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focus, cohesion, emphasis, variety

Benjamin Miller EngCmp 1510-1010, Class Number 27666

email: Fall 2019, TuTh 12:30pm-1:45pm
office: Cathedral of Learning 617-N class location: CL 302
office hours: WF 12:00-1:00pm or by appointment:

Our course website:

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

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.

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 file)
For B Grades
For Grades Below a B
For Grades Above a B
Miller 2019 Fall Full 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.

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. 8th edition. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin’s, 2014.
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.

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.
Miller 2019 Fall Full 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;
 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 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 4

Fellow writers,
Welcome to one of my favorite courses: Writing with Style. The main focus of the course
is on sentences, and how grammatical choices – because there are a lot of choices we get to make
as writers – can shift emphasis and shape what readers pay attention to.
The course makes no assumptions about your current level of writing confidence or
experience; my aim is to give everyone more of both. If you are starting with a long-term project
that you know you want to continue developing, great. If you are starting with a sense of unease
you cannot really place, welcome. If you are interested in finding new subjects, I've got prompts
that will (I hope) help you discover them. Whether you are a fiction writer or a nonfiction writer,
a memoirist or an academic, maybe even a bit of a poet (though this is not a class in poetry), you
should find something here to help you develop and grow.
For academic writing, you may want to work on clarity and concision; we'll talk about
how to use your subjects and verbs to do that. Someone else in the class may be working on short
stories, and looking for ways to add depth of character without slowing down the action;
appositives and verbal phrases offer a lot of potential there. You'll also see examples of academic
writing taking advantage of personal voice or narrative, while still being intellectual and idea-
driven. Taken together, the cross-talk among the different genres and students working in them
should, I hope, provide some useful insights all around.
On a practical level, you should expect to do some reading and some writing every week,
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. Over the
weekends, I’ll ask you to apply the lessons of the week as you draft something longer, though
not really long: two double-spaced pages a week. (As flexible as I am about genre, 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 toss a lot of sparks and see what gets the heat. There’s always something else to try.)
After you’ve done a few of these, the long assignment will instead be to pick one draft and
revise. By the time the final portfolio rolls around, you will have written at least seven such
compositions, and revised at least three times.
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 5

And we’ll talk about your writing: after the first few weeks, we’ll settle into a rhythm
with Tuesdays as workshop days. I’ll ask everyone to look at the dates on our website and sign
up for a slot to work together as a full class, once in the term. Starting at about mid-term, we’ll
fold in small-group workshops of threes or fours, to give everyone a chance to get more eyes on
their work more often. 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.
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 just make up examples or pull them at random; she draws them again and again from the
same small set of published texts, and then she tinkers 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 only textbook I’ve ever assigned in full and in order. I confess part of my excitement is about
the course itself, about the opportunity to spend more time playing with the materials of language
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 Seminar in Composition. 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
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,
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 6

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.
At this point, I should probably talk about grading. On the website you’ll find a grading
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. 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 (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)
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 7


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, see
Miller 2019 Fall Full 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 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
hearing. For the University's full policy on Academic Integrity and the adjudication process for
infringements, including plagiarism, go to
Miller 2019 Fall Full 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. 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 8/27 - Introductions

o HW: Join the wiki; create a gallery page for yourself; buy the textbook; read syllabus
and grading contract and come in with questions/requests
 Lesson 2, Thurs 8/29 - Commenting and Liking
o HW: Buy the textbook if you haven't yet; read Donald Murray's "Writing and
Teaching for Surprise" and write a brief response on the discussion board

 Lesson 3, Tues 9/3 - 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 9/5 - Understanding style; rhetorical reading and noticing; easing into
o HW: Surprise then revise, seeded from Murray, Bacon, or commonplace book

 Lesson 5, Tues 9/10 - Full-class workshop

o HW: Read Bacon chapter 2 ("The Sentence's Working Parts") and write a brief
 Lesson 6, Thurs 9/12 - Separating and joining the parts of the sentence
o HW: Read Devan Cook's "Punctuation as Editing"; write about a memorable moment
of learning (real or fictional).

 Lesson 7, Tues 9/17 - Full-class workshop

o HW: Read Bacon chapter 3 ("Well-Focused Sentences"); do exercise 3A
 Lesson 8, Thurs 9/19 - Subjects, Verbs, and Voice
o HW: Do Bacon's exercise 3F (writing about a workplace, twice). Read Atul
Gawande's "A Better Life" (in the back of Bacon)
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 10

Unit II: Making Writing Move

 Lesson 9, Tues 9/24 - Full-class workshop

o HW: Read George Gopen and Judith Swan's "The Science of Scientific Writing";
write a brief reflection
 Lesson 10, Thurs 9/26 - Looking back to look forward
o HW: Read back through your own writing so far, and that of two partners. What's
worth expanding?

No class Tues 10/1: Rosh Hashanah

 Lesson 11, Thurs 10/3 - Writers' Studio

o HW: Revise one piece written so far for this class: draw on the readings and
today's packet for strategies.

 Lesson 12, Tues 10/8 - Full-class workshop

o HW: Read Bacon chapter 4 ("Well-Balanced Sentences"); do exercise 4E (length
in coordinate series)
 Lesson 13, Thurs 10/10 - Coordination and parallelism
o HW: Read Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union" (in the back of Bacon). Do
Bacon's exercise 4G (imitating Obama), and keep writing where it takes you (see
lesson plan for details)

 Lesson 14, Tues 10/15 - Small-group workshop

o HW: Read Bacon chapter 5 ("Well-Developed Sentences"); do exercise 5A (early
modifiers to signal structure)
 Lesson 15, Thurs 10/17 - Leaping and lingering
o HW: Read David Sedaris's "Genetic Engineering." Do exercise 5E (imitating
Sedaris); choose either this or the previous homework as something to expand.

Unit III: Into the Thick of It

 Lesson 16, Tues 10/22 - Full-class workshop

o HW: Read Bacon chapter 6 ("Adding Color"); write a brief reflection
 Lesson 17, Thurs 10/24 - Adjectivals and delaying complexity
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 7 ("Adding Action"); do exercise 7C (three kinds of
verbal phrases)

 Lesson 18, Tues 10/29 - Small-group workshop

o HW: Review the reading and your writing so far, and post a reflection: what are
you wondering about, or hoping we get to by the end of the course?
 Lesson 19, Thurs 10/31 - Verbals and the flow of time
o Happy Halloween!
o HW: Read Tim O'Brien's "Along the Rainy River" (in the back of Bacon). Do
exercise 7G (imitating O'Brien's sentences) and see where it takes you.
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 11

 Lesson 20, Tues 11/5 - Full-class workshop

o Election Day! Vote if you're able!
o HW: Read Bacon chapter 8 ("Layering Meaning"); post to discussion forum
 Lesson 21, Thurs 11/7 - Appositives and Absolutes
o HW: Read Jane Smiley's "Say It Ain't So, Huck" (in the back of Bacon). Practice
chapter 8 moves, perhaps starting with a sentence from exercise 8F or as a

 Lesson 22, Tues 11/12 - 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 23, Thurs 11/14 - Reordering and emphasis
o HW: Do exercise 9G/H (analyze sentence variety, then revise to minimize and
maximize it).

Unit IV: You Must Revise Your Life

 Lesson 24, Tues 11/19 – Final full-class workshop

o HW: Read Bishop's "Revising Out and Revising In." Make a plan for your final
 Lesson 25, Thurs 11/21 - Sentence variety
o HW: Do exercise 9I, spending some time with a (few) figure(s) of speech of your
choice. Work toward your final portfolio.

No class Tues 11/26 or Thurs 11/28: Happy Thanksgiving!

 Lesson 26, Tues 12/3 - Small-group workshop

o HW: Draft an intro to your portfolio: what have you been working on this

 Lesson 27, Thurs 12/5 - Last real day of class - Small-group workshop
o HW: Prep final portfolio
Miller 2019 Fall Full Syllabus – Writing with Style – page 12
Fall 2019 Writing with Style (Benjamin Miller) page 13 of 16

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, each of you is 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

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.
Grading Contract Fall 2019 Writing with Style (Miller) page 14 of 16

enough to think hard about how it can be improved is crucial for your success, and theirs, in
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. _______
Grading Contract Fall 2019 Writing with Style (Miller) page 15 of 16

11. Show respect for your classmates and your instructor. This includes taking each others’ ideas
seriously; using language that honors others’ racial, ethnic, religious, political, economic,
sexual, and gender identifications or positions; and refraining from distracting behaviors,
such as gossiping, reading the Pitt News, or using electronic devices for non-class-related
activities. Ensure that your cell phone doesn't ring during class. _______
12. Be consistently on time for class, and be absent very rarely. Each absence earns three
“absence tokens.” Coming late to class earns one absence token. Missing more than 20
minutes of class earns two absence tokens (though you're still always welcome to come in,
quietly). Twelve absence tokens throughout the semester, nine during any one unit, or
absence on a day when the full class is set to provide feedback on your work will constitute a
major breach of contract (see next section). Having more than six absences (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.
Grading Contract Fall 2019 Writing with Style (Miller) page 16 of 16

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
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