Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session.



Note: Students cannot receive credit for this course if they have successfully completed another "Writing and Rhetoric" class at MIT.


Writers are witnesses. E. L. Doctorow

You write in order to change the world…if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it. James Baldwin

If I waited for perfection…, I would never write a word. Margaret Atwood

Our best writing happens when we care passionately about our topics. That sense of passion often emerges in relation to contemporary social issues, such as poverty, homelessness, injustice, or environmental crisis, which deeply concern us. Writing offers a critical avenue of civic engagement so that we can understand issues more profoundly, communicate that understanding to the public and advocate for change.

This course seeks to provide a supportive context for students to grow significantly as writers by discovering and engaging with issues that matter to them. Writing on social and ethical issues, we can see ourselves within a tradition of authors such as Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, George Orwell, Rachel Carson, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., who have used the power of the pen to inspire social change. Throughout the term, we will analyze the rhetorical approaches of some of these authors, as well as contemporary writers such as Marion Wright Edelman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Ezekiel Emanuel, Susanna Kaysen, Jonathan Kozol and Michael Pollan. We will also discuss different rhetorical strategies that aim to increase awareness of social problems, to educate the public about different perspectives on contemporary issues and to persuade readers of the value of particular solutions to social problems.

This course also focuses on the visual rhetoric of photography and film, which, combined with print media, help raise awareness of social problems and advocate for change. We will analyze classic American documentary photographs by Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, and will screen some more recent documentary films (e.g., Food, Inc., Consuming Kids).

This course incorporates a service-learning perspective in the third major assignment; students are asked to write grant proposals for community service projects to address problems such as homelessness or educational inequality; writers often do their best work when engaged with real-world problems. This assignment connects with MIT's mission to develop in each student "not only the ability to work wisely, creatively and effectively for the betterment of humankind, but also the passion for doing so."


Lunsford, Andrea A. EasyWriter. 5th ed. Bedford / St. Martin's, 2013. ISBN: 9781457640469.

Various essays and articles are listed in the Calendar. Students should print out all online readings at the beginning of the term and bring assigned articles with them to each class.



Major Writing Assignments

  • Essay 1
  • Essay 2
  • Assignment 3 (Grant Proposal)


  • 15%
  • 35%
  • 25%
Homework Assignments 10%
Attendance, Preparation for Class, Participation, and Oral Presentation 15%

Publishing Your Work

Students are strongly encouraged to craft their essays with the goal of publication; we will discuss strategies for planning for publication.

Course Policies

Class Participation

To foster a sense of intellectual community, this course is structured as a seminar, in which we discuss the work of professional, as well as student, authors. It is crucial that students come to class on time, with required texts and well prepared to offer thoughtful responses to the readings and classmates' writing. To be effective participants, students need to complete reading and writing tasks by assigned dates. A vital, ongoing intellectual conversation is at the heart of the course.


Since our class functions as a writing community and the first "public" for students' essays, it is essential that students attend class consistently. More than two absences may affect the final grade. Under CI-HW guidelines, a student cannot pass the course with over five absences. Lateness is discourteous to the instructor and fellow students. Three latenesses—or early departures—of more than 15 minutes count as an absence. If a student must be absent from class or cannot submit an assignment on time because of a personal or medical emergency, he or she should contact me (or have a dean email me) as soon as possible. If an absence occurs, a student should contact a classmate about class material and obtain any handouts. Major assignments and many handouts will appear on the website by the day after they are distributed in class.

Electronic Devices in the Classroom

Everyone in our classroom community has an equal right to a distraction-free educational environment, which is most conducive to learning. The unnecessary use of electronic devices in the classroom ("multitasking") is distracting and unfair to other students and the instructor. Therefore, please completely turn off and store away your laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices during class. The use of laptops may be permitted on specific occasions if / when, for example, we are doing joint library research online. In short, plan on using printed copies of readings in class, and directing your attention to the texts, to other students and to me.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the foundation of all scholarship, because being able to trace how our ideas have developed in relation to other people's theories, research, and evidence, as well as our own, is what ensures the soundness of our research. Thus, university communities have a collective investment in ensuring that the practices of academic integrity are thoroughly learned and carefully practiced. In this CI-HW subject, we will study many features of academic argument that will help you to understand how scholars make use of sources, and distinguish their own ideas from those of other scholars. You will learn to read sources carefully, to assess their validity and usefulness to your own thinking, to use some kinds of sources as evidence that you'll analyze and argue about, and other kinds of sources as a theoretical foundation or counterargument to extend or deepen your own ideas about a subject. You will also learn the mechanics of source use: How to accurately quote, paraphrase, and cite sources according to one of the common systems of citation.

As members of this class and the larger scholarly community, you are expected to abide by the norms of academic integrity. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. You may not "recycle" text written before September 2015 (e.g., admissions essay) or turn in work produced for another MIT class this semester. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, all sources—of ideas as well as words and images, whether from a text, or the internet—must be acknowledged according to the conventions of academic citation. Willful disregard for these conventions—i.e., plagiarism—can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, and / or suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

For more information about policies and practices, please refer to the MIT Policy on Academic Integrity. The handbook Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students explains these issues in detail; you are responsible for understanding its contents. In class, we will also work on citing sources and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. When in doubt about how to find, use or properly cite sources, students should consult the instructor.