Writing with feeling? : types of personal reference in student papers




Beerits, Laura Catherine

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The question of the appropriateness and effectiveness of students' personal writing is a longstanding one in the academy. In composition studies, the ideological fight over personal and academic writing is most often represented by the oft-studied but rarely changed Bartholomae/Elbow debate. In literary studies, reader-response critics in particular have wrestled with the problems and possibilities of subjective interpretation. Yet despite scholastic interest in issues of personal writing, discussions have remained primarily theoretical and have relied mainly on anecdotal evidence. While small-scale case studies valuably illuminate the processes of an individual student or two, the conversation would be profoundly bolstered by empirical data. How common are personal responses, really? Further, while many believe that any presence of first-person pronouns signals personal, subjective writing, anecdotal cases suggest that there are several categories of personal writing, and that these different types of expressivism produce a range of rhetorical effects. The current study attempts to name and refine these categories--using the distinctions of General claim, Writer-based prose, Personal experience, and Personal claim—to begin to fill in this empirical gap. Is it a mistake to lump all use of personal reference into the category of "personal writing"? Would helping students distinguish between these varying types of personal references inform their stylistic and rhetorical choices? By reviewing a sample of 30 short papers written by college students in a general requirement literature survey course, I will examine how frequently--and in what ways--students reference themselves when responding in writing to a work of literature.




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