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February 9, 2006

Summary of Bartholomae's "Inventing the University"

[note: pages 600-601 missing]

Academic writing requires students to imagine they have the authority to speak meaningfully about the content domain to someone who knows it better. Students enter unfamiliar with the conventions of academic discourse, and are aware of it. Nevertheless, it is both ‚Äúnecessary and enabling‚Ä? (591) that as instructors, we ask students to write in the voice of our academic disciplines.

Initially, mimicking academic prose allows students to pull off the authority to speak meaningfully about the content domain to someone who knows it better. ‚ÄúLeading students to believe that they are responsible for something new or original, unless they understand what those words mean with regard to writing, is a dangerous and counterproductive practice‚Ä? (598).

Fundamentally writing involves anticipating what has been said (in other academic texts) and what might be said (again, in other academic texts). Academic writing, then, is not about communicating fully new information; it is creating new connections among existing information.

After taking on the sound of the specialized discourse, students must try to seem as insiders with their academic audience by beginning with common points of departure (i.e. starting with ‚Äúcommonplaces‚Ä?) before introducing new or controversial arguments.

Successful writing thus trades one set of (i.e. more na√Įve) ‚Äúcommonplaces‚Ä? for another. Mechanically, successful writing is exemplified by:
‚ÄėWhile most readers of ______ have said _________, a close and careful reading shows that ____________.‚Ä?

Level 1 Students: lack both academic ‚Äúsound‚Ä? and fail to exchange commonplaces (neither place themselves within nor against academic discourse)
Level 2 Students: mimic academic sound but fail to exchange commonplaces (place themselves within academic discourse, but not against it)
Level 3 Students: both mimic academic sound and exchange commonplaces (place themselves both within and against academic discourse)