Sybil Priebe, Fargo, North Dakota
Ronda Marman, Fargo, North Dakota
Dana Anderson, Fargo, North Dakota
Copyright Year: 2019
Publisher: North Dakota University System
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Writing Unleashed is an apt name for this textbook as the scope is quite broad. The text covers everything from rhetorical modes of writing to specific genres like memoirs and profiles to research and even aspects of technical writing. However,... read more
Writing Unleashed is an apt name for this textbook as the scope is quite broad. The text covers everything from rhetorical modes of writing to specific genres like memoirs and profiles to research and even aspects of technical writing. However, the broad scope is somewhat overwhelming as the authors seem to rush through ideas that are often textbooks in and of themselves (creative non-fiction or argument essays for example). Many types of writing techniques and writing modes/genres are touched on, but most sections skim the surface and often reference ideas and strategies that a first-year student may not be familiar with. There is not an index or glossary, and there are few links to additional resources for any reader that may need supplementary information.
Many parts of the textbook are clearly described and accurate, such as the Strategies sub-sections covering Narration and Description, and the Genres sub-sections covering Memoirs and Profiles. The Research chapter is a weak spot as there are some inaccuracies in MLA and APA style discussions and examples as well as how search engines are defined and described. Instructors teaching research and specific formatting guidelines would need to heavily supplement or replace these sections.
Content is current, and there are no glaring examples or ideas that will become obsolete quickly. Depending on the textbook audience demographics, some of the examples and student model papers may come across as somewhat juvenile and better suited to an 8-12 audience vs. a college audience. For instance, the examples in the Editing chapter that focus on “Scrooge McDuck” and “Me at 15” feel too young and superficial for a college audience. These kinds of examples can be found throughout the textbook, and college-level students may feel patronized. Examples with more depth and complexity are needed.
The prose is clear and easy to understand. One goal stated by the authors is to provide a text “jam-packed with teachers’ voices, students’ voices, and engineered for fun.” As promised, there is a strong voice and a light approach, but it may not resonate with all readers and instructors as the tone is fairly casual and the “fun” sometimes feels a bit forced and cliché.
The text lists its audience as first year composition students, but some of the approach seems geared towards preparatory composition classes, while other parts of the text seem geared toward composition students with more experience. This unevenness extends to the student examples used as some are quite basic such as the numbered list about “How to be Geeky” that stands in as a sample writing for Process Analysis. Later in the same Strategies section, the student sample paper for Division and Classification is a developed academic research paper about child development theories with a Reference page. There is also inconsistency in style and formatting with the sample student papers, so any instructor asking a class to follow a specific layout format for papers, such as MLA, will have to address and navigate the student sample work that comes in a wide range of styles and formats. Some parts of textbook layout also struggle with consistency. Again, in the Strategies section, most strategies are introduced and followed by an image, follow-up explanation, and then examples and models. However, some parts of this section, such as Cause and Effect, are missing some of these elements and other parts, such as Narration, have extensive examples so the overall effect feels unbalanced.
Sections of the textbook would be fairly easy to rearrange, and sub-sections are arranged in smaller chunks of text that move along quickly. The authors note that some sections, such as the Nerd section about grammar, are easily left in or out, depending on the instructor’s preference. As noted below, having a more refined and thoughtful Table of Contents would give instructors a better sense of the overall layout and connection between larger topics and sub-section topics.
The overall conception, while broad, is logical as the textbook moves from general ideas like pre-writing to strategies (modes) to genres and then into research and finally into issues of grammar and style. Some sections such as Peer Review are especially clean and well-organized. However, in general, there are organizational struggles throughout the text. The Table of Contents is one long linear list, and it would make more sense to arrange it in a format that highlights the relationship of various ideas by using sections and then listing subsections underneath so readers could get a sense of the order and relationship of ideas. For example, Genres seems to be a major section that contains the subsections of Memoirs, Profiles, Essays, etc. and listing these subsections under Genres vs. in the same linear list would establish a clearer relationship of ideas and sections for the reader. Also, the Annotated Bibliography seems like it would work more logically placed with Research vs. the Genres section, and the Argument section seems like it should be its own chapter, apart from Genres. In the text itself, organization is an issue in a variety of areas as ideas are sometimes introduced in a seemingly random fashion. In the Brainstorming and Pre-Writing chapter, brainstorming is discussed separately and then also discussed again as part of pre-writing. The Thesis section ends with a list of somewhat random tips that range from following instructor directions to transitions to how to structure a paragraph. Concepts like audience and essay structure pop in and out of various parts of the text, but there is no one specific section where these concepts are introduced and fully explained.
The text is fairly easy to navigate, and provided links work. There seems to be a color-coding schema to represent how various ideas are classified; for example, large green headings seem to indicate new sections of material are starting, while smaller red headings denote subsections to be covered. However, some of the color coding gets a bit overwhelming with random ideas showing up in small blue text, and orange and green text is used to denote parts of the red subsections. This could potentially be an issue with accessibility. Images that are used are crisp and clear. Some images, especially early in the text, appear suddenly in the text, and while there is some connection to the information provided, the images themselves lack context and explanation. For example, there are engaging diagrams on pages 11 and 14, but they are without context, so it is not quite clear what their purpose is. Additionally, the Venn diagram on page 11 is about strategies and modes, but that section of the text does not start until page 32, so there is some disconnect with images and their purpose and connection to the text.
A few small editing issues popped up, but the overall writing is clear and correct. One example of an editing issue is the repetition of the same paragraph that begins, “Returning to the same scenario,” on both pages 12 and 13. On a style note, there may be concerns for some instructors: there is extensive use of all-caps, exclamation marks and dashes, which creates a casual tone that seems to undermine the purpose of teaching skills of academic writing. The language is overall quite informal, and, for some reason, the word “goofy” is relied on heavily. There seems to be an attempt to connect with younger readers with an informal, casual approach, but this feels a bit forced and may fall flat with readers and instructors alike, as well as providing potentially weak examples of academic writing.
While there is nothing overtly offensive or insensitive in the textbook, there is also a dearth of inclusivity of race, ethnicity and diverse backgrounds. Out of seven photographic images, the three with people in them feature all Caucasian subjects. Additionally, references throughout the text, as well as sample student and author essays, focus to a large extent on experiences connected to North Dakota and the North Dakota State College of Science, so there is somewhat of a provincial feel to the text. Other examples mostly fall into experiences of traditional college students coming from a middle/upper class background. For instance, there is an extended example in the “Rhetorical Situation” chapter based around a student asking parents for more money; while not a terrible example, it does go on for a page or two, and it is a bit cliché and perhaps not representative of the situation or background of many students. There are some suggestions throughout the text for non-native English speakers, but they show up somewhat randomly and without consistency.
Some sections of Writing Unleashed are on point and offer helpful explanations and examples, but the overall text has the feel of various wiki documents linked together without a strong editor. Additionally, the voice, approach, and somewhat juvenile examples will limit the audience this text appeals to.
As a writing textbook, many preparatory skills as well as support reading skills are not a part of this textbook. To select this textbook for a developmental writing and reading class, the instructor would be compelled to choose other resources... read more
As a writing textbook, many preparatory skills as well as support reading skills are not a part of this textbook. To select this textbook for a developmental writing and reading class, the instructor would be compelled to choose other resources to supplement instruction. Many fundamental writing skills have been omitted from this text and are assumed that students possess this knowledge. Since the areas of reading and writing are closely intertwined, impact comprehension and effective writing, both areas should be included in a textbook designed for these areas. This textbook haphazardly addressed writing, omitted reading related strategies and did not include material that support critical thinking in any way. All are equally important constructs for the level indicated by this textbook which is a level that precedes a regular English course. The textbook concluded with the topic "Style." This abrupt termination of presenting skills causes the reader to expect more topics will follow. Based on material presented in this textbook, a unit or section addressing text structure, a developmental skill, that provides support to students who would use this text, needs to be included. Further, an index did not bring closure to this textbook because an index was omitted. Additionally, a glossary is not included in this textbook. With the omission of an index as well as a glossary, the textbook appears incomplete. Students cannot easily avail themselves of these needed resources and would have to seek a different avenue to obtain needed information. This lack of information would be inconvenient in a multitude of ways for students who may not have other resources to access additional information and who rely heavily on the textbook. Therefore, this text does not cover all areas and ideas pertaining to writing and its closely nit companions of reading or critical thinking. Specifically, information that speak directly to goals of pre-reading, reading, and post-reading and their connections to writing should be a part of this text. Vocabulary strategies could expand to include the different uses of context, affixes, and words with multiple meanings. In reference to paragraph writing, the nuances of identifying and applying a stated or implied main idea with supporting details would assist students in constructing well-developed sentences and paragraphs. The incorporation of major as well as minor details moves students' learning to the next layer of writing understandable essays. However, this textbook provides students with an overall exercise in critical thinking -- the ability to discern and distinguish between a text that is worthy of use in a course as the course staple or one to use as a minor reference for a few points. Too many important skills are neglected, omitted, or assumed that students know.
Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased. On page 8, the statement reads, "Even published writers put commas in weird spots." This statement is contradictory and debatable to standard concepts taught about the varied uses of a comma. Page 9 inaccurately shares information that the use of slang and text messaging equates to an inarticulate speaker and an unprolific writer. Many individuals engage in codeswitching whereby less formal structures may be spoken in informal settings while all traditions of standard English are executed in written discourse. Here, the authors appear particularly opinionated and inclined to portray that individuals who use slang and text messaging engage in substandard forms of communication therefore their speech and writing must be substandard as well which indicates bias. Yet, this textbook was found to be free of errors.
Much of the content found in this text is incomplete. Some examples of incompleteness include the presentation of the rhetorical situation on page 12. The brevity of information in this section would result in time spent in research by instructors and students in search for needed explanations for the sketches of information given. How language functions is alluded to but not enough concrete information is provided for students to understand the concept. However, with additional research completed by the writers of this text, these necessary explanations can easily be inserted. Similarly, page 15 mentions "thesis-driven writing" followed by how a student's paper should resemble "a crystal stream instead of a muddy ocean." Students who would most likely use this textbook would not understand these two assuming comments. They do not take into consideration that many students do not possess prior knowledge related to these skills. Finally, the Table of Contents organizes topics well overall. New information can be easily added for later up-dates.
In addition to text that is written assumingly, the text is written flippantly, offensively, and includes bias. The exclamatory sentence, "Holy crud, Batman!" on page 129 can be construed offensively by some religious cultures because of it oxymoronic nature. In contrast, the statement, "if you start by searching on good old regular Google, seeking out some popular sources, ..." on page 112 flippantly goes against research techniques for identifying, evaluating, integrating and documenting sources properly. Bias was expressed in this text by alluding only to Caucasian individuals in regards to memoir writing where there are so many individuals of other races who are suitable candidates to include as memoirists.
Much of the terminology used in this text assumes the reader has prior knowledge about the topic being addressed. The framework of the text omits too many support structures that students assigned to a course using this text would need. On a basic level, it lacks a preface, glossary, index, and credits given to the expert contributors to the textbook. No sufficient closure of skills were presented.
Large blocks of text without headings were avoided thus allowing learners to easily read smaller sections of text. However, the text omitted too many directives, explanations, examples or practice activities that support learning were not presented. Learners would be compelled to search out other sources to supplement their reading which would be a distraction, time consuming and inconvenient.
The topics in this textbook are presented in a logical fashion, yet too many underlying skills are omitted.
The textbook does not include the material that is typically covered in a college-level course for learners assigned to or testing into a course that would use this type of textbook. For example, college readiness skills should be a part of this text and its relationship to writing. Additionally, the map on page 18 is unclear and too small. This graphic should be identified as a tool for writing and needs to be set up as several maps to include subtopics about the topics listed within the map.
No grammatical errors were found in the text. This is an excellent feature about this text.
Page 108 uses the phrasing, "... a teacher is going to throw a research project in your face." A potential English as a Second Language student, representative of a number of cultures, would have difficulty understanding the two-part nuances of this phrase. The word choice and style of expression is rude and derogatory. For non-native speakers of English, this dual use of an idiomatic expression would be extremely confusing. Great definitions and explanations are given of the term "memoir" on page 81. However, examples of memorable memoirists are limited to Caucasian males and females which is a skewed perspective being presented to students of many races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Varied examples, to name a few, could include former presidents Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama or his wife, Michelle or Freida Kahlo. These individuals represent other races and allows readers of this text to see themselves in their textbook. It further demonstrates an awareness of other cultures and the importance of inclusion of other cultures throughout the bulk of the text and not just limit writing and reading exposure to Caucasians.
This textbook appeared to have been a rush job and not well thought out. I would not use it nor recommend it for use by other community college instructors.
Table of Contents
- Open License
- Why, What, When, Where, How, Who?
- Rhetorical Situation
- Brainstorming & Prewriting
- Thesis & Topic Sentences
- Peer Review
- Common Essay Problems
- Process Analysis
- Compare and Contrast
- Division and Classification
- Cause and Effect
- Annotated Bibliography
- Genres List
- The Research Process
- Grammar & Mechanics
- Figurative Language
About the Book
Welcome to Writing Unleashed, designed for use as a textbook in first-year college composition programs, written as an extremely brief guide for students, jam-packed with teachers’ voices, students’ voices, and engineered for fun.
About the Contributors
Sybil Priebe has taught at every level of education: k-12, a few community colleges, and one university. She currently teaches a variety of courses at NDSCS. Sybil Priebe lives with her long-time boyfriend and old grey kitty. In her spare time, she likes to write, self-publish, read unconventional literature, drive her VW bug, shop at secondhand stores, go on bicycle rides, and attempt to kayak and paddleboard.
Ronda Marman has a long history with education that led her to completing three/four degrees that include undergraduates in Music, Business, and English, and a Masters in Rhetoric and Technical Writing. After a nine-year stint in the music business, a brief career as a fitness trainer, and some success as a wine steward and caterer, she is currently trying to balance raising a daughter, a German Shepherd, a husband, and two fat cats while teaching.
Dana Anderson loves how words teamed with visuals and smart document design can powerfully express ideas. Prior to teaching, she spent more than 10 years in journalism, publications/design, and corporate communications. At NDSCS, Dana teaches composition, technical communication, and professional writing classes. At home, she tries to keep up with her three boys and husband.