inquiry, and share their own perspectives and voices more clearly, confidently, and effectively.
How the Text is Organized
The text is organized into chapters that detail the major aspects of the college essay writing process and relevant stages. It covers a variety of topics including:
- cultural considerations in teaching and learning college writing,
- determining the audience and purpose for your writing assignments,
- getting started,
- thesis writing,
- patterns of development,
- working with sources,
- and more.
While navigating through the text, you’ll notice that the majority of the chapters are located inside the “Main Body” section with a short introduction and a few appendices at the end.
How Should You Use This Text?
This is a use-it-as-you-need-it kind of text. In other words, you don’t have to read every word from beginning to end. Instead, skip around using the table of contents to find answers to your questions or to do exercises that will improve your reading and writing skills. You might find it useful to have this text with you as you’re doing reading and writing assignments because confusion will happen, questions will come up, and we’re here to help when you need it most.
Gendered and Gender-Neutral Language
As you read, you may notice that we use a variety of pronouns such as she/her, he/him, or they/them to refer to a person we’re discussing. Our goal is to represent all people, regardless of gender, and to do so in a balanced way. Therefore, in some paragraphs, we may designate “she” as the pronoun, while in others “he” will stand in for the person being written about. However, you’ll also come across “they” being used as a singular pronoun, which may be confusing at first. The pronoun “they” allows a single person to represent any gender, including those genders that aren’t accurately represented by “he” and “she.” It’s important to consider gender-neutral language in your own writing, so we wanted to make sure we modeled what that looks like in this text. Competent, college-level writing is a very empowering skill set to possess, and this text attempts to open those doors of possibility to as many people as possible.
Links and References in Online and Print Versions of This Text
The online text includes links, but I’ve used specific language to allow readers of the print version of this text to find the same pages within the text or outside resources. If you’re using a printed version of this text, you can find linked essays or materials by doing a web search using the title, author, and website. If you’re looking for a page within this text that we’ve linked to, go to the Table of Contents, and look for the title of the relevant section there.
Note to teachers: Make sure you provide a heads up for potential students using the print version so they can access web resources.
Note to students: Whenever possible, PDF versions of some linked materials are provided when available and legal to include in this OER text.
Most creative endeavors are better off when folks collaborate, sharing their various skills and insights, making the finished product a better version of what was originally imagined. This text is no different.
I would like to start by thanking my students, past and present, whose hard work, determination, flexibility, patience, and feedback have been invaluable in bringing this text to life.
I would also like to thank the fearless peer reviewers—whose detailed suggestions and critiques greatly improved this text and gave me the courage to move forward.
Thanks to Amy Hofer whose support, both through the grant that made this work possible and through her vast knowledge of all things related to Open Educational Resources, was ever present.
Special thanks to Heather White, EBSCO Faculty Select Senior Product Manager for OER, for getting me hooked on this technology and all it can do for students. Without her guidance, encouragement, and friendship early on in the process, I would never have had the belief that such a text was possible or needed in the world. Least of all that I would be able to accomplish creating it.
I was also supported by an important cast of characters at Mt. Hood Community College who were there to answer questions and provide encouragement all through the process including:
- The MHCC English and Modern Languages Departments (especially Beth Sammons, Sara Rivara, Michele Hampton, Holly DeGrow, Chad Bartlett, Don Anderson, David Wright, Evan Burton, Patty Martin, Brent DiElmo, and Kathryn Weiss)
- The AVID and Learning Success Center (especially Lawrence Gilius, Jason Stiffler, Sharon Marks, and Grant Burgess)
- The MHCC Online Learning Department (especially Nathalie Wright and Cat Schleihert)
- The MHCC Multicultural and Diversity Resource Center (especially Traci Simmons)
- The MHCC Accessible Education Services Team (especially David Pontius and Tristan Price)
- The MHCC Librarians (especially Lori Wamsley and Holly Wheeler)
I would also like to thank the many other faculty, students, tutors, and writing professionals (too numerous to mention by name here) whose wisdom, skill, patience, creativity, hard work, and tenacity have made this text possible. Special thanks to Janet Campbell and the inimitable Calvin Walker.
I would especially like to thank Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, co-authors of the OER text The Word on College Reading and Writing without whom much of this text would not exist. When I contacted them to tell them that I was using their wonderful text as a template for my own, they were overjoyed to learn that their work was being used to help empower even more students to achieve their personal, educational, and career goals.
I would also like to thank the MHCC OER coordinator, Kevin Moore, for his support through the entire design and publication process. Kevin was instrumental in helping me make the final product look good and function properly.
I must also thank “God,” which for me is a word which initiates the awareness that to help others is to help the self, and to build community is to invest in the unlimited potential of our emerging world. My OER journey has taught me so much about what it is to “minister” to the needs of the various communities I serve. And I am humbled and beyond grateful to be constantly reminded that teaching is a form of service.
Finally, almost nothing that I set my mind to accomplish would come into existence without the constant support of my wife, Celeste Gurevich. Celeste has spent countless hours listening to me talk through the various chapters of this text and taking me on long drives in the country, like a Golden Retriever, so I could figure out what to say to you people. She’s also graciously read and reread many sections of this text in order to offer clear, fresh, and honest eyes to the editing and revision process.
Making something new and functional out of a late night idea isn’t easy, but help is all around. I am forever grateful for all that I’ve received. And I hope you will find this an engaging, useful, and inspirational college writing handbook. Remember, writing is rewriting. And when we are writing, we are engaged in our own story, the stories of others, and the shared quest to make sense of the world. We write to learn, because we are creatures who want to know. I look forward to helping you learn how to learn about and how to write about anything you want to know under (and beyond) the stars.
- Please watch this video introduction to the text.
(adapted, in part, from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear. This OER text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.)