The Writing Arc: From Discovery to Presentation

Authors: Steve Sansom, Brian H. Kyser, Bruce Martin, Robert Miller

Publishing Information: 2018, Fountainhead Press

Price: $60.00 print, $42.00 e-book (prices via https://www.fountainheadpress.com/ )

Summary: Sansom, Kyser, Martin, and Miller’s 2018 textbook for first-year college composition students, entitled The Writing Arc: From Discovery to Presentation, focuses on different aspects of a writing process throughout. The book includes a preface, 12 chapters, a section of “Additional Readings,” “Student Examples” (of different types and genres of texts), “Appendices,” a “Works Cited,” and an index.

The “Additional Readings” section includes a variety of topics and positionalities, such as Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” Richard Rodriguez’s “Mexicans in America,” and Imani Perry’s “Five Myths About Brown v. Board of Education.” Student writing examples include pieces on “Planting a Vegetable Garden,” “Horror Novels as Therapy,” and “Weight Lifters.” The Appendices include sections on topics like grammar and punctuation, as well as “Commonly confused words and phrases.”

In the “Preface,” Sansom et al. state that The Writing Arc is a textbook designed for and use by first-year college composition students and for a particular purpose: to discuss and provide examples of some of the core principles of writing, and that this narrow focus is one of the pitfalls and strengths of its construction. The authors also write that this textbook was created partly to address changes in the Texas education system, but can be used to tackle issues in colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Strengths:

  • Clear Organization: Within chapters, different sections/topics are clearly organized via headings and subheadings (in teal rather than black text). Clear labeling of visuals/diagrams. Activities are set apart from the rest of the text via orange or teal headings and text boxes.
  • Specific Tips for Writers: For example, in Chapter 1, the authors include a list of tips for beginning writers, such as journaling, scheduling time to write, finding a place to write, being alert and interested, and avoiding perfectionism in early drafts. Chapter 2 also includes such a list of mental habits writers can cultivate, such as curiosity, flexibility, responsibility and reflection. Each point features a small description about each term.
  • Visual Aids: In Chapter 3, the authors include not only a list and descriptions, but visual examples of some of the different brainstorming strategies mentioned, such as listing, and mind mapping, drawing and sketching.
  • Variety of Topics Covered: Not only includes more traditional conceptions of writing in the composition classroom, but how to turn a written piece into an oral and visual presentation (Chapter 12), including information on how to make PowerPoint presentations, and tips for rehearsing before the presentation.

Weaknesses:

  • Cost and Appearance:  The book is a bit bulky, is organized in a traditional textbook format, and is expensive (both print and digital versions). Although organization is clear throughout, its appearance and set up is very much that of a traditional textbook, likely turning many students off.
  • Length of Chapters: Chapters are a bit long and sprawling—I think a better strategy would be to have a large chapter or section heading, and then break that section into smaller chapters or sections. For example, Chapter 5 is pages 75-91, and covers a great number of topics, such as body paragraphs, paragraph unity, paragraph coherence, paragraph development, bringing the paragraph into the essay, introductions, and conclusions. Many of these topics could easily have their own section or chapter within this larger chapter/section, letting ideas and concepts breathe a bit. As it stands, chapters such as Chapter 5 are overwhelming in terms of length and sheer number of topics covered.
  • “Busy Work”: Many of the Activities included in this textbook strike me as “busy work,” work that is given to students to fill up class time or out of class time. These activities include exercises such as circling repetitions, arranging sentences in specific order, and word replacement exercises. As such, many of these activities strike me as those one would complete in preparing for or doing a standardized test, further underscoring that this is, indeed, a traditional textbook.
  • Dry Prose: As is the case with many traditional textbooks, the prose used in the chapters is dry and unengaging, making the already lengthy chapters seem even longer.