- My Three Cs
Recently Leah Vetne, a former student of mine now doing graduate work and teaching composition at Central Michigan University, suggested that I review Rise Axelrod and Charles Cooper's Concise Guide to Writing(2002). Intrigued by her enthusiasm (see her review in this roundtable), I agreed to spend a few hours evaluating the text.
Before I offer a few brief comments about Axelrod and Cooper's Concise Guide to Writing, I should explain that the longer I teach freshman English composition classes, the more careful I am in selecting a rhetoric that parallels my own objectives for my writing classes. I am not sure the Concise Guideis one of those texts. I note (and I suspect students would notice this as well) a repetitive sameness from one chapter to another thanks to the uniform [End Page 539]structure of each writing lesson. Each assignment generally employs some variation of the Aristotelian topical questions variously adapted to fit the demands of each assignment. The predictability of the invention strategies for each assignment may bore some students who could easily manage a more challenging text. Once they have worked their way through the first writing assignment, students may find little to surprise or intrigue them beyond the variation in the writing assignments themselves. From a strictly stylistic perspective, this reputation is also present in the boilerplate text that Axelrod and Cooper occasionally use for parts of each lesson. The authors regularly lift text from one chapter and reproduce it verbatim in subsequent chapters where relevant, incorporating only minor changes in wording.
As a consequence of this uniformity, the writing model Axelrod and Cooper present has a distinctly prescriptive, formulaic, "do-this-and-you'll-have-a-paper" quality about it. Moreover, the writing model suggested by the text is somewhat less helpful in dealing with writer's block than it might be. The authors suggest that when students find themselves stuck they should return to their invention notes or do more research. While it is possible, even likely, that by returning to their original prewriting or heading to the library to do more reading, students may find ideas they didn't notice on the first round, it is equally likely that a different invention strategy could prove equally valuable. However, the authors do not appear to mention this. As a result, Axelrod and Cooper seem to miss an opportunity to introduce students to, and give them a chance to practice, the wide range of heuristic strategies they discuss in part 2 of the Concise Guide.
An additional weakness of this text comes, predictably, with the sample essays Axelrod and Cooper include in each writing lesson. One in three essays is written by a student, but the remaining essays, all written by professional writers, reflect a variety of accomplished styles that student writers may find inaccessible. This problem is typical of many rhetorics where sample essays are frequently written by professional writers rather than students whose style is more characteristic of the sort of writing students are likely to produce. While professional writers may demonstrate the features students might include in their own writing, student writers may, in fact, inspire more confidence. Axelrod and Cooper do provide student examples in their companion text, Sticks and Stones(Barkley, Axelrod, and Cooper 2004), but this requires students to go to the extra expense of purchasing another text.
Although I don't find the text sufficiently innovative to adopt, it does have numerous strengths. This slimmer version of The St. Martin's Guide to Writingpossesses an edge that was less apparent in the longer version. In its [End Page 540]abbreviated form, the Concise Guideemphasizes the social nature of writing and focuses on its real strength, its emphasis on the reading/writing relationship. Axelrod and Cooper "see a close relationship between the ability to read critically and the ability to write intelligently" (vii).
The influence of this relationship is apparent on several levels. For each writing lesson, Axelrod and Cooper encourage student writers...