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Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 1

focus, cohesion, emphasis, variety

Benjamin Miller EngCmp 1510, Class Number 27658
email: Fall 2015, TuTh 11:00am-12:15pm
office: Cathedral of Learning 617-N class location: CL 221
office hours: TuTh 2:30-3:30pm, W 1-3:30pm, or by appointment

Our course website:
All this information and more is posted there. Please sign up as soon as you can!

Table of Contents

I. Course Description
II. Required Textbooks
III. Course Outcomes and Responsibilities
IV. Welcome Letter
V. Avoiding Plagiarism
VI. Available Resources at Pitt
The Writing Center
Special Assistance
VII. Class-by-Class Schedule
VIII. Grading Contract
For B Grades
For Grades Below a B
For Grades Above a B

Do you feel the force of great writing, but worry that you can’t control it? Have you wondered
about your commas, then just shrugged it off and guessed? Through a focus on the moving parts
of the sentence – where and why to expand or contract, to elaborate in place or to accumulate in
series – students in this course will learn to build coherence and shift emphasis in their writing.
Exercises in imitation and variation, derived in part from readings by acclaimed prose stylists,
will alternate with more extended writing and revision to allow sentence-level insights to scale
up to paragraphs, sections, and beyond.
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 2

Please obtain the following textbook, which has been ordered at the University Bookstore:

Bacon, Nora. The Well-Crafted Sentence: A Writer’s Guide to Style. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martins, 2013. Print.

Because writing is in some ways defined by its “all-at-onceness,” meaning that questions about
one aspect will lead frequently questions about some other aspect – and because the book weighs
so little and takes up little space – please bring it with you to every class meeting.

If you don't have a thorough, comprehensive dictionary for use off-line, I recommend Merriam-
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. And for greater historical depth, the Pitt Libraries provide online
access to the fun and inexhaustible Oxford English Dictionary. (See links to Library Databases at
the bottom of the left-side navigation bar of the website.)

In addition, I recommend but do not require the following:

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Pocket Style Manual. 7th edition. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2014. Print.
A light-weight and easy-to-use style guide, PSM contains advice and guidelines for sentence
construction and grammar, as well as extensive references for citation and documentation
standards in several academic fields. I used to require this, but in light of, Zotero bibliographic software, and other digital tools, I’m trying to go
without. Still, PSM is well-organized, decently comprehensive, and slim: a great resource when
you just want quick and reliable answers to standard questions.

Bishop, Wendy, ed. Acts of Revision: A Guide for Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook
Heinemann, 2004. Print.
Bishop, a long-time champion of connecting creative writing with academic writing, assembles
here a collection of essays both practical and theoretical (often at the same time) on revision –
which is to say, on writing. I will doubtless be distributing at least one of these essays during the
semester, but all are worthwhile.

You will be responsible for locating, printing (if online), and reading a small number additional
texts as they become relevant. I and Pitt’s reference librarians will happily assist you in this

Finally, you will be responsible for printing and providing multiple copies of your own original
compositions on days when it will be workshopped: 20 copies once in the semester, then 3-4
copies somewhat more often for small-group workshops after spring break.
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 3


Students in this course will:
 write frequently, building a habit of reading and writing as reciprocal activities;
 use a variety of sentence structures to revise for emphasis, coherence, and grace;
 respond orally and in writing to the ideas and structures in their peers’ texts;
 revise in response to their own reflections and feedback from peers and the teacher;
 distinguish between the content and structure of sentences and larger textual units, even
while they recognize that structure shapes our perception of content;
 develop fluency in online composing through participation in the course wiki website;
 complete a portfolio containing, at a minimum, three shaped pieces, one set of drafts, and
an introductory reflection.

As the teacher in this course, I will:
 respond orally and in writing to the ideas and structures in students’ texts;
 provide a large number of exercises for generating text, re-chunking how texts are
perceived, and revising texts;
 discuss with students rationales for what each exercise is designed to do, and why it
ought to work;
 encourage students to retry earlier exercises in later contexts, to support the development
of mastery;
 encourage fluency in online composing practices by providing instruction in the use of
the course wiki website;
 structure in-class time, including time spent working in small peer groups, so there is
meaningful work to be done (even if we finish early or run out of time);
 build in flexibility to per-class and semester-long schedules, recognizing that the
complexity of writing means insights and lessons do not follow a linear order of
development, but leap from teachable moment to teachable moment;
 provide a detailed grading contract that outlines criteria for success in the course, and
communicate with students about their successes, failures, and possibilities.
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 4

Dear writers,

Do you mind if I call you that? Writers? Is that a word you’d use to describe yourselves?

Whether it is or not, it’s the truth: you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t write, or if you didn’t

want to write more.

And there will be writing in this class, of a few different kinds. Sometimes I’ll ask you to

do short exercises, designed to give you practice in recognizing and producing various sentence

structures or strategies. These exercises will generally be in-class activities or paired with a

Tuesday-to-Thursday reading assignment in our textbook, about which more in a moment. Over

the weekends, I’ll ask you to apply the lessons of the week as you draft something longer, though

not actually long: two double-spaced pages a week, with some new writing due just about every

week. After you’ve done a few of these, the weekend assignment will instead be to pick one and

revise, again applying the lessons, cumulatively. By the time the final portfolio rolls around, you

will have written at least seven such compositions, and revised at least three times.

And we’ll talk about your writing: Tuesdays are designated workshop days. I’ll ask

everyone to look at the dates and sign up for a slot between here and spring break; after that,

we’ll switch to small-group workshops, to give everyone a chance to get more eyes on their work

every week. But it’s worth emphasizing (and I’m sure I’ll say this again) that even when it’s not

“your turn,” there’s a lot you can learn by looking closely at the choices a writer is making,

asking why this and why not that. And as writers, I should note, when you’re asked that question

you’re allowed to change your mind. Encouraged, even, if it helps you see or say better what you

were almost saying or seeing.

Now, I’m not usually one to get excited about textbooks – I’m more likely to assign

readings that my students and I can push against, that challenge more than they seduce. But I’m
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 5

excited about The Well-Crafted Sentence, by Nora Bacon. For one thing, the author’s own prose

is kind of gorgeous, without being ostentatious: even though she doesn’t often call attention to

the ways she’s having fun with her writing, it’s there when you look for it, which makes me more

inclined to trust her comments on prose style and technique. For another, she doesn’t just make

up the sentences she presents as examples; she takes them from the same small set of published

texts and she plays with their language, showing the range of choices available to the authors en

route to the decisions they actually made. And she’s very consistent about reminding us that it is

about choice – that there are often multiple ways to get at the same idea, each with a different

range of effects. I’ve been teaching since 2004, and this is the first time I am actually assigning

every chapter of a textbook. I’m even doing them in order. I guess part of my excitement is about

the course itself, about the opportunity to spend more time with sentences than I get to in a

course on big ideas, on argument or rhetoric.

Which brings us to me. I’m a compositionist, which means I’m interested in composing

processes: what happens when we write, in various contexts, and how we learn and teach each

other to write more fluently. My academic research is even more meta than that, if you can

believe it: my dissertation was on the dissertations written by other people in composition and

rhetoric, using computer-driven analyses of a large body of text; in that sense, the Venn diagram

of my self also includes what are these days called the Digital Humanities. But before I was

either of those things, I was a poet, and my training in that context involved a lot of very close

attention to things like word choice, word order, and rhythm. I do like to zoom out; but I’m

delighted to be able to zoom in. I hope you will be, too.

I also hope you’ll take away from the diversity of my background that I’m open to a lot

of different genres in the writing you’ll compose this semester. This is a course in prose,
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 6

primarily, but that still leaves a lot of flexibility: if you want to bring in fiction, lyric essays,

academic essays, business reports, scientific research, memoir, chances are it’s going to work out

fine. (I will give you some constraints, because I find them to be generative, challenging the way

a crossword puzzle is challenging. But if the constraints aren’t working, don’t just phone it in:

talk to me. I like to throw a lot of sparks out and see what gets the heat. There is always

something else to try.)

At this point, I should probably talk about grading. At the end of today’s class I’ll hand

out a contract which boils down to the following: if you make a good-faith effort to participate in

all the class activities, your minimum grade is a B. Absences, consistently low quiz scores, or

missed deadlines can lower that minimum guaranteed safety net. To get above a B, you’ll need to

show Excellence and Quality in your written products (which may be revised until the final

portfolio), and/or in the feedback you offer to your peers, and/or in your reflections on what

you’re learning and trying. Those are fuzzy words, I know, but I promise to do my best to point

out places where you’re leveling up above the basic B-level, and I hope you’ll all do the same for

each other. Around the middle of the semester, I’ll have a one-on-one conference with each of

you to talk about your progress so far, and we’ll talk about the contents of the final portfolio later

on. For now, please just save all your drafts, especially those that have written feedback on them.

I did, yes, mention quizzes. These will, by and large, be drawn from the exercises in

Bacon’s textbook, and they’re designed primarily to check in with your understanding of the

concepts in the reading as they relate to concrete editorial skills: they’ll ask whether you can find

the headwords of a predicate and its subject, for example (which is essential for subject/verb

agreement); convert between passive and active voice; repair a dangling modifier, and so on. I

will not tell you in advance when there will be a quiz. We will, however, discuss the answers that
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 7

same day, so that we can clear things up if need be: my goal is for everyone to learn all these

skills, not to rank you against each other. If you want to re-challenge a particular quiz later on, let

me know and I’ll put something together. I know that learning can take time.

So, in the interest of getting to it, I’ll get out of the way now. Thanks for listening; I look

forward to hearing what you have to say in response!

Benjamin Miller

(please call me Ben)


The Writing Center
The Writing Center, located at 317B O'Hara Student Center, is an excellent resource for working
with an experienced consultant on your writing. Although you should not expect consultants to
“correct” your paper for you, they can assist you in learning to organize, revise, and edit your
work. Consultants can work with you on a one-time basis or throughout the term. In some cases,
I may require that you go to the Writing Center for help on a particular problem; otherwise, you
can decide on your own to seek assistance. To make an appointment, come to the Writing Center
or call 412-624-6556. For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions,

Disability Resources
If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are
encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Resources and Services,
140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890 / 412-624-3346 (Fax), as early as possible in the term.
Disability Resources and Services will verify your disability and determine reasonable
accommodations for this course. For more information, visit

Counseling Services
Pitt also offers free counseling for students who are experiencing personal or emotional
difficulties. The Counseling Center, located on the 2nd Floor Nordenberg Hall, offers
Psychological Services and Sexual Assault Services (412-648-7930) (8:30 am-5:00 pm, Monday-
Friday) or (412-648-7856) (after 5 pm, Monday-Friday or on weekends). For more information,
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 8


This is a collaborative class, in which we offer each other suggestions and constructive criticism.
However, the goal of all this collaboration is to clarify the expression of original ideas – never to
substitute someone else's ideas for our own, or to impose our ideas on someone else.

To misrepresent the origins of an idea is plagiarism, and it will not be tolerated.
If you want to cite an outside source, there are ways of giving credit to the original author;
section 33 of the Pocket Style Manual presents one standard method of documenting sources,
and the English department has some useful resources at
undergraduate/understand-and-avoid-plagiarism. (See External Links on the wiki.)

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask, because Pitt takes a very hard stance on
plagiarism. It could get you expelled. Here's an excerpt from the official Policy on Academic
Integrity, to give you the flavor:

Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy
on Academic Integrity, from the February 1974 Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom
reported to the Senate Council, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated
by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz or exam will be imposed.

A student has an obligation to exhibit honesty and to respect the ethical standards of the profession in
carrying out his or her academic assignments. Without limiting the application of this principle, a student
may be found to have violated this obligation if he or she: […]

8. Depends on the aid of others in a manner expressly prohibited by the faculty member, in the research,
preparation, creation, writing, performing, or publication of work to be submitted for academic credit or
9. Provides aid to another person, knowing such aid is expressly prohibited by the faculty member, in the
research, preparation, creation, writing, performing, or publication of work to be submitted for
academic credit or evaluation.
10. Presents as one's own, for academic evaluation, the ideas, representations, or words of another person or
persons without customary and proper acknowledgment of sources.
11. Submits the work of another person in a manner which represents the work to be one's own.
12. Knowingly permits one's work to be submitted by another person without the faculty member's

You have the right to a fair hearing, and I’ll talk to you before I talk to anyone else, but it’s far
easier just to avoid plagiarism in the first place. All clear cases of deliberate plagiarism will be
referred to the appropriate Dean for disciplinary action, including an Academic Integrity Board
hearing. For the University's full policy on Academic Integrity and the adjudication process for
infringements, including plagiarism, go to
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 9


The following schedule is just a preview; the full and most up-to-date version will be posted on the
course wiki (, including more detailed explanations of
each homework assignment and full lesson plans with space for collaborative notes. This gives me
more flexibility to adapt the specifics to our needs as a reading and writing community.

Assignments are listed (as HW) on the day they are assigned, and are due to the discussion board
at 10pm the night before the following class meeting, unless otherwise specified. You should in
general also bring a copy to class, so that we have access to it for in-class discussion and/or

Unit I: Setting the Stage
 Lesson 1, Thurs 1/7 - Course introduction: The Writers in the Room
o HW: Join the wiki; create a gallery page for yourself; post some "bad writing" anonymously;
buy the textbook; read syllabus and come in with questions/requests

 Lesson 2, Tues 1/12 - Full-class workshop (anonymous); starting assumptions
o HW: Read Donald Murray's "Writing and Teaching for Surprise"; add to your commonplace
book; buy the textbook if you haven't yet
 Lesson 3, Thurs 1/14 - Recognition; creating ease with intention
o HW: Surprise then revise, seeded from Murray or commonplace book; buy the textbook!

 Lesson 4, Tues 1/19 - Full-class workshop (volunteers);
o HW: Read Bacon introduction and chapter 1 ("Approaches to Style"); mark passages and email
me; sign up for / attend conferences with Ben
 Lesson 5, Thurs 1/21 - Understanding style; rhetorical reading and noticing
o HW: Surprise then revise, seeded from Bacon or commonplace book. Sign up
for/attend conferences

 Lesson 6, Tues 1/26 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 2 ("The Sentence's Working Parts"); write a brief reflection
 Lesson 7, Thurs 1/28 - Separating and joining the parts of the sentence
o HW: Revise one of the pieces you've written so far

 Lesson 8, Tues 2/2 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 3 ("Well-Focused Sentences"); do exercise 3A
 Lesson 9, Thurs 2/4 - Subjects, Verbs, and Voice
o HW: Do Bacon's exercise 3F

Unit II: Making Writing Move
 Lesson 10, Tues 2/9 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 4 ("Well-Balanced Sentences"); do the odd problems in exercises 4a
and 4c, and check your answers on the book's companion website
 Lesson 11, Thurs 2/11 - Coordination and parallelism
o HW: Do Bacon's exercise 4G, and keep writing where it takes you

 Lesson 12, Tues 2/16 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 5 ("Well-Developed Sentences"); do exercise 5A
 Lesson 13, Thurs 2/18 - Leaping and lingering
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 10

o HW: Do exercise 5E; choose either this or the previous homework as something to expand

 Lesson 14, Tues 2/23 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 6 ("Adding Color"); do the odd problems in exercise 6B, and check
your answers on the book's companion website

Unit III: Into the Thick of It
 Lesson 15, Thurs 2/25 - Adjectivals and delaying complexity
o HW: Revise one of the pieces you've written so far; write a brief reflection on what you're
changing, and why

 Lesson 16, Tues 3/1 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 7 ("Adding Action"); do exercise 7C
 Lesson 17, Thurs 3/3 - Verbals and the flow of time
o HW: Do exercise 7H (or substitute Gates's sentences from the chapter's opening as your targets to
imitate!); choose either this or the previous homework as something to expand

No classes Tues 3/8 or Thurs 3/10: Spring Break

 Lesson 18, Tues 3/15 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 8 ("Layering Meaning"); do exercise 8A, part 2
 Lesson 19, Thurs 3/17 - Appositives and Absolutes
o HW: Choose a sentence from exercise 8F or the previous homework as something to expand

 Lesson 20, Tues 3/22 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 9 ("Special Effects"); do either exercise 9C or 9D
 Lesson 21, Thurs 3/24 - Reordering and emphasis
o HW: Do exercise 9H.

 Lesson 22, Tues 3/29 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Cook, "Punctuation as Editing"; email Ben questions/requests for discussion topics
 Lesson 23, Thurs 3/31 – Sentence variety
o HW: Do exercise 9G; for a comparison text, use something you're reading in another class or
reading for pleasure

 Lesson 24, Tues 4/5 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read over everything you've written so far. Where's the energy? What's worth revising for
the final portfolio?

No classes Thurs 4/7: Ben will be at CCCC

Unit IV: You Must Revise Your Life
 Lesson 25, Tues 4/12 - Small-group workshop
o HW: t.b.d.
 Lesson 26, Thurs 4/14 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Draft an intro to your portfolio: what have you been working on this semester?

 Lesson 27, Tues 4/19 - Small-group workshop
o HW: final portfolio due Thurs 4/21; come prepared to read something from it

 Lesson 28, Thurs 4/21 - Last real day of class - Portfolio Party
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 11

o HW: have a great summer!
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 12

As composition theorist Peter Elbow has written in a number of places (see especially his
“Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking”**), grades are a surprisingly crude way of measuring or
producing learning: they reduce complex phenomena to a single letter or number, and thus
obscure the differences between, say, proofreading skills and ability to support an argument.
Some teachers might try to get around this by assigning percentages of their grades to particular
skill-sets, but I find I can’t know, in advance, what any one of you will need to work on: I want
to be free to give more targeted feedback, and set more targeted goals, than any pre-set
percentage allows me to do. As I see it, you are each here to become better than yourself, not
better than anyone else. Grades distract from that, and distract from the particular reactions and
suggestions that can help you improve.

So to shift our attention away from grading – and therefore toward thoughtful assessment – I’m
going to cut you a deal. If you fulfill all the terms of the contract below, I will guarantee that
your grade is no lower than B. If your work is consistently excellent, it can go up from there; if
you can’t complete all of the terms of the contract, your grade may go down. As you read, you’ll
notice that these B-level expectations are based on concrete, observable behaviors, not subjective
judgments of quality. No matter where you start out, the playing field is level.

Moreover, because the contract is based on good writing processes, not on mastery of skills, you
can focus on a few manageable goals at a time, rather than feeling pressure to master everything
at once. I hope you take this as an opportunity to experiment, to take risks in your writing, and to
trust that you will learn something in the process: even if you try a new writing-move and fail,
you can (in the words of Samuel Beckett) "fail better" next time, without being penalized.

Please initial each item to signal you've read it, and sign at the very end. Students who have
not turned in a signed contract by the end of the fourth class may not remain in the course.

To earn a B for this course, you must:

1. Engage actively during every class period, and use class time productively. Everyone has an
off day from time to time, but for nearly every class meeting, to the best of your ability, your
brain should be working for the full 75 minutes. This means you must also be consistently
prepared for class: read, annotate, and bring any required readings, and bring your notebook
and whatever drafts, exercises, or research you'll need. _______
2. Participate actively during every workshop, and push yourself to provide your class- and
group-mates with consistently thorough, thoughtful, helpful feedback. You should help your
group-mates to become better writers throughout the course. Taking their work seriously
enough to think hard about how it can be improved is crucial for your success, and theirs, in
This grading contract, including some of the language, has been adapted from Danielewicz, Jane and Peter Elbow.
"A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching." College Composition and Communication
61.2 (December 2009): 244-268, as well as the online appendix to that article (see their note 1). The contracts and
rationales published there were made available for the purposes of such adaptation.

* *
Elbow, Peter. “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment.” College English 55.2
(1993): 187-206.
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 13

this course. Note that this is not just about praise or criticism: ask questions, make
connections, explore possibilities. Open space for them to do or say more. _______
3. Work with your group-mates to complete group assignments and exercises, to the satisfaction
of everyone in the group. Divide group assignments and time fairly, and complete, on time,
all the work you take on. Note that this also means demanding satisfaction from your group
mates: if one of you is slacking off, the whole group suffers. Let that person know. _______
4. For every assignment, produce substantial, thoughtful writing that follows the guidelines in
the prompt – including deadlines. _______
5. Complete all assigned readings attentively enough that you could complete any of the
exercises provided in the chapter or provide examples of key concepts. _______
6. Use the feedback provided by your instructor and your group-mates to improve your writing.
You don't have to make every change suggested, of course, because your writing is yours,
and after all, readers will sometimes disagree. But you must take all feedback seriously, and
your drafts (or notes; cf. #7) should show evidence of your careful consideration of your
readers’ suggestions: if a reader is confused or has an objection, don't ignore it, but instead
try to clear up the confusion or incorporate and respond to the objection. _______
7. When turning in revisions (as well as for any earlier draft on which it feels appropriate to
you), attach a brief note explaining what in particular you were trying to achieve in that draft.
e.g., Were there particular reader comments you were responding to? A sentence structure or
paragraph style you were trying to emulate? You can also use this note to acknowledge
suggestions you consciously decided not to take, explaining your reasons. (This may, in fact,
help you to discover your reasons.) _______
8. Proofread final drafts to eliminate surface errors and typos to the best of your ability. For this
course, more than for (e.g.) Seminar in Composition, punctuation and syntax are a significant
part of what we’re studying, and can have major effects on meaning, coherence, and
emphasis. Use your style guides (see External Links on the wiki) and talk to classmates, me,
or a Writing Center Consultant if you have questions. _______
9. Attend all scheduled conferences with me and your Writing Center Consultant (if applicable),
and come prepared to use the conference time productively. If I indicate on a draft that I
would like you to schedule an appointment to talk with me, do so within the week. A missed
conference counts as 2/3 of an absence (see #12). _______
10. Avoid plagiarism by (a) taking careful notes to help you distinguish between your own ideas
and language and those you have borrowed from sources; (b) being generous about
attributing ideas and acknowledging those whose work has influenced your own, i.e. by
attempting to cite all sources correctly, even in first drafts; (c) mastering citation conventions
and citing all sources correctly in all final drafts; and (d) never attempting to disguise
another’s work as your own, never purchasing essay-writing services online, and never
engaging in any other act of academic dishonesty.

This is a collaborative class, in which we offer each other suggestions and constructive
criticism. But we do so to clarify the expression of original ideas – never to substitute
someone else's ideas for our own, or to impose our ideas on someone else. _______
11. Show respect for your classmates and your instructor. This includes using respectful
language, taking each others’ ideas seriously, and refraining from distracting behaviors, such
as gossiping, reading the Post-Gazette, or using electronic devices for non-class-related
activities. Ensure that your cell phone doesn't ring during class. _______
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 14

12. Be consistently on time for class, and be absent very rarely. Coming late to class counts as
1/3 of an absence; missing more than 20 minutes of class counts as 2/3; missing more than 40
minutes of class counts as a full absence (though you're still always welcome to come in,
quietly). Four absences throughout the semester, three absences during any one unit, or
absence on a day when your work is scheduled to be workshopped by the full class is
considered a major breach of contract (see next section). Having more than six absence-
equivalents (¼ of the classes for the term) could be grounds for failure. _______
13. Submit a complete, fully revised portfolio that meets all outlined requirements by the due
date. The portfolio for this class will consist of at least three revised pieces, at least one with
marked-up drafts; your selection of exercises that represent your best thinking or writing in
the course; and a reflective introduction. Details to follow, closer to the deadline. _______

If you fulfill all of these expectations, you are guaranteed a grade of at least a B overall. I will do
my best to keep you informed and afloat with regard to your successful participation. If you're
ever in doubt about your contractual status, feel free to email me and/or drop by my office hours.

Grades Below a B:
If you break the contract, your contracted grade for the course will be lowered as follows:
 For minor breaches (e.g. missing or not bringing in a short homework exercise, earning fewer
than half the points on a quiz related to the reading, or persistently distracting groupmates
from the task): in each Unit, I will permit you one “Mulligan” – one minor misstep that will
not break the contract. But two minor breaches during any Unit will lower your minimum
grade by ⅓ of a letter, i.e. to a B–; another breach in the same unit or two minor breaches
during the next Unit, and your minimum grade will be lowered further to a C+, and so on.
These lowered grades can still be improved by an exceptionally strong portfolio. _______
 For major breaches (e.g. turning in nothing for a major deadline, failing to participate in peer
review, or failing to acknowledge direct revision-suggestions in all subsequent drafts and
notes): no Mulligans; your minimum grade will immediately be lowered to a B– after the
first major breach, C+ after the second, and so on. These lowered grades can still be
improved by an exceptionally strong portfolio. _______
 For the final portfolio: each day it is late, the contracted grade drops ⅔ of a letter. _______
 The attendance policy is outlined above, in item #12 (though see also #9). _______
 If your minimum grade falls below a C-minus, you cannot pass the class. _______
Again, I will do my best to keep you informed and afloat with regard to behaviors that threaten
to break the contract: my goal is to keep everyone engaged, active, and learning. If you are ever
in doubt about your contractual status, feel free to send me an email or drop by my office hours.

Grades Above a B:
As mentioned above, grades up to and including B are based on behaviors, which is to say on
process; for grades above a B, you must demonstrate Excellence and Quality in your final
written products. While these terms are, unavoidably, rather fuzzy, in my defense I can say only
Miller 2016 Spring Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 15

this: First, most grades in writing are somewhat arbitrary, and at least by using the contract above
I'm doing my best to limit and control the arbitrariness. Second, I promise to do my very best to
articulate, in particular instances, what I think would most help the piece in question achieve
Excellence and Quality. One of the characteristics of such writing is that it tends to stand out as
its own self, original and often surprising, and it is therefore far harder to give guidance in
general terms. Still, certain approaches are more likely to move you in that direction (though,
again, a given piece written with these processes won’t always succeed as a product):

 Begin from perplexity. Motivate each shaped piece with a genuine question, or felt itch, that
you legitimately want to puzzle through. In other words, don't tell me something you already
know, like "honesty is often the best policy" or "reading books helps you learn a language";
start with something you know about, but don't yet understand. _______

 Proceed by thinking. This may seem obvious, but it's actually hard: having found a
motivating question or puzzle, write so as to think your way toward greater understanding.
Make some intellectual gears turn; you should know more by the end of the process than you
did at the beginning. It's fine for a B to say that 1 + 2 + 3 = 2 + 3 + 1. But to get above the B,
aim for 1 + 2 + 3 = 6. Put the pieces together. _______

 Resound with grace. The best pieces will not only hold together, but take pleasure in their
own unfolding language, balancing economy and precision of diction with rhetorical prowess
and poise. The fuzziest criterion of them all, but the course is designed to give you lots of
exposure to models and ways of learning (from) the moves they make. Throughout the term,
let's all resolve to point out examples of graceful writing when we see it. _______

If your work is trending towards a better-than-B portfolio, I will do my best to let you know
where you've leveled up over that line, so you can try to recapture and consolidate whatever was
working so well. (Don't worry, I'll keep giving suggestions for where you can improve, as well,
because I believe that even the best of us can.)
Once more, should you ever find yourself in doubt about your contractual status – whether your
work is satisfactory for a B, unsatisfactory for a B, or excelling beyond the B-level, please feel
free to send me an email, drop by my office hours, or even to set up a conference at a better time.


I, the undersigned, have read and understood the above contract to be the grading policy
for Benjamin Miller’s section of Writing With Style.

_________________________________ _________________________________ ________
name (in your most legible print) signature date