Semester-Long Project: Composing Professional and Academic Online Networks

Due: End of Term
{20% of semester grade}

During the course of the semester, you will build, develop, and maintain an academic-professional website that features your writing and professional goals/pursuits. All of your writing for this term will be posted to your sites.

We will be creating and interacting via Reclaim Hosting sites. They are very inexpensive and easy to create, design, and manage. We will work together to get your sites up and running, but you will also be responsible for maintaining them outside of class as well.

Here’s what you need to do to get started.

  1. Purchase a domain from (Cost is $25)
  2. Install WordPress on your domain. (For help, follow the steps here)
  3. Choose a new theme to install on your site and activate it.

After you set up your blog,

You have 3 requirements for the blog this term:

  1. You will find and follow at least 10 scholars/professionals/organizations of field(s)—this includes personal and professional blogs, news sources, industry sites, even YouTube channels. Your goal here is to get a sense of how someone composes through an online format content relevant to your research/work. Once you have established your own professional and academic network, I suggest picking one 15/30 min. window each day to hop on and see what’s been posted. I also suggest keeping a blog journal where you can jot down anything of note you come across in your readings of them (this will also prove useful for the final requirement – see #3).
  2. In addition to creating content-specific pages (see below “On Designing Your Site”), you will engage in all peer review via the comment function your colleagues’ sites and you will post ALL written work to your site.
  3. A polished “About Me” section that clearly identifies who you are as an academic/professional, and highlights some of the research you have been involved in, as well as your future research and career interests. This section should also introduce readers through your website: what is it? a portfolio? a collection of writings? How might readers navigate it? Where should they begin? What in particular do you want to showcase?

On designing your blog

Warning: Don’t spend more time designing your blog than writing for it (I’m guilty of this!).

To compose an effective professional-academic website, you will need to create focused content pages as a way of organizing your writing and informing your audience(s) about who you are, your research interests, and your professional achievements and goals.

About Me (about your academic major, projects, and interests; professional experience and goals; maybe a little insight into you outside of “work” is okay, too. This page will be created early on in the semester and revisited at the end so that you can add to your interests and body of work based on what you’ve accomplished during the term)

Home (I recommend enabling a static home page to be your landing page, with information about you (your “About Me” perhaps) and about the site itself. You can then direct your blog posts to a designated “blog” page.

Blog (you will include all “drafts” of your writing here for peer review, as well as shorter in-class or homework writing assignments)

Projects / Portfolio (this will include links to sub-pages of each final drafted “essay” project you compose)

Resume / CV Think about reader experience here and the benefits of using the medium of a website rather than a piece of paper: do you want to paste plain text and include a pdf attachment? Include hyperlinks?

What I’m Reading (an annotated bibliography of all your current recommended reads)

Who I’m Following (this will be a running list of bloggers/websites/twitter users that comprise your network)

You may choose to add other content and pages that make sense for you and your goals (a portfolio of previous work, a gallery, a Twitter feed). Your site should reflect the best version of YOU and highlight your professional/academic skills both within and outside our classroom.

A note on privacy: Your website should be a tool in your professional and academic arsenal, beyond this course. Hopefully it will become something that you can update, turn on or turn off during graduate school applications, job interviews, etc. Because our work will be peer-reviewed in class (and would be regardless if it were digital or analog), you should expect to share your writing with me and classmates. If you wish to make your website private (to the general public, not to the class), however, you may set it under password protection, and share the password with the class.

You will be assessed in two ways on your website:

First, (10% of this unit grade) the website as a whole, including content, navigation, clarity, purpose, tone, function. You’ll want to test all links and proof all content.

Second (the remaining 10% of this unit grade), your “About Me” section. How are you presenting yourself as a researcher/academic? How are you talking about the work you’ve done throughout the semester, both in terms of research and career goals? Is it succinct, well-developed, professional, polished?

OPTIONAL/EXTRA CREDIT: Start, link to, and update a professional/academic Twitter account.


Unit One: Rhetorical Analysis of Academic Communities of Writing and Discourse

Part One: An Introduction to Everything

Due: Monday, July 13

Throughout this semester, you will closely analyze what it means to do professional and academic writing within your chosen discipline. In order to do so, you will first carefully investigate the field itself and explain it both to yourself and to the rest of us. Think about it as teaching us about your major/field, why you chose it, what kind of work you do, misconceptions about it, what you do in classes and co-op, etc.

Part One will consist of blog post(s), a comic, and a brief informal presentation to the class.

Blog Post

Use these questions as a jumping-off point to open up a discussion about your discipline (i.e., don’t feel constrained by them or answer them in short, numbered sentences). Why did you choose this discipline or why do you think your classmates generally choose it? Were you surprised by certain things in your major/ certain thing your discipline requires or values (for example, as an undergrad English major, I remember being surprised by literary criticism! All I knew was that I liked reading and writing and taking a literary theory course that focused on philosophy and history was not something I could have imagined when I chose to be an English major). What types of questions does your discipline seek to answer? What does it investigate or study? What specific subset of questions or problems are you most interested in? How does your discipline ask or investigate these things? (e.g. quantitative data, qualitative data, field research, etc.) What does “research” look like in your discipline? (reading journals? interviewing people? lab experiments?) What might a course look like in your discipline? How does that change from intro courses to advanced courses? Can you specialize within your discipline? Is there anything you would like your classmates to know about your discipline or misconceptions you would like to correct? What stereotypes are there about people in your field?


Let’s get visual! For this section, you may hand-draw (and scan for your website!) or use a program like Bitstrips to illustrate some of the realities vs. misconceptions of your field (this is based on that “what _ think I do/ what I actually do” meme that went around a few years back: Google if you’re curious!). You might then, make a part for “what my friends think I do (or “my mom” “family” etc.); another for “what society thinks I do”; another for “what I actually do”. OR you might model it off of a single-pane New Yorker comic, or an xkcd comic.

The goal is to visually (and creatively!) illustrate your discipline/field in regards to some of its realities and/or misconceptions.



Part Two: Rhetorical Analysis of Academic Writing

Due: Wednesday, July 22

For this part of the unit, you will begin your research into the key discourses of your field by way of a broad rhetorical analysis of the primary publication mode of scholarly research and writing: the Peer-Reviewed Academic Journal. You will identify 5 leading journals in your field. You will then compose a comparative rhetorical analysis of this representative sample of journals within your field to assess the commonalities and differences between language, audience, style, tone, structure, purpose or vision, and content in order to determine how these elements help to structure communities of shared discourse and knowledge-making. Your guiding research question should be a version of what follows:

What are the professional, academic, intellectual, political, and/or ideological norms that help shape your discourse community? In what ways do these journals (as micro-textual examples of the discursive modes of knowledge-making and knowledge sharing of this community) either reflect, promote, or challenge such norms?

Rather than offering summaries of each journal, you will need to engage in scholarly analysis. In other words, your goal will be to identify and present a critical relationship between the journals, using the individual articles as micro-examples of the broader discursive field. In order to effectively situate your audience to this relationship, you will propose an argument that defines that relationship based on the elements listed above. You will guide your audience through an analysis of these journals as textual modes and representations of your scholarly discourse community. You do not have time to read through these articles in any great detail. However, by way of more distant reading (skimming), you should be able to quickly and easily glean the primary focus and contributions of the various pieces published such that you can refer to specific articles/reviews/reports in brief as examples of larger claims you are making about the journal(s).

The comparative discussion should be followed by a rhetorical analysis of ONE of the five journals: how is this journal exemplary? What is the work it is trying to do? How are conversations occuring? What values does it seem to hold?

Lastly, a final section will look at an article within this journal, and continue the rhetorical analysis on a more micro-level: what do you notice about this particular article? How is it framed, argued? What is its methodology? How is it written (in regard to vocabularly, jargon, sentence structure, references and footnotes)? How does its argument unfold?

The final paper should be between 1200-1500 words in length.

You will be assessed based on the clarity of your argument and the logic of your examples and evidence to support this argument. You will also be expected to move beyond surface level observations to critically situated analysis by way of detailed explication. Your analysis should move from the “macro” (the five journals) to the “micro” (one particular article within a journal). This means you will need to move from a comparative report of the journals to a careful, close reading of the materials published within it, including the article.

A rhetorical analysis should consider the following:

  • The cultural object’s purpose: what is the journal’s stated mission (as well as what’s implied by the contributed pieces)? That is, what is the journal arguing about scholarly discourse in this field? What is each journal trying to analyze, persuade, argue, evaluate, inform, instruct, etc? Rather than simply summarizing, rhetorical analysis attempts to speak back or connect to broader discursive formations, purposes, and norms. In this case, a rhetorical analysis of the journal looks at the broader norms of discourse, practice, and thought within the field and situates the journal in critical relation to these norms: asking, how does the journal reflect/represent these norms? How does it operate outside or challenge these norms?
  • The cultural object’s intended audience: consider simply, who’s in and who’s out of the discursive field as delimited by the journal? Consider the use of specialized language (i.e., who is the intended audience and what knowledge might we assume they have? Are they likely novices, experts, in academia, in the industry, etc.)
  • The creator(s) of the cultural object: is there, for instance, variation in authorial persona and room for individualized voices, or is the overall tone consistent within and across the journal?
  • The tone of the cultural object: all will have a scholarly tone, but does the formality shift across articles? Across journals? Offer specific evidence to support what helps you identify tone.
  • The aesthetic of the cultural object: consider how the look and design of the journal (layout, use of graphics, columns, use of headings/headers/etc.) contributes to or detracts from readability and knowledge production and distribution? Why are these aesthetic elements preferred or valued? Why do you think these decisions were made? Who made them and what ideals/values/practices influenced such decision making processes? To put this another way, would there by another way of aesthetically presenting the content of the site, particularly thinking about it being delivered in a digital vs. analog format?

By the end of the assignment you should feel comfortable accessing peer-reviewed journals and have a good understanding of the available databases that scholars in your field use. More importantly, you should begin to identify some major topics of interest within your field and understand how these topics are being introduced, debated, discussed. You should have a strong understanding of the means by which people within your academic discourse community communicate, so that you may begin (in Unit 3) to add your own voice to the conversation. Recommended: begin a running bibliography that you can add to your website.

Example of a journal and article analysis: Journal-Analysis-Final

Unit Two: Investigating the Intervening Work of the Professional Field

Due Dates:

Draft of first part (items 1-3, everything EXCEPT the email, interview, and headnote): Monday July 27

Final due: Saturday, August 1, by noon [note: revised due date]

AWD has two primary goals in guiding students toward a more critically engaged understanding of, appreciation for, and interaction with the research and writing practices particular to their scholarly and professional fields:

  1. To help students better identify and understand the current intellectual conversations and knowledge productions taking place within their field
  2. To help students enter into and make contributions to those conversations and knowledge-making processes

In Unit 1, you examined the common rhetorical practices for engaging in formal scholarly discourse and writing within your field by way of an analysis into one of the dominant modes for the distribution of scholarly knowledge: The Academic Peer-Reviewed Journal. In that unit, you examined how journals determine and distribute reputable and legitimate forms of knowledge and discourse for your field, and how they participate in making claims about what kinds of discourse, writing, and knowledges are valued. While the content of individual research projects was important to your analyses here, your attention was primarily on examining how information and knowledge is produced and shared through publication (e.g., an attention to form, style, audience, tone, etc.). Within your survey of journals and articles, you also began to identify a research problematic that you are interested in.


Problematic | A continuous, ongoing issue, one that which cannot be fully resolved by a single response/solution.

Where Unit 1 addressed the two major course goals above by helping you to become more familiar with how information and knowledge is shared in your fields, Unit 2 asks you to consider more carefully what some of these problematics look like outside the journal and within the professional realm. Over the next 2 unit projects, you will begin to develop a topic of research that speaks to current needs and interests of your field. By the end of Unit 3, you will have researched a topic and composed a project proposal on that research topic that speaks directly to an area of need and investment in your field, where the questions and problems your research project responds to are of current and vital interest, and where your proposed outcomes of that research project will have direct and meaningful impacts on your field.

To help you establish such a project, you will begin by assessing the intervening work taking place within the professional realm.

Over the course of this unit, you will reflect and perform extensive research on what professional realm(s) you hope to enter into upon graduation. This might be a particular industry, company, field, higher education, etc. The overarching goal of this unit will be to identify an area of work and contribution that speaks to a focused industry specific problematic/topic your field is currently responding to in its professional practice. You will use this focused topic of intervening work to eventually identify and research a scholarly topic/project for Unit 3.

To help you get there, we will split this unit into multiple parts. By the end, you will have produced annotations of three organizations of your field, and a context memo/headnote that walks the reader through your work. Specifically, you will do the following:

  1. Identify 3 companies, organizations, or institutions of note, for you and for your field.Compose an annotated bibliography entry (100+ words each) for each that introduces their individual objectives, missions, and contributions (i.e., what makes this an important professional entity of your field? What are their missions? What’s the scope of the organization? How do you see them working across the problematics you’re interested in?)
  2. Identify the job positions/project teams you imagine yourself one day working in/alongside within each of the 3 companies/organizations/institutions. In researching these, you will identify the project topics that reflect current needs/problems of your professional field and that mobilize and guide these co./org./inst. and their employees/project teams in their work. For each, compose an entry (150+ each) under each of the annotated bib entries you’ve written. Your entry should briefly summarize each job position description (w/ required professional and academic experience), what critical projects this position/team works on, and why this work is of note for your field/industry.
  3. Identify an industry professional working in these positions (one for each position). Do some general research on each. Compose a brief (100+ each, total 300+) bio entry on each of them, sharing job position, education background, professional history, and any notable contributions to field/industry.
  4. Choosing one industry professional, compose a professional email (about 150 words) requesting a brief informational interview about their current work and perspective of the field (in both scholarly and professional contexts). You may submit this part to me via email rather than posting to your blog.* 
  5. Compose an interview outline (w/ at least 5 questions and an accompanied statement of purpose for the potential interview: i.e., what are you hoping to get out of it? Why are you asking the questions you are asking?).

After this work is completed, you will post a final version to your websites along with an introductory headnote/context memo.


Your headnote should address the following prompt in detail (approx. 500 words):

Introduce the reader to the different pieces you have collected about your field and demonstrate how you’ve been thinking about both how you’ll enter into the field and your knowledge about what the field itself is doing. What is the research and development work that professionals in your field are doing? How do you imagine yourself eventually participating in and contributing to that work?

What connections have you seen between the work that goes on in the so-called “academic” realm of peer-reviewed journals, and the so-called “real world” work that happens within your chosen fields/industries? Where and how is the work of research/working on problematics being done? How does one enter into this space and situate themselves as a person creating and disseminating knowledge and discourse?

Based on your findings both in Unit 2 and in Unit 1, what problematic or subtopic within your field are you interested in pursuing for further research?  What sets of questions accompany this problematic or issue?


By the end of this unit you will have addressed in earnest the following questions:

  • What industry or advanced degree program are you interested in applying to?
  • What is the kind of work you would like to do? What are the companies, organizations, institutions that do this kind of work? What positions/teams would you like to work in/alongside?
  • What professional and research experience and knowledge is required of this position?
  • What are the kinds of practices and norms of this kind of work?
  • Who are the people in this profession doing this kind of work? In other words, who would you most like to shadow and possibly emulate in a professional context? What is their background and experience? What kinds of information can you find on who they are as an industry professional and/or researcher?
  • What are the contributions you hope to make in your professional realm?
Unit Three: Research Problematics and Projects: The Annotated Bibliography

Due Dates:

Thursday August 6: Draft of Annotated Bib due for peer review

Wednesday August 11: Unit 3 final due


Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

-Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form

The goal of unit 1, at least in part, was to critically analyze the norms of thought, practice, and writing of your field by analyzing scholarly composition and knowledge production.

Unit 2 built upon your considerations of generic forms of writing and discourse by asking you to turn your attention toward how companies, organizations, and people within your industry currently operate: what are they about? What are they paying attention to? What trends or ongoing issues/problems are they concerned with? In conducting a practical and comprehensive investigation into your field and industry, you should have also gathered a good understanding of some topics of interest within your field.

Unit 3 will bring together the research skills you gained in Unit 1 with the professional interests you investigated in Unit 2. Your goal is to discover and clearly state an ongoing research issue/problematic, gather and present how current scholars are addressing it, and add your own voice to that conversation.

Throughout the past two units, I’ve asked you to think about what the key problematics that define your field are. By “problematics” we mean problems that sustain because they are not easily resolved. Problematics put scholars into conversation with one another (see Burke quote about the parlor metaphor, above); scholars respond to problematics as shared topics of interest that necessitate collective, ongoing research, experimentation, and debate.

For instance, in the field of Civil Engineering, a key problematic might be how to design safe and sustainable bridges that also make use of inexpensive materials to better respond to economic constraints. This is a research topic. Note that this is not (yet) a paper or project topic, as it is still far too general. Why is this too general? Scholars might approach this issue from a range of theoretical and practical frameworks, which might include anything from thinking about environmental and social impact during construction and post-development; creating innovative structural designs; responding to issues around maintenance and repair; instituting efficient project management; social outreach; political and administrative policies; etc. While each of these key organizing frameworks constitutes a sub-topic of inquiry under the broader topic of how to develop sustainable bridges despite a lack of economic resources/infrastructure, these sub-topics contain within them even more focused sets of questions and issues that must be explored to address the larger problem.

By identifying these more specific questions and issues, one moves toward a research problem.

One does not propose a paper topic that states, “I will resolve the problem of building sustainable bridges despite lack of economic resources.” Rather, one acknowledges the complex of problems that exist within this larger topic and identifies a more focused argument around a smaller set of issues or questions.


In order to develop a research project that contributes to your field, you must have focus and purpose in your framing of a relevant problem and your proposed (argued or hypothesized) response. You must first clearly situate your audience to the topic broadly, then direct them toward a shared understanding of the range of issues that make this topic a problematic (what are the issues that sustain or are not easily resolvable?).

An obvious approach to locating a site for project development is to locate points of contention or debate in your field (hence, the work you did in the past two units should aid you in this).

First, you will want to decide on a topic in general, as I’ve modeled above with the civil engineering/bridge example.

Then, you will need to go and research that topic to identify the key issues and scholarly frameworks (or sub-topics) that help you understand the complexity of this issue and the variety of ways scholars in your field have approached this topic (using the research skills from Unit 1).

Once you have a sense of the key lines of inquiry, you will need to identify one central problematic or point of contention that scholars are in dialogue and debate over. You will need to demonstrate you’ve surveyed the field in order to effectively represent the conversation or debate between scholars around this key problematic. You might think of this as what are the “camps” of scholarship and what claims/arguments draw the lines between them? What theoretical/practical knowledges are at work here? Once you have a sense of the debate, you will need to position yourself within the conversation critically. That is to say, you will offer insight and evidence to support your argument or hypothesis over how the field must respond now.

To break this project down into separate parts, as we do, you will compose the following:

The Annotated Bibliography

You will present five (or more, if you choose) scholarly sources (that is, those published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals) that have attempted to answer your question or solve your problem. For each source/study, give the approach and major conclusions, important methodological choices (how was the research conducted?), strengths and weaknesses as you see them, and context within your field (is it a new topic of conversation? trying to solve an ongoing issue? using new methodological or interdisciplinary approaches?).

You should also determine the field’s responses to the particular source/study: have others cited it (Google scholar might be useful here)? Have they done so favorably or unfavorably? In other words, you are trying to recompose the debate or conversation about this topic among scholars in your field. If you find that very few other scholars have referred to your selected source, that is also telling you something about its place in your field–either that it is very new, or that the area is understudied for whatever reason. If you discuss a report that is very recent, it may not have accrued much of a response yet; should this be the case, simply acknowledge so in your paper. Organize this information simply by source. Provide all relevant bibliographic information, following the formatting requirements of your field. Finally, offer a one to two paragraph engagement for each source (this is the “Annotated” part of an “annotated bibliography”) — what is the probematic? How is the scholar(s) intervening in this topic/discourse in addressing the issue at hand — what’s his/her argument — how does s/he back up his/her argument (evidence/example/explanation) — how do you feel about his/her argument? Why is it relevant? And how will you be using/applying it in making your own intervention into the discourse/conversation? Will you agree but w/ a difference, disagree to move beyond, or advance his/her argument/approach/insight in applying it some other way? What would happen if you put different scholars in conversation with one another (“Scholar A is saying X, and Scholar B is saying Y. But no one is talking about Z!”)

Unit Four: Research Problematics and Projects: Genre Writing

Final due: Thursday August 20

The Research Proposal

The final unit requires you to propose an intervention in your field in response to your topic and its complex problematics, one that will build on the current work of your field as you have found it in your research. Here is where you “put in your oar,” as Burke calls it. Where do you see the problematic moving from here? What might be done? What further work is needed? What’s missing from current studies? What is the intervention you are making and why should we care?

You’ve assembled five peer reviewed articles that deal, in some way, with your research problem. The annotated bibliography did the work of summarizing, contextualizing, and evaluating them. Now you will put them in more direct conversation with each other while adding your own voice. You will do this by writing in one of two genres.

Word count for either project should run somewhere between 1500-2000 words.

Option A: The Grant Proposal


You are a researcher seeking funding for a particular project. Your goal: get money for your project by convincing the grants committee that this work is relevant, important, well-planned, and necessary. You’ll do this through walking readers through the existing conversations in your field and why they’re important, then outlining in as much detail as possible how your project takes up this ongoing problematic and moves it forward in some way. Your grant proposal must lay out the following parts in clear and persuasive language: (Note: in lieu of formatting your application with these parts, you may follow the required format of specific grants.)

– abstract: contextualizing what your project is trying to accomplish and its significance in a way that’s easy for non-experts to follow.

– a narrative: contains the need for your project; existing studies that demonstrate why your study is relevant (i.e., pulling from your annotated bib findings); and how your intervention would address ongoing issues

– methodology: how do you propose running the project?

– budget and personnel/staffing (optional, and you may make up relevant details)

– appendices/supporting materials (optional)

You can find models and more information about existing grants at NEHNSF; and SSRC


Option B: The Special Issue Introduction


You are the editor of a niche journal in your field (give it a name!). You are publishing a special issue about your research topic/problematic. You have already sought out authors and studies that you want to publish (the five articles you found for your annotated bib— imagine, for the sake of the assignment, that the authors gave you the right to re-publish them in this new edited collection!)

As the editor, it is your job to write an introduction to this special issue that walks readers through the following:

– what is this special issue about? why are you publishing it? what’s its relevance? what problematic(s) are being addressed?

– what’s the context of the problematic? What’s the significance of this topic? What are the stakes of the problem? (In short: why does this problematic matter?)

– what can readers expect to find in the issue? How is each article intervening in the research problematic? Since you’re putting these authors in the same issue, they’re now in conversation with one another. So make that conversation explicit: What connections can you draw across your different authors?

– based on these articles, where do you imagine the field heading from here? What issues need addressing more closely? What are YOUR thoughts about the state of the problem? What’s next for the field?

The audience for this piece is experts in your field (readers of the journal). Think carefully about the feel/ ethos of your journal in order to help determine your rhetorical strategies of tone, language, use of visuals, design, etc.: will it follow suit with very technical journals and use passive voice? Will it sound more discussion-based? Think carefully about not only the content of the piece but the framing (language, tone, rhetoric) in terms of your purpose and your audience: these are editorial decisions that you are in charge of making! (We will find and look at existing special issues together to see current models and how they’re working.)