Introduction to Academic Discourse

Course Description

Enrolling in college means becoming a member of a new community, the academic community, and so the goals of this course are to initiate students into this new community by showing them how to participate in it. Since participation takes place mainly through discussion and writing, the course introduces students to genres of academic writing, as well as the process of scholarly debate and conversation known as academic discourse.


The heart of the academic enterprise is research and the sharing of information and ideas. Therefore, to practice participating in academic discourse students will read dissertations and journal articles, consult with librarians, meet graduate students, learn how to participate in research as an undergraduate, attend symposiums, sit in during conference presentations and of course, write their own research paper.


A series of scaffolded assignments walk students through the process of research: from the initial stage of inquiry, to examining the historical context of their topic, to the formation of a thesis, to the crafting of a thesis-driven research paper, and finally to the presentation of their findings to an audience.

Required Texts

1.  They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff &

     Cathy Birkenstein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
2.  Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues

     from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M.

     Conway. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011.


The assignment trajectory guides students through the process of library research, thesis development, writing an academic essay, and presenting their findings to the public in the form of a conference presentation. Attention is given to emperical research methods, the process of peer review, and logical argumentation.


1.  Topic Selection - students choose a topic based upon their interests or major.

2.  Annotated Bibliography - students assemble the existing relevant scholarship on

      their topic

3.  Bibliographic Essay - students draw conclusions about how the scholarly debate

      surrounding their topic has changed over time

4.  Thesis Development - based upon conclusions drawn from their reserach,   

      students develop an arguable thesis.

5.  Aristotelean Essay - students write a thesis-driven argumentative essay supported

      by relevant scholarship

6.  Conference Presentation - students develop and give a 20-minute multi-media

      presentation about their findings and conclusions.

Course Calendar

Week 1 – The Process of Writing

welcome & ice-breakers

class introduction & syllabus review

what is a university? what goes on here?

writing is thinking (Lev Vygotsky theory)


writing is revision / shitty first drafts / writing is an act of discovery

inventing the university


Week 2 – What is Science, Scholarship, and Academic Discourse

syllabus quiz

what is a research university? what goes on here? who are academics?

academic discourse (what is) vs. public discourse (what should be)

what is academic freedom?

science vs. pseudoscience

a canon of methods

what is an academic journal?

review: intellectual autobiography assignment


Week 3 – What is Science, Scholarship, and Academic Discourse, part 2

paradigms, theories, hypotheses

what is empiricism and empirical evidence?

what is evidence? what is a text? It depends on the discipline

homework: read an compare an academic article with a popular press article

due: intellectual autobiography assignment


Week 4 – Finding a Research Topic

conferences with instructor

review: the annotated bibliography genre

discussion: the purpose of literature reviews

citation styles: MLA vs. APA

paraphrasing vs. summarizing vs. quoting

due: research topic proposals

workshop research ideas


Week 5 – How to Conduct Academic Research (in the library)

visit library, meet librarians

how to search for books on the shelves and identify appropriate sources

introduction to academic databases

homework: paraphrasing practice


Week 6 – Evaluating Sources

primary vs. secondary vs. tertiary sources

peer review and academic journals

in-class exercise: evaluating sources used by previous students

in-class exercise: evaluating the credibility of websites

Google’s ranking method and its problems

due: annotated bibliography 1st draft


Week 7 – The Merchants of Doubt

have finished reading The Merchants of Doubt

discussion of conclusions we can draw from The Merchants of Doubt

retype the first chapter of The Merchants of Doubt

read Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing

due:  annotated bibliography 2nd draft


Week 8 – The Bibliographic Essay

review of the bibliography essay genre

MLA formatting of essays

identifying how ideas change over time

how texts are “talking” to each other

expository vs. argumentative essays

informational vs. argumentative thesis


Week 9 – Self-Editing and Revision

integrating evidence, in-text citations

avoiding vague statements and fluff

details, details, details

due: bibliographic essay 1st draft


Week 10 – Self-Editing and Revision, part 2

junk words, passive voice, and other problems

topic sentences & transitions

in-class workshop of sample bibliographic essays

due: bibliographic essay 2nd draft


Week 11 – The Thesis-Driven Research Paper

the Aristotelian essay genre & format

thesis development exercise

workshop of sample thesis statements

due: thesis statement proposal

workshop of thesis proposals


Week 12 – Logical Fallacies

what is a logical fallacy?

in-class exercise: identifying logical fallacies in sample essays

due: thesis-driven research paper 1st draft


Week 13 – Workshop of Sample Essays


Week 14 – Workshop of Sample Essays

due: thesis-driven research paper 2nd draft


Week 15 – Conclusion

end of semester self-assessment

instructor evaluations


Week 16

exam week—no class!

due: final portfolios (annotated bibliography, bibliographic essay, research paper)