The Norton Field Guide to Writing

With Readings and Handbook

Editors: Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, Francine Weinberg

Edition: 2016 MLA update

Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company

What it is:

As the title implies, this book can productively be thought of as a “field guide.” It has a little bit of everything: textbook chapters, example essays, grammar/style guides, etc.

What’s in this book?

The book is broken down into 9 sections, most of which contain multiple chapters. The sections are laid out as follows:

  1. Academic literacies- Textbook chapters that focus on writing and reading in a general sense
  2. Rhetorical situations- Textbook chapters that explain and offer tips on how to manipulate the aspects of the rhetorical situation (i.e. purpose, audience, genre, etc.)
  3. Genres- Textbook chapters that cover four distinct genres: literacy narrative, textual analysis report, and argument.
  4. Processes- These chapters “offer advice for generating idea and text, drafting, revising and rewriting, editing, proofreading” along with several other topics.
  5. Strategies- These chapters help students to develop ideas and organize texts.
  6. Research/Documentation- These chapters offer advice on the research process and teach students how to work with sources in both APA and MLA styles.
  7. Media/Design- These chapters give advice on choosing appropriate mediums for certain kinds of message, whether print, electronic, or spoken.
  8. Readings- Several example essays in multiple genres.
  9. Handbook- Tips and guides for grammar and style.

Strengths

  • The primary strength of this book is its breadth. You could assign it to your class, use no additional outside readings, and you still wouldn’t get through half of the material in the book.
  • The grammar handbook at the end is pretty cool. If students are struggling with grammatical correctness or have a specific mistake that they make repeatedly, you can direct them here as a resource. (Also, as someone who knows the rules of grammar instinctually but doesn’t always know the names of each rule, this section can be a resource for instructors too.)
  • The sample essays are generally pretty good. If you’re too lazy to find other samples for your students and/or don’t want to use ARAK, some of these might be useful. Additionally, each sample comes with discussion questions/tips.
  • Materially, this book is appealing. It is high quality, has a soft cover, and the sections are usefully color-coded. Additionally, the preface, table of contents, and glossary/index are all well-formatted and useful.

Weaknesses

  • Unfortunately, the breadth of this book makes it overwhelming. It is over 1000 pages, and it’s easy to lose the valuable parts in all of the rest. Also, the instructor would need to do a lot of work in sifting through the text and choosing the parts to assign.
  • As a consequence of its size and breadth, the book is pretty heavy. I wouldn’t want to have to carry it around in my bag if I were a student.
  • I found that, at times, the ways in which the book speaks of genre and other conventions is overly prescriptive. It can be useful in that it gives students a concrete guide for getting assignments done, but I feel that it might stifle creativity.
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