The Curious Writer, 5th edition

Ballenger, Bruce P. . Pearson, 2017.

Hardcover* ($141.20) and paperback ($91.84) available via Pearson

*Hardcover version of the 5th ed. reviewed here utilizes MLA 7, while the hardcover, paperback and other versions have since been updated to MLA 8.

Caution: There are both updated and non-updated versions of the 5th ed. of this text available on Amazon for sale and/or rent, so students could potentially show up with books that have the same cover but different contents inside regarding citation style.

Other versions: Loose-leaf; Concise 5th edition; Brief 5th edition (all updated to reflect MLA 8th edition). An e-book (via subscription) is planned but not yet available.

Supplemental materials

The textbook can be purchased from Pearson in a package with a digital access card for online content, including homework, tutorial, and assessment components:

MyLab Writing with Pearson eText

  • Package: $143.00
  • Access card only: $54.00

Textbook Materiality

  • Cover: The hardcover is sturdy and fairly compact; with bright splashes of white and red, the book would be quickly identifiable visually. Undoubtedly a paperback edition would be lighter, but this book is small and light enough that it should be easily portable for most students, and the hardcover lends it more durability. The book also lies open on any page without assistance, which is a benefit.
  • Pages: The pages inside are of a decent weight, slightly glossy, and as a result are very smooth and easy to mark with pencil. A smudge test conducted with pencil, ballpoint, highlighter, and gel ink pens revealed that while #2 pencil is virtually smudge-proof, ballpoint ink will smear a little but remains legible. Highlighters will smear to a greater degree and should be allowed time to dry. Gel ink smears badly and left the test word virtually unintelligible (and also left the reviewer’s fingers liberally smudged). 


  • Emphasizes writing as inquiry-based and as a process, which in general fits well with the goals of E110.
  • Multidisciplinary, incorporating readings from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. As the text progresses from personal essays to analytical and research-based projects, students are encouraged to choose topics they want to learn more about, rather than ones they are already familiar with.
  • The first chapters focus on learning what inquiry is and how to use inquiry effectively in academic writing. The text is scaffolded so that students then begin with personal essays and progress to short form writing such as reviews and proposals, then go on to longer papers such as analytical and research essays.
  • Exercises throughout the chapters provide opportunity for reflection and short writing activities, either in class or out. Chapter 1, for instance, initiates students into the practice of journaling and fastwriting with sample entries (Bernice’s Journal, p. 5 & 11) and offers prompts to get students started on a journal entry of their own. Journaling is reinforced throughout the book, with sample entries used to connect to adjacent material, as in Chapter 4 (Bruce’s Journal, p. 118). Other useful features include charts with keywords or “features of the form” to break down elements of a particular type of writing, as in Chapter 3 (Conventions of the Personal Essay, p. 66-67). 
  • Re-genre: An entire chapter is devoted to the concept of repurposing academic writing for another genre, such as a blog, podcast, or poster. While this is useful, the text is overwhelmingly geared toward academic writing first and foremost and does not incorporate a section on creating projects in such other genres from scratch.
  • Robust, cross-referenced, alphabetical index of names, concepts, and keywords
  • Chapter 12 includes support for both MLA (7 or 8) and APA (presumably 6th ed.), with examples. Caveats: the sample header graphics here are dated, appearing as though typed on a typewriter, and neither sample paper provided (ch. 9, APA; ch. 10, MLA) actually follows appropriate page formatting guidelines. General page-formatting instructions, too, are occasionally dated in the version of the text reviewed here.