Frequently Asked Questions for
Advanced Composition: Writing in the Wild
A: It’s available on-line, as a link to our course web site:
This site has electronic versions of all important course materials including the course policy statement, a regularly updated daily schedule, instructions on the software you’ll need, an archive of course handouts, a map of computer labs on campus, and so on. Use this site early and often—it’s your best resource for doing well in this class, as well as a way for you to easily review your classmates’ work, e-mail them, and so on. Because the online “daily schedule” will be continuously updated, you’ll need to check it regularly.
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Q: Speaking of the web, what are all of these computers doing in an English department classroom?
A: This is a computer-assisted course.
Q: So what does “computer-assisted course” mean?
A: In this case, a “computer-assisted course” is one in which students use computer hardware and software to write web pages, turn in papers, write and read e-mail, and conduct research. We will also have a class e-mail list through which you can contact me, or your class as a whole. All papers will be turned in electronically by posting them to your website. If you’re interested in reading more about the English Department’s "English Technology-Integrated Classrooms" (ETIC), you can read about them on the department’s web site:
Q: Do I need an E.I.U. e-mail account, or can I use the account I already have, or get one from AOL or Yahoo or something?
A: You must have an E.I.U. e-mail account for this class, and you must use your E.I.U. account for your work course in this course—it’s available on any computer that allows you to use the internet at this URL:
I’ll sign you up to the class listserv with your E.I.U. account, so using it regularly will ensure that you read your course-related e-mail, which may well contain important information on homework, canceled classes, and the like. Additionally, be aware that you also already have an E.I.U. assigned web page, along with space on the E.I.U. computer system to store the web site you will develop for this class. In order to gain access to your E.I.U. web site, you need to have your E.I.U. email user name and password. Make sure you activate your account, if you have not already, and that you have a written copy of your user name and password with you at all times during class. That way we can be certain that if you have any problems it is not due to a forgotten or misremembered user name or password.
This semester, an upgrade in EIU's computer system changes the way students access their e-mail and personal web pages. Your e-mail log-in ID and password are now available through PAWS, the same online system that you use to register for classes. Students no longer need to go in person to User Services in the Student Services Building to pick up their e-mail accounts or have their passwords reset. As part of this upgrade, all Eastern students, both new and returning, must first activate their accounts by going to the PAWS site. Students will not be able to use their e-mail, access their personal web pages, or dial in until they activate their accounts. Detailed directions on the activation procedure are available at
Q: What if I don’t like using e-mail?
A: Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it, and you'll soon come to realize that the ease with which e-mail allows people to communicate has made it a primary tool in professional life. Using your E.I.U. account and checking it regularly outside of class (at least three times per week) is crucial for this class. If you are not willing to do so, drop this section of 3001 and take one that is not computer assisted.
Q: If this is a writing class, why do we have to do all this computer programming?
A: First of all, we will not be doing computer programming; computer programming is a specialized field in which programmers design and write the codes that make all computer software function. We will, however, be learning how to produce Web pages, using what is called hypertext mark-up language (most often called either .htm or .html). In order to write these web pages, we will be using Netscape Composer, an .htm authoring program. Please go here to review the software that you will need to use in this class:
We will be using these technologies because they are the standard technologies of writing in contemporary society, particularly in professional and collegiate settings. Learning how to design and write web pages will also provide a valuable introduction to the complex, multi-dimensional uses of writing both in college and in the world at large (AND, when you’re finally out there looking for a place to start your career, knowing how to publish professional reports online will be a great skill to mention on your resume).
Q: What if I’m computerphobic? What if computers and I just don’t get along . . .
A: Again, don’t worry. You will eventually construct a professional, content-rich web site in this course that you can be proud of, but the web skills you will learn are fairly basic. Some students do struggle at first as they acquire these skills, but rest assured—at the end of the semester, everyone who has taken this class before has become a fully competent internet designer and writer.
Q: When can I use this computer classroom?
A: Unfortunately, this classroom is only available for your use during our regularly scheduled class times. However, I will schedule some open class times in which you can work on your web site and other course assignments. There are also two large computer labs on campus. You need to start figuring out now which labs are most convenient for your own purposes. A clickable map of E.I.U. labs is available here:
Q: What is the “Writing in the Wild” research project?
A: Over the course of the semester you will be asked to conduct an in-depth study of the writing processes and texts of a writer of your own choice. This semester-long endeavor is known in our class as the “Writing in the Wild” research project. It consists of several different types of texts, from letters to interviews to oral reports, and culminates in a 2,500-3,000 word final report. Again, you can review all of the materials on our course web site; go here to review a fuller description of the “Writing in the Wild” research project:
Q: Isn’t Advanced Composition supposed to be just a chance for me to get more practice writing? What good is this research to me as a writer?
A: Although you will have plenty of opportunity to work on your writing skills, Advanced Composition, at least in this course, is about much more than simply “practicing writing.” Among other things, this course will introduce you to writing as it is practiced in the contemporary workplace. This means, among other things: learning and using computer-writing technology; learning to write in more than one genre, and to present information in formats appropriate to your audience and your purposes; learning to do field research, and to do research over an extended time-period; and sharpening your abilities to relate bibliographic to field-research findings. Finally, this course will give you an opportunity to test the validity of anything you know, or have read, about writing and the writing process. In these ways, this course is meant to server as a bridge of sorts, from the type of writing you’ve been doing for college courses, to the types of writing that occur in the professional workplace.
Q: Are you going to assign a writer to me? If not, how will I find a writer for my research project?
A: No, you are responsible for finding your own writer, someone who is willing to work with you throughout most of this semester. Before you can do that, however, you must ask yourself a few essential questions. Are you interested in studying a writer who is doing the kind of writing you would like to do, that is, someone in the profession you are planning to enter? Or, are you interested in understanding how writing works in a field that you are curious about in a general sense, even if you are not planning to pursue this field professionally? Remember, you are going to be involved in this project over the course of the entire semester, and you will need to keep yourself interested and motivated. Find an area of study and a writer that are both challenging and appealing to you, for whatever reasons you deem important. Once you have decided what sort of writing interests you, start thinking about where you can find people that do it as a part of their jobs. Some students investigate professors they admire, for example, but others simply look in the phone book. If you're looking for ideas, click here for a list of writers studied by previous students in this class.
Q: How can I spend a whole semester researching someone’s writing? Is that all there is to this project?
A: No, there’s much more than that, and we'll spend much of our class time together discussing ways to analyze your writer’s writing, as well as his or her workplace and the interactions that occur within it. We will also discuss ways to analyze the workplace environment in which this writing takes place; how it’s produced; how it’s influenced by your writer’s background and those of the people around him or her; and why it comes out reading the way it does, rather than some other ways that it could read instead. Also, again, you’ll be working throughout the semester on your own writing as you write about these various facets of this person’s work life.
Q: Won’t people be too busy working to spend time helping me with my research?
A: This project typically requires ten to twenty hours of contact throughout the semester with your “writer in the wild,” mostly in the form of observations and interviews. It also requires that you be both tactful and honest with your writer, making sure they understand what you are asking from them, but also reassuring them that you will accommodate their needs however you can. Most writers, when approached by students, feel flattered rather than put-upon—after all, if they are worthy of being “studied” then they must be doing something important! Writers in the wild typically end up enjoying the process, and they usually gain useful insights about their work, and even about themselves. Nevertheless, you cannot afford to be rude to them, or to take their help for granted, since your research project cannot proceed without them. Do your best to make your schedule fit theirs (rather than vice versa), and remember to thank them often for working with you.
Q: When do I have to have arrangements finalized with my writer?
A: You must have identified a writer and finalized arrangements by Thursday, September 11.
Q: What if I don’t have a car?
A: Logistics are very important to the success of your project. If you do not have a car or any reliable transportation, you will have to find a writer either on campus or within easy walking distance. If you do have transportation, you are welcome to do research anywhere within driving distance; however, be aware that completion of this project requires that you visit your writer several times over the course of the semester. You cannot complete your research only by phone, mail, or E-mail.