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The Curious Writer, MLA Update, 5th Edition
Author: Bruce Ballenger (Author)
For courses in First-Year Composition – Rhetoric.
This version of The Curious Writer has been updated to reflect the 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook (April 2016)*
Puts inquiry at the heart of good writing
We write to learn as much as we do to express what we already know. In his remarkably personal and engaging voice, Bruce Ballenger makes that powerful concept central to The Curious Writer.
The Curious Writer doesn’t read like a textbook or provide a formula for composing essays. Instead, it encourages students to suspend judgment, to ask questions, and to seek answers much like academics do. Yet it covers a wide range of genres beyond the academic essay—narrative, profile, review, ethnography, argument, and more—all with a distinctive approach and “personality” that is lacking in other texts. It also reinforces the assumption that genres are malleable with a new chapter on repurposing or “re-genre-ing.”
Students love that this book helps them learn to write by pursuing their own curiosity. Teachers appreciate that Ballenger gives students ample opportunity to develop the habits of mind necessary to become critical thinkers and curious writers.
I have a friend, a painter, who teaches art at my university, and his introductory courses teach the subskills of painting, things like how to use a brush, mix paints, and understand color theory. Common sense suggests that such fundamentals are the starting place for any creative activity, including writing. But college writers walk into our classes with a lifetime of language use. They already know a lot about making meaning with words, more than they think they know. Yet there is much to teach, and perhaps the most powerful thing we can teach them is that writing isn’t just for getting down what you know but for discovering what you think. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of this discovery process, and that’s why discovery is the beating heart of this book.
What’s New in This Edition?
The fifth edition of The Curious Writer represents a substantial revision, including a new chapter on repurposing academic writing into contemporary genres like podcasts and infographics, and substantially revised chapters on argument and analytic writing. As always, I have also made revisions throughout with the overall aim of making the book more teachable and more reflective of the world in which today’s students live. Here’s what you will find:
A completely new chapter on repurposing (“re-genre-ing”) writing (Ch.13) encourages students to transform academic writing into contemporary genres including blogs, audio and video podcasts, infographics, and more. In creating these transformations, students gain a deeper rhetorical knowledge of genre conventions, strengths, and limitations.
A thoroughly reorganized and revised chapter on argument (Ch. 7) now offers clearer, more comprehensive guidance on what an argument is and how to write one—knowledge and skills that are at the center of almost all good writing. A significantly revised chapter on critical analysis (Ch. 8) widens its focus beyond literature to include images, objects, ads, and more—any “texts” in our lives that may have ambiguous meanings.
A significantly revised section on research includes updated information about data searches, a new section on online interviews and surveys, and new student and professional essays, as well as expanded coverage of plagiarism and synthesizing sources. New readings and illustrations throughout offer fresh perspectives on current topics to engage students more effectively. Inquiry in the Writing Classroom
Composition teachers often struggle to define what skills we can offer to students—beyond the acts of reading and writing—that they can export to their other classes and, later, into their lives. Often we vaguely refer to “critical thinking” skills. The Curious Writer suggests that what we can offer is the skill of inquiring. Most of us already teach inquiry, although we may not all realize it. For example, our writing classes invite students to be active participants in making knowledge in the classroom through peer review.
When we ask students to fastwrite or brainstorm, we encourage them to suspend judgment and openly explore their feelings or ideas. And when we urge students to see a draft as a first look at a topic, and revision as a means of discovering what they may not have noticed before, we teach a process that makes discovery its purpose. Indeed, most composition classrooms create a “culture of inquirers.”
For inquiry-based courses on any subject, I believe instructors should take five key actions:
1. Create an atmosphere of mutual inquiry. Students are used to seeing their teachers as experts who know everything. But in an inquiry-based classroom, instructors are learners too. They ask questions not because they already know the answers but because there might be answers they haven’t considered.
2. Emphasize questions before answers. The idea that student writers should begin with an inflexible thesis or a firm position on a topic before engaging in the process of writing is anathema to inquiry-based learning. Questions, not preconceived answers, lead to new discoveries.
3. Encourage a willingness to suspend judgment. To suspend judgment demands that we trust that the process will lead us to new insights. This requires both faith in the process and the time to engage in it. The composition course, with its emphasis on process, is uniquely suited to nurture such faith.
4. Introduce a strategy of inquiry. Announcing that we’re teaching an inquiry-based class is not enough. We have to introduce students to the strategy of inquiry we’ll be using. In the sciences, the experimental
method provides a foundation for investigations. What guidance will we give our students in the composition course?
5. Present inquiry in a rhetorical context. An essay, a research project, an experiment, any kind of investigation is always pursued with particular purposes and audiences in mind. In an inquiry-based class, the situation in which the inquiry project is taking place is always considered.
The Curious Writer is built on all of these elements. It features a strategy of inquiry that is genuinely multidisciplinary, borrowing from the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Each assignment in Part 2, “Inquiry Projects,” for example, leads students toward subjects that offer the most potential for learning. Rather than write about what they already know, students are encouraged to choose topics that they want to learn more about. In addition, the discussion questions that follow the student and professional essays do more than simply test students’ comprehension or reduce the reading to a single theme. In many cases, these questions are open ended and can lead students in many directions. And throughout, I have tried to maintain a voice and persona that suggests I am working along with the students as a writer and a thinker—which is exactly the experience of mutual inquiry that I try to create in my classes. Finally, The Curious Writer is organized around a strategy of inquiry that is present in every assignment and nearly every exercise. I revisit the model “The Spirit of Inquiry,” which is introduced in Part 1, in every subsequent chapter. This inquiry strategy is the thematic core of the book.