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Course Designs

Each issue of Composition Studies includes one (sometimes two) Course Designs, a unique feature aimed at writing and rhetoric faculty at post-secondary and graduate institutions. Course Design submissions describe, contextualize, theorize, reflect on, and present an innovative writing, rhetoric, or pedagogy course.

You are strongly encouraged to query the editor prior to preparing and submitting a CD, as submission acceptance may be influenced by recently published CDs.

Course Design Content Overview

CDs should highlight instructional innovation. That is, we are not looking for descriptions of well-conceived courses that integrate established practices and principles or courses organized around novel topics but reliant on standard practice. We wish to showcase teaching innovation that invites readers to consider the value of new approaches. We also hope these submissions address a perceived pedagogical problem that innovation might redress.

CDs should be developed in the sections elaborated below, using the recommended section headings as subtitles. Together, the first four sections (everything except the works cited and syllabus) should amount to 10-15 double-spaced pages. To see how specific sections have been developed in a published CD, see Elizabeth Ervin’s "Writing for Diverse Publics."

Required Sections

1) A course description that briefly outlines the course. Each CD begins with the official course title (as it is listed in the institution’s course catalog/schedule), the teacher’s (or teachers’) name, and the institution where the course is taught. Following this, include a brief (about 100 words) overview of the course’s subject matter, underlying assumptions, major goals, and/or pedagogical approach.

Example Course Description

2) A description of the institutional context, explaining the relationship between the course and/or its specific design and the program, department, institution, or community in which the course is offered. The CD feature assumes that despite the normalization of institutional and disciplinary practices, teaching is a local activity.

Example of Institutional Context

3) A theoretical rationale that explains the course’s theoretical assumptions and their relationship to the content, structure, activities, and assignments announced in the syllabus. This section establishes the scholarly antecedents or influences that inform the course’s practical components and the teacher’s expectations. Critical to this section is an explicit discussion of the purpose(s) of the course, its perceived goals and outcomes, both in general and in relation to its particular pedagogical design: What is the course for? Why has it been designed the way it has? What might result if it is effectively taught? Together with the critical reflection that follows, this section is the heart of the course design.

Example of Theoretical Rationale

4) A critical reflection in which the author assesses strengths and acknowledges weaknesses, proposes adjustments or modifications based on outcomes, and discusses implications for the field at large. A basic assumption driving the CD feature is that pedagogical practices are not static and so benefit from continual rethinking in light of shifting institutional, sociopolitical, and intellectual contexts. While we are interested in courses that seem to “work,” we seek submissions that are attentive to opportunities for revision or that frame coursework as an opportunity for reflecting on the shape, purpose, and value of writing studies writ large.

Example of Critical Reflection

5) A works cited that includes titles referenced or consulted, with the exception of those referenced in the syllabus (those works should be cited in the syllabus itself—see below). Please adhere to current MLA guidelines.

6) A syllabus presented as closely as possible to the document actually distributed to students. That said, any section not critical to an understanding of the course and its context (for instance, an attendance policy) may be removed. We encourage authors to keep syllabi under six single-spaced manuscript pages, including calendar. In general, the syllabus should include a course description, statement of goals, or expectations; a brief explanation of the assignment sequence, including evaluation criteria; a bibliography of required readings; a calendar; and inclusion of any features unique to the course. In an attempt to preserve the visual rhetoric of this document, we scan the syllabus and reduce it approximately 30% to fit the journal’s page size.

Please format the syllabus as follows:

  • Type no smaller than 12-point to allow for readable reduction of the document.
  • The calendar should list meetings, requirements, due dates, etc. under headings such as “Day One” or “Week Five” rather than specific dates.
  • References to published work—required reading, etc.—must be accompanied by complete citation information.
  • Authors should take care to prevent the inference that distribution of required course reading might be in violation of copyright law.

Example Syllabus

Purpose & Review Process

As writing/rhetoric instructors, most of us are notorious “borrowers”; indeed, we often complain that we lack sufficient opportunities to exchange the successful activities and approaches we’ve developed through years in the classroom.

Course Designs addresses this need in a concrete way that nevertheless acknowledges the difficulty of transplanting a specific design into another instructor’s classroom, given the range of experience, teaching styles, pedagogies, material circumstances, etc. of our readers. Thus, rather than supply a package of materials for readers to reproduce, the primary purpose of Course Designs is to inspire, to provoke reflection, to offer new approaches, to challenge prevailing assumptions, and to suggest possibilities.

Criteria: Given the above purpose, the editor will evaluate each course design submission according to how well it

  • presents an innovative instructional approach
  • moves beyond “what I did in my class last term” to examine what students and teacher learned.
  • theorizes the content of the course as well as the pedagogical approach—that is, the ends and means of the writing instruction being presented.
  • adds to/complicates/calls into question commonly held ideas about teaching writing.
  • connects to a larger concern or dilemma in the field of writing studies.

Submission Process

Course Designs may be submitted at any time via our online submission system at Receipt of all submissions will be acknowledged. Please direct questions to the editor at

Another Course Design Example