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Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 1

focus, cohesion, emphasis, variety

Benjamin Miller EngCmp 1510, Class Number 28578
email: Fall 2016, TuTh 2:30pm-3:45pm
office: Cathedral of Learning 617-N class location: CL 512
office hours: Tu/W/Th 11:00am-12:30pm 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
Disability Resources
Counseling Services
VII. Class-by-Class Schedule
VIII. Grading Contract (separate handout)
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 Fall 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,” such 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.

In addition, please sign up for Eli Review (, an online platform for focused
practice in review and revision, designed by tech-savvy writing teachers to increase the power of
feedback looping between writers and readers. I’m listing it here because it’s not free: there’s a
$25 subscription fee that will last you the semester. Create a student account, then use the
following code to join our class:
In addition to asking that you post writing and peer review exercises on Eli, I may assign some
of their multimedia readings regarding forms of feedback and the evidence in their favor.

An off-line dictionary is becoming increasingly obsolete, though they’re still fun to flip through.
For online use, I recommend (which indexes several other dictionaries, plus offers
useful examples of words in contemporary context). 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.)

Finally, 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 guide to commonplace conventions, 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.
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 3

You will be responsible for printing and providing multiple copies of your own original
compositions on days when it will be workshopped: n+1 copies once in the semester, where n =
the number of students in the room, then 3-4 copies somewhat more often for small-group
workshops after mid-term.

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;
 compile a mid-term portfolio containing, at a minimum, two drafts and an introductory
reflection, which we will discuss in a one-on-one conference;
 complete a final portfolio containing, at a minimum, three shaped pieces, one set of
marked-up 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 flexibility into per-class and semester-long schedules, recognizing that the
complexity of writing means that 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 Fall 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 the middle of the term; 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, readings that challenge more than they seduce.
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 5

But I’m 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 make up the sentences she presents as examples; she takes them again and again from the

same small set of published texts, and then 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 last

semester – my first time teaching this course – was the first time I actually assigned every

chapter of a textbook. And now I’m doing it again. I’m even going 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’ve taught many sections of the introductory college writing

course that at Pitt is called SC. 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. So I believe in writing about writing. 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.
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 6

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,

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, i.e. 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’s 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
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 7

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 (so please do keep up with the reading!).

We will, however, discuss the answers that 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
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 8

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,


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 are some excerpts 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
authorization. (

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
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 9

hearing. For the University's full policy on Academic Integrity and the adjudication process for
infringements, including plagiarism, go to
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 10


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. Reading and short responses will
generally be assigned on Tuesdays, due at 10pm the night before1 the next class. Long writing
assignments will generally come over the weekend, due Sunday night, paired with a short
review assignment due Tuesday. You should in general also bring a copy of your work to class,
so that we have access to it for in-class discussion and/or revisions. Electronic copies are fine, so
long as they're already posted to the wiki or to Eli.

Follow the links to individual class days for more information, including class notes and more
complete homework instructions. NB: This schedule is subject to revision based on our needs.

Unit I: Setting the Stage
 Lesson 1, Tues 8/30 - Introductions: the course
o HW: Join the wiki; create a gallery page for yourself; buy the textbook; read syllabus and
contract and come in with questions/requests
 Lesson 2, Thurs 9/1 - Introductions: four temperaments
o HW: Buy the textbook if you haven't yet; read Donald Murray's "Writing and Teaching for
Surprise"; write a brief reflection on Eli; add to your commonplace book

 Lesson 3, Tues 9/6 - Ease with intention (exercises for surprises)
o HW: Read Bacon introduction and chapter 1 ("Approaches to Style"); add to
your commonplace book; post to the discussion forum
 Lesson 4, Thurs 9/8 - Understanding style; rhetorical reading and noticing
o HW: Surprise then revise, seeded from Murray, Bacon, or commonplace book; read Eli
module onFeedback and Improvement; sign up for / attend conferences with Ben next week

 Lesson 5, Tues 9/13 - Full-class workshop;
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 2 ("The Sentence's Working Parts") and write a brief reflection ;
sign up for / attend conferences with Ben
 Lesson 6, Thurs 9/15 - Separating and joining the parts of the sentence
o HW: Color walk or revision; post and review on Eli.

 Lesson 7, Tues 9/20 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 3 ("Well-Focused Sentences"); do exercise 3A
 Lesson 8, Thurs 9/22 - Subjects, Verbs, and Voice
o HW: Do Bacon's exercise 3F (writing about a workplace); post and review on Eli.
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 11

Unit II: Making Writing Move
 Lesson 9, Tues 9/27 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 4 ("Well-Balanced Sentences"); do exercise 4E (length in
coordinate series)
 Lesson 10, Thurs 9/29 - Coordination and parallelism
o HW: Do Bacon's exercise 4G (imitating Obama), and keep writing where it takes you (see full
plan for ALTs). Post and review on Eli.

No class Tues 10/4: Rosh Hashanah
 Lesson 11, Thurs 10/6 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Make a revision plan and execute it. Post and review on Eli.

 Lesson 12, Tues 10/11 - Full-class workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 5 ("Well-Developed Sentences"); do exercise 5A (early modifiers to
signal structure)
 Lesson 13, Thurs 10/13 - Leaping and lingering
o HW: Do exercise 5E (imitating Sedaris); choose either this or the previous homework as
something to expand. Post and review on Eli.

No class Tues 10/18: Pitt Monday
 Lesson 14, Thurs 10/20 - Diction
o HW: Write a midterm reflection (see lesson plan for details).

Unit III: Into the Thick of It
 Lesson 15, Tues 10/25 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 6 ("Adding Color"); write a brief reflection
 Lesson 16, Thurs 10/27 - Adjectivals and delaying complexity
o HW: Re-read your pieces with adjectives in mind, and make any revisions as per 6C
(which/that) and 6D (adjective clauses vs. phrases) you see fit. Post and review on Eli.

 Lesson 17, Tues 11/1 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 7 ("Adding Action"); do exercise 7C (three kinds of verbal phrases)
 Lesson 18, Thurs 11/3 - 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. Post
and review on Eli.

 Lesson 19, Tues 11/8 - Small-group workshop
o Election Day! Vote if you're able!
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 8 ("Layering Meaning"); post to discussion forum
 Lesson 20, Thurs 11/10 - Appositives and Absolutes
o HW: Practice chapter 8 moves, perhaps starting with a sentence from exercise 8F or as a
revision. Post and review on Eli.
Miller 2016 Fall Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 12

 Lesson 21, Tues 11/15 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 9 ("Special Effects"); choose two from exercise 9B (evaluate a
reordering) and post to the discussion forum.
 Lesson 22, Thurs 11/17 - Reordering and emphasis
o HW: Do exercise 9H (minimize and maximize sentence variety). Post and review on Eli.

 Lesson 23, Tues 11/22 - Small-group workshop OR catch-up fun day
o HW: Read at least one of the essays from the back of the book in full. Bonus points if you
bring it up at Thanksgiving dinner!
o Day before Thanksgiving. Who's actually going to be here?

No class Thurs 11/17: Thanksgiving

Unit IV: You Must Revise Your Life
 Lesson 24, Tues 11/29 – Small-group workshop: what's worth revising?
o HW: Read Cook, "Punctuation as Editing"; email Ben questions/requests for discussion topics
 Lesson 25, Thurs 12/1 - Sentence variety
o HW: Read Bishop's "Revising Out and Revising In." Then revise, using a method from either
Bishop or Cook. Post and review on Eli.

 Lesson 26, Tues 12/6 - Small-group workshop
o HW: Draft an intro to your portfolio: what have you been working on this semester?

 Lesson 27, Thurs 12/9 - Last real day of class - Small-group workshop or portfolio party
o HW: final portfolio due Tues 12/13; come prepared to read something from it

 "Final Exam", Tues 12/13 - Portfolio Party

o HW: have a great break!