FAQs for Online Composition Courses

1) Where are the due dates?

The Course Information area contains both a syllabus and schedule.  These are separate documents.  The schedule lists due dates.  Obviously, you’ll want to look ahead to prepare major assignments.  The schedule is organized by unit, with each week being broken down.  Major due dates are also listed at the start of the schedule in a table for easier overview.  Participation is ongoing.
2) How do I write the posting subject so I earn points for the work?

Adult learners benefit from the preview that a subject heading provides.  I require every post to feature a sentence for a subject.

Nonexample: My thoughts on friedman

Example: Friedman’s use of 9/11 Challenges Cliches of the Event’s Causes

Notice how much more precise the sentence is.  Treating the subject sentence as a heading, capitalize its major words.  We are not texting, so Standard American English (SAE) capitalization rules apply.  (Standard data charges don’t. . .  ha, ha!)

3) When should I write the post subject?

I recommend writing the subject after you have written the post.  That way, you can surprise yourself by letting the writing take you somewhere other than where you thought it was supposed to.  Like a horse with blinders on, if you write a subject first, you’ll feel strange veering from what you said you’d do!

4) How long is the average post supposed to be?

Variety creates style, so there’s no simple answer to this.  At least a good paragraph is a minimal expectation, but I’d like variety in your postings.  Sometimes, you’ll earn points by a detailed reply to someone.  At other times, you’ll craft new posts.  If properly developed, both can count.  If you consider what the audience knows, hopefully you can end posts in ways that get others responding.  If you respect the audience, you won’t generalize.  Facebook posts these aren’t!  If stuck, insert some detail and offer a tentative interpretation of what you included.  Oh, and paragraph’s aren’t ___# of sentences, right?  (A lot of learning requires unlearning.)  If you only ever post one-paragraph items, that’s a problem.

5) So this is a course in the five-paragraph essay, right?

No.  We aren’t writing five-paragraph essays, although our academic audiences expect an introduction, body paragraphs, and a clear conclusion paragraph.  Some of your points may take several paragraphs to develop.  Not all reasons are created equal.

6) What is the thesis. . . just a statement of the paper’s topic?

Actually, the thesis is what I’d call an Ur-statement, the claim to which every other sentence relates.  Try this for a redefinition: The thesis is a provable, arguable opinion about which others may disagree.  It is neither a fact nor question.  Mentally, informed readers relate everything you write to this provable opinion.  The best theses include their reasons within their wording.  They also establish exigency (why the issue matters or is urgent).  In high school, a statement of topic may suffice, but not at the college level.

7) What is the tone I should take in posts?

Tone is the author’s attitude toward the material.  It is inferred by the reader from cues.  If one writes like they are speaking, the tone can seem vague, editorial, and may jump between ideas without ever solving anything.  In posts, our tone should not be as formal as in essays, but neither should it sound like you’re talking.  Solutions include adding supporting details, avoiding strings of generalizations, and editing.  This is where little cues like whether you bothered writing a sentence for a subject or spelled the author’s name correctly matter.  The tone in posts resembles that in these FAQs, I would say, although I’d expect more cited detail in posts.

8) Citing. . . what is that?

Citing, like when one receives a ticket, is a pointing toward.  We might get cited for jaywalking and be asked to show up in court.  Typically placed at sentence’s end, a citation points toward where you got the information.  Others own patterns of ideas and words, and even if we reword (paraphrase or summarize), we must cite.  We show credit.  The exception is for commonly-known facts or data that’s readily found in many sources.  For instance, I would not have to cite the fact that the Peach Orchard battle featured on July 2, 1863, in the Battle of Gettysburg.  If I mentioned motivations or how many Confederate casualties there were, I have crossed into an area needing citing.  Solution: Cite as you write.  If in doubt, cite.  Simple!

9) How do I cite?

Well, we don’t only cite.  Anyone can quote and move one.  We do four things in an integrated manner: Signal phrase, summarize/paraphrase/quote, cite, and interpret.  In our style, MLA, we do not include a comma or a year.  APA, another style, does feature “comma year” style.  For a book, we’d cite the author and page.  Here’s an example on a rationale for writing like this located in From Critical Thinking to Argument, for which I just provided a signal phrase: “If you survey, analyze, and evaluate comprehensively, you’ll have better and more informed ideas; you’ll generate a wide variety of ideas, each triggered by your own responses and the ideas your research brings to light” (Barnet, Bedau, Ohara 15).  What this means is that we should attend to critical thinking for the changes it will bring to our scope and ability to argue.  A research project tests all these abilities, since nobody can present a quick evaluation without proof and analysis, which is a breaking down of a whole into its parts.

–Notice what I’m doing?  I set up a quote, quoted, cited, and interpreted.  Which parts are most important?  If you stated “set up” and “interpreted,” you’re right.  If you think that the quote is the most important aspect here, then you’re still operating with that high school mindset.  Now, some disciplines (health sciences, sciences, social sciences) do allow for a really passive overuse of sources.  We don’t.  So even if you’re writing on a topic like DNA sequencing, you cannot fall into that pattern that your published sources get away with.  Awwww!  D’oh!  Solution: Ensure that well over 70% of any body paragraph comes from you.  (Since there are few straight answers in English, let me here remind everyone that summaries are all your words, but still theirs!  Summaries don’t contribute toward that 70+%!)

10) How should I view argument?

As a famous text’s title goes, Everything’s an Argument.  (Actually, that text thought it was cool and had their title as everything’s an argument.)  Argument—especially in today’s climate of disrespect and either/or thinking—is not nasty, vitriolic, or dismissive.  We basically state our opinions (often without using I) and proceed in backing those up with facts and reason.  We avoid clichés and faults in logic (fallacies) in this process, while attempting to point out easy thinking and incorrect logic in our opponents.  Academic argumentation differs from arguments out on the street, playing the dozens (no mother jokes!), writing editorials, journaling, or holding forth on social media.  Attend to the first unit carefully, since it may seem boring but is actually foundational.  Speaking foundations, argument is full of. . . words from building:

  • Foundational
  • Thesis
  • Premises
  • Abstract
  • Concrete

View your task as that of a builder.  Or you may view yourself as contributing to ongoing discussions that will not end once your paper does!

11) What are the most common routes toward failing this course?

That’s easy: Inconsistent participation, plagiarism, and failure to read.  Like those mall mirrors that show everything, it will show if you don’t read or annotate (mark up) your text.  By annotate, I don’t mean highlighting. . . that’s for tweenies!  Look over the text and mini-lecture for more on annotation.  It represents authentic interaction with texts.  Unfortunately, you live in an inauthentic, often-faked world.  It will show if you pass off others’ ideas as yours.  I’m good at finding plagiarism and rarely even need to look it over in Turnitin to spot it.  But the first is the worst: Lack of participation.  This is a challenging course because you are asked to share your ideas, not just to regurgitate others’ takes.  For this reason, we avoid notes/cheat sites.  As one comp book states, “Writing offers equal-opportunity hassle for all.”  Everything shows, so show up and don’t shown up through corner-cutting tactics.