This entry should be the first of many meant to report on and expand upon research I have done into the persuasive and public writing of college graduates, beginning with my study of Slippery Rock University alumni who graduated sometime between 2001 and 2008 from one of five degree programs that strongly emphasize writing ability (English Literature, English Writing/Creative, English Writing/Professional, Journalism, and Public Relations.) I am presenting this information in the form of a blog for several reasons that strike me as important at this moment in the development of writing studies as an academic enterprise, and in the evolution of the United States as a putative participatory democracy.
· I want to honor the individual stories of the graduates and the writing they do, in the conviction that such a focus on individual experience can help us move towards useful curricular change in ways that statistical inference may not. Sometimes an emphasis on the particular is more helpful than a yearning for the universal, when it comes to considering what we ought to teach and how we ought to teach it.
· Blogging is probably the most popular and potentially effective form of self-publication in recorded history. It’s an activity that offers academics such as I the opportunity to communicate with a more diverse audience than I could reach if I contented myself with molding my findings into the forms and conventions of a conference paper or a journal article. Whether this particular blog succeeds in creating an actively interested public remains, of course, to be seen.
· Writing for a potentially more diverse audience of readers, readers who are not professional colleagues but who care about the writing they do as citizens and workers, and about how they have learned to write as they do, puts unique stylistic and formal demands on myself as the initiator of this blog. It is, as its title suggests, an experiment in publication and as a form of public scholarship.
· The interactive nature of blogs leads me to hope that some readers will share their own stories about the writing they do. When I began my study in the fall of 2008 I was seeking information from respondents about the extent and the nature of the writing they did that was consciously persuasive (“attempting to persuade intended readers to reach certain conclusions or to take specific actions”) and/or “public” in nature (“seeking a readership beyond that of your fellow employees or social acquaintances”). Within colleges and universities, writing classes purport to teach students how to generate persuasive narratives, explanations, and arguments, and to prepare students for a lifetime of participatory citizenship within their communities and larger political entities. How does the actual writing our graduates perform relate to our classroom practices and to the knowledge we seek to share? That’s what I want to know, and I hope this blog will expand the pool of people who share their experiences beyond the 105 Slippery Rock graduates who responded to a survey, and the 18 who took part in interviews, and the five political speechwriters I had interviewed 2 ½ years earlier. I will be sharing their stories with readers of this blog during the coming months, but I hope some readers will share theirs as well. You can begin by taking a look at the survey and the schedule of interview questions I used. Then you can use the comments feature to share your writing stories.
Readers are also welcome to offer up their suggestions, comments, and criticisms. For my part, I pledge to make entries in the blog at least two to three times a week, to share my findings, to highlight and respond to readers’ stories and comments, and to discuss the implications of our content for the teaching of composition in writing programs within higher education. That teaching is something most American college students have experienced at one time or another. Many of my colleagues have devoted their professional lives to doing it well, and are open to hearing from those students about what has happened in their writing lives since, and how our efforts have helped, or not helped, them on their way.