I’m listing here randomly some of the topics I plan to address in the book (this is just a sampling of some notes to myself, not anything final or even organized):
Part I: The Psychological Stuff
2. Anxiety, perfectionism and the Inner Critic
3. Judgment (it’s a killer): how to deal with it, and heal from it
4. Speaking up, when you’ve been beaten down
5. Making use of what you know
6. Writing as a relationship
7. Being real on the page
8. Power and control
9. What do they want from me?
11. What to do when you get stuck
Part II: The Academic Stuff
1. Say What?
A chapter explaining academic jargon in plain words. For example, here are some terms I heard recently from composition professionals:
“cultivation of discourse communitiy metaknowledge”
“critical contrastive rhetoric”
“engage analytically with linguistic and structural components of texts”
“interrogate the rhetorical stylistic moves the author employs”
…and of course, the ever-popular “foundational texts, pedagogical methodology, academic enculturation, and contextualization,” as well as more standard fare at the student level like “argumentation, critical thinking, and the thesis,” which my students have interpreted as arguing (not a good thing), being critical (ditto), and some kind of mysterious Greek ritual, possibly involving a two-hundred page graduate-level paper.
This could be one long chapter.
2. What is Critical Thinking? (My informal definition is: Critical thinking is what you wish you had done before you got into the relationship from hell)
3. This Is What Your Essay Should Look Like (MLA style and format conventions, modeled in a two-page paper that explains them).
4. How to Get an A on an Academic Essay (makes explicit what teachers are looking for, and how to deliver it)
5. Methods of Development (this is an example of how I approach various conventional academic concepts):
Some composition classes, and some readers, are organized entirely around this as a guiding principle of writing. The idea is that depending on your audience, purpose, and topic, you choose a strategy or strategies from the following list (there’s a lot of overlap in these). To me, good writing is more organic, and more slippery, than this neat system allows for; also, I’m not sure it’s useful to take these ten tools out of the toolbox and expect students to be able to use them to build an essay—but it is good to know they exist, and to understand their uses. And if you’re stuck on an assignment, it can sometimes help to just look through this list and see if it suggests a strategy. So here they are, the Methods of Development (drum roll):
–Narration (telling a story as a way to reveal, explain, show, engage): If the topic is pizza, you might follow a pizza delivery person and tell the story of what he/she encounters on a Saturday night, or tell the story of what they actually put in those pizzas if you didn’t tip well last time.
–Description (use of all five senses, vivid language, specific detail): I won’t go there about the pizza, or we’ll all be ordering out.
–Example (instances that show what you’re writing about): If my thesis is that Papa John’s pizza has the best delivery, I would give examples of how fast they arrive, how they hardly ever get lost trying to find my house, and how the order taker seemed to be stoned only once in a while.
–Analysis (sometimes called division, because you’re taking the subject apart into its components): Critical thinking is usually required to decide which principle of division you want to use—shall we talk about cheese, pepperoni, sauce and crust; or shall we talk about nutritional components like fiber, fat, and carbs?
–Process analysis (same deal, but you’re taking apart a process into its stages): “How-to” articles fall into this category, as might an essay about how the Grand Canyon happened, or how that pizza dough turned into a deep-dish pie.
–Compare or contrast (comparison is about similarities, contrast is about differences): I could compare the pepperoni (they must all buy it from the same source) or contrast the tomato sauce, which varies significantly between brands.
–Classification (sorting the subject into kinds or groups—usually used for complex topics, or to organize ideas in useful ways): Critical thinking is also required if this is to pay off in clarity and usefulness: shall we organize the clothes in piles of dirty and clean, or shall we order them by color, dressiness, season, and long vs. short sleeves–you may not believe it, but some people actually do this! You would get extra credit in my class if you could apply the pizza metaphor here–try it!
–Definition (meaning, boundaries of the subject and how it’s distinct from other subjects or from its surround): My half has green peppers, your half has black olives; we’re not going to discuss the bread sticks because the dog always gets those.
–Cause and effect (exploring reasons and consequences): She sent out for pizza because he refused to cook; he will pay for it in more ways than one.
–Argument and persuasion (take a stand, have an opinion and support it with evidence): The government should develop a secret database of delivery pizza users because some of them might be terrorists staying home to avoid capture; upstanding citizens who have nothing to hide shouldn’t mind because real Americans eat cheeseburgers.
(Obviously that argument has a few flaws, so we’d also have to have chapters on critical thinking, logical fallacies, inclusiveness, audience awareness, and when to use humor.)
6, 7, 8, and so on: more of the necessary info on Standard Written English, citation, plagiarism, paraphrasing, MLA/APA conventions, yada yada yada. Covering all the usual bases so as to make the concepts understandable, and the basic skills achievable, including common errors and how to fix them, explained in plain language.
This is basically a boot camp kind of book, aimed at preparing students quickly to at least not go into shock on the battlefield, to be able to protect and strengthen themselves, and to understand the “military” so they don’t get dropped by friendly fire.