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Composition as Conversation

Seven Virtues for Effective Writing

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Teaching writing is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a tremendous gift to teachers and students. Students often approach writing courses with trepidation because they think of writing as a mystical and opaque process. Teachers often approach these same courses with dread because of the enormous workload and the often-unpolished skills of new writers. This approachable composition textbook for beginning writers contends that writing can be a better experience for everyone when taught as an empathetic and respectful conversation. In a time in which discourse is not always civil and language is not always tended carefully, a conversation-based writing approach emphasizes intention and care.

Written by a teacher with more than fifteen years of experience in the college writing classroom, Composition as Conversation explores what happens when the art of conversation meets the art of writing. Heather Hoover shows how seven virtues--including curiosity, attentiveness, relatability, open-mindedness, and generosity--inform the writing process and can help students become more effective writers. She invites writers of all skill levels to make meaningful contributions with their writing.

This short, accessible, and instructive book offers a reflective method for college-level writing and will also work well in classical school, high school, and homeschool contexts. It demystifies the writing process and helps students understand why their writing matters. It will energize teachers of writing as they encourage their students to become careful readers and observers, intentional listeners, and empathetic arguers. The book also provides helpful sample assignments.

Introduction: Composition as Conversation
1. Be Curious
2. Be Attentive
3. Be Relatable
4. Be on Topic
5. Be Engaging
6. Be Open-Minded
7. Be Generous
Conclusion: Stay in Conversation
Appendix 1: Sample Call for Papers
Appendix 2: Research Proposal Template
Appendix 3: Annotated Bibliography Guide
Appendix 4: Peer Review Interview and Peer Review Guide
Appendix 5: Research Essay Guided Revision
Appendix 6: Revision Workshop Template
Appendix 7: Conversation Extension Plan
Appendix 8: Sample Conference Panel
Appendix 9: Conference Response Sheet
Appendix 10: Ongoing Research Assignment


"Hoover's straightforward, accessible approach encourages students to craft their own writing processes by choosing topics that interest them, being actively curious, and listening to others who are also interested (as opposed merely to 'waiting to talk' themselves). Drawing on insights from Henry David Thoreau to Jean Rhys to Joan Chittister to Steven Pinker to The Office, Hoover helps equip students to resist mere noise generated in the age of social media by engaging in academic writing as a living conversation that can produce real change for good in the world. Complete with useful exercises and examples of how to put the method into practice, the text makes a significant contribution to first-year composition pedagogy."

Jill LeRoy-Frazier, professor of cross-disciplinary studies, East Tennessee State University

"Writing well requires certain kinds of human beings to do the writing, and the kinds of human beings who write well only emerge by writing well. Heather Hoover solves this Riddle of the Sphinx not by forsaking writing but by teaching writing, and this book without relent returns us, her readers, to reflect on the dynamic nature and capacities and virtues of those human beings whom we teach. We who teach writing, whether in college classrooms or anywhere else human community happens, do well to heed."

Nathan P. Gilmour, professor of English, Emmanuel College

"An absolute gem of a resource! It's not surprising that Hoover's fresh reframing of composition as conversation transformed the level of student engagement and investment in their writings. Applying the virtues of being curious, attentive, relatable, on topic, engaging, open-minded, and generous to meaningful research, in-class discussions, and academic writing inevitably transferred into their daily lives. In an era where divisive discord dominates the public arena and misinformation saturates the media, our nation needs citizens embracing the critical and creative skills this book encourages faculty to teach. The appendix also offers excellent additional materials to reproduce. As a former university director of writing, I would have loved to have given this valuable resource to any adjunct faculty and teachers of writing preparing their classes! She's a wise sage!"

Linda Lawrence Hunt, emerita director of Whitworth University's Writing Program; coauthor of In the Long Run: A Study of Faculty in Three Writing-across-the-Curriculum Programs

"Writing is an art, a craft, and a struggle. By reframing composition as conversation, however, Heather Hoover directs our attention to the way it is communication and thus is most essentially a question of how we relate to people. In the process, she does something miraculous: she makes writing easier. Essential for anyone teaching writing and all of us undertaking the art, craft, and struggle of putting words on a page."

Daniel Silliman, news editor, Christianity Today

The Author

  1. Heather M. Hoover

    Heather M. Hoover

    Heather M. Hoover (PhD, University of Tennessee) is professor of English and composition at Milligan University, where she developed the writing program and has directed it for fifteen years. She also directs the Master of Arts in Humanities and is the George...

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