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Sample Syllabus


Welcome to English 102: a research-focused writing class that introduces some of the strategies and tools necessary to successful writing in a range of public settings. In this course we will hone our research-writing skills by exploring the concept of discourse, which, for our purposes, simply means the unique communication practices of a given group. For our first major project, the ethnography, you’ll have the opportunity to find and study a community that interests you—a sports team, a professional or political organization, a club, support group, or community of enthusiasts. Through a combination of field work and internet research, you will investigate, describe, and analyze the communication practices of that group, with the ultimate goal of discovering how all our various and intersecting communities use discourse to advance their objectives. From there, we will move on to traditional library and archival research methodologies to complete a larger research project in which you will stake out a thoroughly-investigated, arguable position on the discourse surrounding a broad cultural trend, perhaps one related to the group you previously analyzed. Throughout the semester, as we engage in multiple types of research, analysis, and argument, we will lay a special emphasis on the ethics and best practices of finding and using information from a variety of sources.



  • USM Custom Textbook, The Academic Writer (you may rent/purchase the print text or the e-text)

  • Canvas Readings



Project One: The Discourse Community Ethnography (20%)

A brief (4-6 page) essay in which you describe and analyze the communication practices of a particular group. Your essay must include a thorough introduction of the group, an explanation of your research methods, and a nuanced analysis of how the group advances its unique goals through discourse. 


Project Two: The Research Portfolio (40%)

A significant research assignment that asks you to build on the ethnographic research you performed for project one and apply that understanding of discourse to a larger cultural trend. You will select a socio-political issue and examine the societal and cultural environment your topic operates in, with particular consideration for the interplay between the discourse surrounding the issue, and effected communities. This assignment will involve a research proposal, an annotated bibliography, and an 8-10 page research essay.

-Research Proposal

-Annotated Bibliography

-Portfolio (includes Portfolio, Annotated Bib, and Essay) 


Project Three: The Revision Portfolio: 20%

Your research paper systematically revised, as well as completion of a reflective essay, which will ask you to critically reflect on and discuss nearly every aspect of your work for this course. 


Participation and Informal Writing Projects: 20%

Participation: Your contributions to class discussions; your active involvement in collaborative assignments and peer review workshops; and completion of assigned readings and informal writing assignments. 


Informal Writing: Spread out over the semester, your discussion forum posts will help you investigate the issues of cultural identity and belonging in greater depth. Your entries will respond to course readings, prepare you for in-class discussions, and will also serve to document your research process. Discussion forum posts will be one of my primary means of assessing your preparation for class and your investment in the research process. So although these assignments are more informal in nature, please do not view them as insignificant. They constitute a substantial portion of your final grade.




For your first assignment, you will investigate a discourse community and construct an ethnographic essay based upon your investigations. Linguist John Swales defines a discourse community as a group that has the following characteristics . . . 

  1. A broadly agreed upon set of common public goals 

  2. Mechanisms of intercommunication among members 

  3. Use of these communication mechanisms to provide information
    and feedback 

  4. One or more genres that help further the goals of the dis-
    course community 

  5. A specific lexis (specialized language) 

  6. A threshold level of expert members 

You may choose to research and analyze any group that meets these criteria. Some examples may include: 

-an athletic team

-a “scene” of artists (musicians, painters, designers, actors, comedians)

-a group of educators in collaboration

-community organizers/activists

Your purpose is to practice several types of primary research in order to make a claim about the nature of the community’s work, its identity, and how it fits into the broader community. 


Getting Started

There are multiple tools you may wish to employ in constructing your ethnography:

-Field Observations/Thick Description: Observe the practices and sites of the community and provide vivid description and context for them. This will allow your audience a stronger impression of the group’s identity, ethics, goals, and methods.

-Interviews: Talk directly to a member of the group to get a more personal window into the group’s functions and ideas.

-Analyzing a Lexicon: Many discourse communities employ specialized language (a lexicon) to describe their mission, methods, and even their members. How do these lexicons contribute to their work and set them apart from other groups. You may wish to examine several terms or phrases, providing definitions and describing how they function within the group. For example, servers use the term “86,” meaning that the kitchen has run out of food items, someone has been terminated, or to signal that a customer needs to be removed; the term then has three different but similar meanings, functioning as a professional shorthand and comedic euphemism.

-Analyzing a Commonplace Object: Every community will have an artifact or set of artifacts that assist in their functions and/or symbolically represent them. Describing and analyzing this object and its symbolic relationship to the group will give you an impression of their practices and history. 


Though you do not have to employ all of these methods for your own investigation, using at least three will likely allow you to adequately describe and analyze the community you have chosen. Outside research derived from other methods may be allowed upon instructor approval.

Putting it Together

The goal of the project is to analyze multiple characteristics of that community you have chosen, and synthesize those materials in an essay that seeks to situate them within their own discourse and the larger discourse of our social fabric. What serves as the historical foundation for this community? What drives these participants to take part in this community? What particular vocabulary do members share? What sites, objects, and/or practices prove useful to them or represent their identity as a collective? What ethics do they embody and how do they enact them in the community writ large? These are all questions you may find useful to get you started.

The essay should observe MLA formatting conventions: double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt. font. The interview and any other outside research aside from your own investigations should be cited both in-text and on a Works Cited page.



Length: min 1,200 words (4-6 pages)

Format: MLA (see Canvas sample essay). Note that the interview and any other outside research aside from your own investigations should be cited both in-text and on a Works Cited page.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Contains a clear and bold position (your thesis statement) 
  • Contains coherent topic sentences

  • Presents evidence that clearly supports the thesis statement

  • Integrates sources smoothly and cites them correctly

  • Demonstrates effort (word count, correct formatting, and careful proofreading)






We have spent the first part of our semester reading and researching about communities and discourse. These are broad concepts, and they encompass an infinite number of potential research topics. For your major project for this course, I am asking you to think more deeply about communities such as the ones we researched and analyzed in unit one. Now I would like you to consider how a given community fits into a broader social and cultural context, and how it uses discourse to define itself. For example, you may wish to continue researching organic grocery stores; now you will need to perform additional secondary research to argue how these markets fit into broader cultural debates such as food justice and urban gentrification. We will continue to use the analytical, research, and writing skills we acquired in project one to write an 8-10 page research essay. You have significant freedom in choosing your topic, but your project should:

  • develop a persuasive focus/thesis and then support that focus by offering specific examples and details along with relevant, scholarly research;

  • attempt to persuade a specific audience, who may or may not agree with you, to accept (if not agree with) your perspectives; and

  • synthesize a minimum of six sources to offer an in-depth discussion of the topic you are investigating.

In order to reinforce writing as a process, this assignment includes three components and will be completed in stages: 1) a research proposal; 2) an annotated bibliography; 3) a completed research essay draft; and 4) a revised research essay with your final portfolio.

Putting it Together: While it will still be necessary to establish a clear focus statement towards the beginning of your essay, keep in mind that research writing is a journey that begins with questions. Your inquiries and research should lead you to a strong organization that helps persuade others of your claim. Follow MLA documentation style for format, parenthetical citations, and your works cited page, and keep in mind the following conventions:

  1. use at least six outside sources. No source may be more than 15 years old without permission. Remember that there are effective ways to use Wikipedia, but it is not generally considered a credible source;  
  2. attribute (give the source of your information, including the exact page if there is a stable page number) all words or statements that are not common knowledge. A citation must give the answer every time a reader might ask, “Where did you learn that?”;

  3. in addition to quotations, some of your text will be summarized and paraphrased. Summarized and paraphrased information must be cited as well.



Length: min 2,000 words (8-10 pages)

Format: MLA (see Canvas sample essay). 


Your last major project is to prepare and submit a final portfolio that showcases what you’ve learned this semester. One of the underlying assumptions of this course has been that writing is a complex process that takes significant time, energy, and thought. This project gives you more time with your writings for this class, allowing you the opportunity to revisit the essays, make them the best they can be, and submit work that shows your growth as a writer.


Getting Started: The purpose of this final portfolio is not only to reflect on all that you have learned over the semester, but also to document your improvement and to show that you have successfully met all of the expectations outlined in the syllabus. You will want to keep in mind that your ultimate goal is not only to produce the best final documents that you can, but also to demonstrate that you have met most, if not all, of the learning outcomes specified for this course. As a reminder, our learning outcomes for this class are below: 


  • Develop, practice, and reflect on reading, writing, and research processes in response to a number of rhetorical situations;

  • Engage and interact with texts and perspectives rhetorically in order to learn and practice the academic “moves” for making and supporting different kinds of arguments, including how to use a range of evidence to support claims;

  • Ask effective questions and conduct focused research using a range of resources, including the library catalog and databases of scholarly articles;

  • Recognize, evaluate, and reflect on the various types of research methods and sources, including primary research methods, that inform effective researched writing;

  • Assemble a set of appropriate sources relevant to the issue being investigated and acknowledge clearly when and how the ideas and phrasings from these sources are used;

  • Demonstrate authority, focus, development, source engagement, and English language use appropriate to varied contexts and audiences.

  • Assess one’s own writing and the writing of others for effectiveness within specific rhetorical contexts and give and act on feedback through flexible revision strategies.


Reflection Essay: Your reflection essay is about providing evidence to show that you have met the outcomes of the course. Part of this will be evident in your discussions of your revisions. The other aspect of the essay will involve you using your own writing and experiences to explain how you have met the outcomes of our course. You must discuss at least four of the learning outcomes for our class and elaborate in detail about how and why you believe you’ve met those outcomes. In other words, this introductory essay needs to make an argument regarding your writing and learning outcomes, using your revisions and work for this course as evidence to back up your claims. At minimum, this reflection essay will need to be four pages long to address all of these factors.


Strategic Revision: Keep in mind that the term “revision” literally means “to see again.” You’ll want to put a lot of thought into revising your position essay, and you’ll want this revision to demonstrate that you have made improvement in your writing and thinking in this course. Indeed, perhaps the worst mistake someone can make on a project like this would be to submit a paper largely unchanged from its original form. I want you to re-engage the material of the course with a new perspective. This revision should represent your best attempts to “re-see” the piece and to show your improvement.


Edited and Polished Draft: There is a big difference between revising and editing. Editing your research essay will require you to do sentence-level revisions that lead to a cleaner and more polished product. You should expect to spend one to two hours on this draft. Read it aloud and work to create a stronger and more refined product. 


Putting It Together: Your final portfolio will be the last thing I read before giving you a final grade in this course, so you will want to make sure that it reflects your best efforts in all ways. At a minimum, your portfolio must contain the following: 


  1. Strategic revision of either ethnography or research essay

  2. Edited and polished revision of your other major essay

  3. Reflection essay that explains in detail why you believe your readings and compositions this semester (from the research paper to your various discussion forum posts to your informal writings and readings) meet the learning outcomes of our course.


Scoring Criteria:

  • Demonstrates substantive revision of the material
  • Expresses understanding of and engagement with concepts from our course, specifically the course learning outcomes

  • Makes an argument for the writer’s growth throughout the semester

  • Demonstrates effort (word count, correct formatting, and careful proofreading)


You are to combine your essays into one complete document. 

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