English R1B

Reading and Composition: Bad Writing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
21 Spring 2013 Mansouri, Leila
TTh 5-6:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Hacker, Diana: Rules for Writers, 7th Edition; Smith, Zadie: White Teeth; Twain, Mark: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Case Studies in Critical Controversy)

Other Readings and Media

Essays and short stories by David Foster Wallace, Henry James, William Dean Howells, Peter Ho Davies, James Wood, and others.


This course asks students to become better writers by thinking – and writing – about why we call certain kinds of writing “bad” and other kinds “good.” Specifically, we’ll ask what writers, critics, and, yes, teachers have stood to gain by labeling certain styles of writing and certain writers as “bad,” and we’ll discuss why some authors have welcomed, even courted, the label. Along the way we’ll read two popular novels that have attracted more than their share of critics’ and readers’ ire – Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth – and we’ll talk about banned books, grammar SNOOTs, what makes “good” fiction, and why Nathaniel Hawthorne was so concerned that the America of his day was “wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women.” Your own research on what authors, critics, and readers have had to say about “bad writing” will become increasingly central to the class as the semester progresses, helping us to build an account of how definitions of “bad writing” have changed over time and continue to change even in the present day.

The point of all this is, of course, to make ourselves better writers even as we think more critically – and perhaps become a bit more circumspect – about just what, exactly, good writing and bad writing are. To that end, over the course of the semester a series of essay assignments culminating in a substantial research paper will ask you to develop your analytical and research skills. The peer-review and revision process for each essay will help you learn to fully develop your ideas in writing, to sharpen your prose, and, most importantly, to engage and persuade your audience.

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