Course Description: Rhetoric & Composition

The following course information comes from the syllabus of my Summer 2017 section of English 15, a first-year rhetoric and composition course required of nearly all Penn State undergraduates, enrolling 24 students per section. Please visit the Program in Writing & Rhetoric website to read more about English 15.


English 15 is an intensive, rhetorically based experience in reading and writing that will prepare you to understand the communications that surround you and to succeed in your own communication efforts. In this course, we will focus specifically on analyzing verbal and visual texts (our reading) as well as on producing such texts (our writing)—always in terms of rhetorical principles. Even if the term rhetoric isn’t familiar to you, you bring a good deal of rhetorical skill to this class: you already know how to gauge the way you perceive and produce language according to the speaker, intended audience, and purpose. You may not always gauge perfectly, your perception may not always be accurate, and your production may not always be successful—but you often consider ways to interpret and choose language that are appropriate to the rhetorical situation. And when you do not succeed, you often try again to communicate and to make knowledge. This course, then, is designed to build on what you already know how to do as you become a more confident and resourceful reader and writer.

Learning Objectives

By the end of our six weeks together, you should be able to:

  • Recognize and articulate your goals as a writer.
  • Research and respond to the ongoing conversation surrounding a topic.
  • Apply critical thinking to your own compositions and those by other rhetors, interrogating the assumptions and evidence underlying claims.
  • Anticipate the needs and expectations of your audience.
  • Compose in a process of planning, drafting, revising, and editing.
  • Employ the affordances of various mediums, whether a traditional paper or a digital medium.

To work toward these objectives, you need to engage with the course materials by completing the reading assignments before each class meeting, attending class and actively participating, and practicing writing via the course assignments.