Focus on Writing
What College Students Want to Know
  • Publication Date: October 30, 2018
  • ISBN: 9781554813889 / 1554813883
  • 400 pages; 6" x 9"
Exam Copy

Availability: Canada & the US

Focus on Writing

What College Students Want to Know

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2018
  • ISBN: 9781554813889 / 1554813883
  • 400 pages; 6" x 9"

This first-year composition rhetoric-reader uses a Writing About Writing (WAW) approach and a conversational style to help students engage in threshold concepts and transfer what they know about writing to new situations. Each chapter asks a key question such as “Why Write?” or “What Is the Rhetorical Situation and Why Should I Care about It?” Preliminary answers to the chapter question are provided in accessible prose, and these initial ideas are supplemented with a selection of three or four readings and a list of recommended online texts.

Prompts for informal and formal writing projects keep the focus on writing and help students apply writing studies scholarship to their own lives in meaningful ways.


  • Welcome
  • Reading Focus on Writing
    • What to expect
    • Reading actively, reading rhetorically
    • Reading academic articles
    • Why Writing About Writing?
  • The Wider Conversation
    • WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (3.0)
    • Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing—Executive Summary
  • Guide for Writing Instructors
    • Rationales informing textual features
    • Aligning chapters of Focus on Writing with three pedagogical frameworks
    • Models: Approaches to writing and research

Chapter One: Why Write?

  • Exploring the Question
    • Relationship with writing: It’s complicated
    • Why write in a college course?
  • Extending the Conversation
    • “The Pursuit of Literacy” by Deborah Brandt (2001)
    • “Domestic Sphere vs. Public Sphere” by Aleeza Laskowski (2016)
    • from The Transition from Student to Professional: A Pedagogy of Professionalism for First-Year Composition by Marcia Seible (2008)
    • “Literature, Literacy, and New Media” by Andrea Lunsford (2012)
    • Recommended online sources
  • Joining the Conversation

Chapter Two: What Is the “Rhetorical Situation” and Why Should I Care about It?

  • Exploring the Question
    • The rhetorical triangle and beyond
    • The occasion: An overly brief explanation
    • Discourse communities
    • Genres
    • From “rules” to “guidelines”
  • Extending the Conversation
    • “Activity Theory: Situation Learning and Student Motivation” by Marcia Seible (2008)
    • “Materiality and Genre in the Study of Discourse Communities” by Amy Devitt, Anis Bawarshi, and Mary Jo Reiff (2003)
    • “Powerless Persuasion: Ineffective Argumentation Plagues the Clean Eating Community” by Jessie Cannizzo (2016)
    • Recommended online sources
  • Joining the Conversation

Chapter Three: What Do Effective Writers Do?

  • Exploring the Question
    • Linear to recursive models
    • Material situations
    • Strategies for starting
    • Strategies for improving writing
    • Strategies for polishing writing
    • To procrastinate or not?
    • Writing as social: Collaboration and feedback
    • Pro tips on process
    • Pro tips on product
  • Extending the Conversation
    • from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (1994)
    • “Teaching the Other Self: The Writer’s First Reader” by Donald M. Murray (1982)
    • “Understanding Composing” by Sondra Perl (1980)
    • “Writing Research and the Writer” by John R. Hayes and Linda S. Flower (1996)
    • Recommended online sources
  • Joining the Conversation

Chapter Four: What Do Effective Researchers Do?

  • Exploring the Question
    • Useful principles from everyday research
    • Academic research: Overview
    • Secondary research: Finding and evaluating sources
    • Secondary research: Reading, taking notes, organizing, oh my!
    • Secondary research: Integrating sources into your writing and ethics
    • Primary research methods
    • Organizing common research genres
  • Extending the Conversation
    • from Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts by Joseph Harris (2006)
    • “What Can a Novice Contribute? Undergraduate Researchers in First-Year Composition” by Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle (2010)
    • “Research Is Elementary: How Blue’s Clues Can Help Teach Communication Research Methods” by David Gesler
    • Recommended online sources
  • Joining the Conversation

Chapter Five: How Do I Translate My Academic Writing into Public Genres?

  • Exploring the Question
    • College writing and “the real world”
    • Digital possibilities
    • Possibilities beyond the screen
  • Extending the Conversation
    • “The Pop Warner Chronicles: A Case Study in Contextual Adaptation and the Transfer of Writing Ability” by Chris Anson (2016)
    • from Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling by James Paul Gee (2004)
    • “The Low Bridge to High Benefits: Entry-Level Multimedia, Literacies, and Motivation” by Daniel Anderson (2008)
    • Recommended online sources
  • Joining the Conversation

Conclusion: Now What?

  • Sharing your expertise
  • Ongoing challenge


Laurie McMillan is Associate Professor of English at Pace University.

  • — Writing About Writing (WAW) approach
  • — accessible and engaging for students
  • — user-friendly for new teachers, flexible for experienced teachers
  • — inquiry-based, with each chapter title asking a key question in writing studies
  • — combines attention to threshold concepts with practical strategies
  • — companion website more fully integrates reading and producing digital texts into WAW pedagogies