Writing Resources for DU Faculty: Writing Beyond Writing Classes, 2010
Written by Doug Hesse, Executive Director Writing Program, 2008-2020
Preface to Writing Beyond Writing Classes
“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”
-Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973. 110-11.
Kenneth Burke’s scene is analogous to ones in which academic writers inevitably find themselves, whether freshmen, PhD candidates, or full professors. Writing in the university is largely a matter of joining conversations about many subject matters, in many disciplinary parlors. Being successful in each of them involves understanding not only the “what” of a topic (for example, what knowledge is assumed and what matters are in dispute) but also the “how” (what writing conventions are expected for a given field or readership). As a result, we must expect writing skills to develop over time, through attentive practice. Unlike the individual in Burke’s analogy, students can benefit from professors “pausing” the discussion to clue them in a little, but there’s still no perfect short cut.
The resources that follow are designed to give practical help regarding student writing to DU professors across the full range of disciplines—faculty who are neither trained as “writing teachers” nor have “teaching writing” as their primary professional identity. In offering them, my goal is by no means to proselytize or convert but, rather, to inform and encourage. There are some practical and economical things all faculty can do with writing to benefit their students and their disciplines—things that respect the complex professional lives that professors lead. -Doug Hesse, Executive Director of the University of Denver Writing Program, 2008-2020