Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 1KD: The Feature Article: Writing and Change

Main content start

In the past five years the world has seen big changes—and perhaps even bigger changes to come. Current headlines include Saudi Arabia, mid-term US elections, the climate report, pipe bombs and the caravan at the border—not to mention ongoing other major economic, environmental, and energy issues.

How do writers manage such topics? What does it mean to write from "within" a historical moment of great possible change? Who is the intended audience and how is the world of the topic rendered? Your first work will be to assess the specific strategies various professional writers use craft to engage, position, and probe these issues. We will read feature articles—full-length, researched, argumentative pieces—from The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper's, and The New Yorker. You will analyze their craft and apply these lessons to your own “journalistic” research project on a pressing current event of interest to you.

For example, you might see the need to respond to Michael Specter’s New Yorker argument that global warming ultimately requires an economic, as opposed to a moral or scientific, solution. You’ll conduct preliminary research to narrow your focus—perhaps carbon credits and their viability. Then you’ll dive into a first phase of research in the texts in conversation essay to write a popular article for a real magazine. Lastly, you’ll adapt your article for an academic audience to create a vital, engaging, and nuanced written research argument based on your new skills. Ultimately, the journalistic practices of your writing/research project will give you hands-on, everyday writing practices that can develop your overall strength as a writer.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) In this essay, you will analyze the rhetoric of one of the four feature articles. For example, you might explore how Harper’s writer Lauren Slater uses herself as a stand-in for the reader in order to move the reader from initial disgust to serious contemplation of a surgeon who wants to give people wings in her article, “Dr. Daedalus.”

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) Using a popular article format for this assignment, you will use at least five main sources to position your topic as an ongoing and multifaceted discussion of the issues. This essay, based on the topic of your choice for your research project, will represent its first phase in which you experiment with a range of rhetorical strategies. For example, you might choose to present in a New Yorker style the various positions staked out on home-care versus institutionalization for a mentally ill family member.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) This essay should integrate a variety of complex sources (primary and secondary, print and non-print) in making a sophisticated and compelling argument about a topic of significance. As you shift genres from popular article to research-based academic argument, you will make your own informed choices about refining the voice, structure, and detail for an academic audience. Past topics include: music therapy; Supreme Court power; climate change rhetoric.

Additional Notes: At the end of the course, you’ll compose a 2-3 page Portfolio Cover Letter in which you reflect on your own development as a writer over the quarter. The letter should include significant details of how your thinking as a writer has changed since Day 1 and refer specifically to assignments, essays, process, experiments, successes, and failures.