Community Writing: Researching Social Issues through Composition

Community Writing: Researching Social Issues through Composition

Community Writing: Researching Social Issues through Composition

Community Writing: Researching Social Issues through Composition


Community Writing: Researching Social Issues Through Composition employs a series of assignments that guide students to research and write about issues confronting their individual communities. Students start by identifying a community to which they belong and focusing on problems in it, and then analyze possible solutions, construct arguments for them, decide which are likely to succeed, and consider how to initiate action. This is a primary text for first-year composition courses, covering the basics of the writing process. The assignments are recursive. Short writing assignments in each chapter build up to longer papers. Each of the assignment questions is accompanied by a guide to thinking about and writing the assigned paper, followed by a short Focus On reading that provides a brief account of community activism, a media case study, or a notable success story. The longer papers are accompanied by in-class peer reading groups. Each successive peer reading attempts a higher level of conceptual critique. By working together throughout the semester, students create increasingly adept peer groups familiar with all stages of each other's research. The book is carefully structured, but there is plenty of "give" in it, allowing instructors to be flexible in adapting it to the needs of their students and courses. Community Writing: * is distinguished by pedagogy based on a collaborative, process-oriented, service learning approach that emphasizes media critique and field research on community issues chosen by individual students; * answers real student questions, such as: Where do I find articles on my topic? What if evidence contradicts my hypothesis? How do I know if a source is biased?; * is web-savvy--guides students into building their own Web sites, including a unique guide for critiquing the design and veracity of other people's websites; and * is media-savvy--topics include media monopolies, spin control, dumbing down, misleading statistics, the Freedom of Information Act, "crackpot" authors, political rhetoric, and fallacious argumentation.


Assignment: Analyze a newspaper or magazine article written about your issue. This is less about the issue itself than about how journalists report it, so focus on how the article is constructed. Who gets quoted, and what kind of role do they play in the issue? What kind of people involved in this issue don't get quoted? Are there any types of bias apparent in the article? Judging from the advertisements and articles in this periodical, what kind of audience is it aimed at?

Bias in the Media

All writing has a bias of some kind; it frames some questions, answers, ideas, or people as being more valid than others. To determine bias in a piece of writing, there are three basic questions you need to ask: At whom is the writing aimed? Who is and isn't quoted? Where and to what extent are they quoted?

At Whom Is the Writing Aimed? What age group is it aimed at? Is it aimed at residents of a particular region? Members of a specific profession? People with a certain level of income? Members of a political group? Followers of a particular religion?

Some of these questions may be easy to answer. the San Francisco Chronicle is aimed at a particular region, and the Journal of the American Medical Association is aimed at health care professionals. But sometimes titles can be misleading; the New York Times is read nationally, for example, and the Christian Science Monitor has a wide readership outside of the Christian Science faith.

In some cases, you may be able to tell the publication's political stance by the writers it features and the editorials it runs. If you see Pat Buchanan and William Kristol editorials in the Weekly Standard, for example, and then arti-

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