Thursday April 23
Conferences next week (Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday). In preparation for your conference, please compose a two-page reflective commentary on the work you have completed in the course. The subject of this reflective essay is what you consider to be important things that you have learned about language and style this semester as demonstrated in the writing on your blog. Post the reflective essay on the “Exercises” page of your blog before your conference.

For next time:

• Pinker Chapter 6 “Telling Right from Wrong” (263-304) (Brittany and Anna)

Week 15 April 26-May 2

Tuesday: Pinker on Right and Wrong

Thursday: no class: conferences

Week 16 May 3-9

Finals Week (no class)


(Weeks 1-5)

Week 1 January 18-24

Tuesday January 20 Introduction to the Course

For next time:

  • Post a paragraph or excerpt from a writer whose style you admire and a paragraph that appears to you to have very ineffective or poor style
  • Read Style and Difference, “Style, Situation, and Difference,” (1-7) “Style” (9-13), Read “Writers on Style” in Style and Difference 263-272
  •  Post a brief answer to question 18 on page 273 of Style and Difference

Thursday January 22 What is Style?

For next time:

  • Read “The Period” from A Dash of Style (21-40) and “End with Periods, Etc.” from Style and Difference (192-198)
  • Answer the last question on page 43 in A Dash of Style (it asks you to use the principles you’ve just learned and apply them to one page of something you have written—either a creative piece or an academic paper.) Post the original and the revised version on your blog
  • Read a selection of newspaper editorials, op-ed pieces, or blog postings and think about these forms of writing

Week 2 January 25-31

Tuesday January 27: The Period

For next time:

  • Read “Vary Your Sentences” and “Vary Your Sentences—Again” in Style and Difference (24-43)
  • Find something you have written and analyze one page for sentence variety. How many different kinds of sentence styles do you see, or are they mostly subject/verb/object? You don’t need to revise—just analyze
  • Read “The Comma: The Speed Bump” from A Dash of Style (44-68) and “Punctuation and Style” and “Control your Commas” from Style and Difference (181-191)
  • Do the exercise under “Practice” on page 191 in Style and Difference and post on your blog

Thursday January 29: Varying Sentence Structure

For next time:

  • Read “The Semicolon” from A Dash of Style (69-86) and “Separate with Semicolons” from Style and Difference (208-211)
  • Using a page of your own writing, choose one of the exercises on pages 85-86 in A Dash of Style and complete it and post the assignment prompt and the result on your blog

Week 3 February 1-7

Tuesday February 3: The Semicolon

For next time:

  • Read “The Colon: The Magician” from A Dash of Style (91-110) and “Point with Colons” from Style and Difference (204-207)
  • Do the exercise on page 109-10 in A Dash of Style and post on your blog. Write a brief reflection on your experiments with the colon. What have you learned by doing these exercises?
  • Complete the review of the blog posts we began in class and send an e-mail to before Thursday’s class with a list of 5-10 qualities of writing you think is working. Please provide specific examples from the class blogs.

Thursday February 5: The Colon

For next time:

  • Read “The Dash and Parentheses” from A Dash of Style (111-138) and “Dash with Dashes” from Style and Difference (199-203)
  • Do the exercise on page 202-203 in Style and Difference and post on your blog

Week 4 February 8-14         

Tuesday February 10: The Dash (and the Parentheses)

For next time:

  • Read “The Paragraph and Section Breaks” from A Dash of Style (159-180)
  • Locate, on your own, a poem you find interesting and discuss the choices the author made regarding the stanza breaks. What is the effect of the stanza breaks in particular places in the poem? How might this principle be applied to your own writing, even if you are not writing poetry?

Thursday February 12: Paragraphs and Section Breaks

Week 5 February 15-21                   

For next time:

  • Read “Make Your Point with Emphasis and Rhythm” from Style and Difference
  • Locate a piece of writing (either by a published writer or yourself) and, using Gorrell’s ideas in this chapter, discuss how emphasis and rhythm is achieved (or, if it is not, show how it could be.) Post the example and your discussion on your blog.

Tuesday February 17: Emphasis and Rhythm

For next time:

  • Read both “Modify with Style” and “Connect your Thoughts Coherently” from Style and Difference (60-75)
  • Do the exercise on pages 74-75 and post the results on your blog

Thursday February 19: Connections and Coherence

For next time:

Read pages 38-40 and 146-47 and the entry in the Glossary on page 314 in Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the Twenty-First Century

Week 6 February 22-28    

Tuesday February 24: More on Metadiscourse

Pages 38-40 and 146-47 and the entry in the Glossary on page 314 in Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the Twenty-First Century

For next time:

  • Read “Be Concise” in Style and Difference (76-84)
  • Take a page from something you wrote or are currently writing and apply the principles of conciseness to it and post the results on your blog with a brief commentary about the changes you have made and why

Thursday February 26: Conciseness

For next time:

  • Read Part Four, “A Few Good Rules” in Style and Difference (225-261)
  • Post on the “Exercises” page of your blog three examples of public writing (published writing, online writing, signs, etc.) that violate these rules/principles. If you have trouble with this assignment, read the chapter “Break the Rules” (154-59) and browse the chapters that follow in Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle for useful examples of rule breaking.
  • Read Noah Lukeman “The Question Mark, Exclamation Point, Italics, Points of Ellipsis, and the Hyphen” in A Dash of Style (183-191).

Week 7 March 1-7

Assignment for Tuesday March 3

  • Read Part Four, “A Few Good Rules” in Style and Difference (225-261) and then read the chapter “Break the Rules” (154-59) in Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle. (Also, take a look at the chapters that follow for examples of rule breaking)
  • Post on the “Exercises” page of your blog an example of published writing (print or web, signs, etc.) that violates one or more of these rules/principles
  • Read Noah Lukeman “The Question Mark, Exclamation Point, Italics, Points of Ellipsis, and the Hyphen” in A Dash of Style (183-191)               

Tuesday March 3: What Not to Do: Dealing with Error

For next time:

  • Read “Why Sentences,” “Why you Won’t Find the Answer in Strunk and White,” It’s Not the Thought that Counts,” and “What is a Good Sentence” (chapters 1-4) in Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence, And How to Read One. Come to class with two or three questions or comments (or “things you have learned”)
  • Find a sentence that you consider to be “good” or “effective” (or “amazing,” whatever term suits you). Then post on your “Exercises” page a description of how to read and appreciate what the sentence is doing. You will be writing a few of these, and so I recommend that you have a look at how Fish does this kind of descriptive analysis. For example, look at his writing on pages 90-97. We can learn from Fish, too, about the vocabulary we can develop to do this kind of work. Learning to read sentences as “performances” is difficult to do at first; but you will get the hang of it and, I hope, learn to enjoy this kind of reading

Sign up for a 15 minute conference next week with Mark. We will discuss your writing in the course thus far, I will provide an assessment of your work to date, and we will talk about your reading, thinking and writing in the second half of the course. Your conference must be completed by Friday March 14 to receive credit

Thursday March 5Why Sentences?

For next time:

  • Read Fish “The Subordinating Style” (45-60) and “The Additive Style” (61-88). As I say above, attend to (and learn from) how Fish sees and describes these sentences
  • Choose a sentence you admire that exemplifies the subordinating style. Write your own 300-500 word descriptive analysis of the sentence
  • Choose a sentence you admire that exemplifies the additive style. Write a 300-500 word descriptive analysis of the sentence

Your sentences may be chosen from anywhere, though as Fish suggests, many of the best sentences come from literature. So you might select your sentences from writers who know what they are doing and books that know what they are about. Perhaps something you have read in a class this semester or in another class or on your own? Attend to how Fish looks at a sentence, what he sees, and the delight he takes in describing, with the most precision he can muster, what the sentence is doing. Your job as a writer is to do the same. Post these two essays on the “Exercises” page of your blog

Week 8 March 8-14                        

No class sessions this week: We will be meeting in my office, 206 Parker Hall, for individual conferences throughout the week. The conference is my opportunity to give you more specific feedback on your writing and on how you are doing in the course. The conference is also an opportunity for you to talk with me about what you have learned in the course and what you hope to learn in the weeks following spring break.

The exercises due this week will help you build sentences using subordination and coordination. They need to be completed before your conference to receive credit. We will talk about these two chapters in Fish (Chapter Five: The Subordinating Style and Chapter Six: The Additive Style) when we return from spring break.

Week 9 March 15-21

No classes: Spring Break

Week 10 March 22-28

For Tuesday’s class, read Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle The Art of Writing Little, 1-31 and 32-65. You will also be completing a blog post for his week. Because we are returning from Spring Break, the post for week 10 is due on Friday.

Tuesday March 24: An Introduction to Microstyle

For next time:

• Write a brief and engaging essay organized around the arguments by Johnson and Fish. You can approach this essay in many ways, Some of the questions that you might pursue begin with Johnson’s case in his introduction that we read (and write) differently than we used to. Do you agree? If so, how does what he say change how we write? What do you think of the distinction between “Big Style” and “microstyle?” Do you think that most people need more instruction in “microstyle?” Why/why not? Consider Johnson’s argument in relationship to Stanley Fish’s case for attending to sentences in his book. What do you think about Fish’s approach to the sentence? This essay will be your blog post for week 11, so post it, with a title, on the main page of your blog.

Thursday March 26: no class (Mark is out of town)

For next time:

• Read Microstyle 66-89 and 160-178
• Write three “six-word stories” using the advice Johnson gives in this section. Post the stories on your blog

Week 11 March 29-April 4

For next time:

• Read Microstyle 66-89 and 160-178
• Write three “six-word stories” using the advice Johnson gives in this section. Post the stories on your blog

Tuesday March 31: Big Style and Microstyle

For next time:

  • Read 90-159 in Microstyle. Bring discoveries and questions regarding figures of speech (metaphor, metonymy, and so on) as well as patterns of sound (rhythm, etc.).

Thursday April 2: The Art of Writing Little: aphorisms, proverbs, adages, dictums, apothegms, sententia, maxims

Weeks 12-15

During weeks 12, 13, 14 we will be using Steven Pinker’s book to anchor our continuing discussions of language and style. We have been practicing forms and talking about the choices we make to create sentences all semester. I look forward to each of you carrying the discussion of each chapter of the book. To this end, in addition to your weekly blog posts , each of you is a part of a small group responsible for sharing what you have learned (and what you consider to be important) in the chapters in Pinker’s book. (See small group assignments below.) Please do not prepare a presentation. Rather the idea is for you to lead a discussion of the chapter. You might consider a handout or a series of page numbers and passages and/or examples to structure our class session

You will also be using Pinker’s writing as the context for your weekly blog postings. As a psycholinguist and cognitive scientist, Pinker raises fascinating questions that offer a writer many points of departure for an essay on style. During weeks 12-14 you will be working only on one blog post each week (no exercises) for a total of four additional essays on style.

Week 12 April 5-11

Reading for Tuesday April 7th:

• Read “The Prologue” (1-11) and Chapter 1 “Good Writing” (11-26) in Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the Twenty-First Century

Tuesday April 7: Steven Pinker’s Sense of Style

For next time:

• Read Pinker Chapter Two “A Window into the World” (27-56) (Sam) and “The Curse of Knowledge” (57-76) (Amiele and Jillian)

Thursday April 9: Classic Style, The Curse of Knowledge, and the Problem of Audience

Week 13 April 12-18                       

Monday April 13 Optional lecture

Bethany Keeley-Jonker, author of The Book of Unnecessary Quotation Marks: A Celebration of Creative Punctuation (Chronicle, 2010) will present “Blogging as Hobby, Business and Social Action in a Changing Media Environment” 4:00 PM in Morrison 204

Tuesday April 14 Class visit by Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Today we welcome a guest to our class, Bethany Keeley-Jonker, assistant professor of Communication Arts at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, who will talk about writing and writing blogs. Professor Keeley-Jonker is the author of The Book of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks: A Celebration of Creative Punctuation (Chronicle, 2010) and maintains the delightful “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks 

For next time:
• Read Pinker Chapter Four “The Web, The Tree, and the String” (76-138) (Nick, Kelsi, Beaufort)

Thursday April 16 Syntax (again): Webs, Strings, and Trees

For next time:
• Read Pinker Chapter Five “Arcs of Coherence” (139-86) (Marc, Alex, Mitch)

Week 14 April 19-25  

Tuesday April 21 How to move from one place to another

For next time:
• Pinker Chapter 6 “Telling Right from Wrong” (187-262) (Morgan, Julia, Jessica S)