First year composition courses are often expected to cure students of all their writing woes. John Warner addresses this false assumption by examining why students’ writing often falters outside the first year composition classroom. Not only are students often underprepared and still learning content material, but they do not grasp the requirements of different genres and rhetorical situations. Even when armed with an understanding of rhetorical questions to consider when writing, students often struggle to apply these to a new field of study.
Warner encourages professors to examine the assumptions of the genre in which they ask students to write, and to guide students in a discovery of these assumptions. For instance, he suggests helping students understand that the citation style within a genre fits the needs of the audience, who will come in afterwards to follow-up on research sources and add to the conversation. Another example may be examining the way that formatting guidelines, such as those for an interview in a journalist article, help readers to understand and follow the writer’s thinking. By analyzing the genre, students will understand the rhetorical requirements and why these fit the audience.
Warner’s analysis and suggestions are helpful for those teaching composition courses, faculty in the disciplines, and those supporting teachers of writing across the curriculum. Teaching writing can be a struggle, and it is important for all faculty to remember why our students (and we) get frustrated in the learning process. Warner also reminds teachers that struggling with writing can be productive when it makes students better prepared to write again, because it helps them think about the material in new ways. Further, Warner’s suggestions encourage professors to help students understand how and why they must examine the rhetorical situation each time they write, and they are good reminders to help professors guide students through new genres.