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WRITING 140: Writing and Critical Reasoning

Principal Themes of Writing 140:

Critical Reasoning, Invention, Arrangement, Style, and Revision

Writing is an exceptionally complex activity.  Within the university, writing projects are likely to involve not only linguistic competence (grammar, syntax, diction, etc.) but topical knowledge, organizational ability, research skills, social and cultural understanding, rhetorical judgment, and-most important of all-insight, thought, and creativity.

The complexity of college writing is reflected in the course objectives for Writing 140 listed in Part III of the Course Book on pages 121-122.  While you will want to review these goals and become familiar with them, the course can probably be more easily understood in terms of five principal themes that together cover almost everything you will be asked to do in Writing 140.

The first theme addresses the development of skills having to do with critical reasoning, analysis, and argumentation, as these abilities will be most important to the sorts of writing that is required in university courses and later as part of your professional and civic responsibilities.  Critical reasoning, analysis, and argumentation include:

  • the ability to move beyond the limits of one's initial ideas and presuppositions about a topic;
  • the techniques used both to support and to question argumentative claims;
  • the development of qualities of critical discernment, intellectual skepticism and honesty, and tolerance for opposing viewpoints.

The next three themes-invention, arrangement, and style-are closely related, as each represents one of the five arts of ancient rhetoric.  Memory and delivery, the other two elements of the rhetorical canon, have to do with oral discourse-speeches-and so have less relevance to a course in written composition, but invention, arrangement, and style remain fundamental to any writing project.

Invention includes:

  • the generation of new ideas;
  • inscriptive methods such as free writing, listing, clustering;
  • using various heuristics-sets of terms that may be applied to a topic-to generate ideas or questions to help writers probe beneath immediate reactions.

Arrangement includes:

  • the review of prewriting materials and the selection of potentially useful ideas and arguments;
  • the creation of a plan or structure around which to base a provisional argument;
  • the discovery of the best sequence in which to place the main points.

Style includes:

  • all matters of word choice and sentence formation;
  • the ability to use the surface features of a text-diction and syntax-to reinforce the text's purpose.

Invention, arrangement, and style are thus crucial to the process of writing.  The same may be said of revision, the fifth pedagogical theme of Writing 140.  Revision encompasses all of the conceptual and formal adjustments and modifications that must be accomplished in order to produce a sound final draft.  Revision includes:

  • analyzing the purpose expressed in the text and reconsidering the concepts and arguments of the text so as to reflect this purpose more effectively;
  • reexamining and modifying the large-scale structure of a draft;
  • closely reviewing the grammatical and stylistic qualities of each sentence of the text.