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Is it time to Assess Our Claims about Good Writing?
Jeff Galin

In 1985, William Coles and James Vopat published the college composition textbook, What Makes Writing Good: A Multiple Perspective.  They asked the forty eight contributors to submit: 1) a piece of college student writing (no more than 1000 words) that represented "excellence, however flawed or unfinished . . ."; 2) the assignment on which the paper was based; and 3) a commentary from the teacher (of no more than 1500 words) explaining why he or she valued that paper. The purpose of their book was to demonstrate "that excellence in writing can come in many forms and genres and can be understood as praiseworthy from various points of view." They posit further that what one expert values as excellent writing, another may judge as mediocre, thus dramatizing that "no judgments about writing can be taken as final or absolute" (viii).

I am intrigued once again by the project Coles and Vopat developed as I think about the recent explosion of hypertext and other CMC work in relation to writing courses at the college level. I wonder what such a textbook would look like these days, what student texts would be chosen, what commentary would be written, and what assumptions about good writing would be revealed. I wonder also if computer technologies favor certain pedagogical assumptions over others. Some claim that synchronous writing in MOOs, MUDs, IRC, Interchange, and other forms of chat programs facilitate a Peter Elbow-like, teacherless approach to writing, which encourages authentic writing tasks for authentic audiences. Others claim that hypertextual writing challenges notions of authorship, promotes collaborative work, and promotes critical and associative thinking which emphasize cognitive skills. Still others argue vehemently that technology has no place in the writing classroom, that it gets in the way of the real work of the class. What values really underlie such claims? What kinds of writing are produced? What assumptions are being made?

I wonder if anyone else would be interested in examining current assumptions about what makes college writing good using the Coles and Vopat method. But rather than developing a text for use primarily in the composition classroom, this project would become a web for us to examine the discipline of composition. Any takers?

Work Cited

Coles, William E. Jr. and James Vopat. What Makes Writing Good: A Multiperspective.

D.C. Heath: Lexington, 1985.

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    Kairos 7.3
    vol. 1 Iss. 1 Spring 1996