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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI's Writing Program pens new academic chapter

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Part of a national trend to create independent programs

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 4, 2004-- While college writing programs have been historically placed in English Departments and sound like they are in the same family, they are becoming as different as second cousins, twice removed.
With that in mind, the University of Rhode Island's College Writing Program has separated from the Department of English and has become an independent academic unit.

URI is in the forefront of a growing national trend of colleges and universities that recognize writing and English as distinct disciplines. While writing is the process of producing text, English is the study of literature and culture.

Separation makes sense. Since it was placed in the English Department in 1979, URI's College Writing Program has grown and evolved. Charged with delivering quality writing instruction to students in all disciplines, the program reflects the growth of the academic discipline of rhetoric and composition. Writing faculty now attend different professional meetings and conferences, read different journals, and employ different research methods than their Department of English colleagues.

In addition to teaching writing each semester to 1,500 students, primarily freshmen, the writing faculty teach 19 different courses, most of which can be applied to the undergraduate writing minor. Future plans include a major in professional writing. Writing faculty also teach graduate students pursuing a specialization in rhetoric and composition, an option in the graduate degree programs from the Department of English.

Graduate students interested in rhetoric and composition study writers and the choices they make. "Composition can be likened to composing music. Students have to find a theme and hear its notes to be successful," says Nedra Reynolds, director of the writing program. "Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and requires knowing how language works for different audiences."

Next fall, URI's general Writing 101 course will be replaced by three different courses, another sign of change in the discipline. Students can choose "Writing to Inform and Explain" to learn various strategies of expository writing for different audiences and situations such as reports, proposals, letters, reviews, and web sites.

Another course, "Forms of College Writing" helps students practice writing papers assigned in introductory courses that may include summaries, syntheses, reaction papers, text analysis, and documented thesis-support papers.

The third course, "Writing from Field, Print, and Electronic Sources," helps students locate and integrate various sources into their papers. This may include interviews, surveys, reference databases searches, and traditional library research.

URI's College Writing Program, now located on the third floor of Roosevelt Hall, also supports the Writing Center headed by Libby Miles, assistant professor in the program, and located on the fourth floor of Roosevelt. The Writing Center helps students from all disciplines, at all stages of writing, and at all levels.