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WRTG 3020 Topics in Writing: Women Writers

Instructor Contact:

Diane DeBella

Course Description:

She didn’t write it.  (But if it’s clear she did the deed. . .)

She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.)

She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.  (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!)

She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.  (“Jane Eyre.  Poor dear, that’s all she ever. . .”)

She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s

book. It’s sci fi!)

She wrote it, but she had help.  (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte.  Her own “masculine side.”)

She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.  (Woolf.  With Leonard’s help….)

She wrote it BUT. . .

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing


It has become commonplace to say that women’s voices have been absent from the Western rhetorical tradition, as either practitioners or theorists. So total has been this erasure that no standard history of rhetoric includes even one woman, leading many to conclude that women had nothing to contribute to theories or practices of persuasion. Recently, however, there have been a number of challenges to such assumptions. As a result, we are recovering–and finally hearing–women’s voices, and we are examining how women’s life experiences—their personal truths—have led to greater societal change. In this course you will be exposed to history, literature, psychology, and feminist theory as you analyze the lives and writings of creative women who have examined themselves as subject since the eighteenth century, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Adrienne Rich, Maya Angelou, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, and others. You will see how their life experiences, choice of genre, and intended audience shaped their rhetorical message, and you will examine the impact those messages had on the society in which these women lived.

Course Objectives:

WRTG 3020 has established goals within four key areas: Critical Thinking and its Written Application; The Writing Process; Rhetorical Situation; and Mechanics and Style.

Critical Thinking and Its Written Application

As writers and as readers, students should leave 3020 able to:

  • See writing as a form of personal engagement, demanding an awareness of the inherent power of language and its ability to bring about change.
  • Pose and shape a question at issue.
  • Locate and use resources when necessary to exploring a line of inquiry.
  • Critically evaluate information sources for credibility, validity, timeliness, and relevance.
  • Draw inferences from a body of evidence.
  • Distinguish description from analysis and argument.
  • Distinguish flawed from sound reasoning, and be able to respond to and challenge claims.
  • Recognize a thesis, and understand the organic relationship between thesis and support in an essay.
  • As writers, structure and develop points of argument in a coherent order to build a case; as readers, recognize this structure and development within texts.
  • Critique one’s own works in progress and those of others.
  • Recognize that academic and public writing is dialogic, addresses an audience, and anticipates the thinking, the questions, and the possible objections of readers.

The Writing Process

As writers, students should be able to:

  • Understand writing as an ongoing process that requires multiple drafts and various strategies for developing, revising and editing texts.
  • Understand that revision is informed by critical dialogue.
  • See the critical analysis of others’ work as relevant to one’s own writing.

Rhetorical Situation

Students should learn to:

  • Exercise rhetorical skills: frame issues, define and defend theses, invent and arrange appeals, answer counterarguments, and contextualize conclusions.
  • Value writing as a collaborative dialogue between authors and audiences, critics, and colleagues.
  • Make decisions about form, argumentation, and style from the expectations of different audiences.
  • Recognize that a voice or style appropriate to one discipline or rhetorical context might be less appropriate for another.
  • Develop “topic”-specific language that is appropriate for the defined audience while also intelligible to a non-expert audience.

Mechanics and Style

Students in WRTG 3020 should learn to:

  • Convey meaning through concise, precise, highly readable language.
  • Apply the basics of grammar, sentence-structure, and other mechanics integral to analytical and persuasive writing.
  • Develop skills in proofreading.
  • Use voice, style and diction appropriate to the discipline or rhetorical context.
  • Use paragraph structure and transitional devices to aid the reader in following even a complex train of thought.

Required Texts: 

Required readings can be accessed as either online links or accessible .pdf files, which will appear under the weekly course content listings.


Critical Reading Responses

For each of the additional specific readings assigned, you will be required to post critical reading responses to the class discussion board. These responses will be evaluated based upon your critical reading, critical thinking, and critical writing skills. For each reading you will also need to post replies to two other students’ responses. I will provide you with additional details regarding critical reading responses. You should refer to both the Critical Analysis handout and the Critical Reading Response handout for more detailed instructions. You may skip five reading responses over the course of the semester without penalty.  Some of the readings may be personally triggering for you; if that is the case, you may skip those readings. As an alternative, you may complete all reading responses, and your lowest five grades will be dropped.

Draft Preparation and Peer Critique

You will provide constructive criticism of your classmates’ work, and you will receive criticism from peers and from me on your own drafts. Peer critique and draft preparation is extremely important, and both will count towards your final grade. I will provide you with additional details regarding how we will complete peer critique online.

Formal Writing Assignments

You will complete three formal writing assignments. The first two will be 6-8 pages each (typed, double spaced). The first assignment will be an analysis essay. This is a research paper in which you will evaluate and incorporate outside sources to break a larger issue down into its smaller components in order to more fully understand and explain the issue in question. For example, you might examine how effective these women’s writings were in initiating large scale changes in social and political attitudes. Or you could examine the impact these pieces had when they were written versus the influence they have had on generations since their original publication. The second essay is a formal argument. In this paper you will establish your own authority and credibility, appeal to your readers’ values and beliefs, and craft logical and audience-appropriate arguments with valid and ample evidence to support your points. For example, you might argue that as women writers moved from fiction to nonfiction and confessional writing, societal awareness of women’s issues increased. Or you could argue which genre of writing (fiction, nonfiction, or confessional poetry) is most effective in describing the negative impact social institutions and societal pressures can have on women. The third formal project is a reflection, which can take the form of a 4-6 page (typed, double spaced) reflective essay. The main focus of this essay is to examine what you believe are the largest influences in the lives of women, based upon what you have learned over the course of the semester. This essay is your opportunity to reflect on and synthesize your development as a writer and critical thinker over the course of the semester. The reflection project can also be an opportunity to express what you have learned through a spoken word poem or through digital storytelling. The reflection offers the chance to stretch your creative wings. We will be using MLA citation format for essays written in this course.

Class Participation

Participation is an integral part of the learning experience.  Completing your own work on time and responding to other students’ work in a thorough, thoughtful, and timely manner will count toward your class participation grade.

Course Grade

Learning Activities Percentage
Critical Reading Responses 20%
Draft Preparation/Peer Critique 15%
Essays 1 and 2 20% each
Reflection Paper/Project 15%
Class Participation 10%

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