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Teaching Texts in Conversation

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As the bridge between the rhetorical analysis and the research-based argument, the TiC asks students to move into research, developing a strong research question through exploration of topics and sources, and helps students develop effective search strategies and their own information literacy.  It's an assignment, though, that defies genre; many students won't have written anything like it before, so they'll need extra clarity in understanding the assignment goals and requirements.  It offers a unique opportunity to ask students to slow down in their research process and reflect on the steps they need to be effective, ethical, and engaged researchers.


As its learning objectives indicate, central to the Texts in Conversation assignment is the idea that research involves entering into a conversation rather than just finding information. Many PWR instructors use the Burkean parlor as a metaphor to help explain this concept to students, and from there may design a TiC assignment that takes either a more traditional academic approach or one that is more creative (like a set of blog posts, a dramatic conversation, a conference panel, etc.).  Questions you might ask yourself as you design the assignment include:

  • Do you want to take a more traditional “research genre” approach  or a “creative” approach?

  • Research genre approaches introduce students to established genres such as the literature review, research proposal, or annotated bibliography plus synthesis essay.

    • The advantages of the research genre approach are that it introduces students to genres they may be using in their Stanford careers and beyond, it enables the instructor to point to and make use of widely available resources for understanding and working with the genre, it enables students to use the affordances of the genre to identify patterns and trends in existing literature, it creates a strong bridge to the Research-Based Argument Assignment, and it is easier to assess via widely accepted criteria.

    • The disadvantages of the research genre approach are that the established genres usually assume a broader and deeper engagement with literature than our students have time for given the constraints of the quarter, so students either struggle with the demands of the assignment or, if they are given a simplified version of the genre to accommodate their situation as novices, the “portability” of their genre knowledge is diminished; it often requires more scaffolding to help students understand the genre; students may be tempted to use large swaths of their writing from this assignment in their Research-Based Arguments; and, these genres may privilege academic sources in a way you don’t want.. 

  • Creative approaches invite students to create dialogs among sources by inventing various kinds of dialog (through blog posts, dramatic scripts, etc.) that allow students to imagine their question from a various sources’ points of view and explore the dynamics between positions through their presentation of an encounter among sources. 

    • The advantages of the creative approach are that it allows students to more fully explore competing and incommensurate perspectives in a more holistic way by inviting them to “give voice” to the perspectives embodied in their sources, it often makes it easier to create dialog among a variety of academic and non academic sources, it often the notion of “entering the conversation” more vivid and real for students, it usually prevents students from lifting swaths of the TIC and plunking it into the RBA, and it is more enjoyable for the students to create (and often more enjoyable to assess). 

    • The disadvantages of the creative approach are that it often creates less of a clear bridge to the RBA because it’s tone and format are so different from the more formal RBA; it often engages students with fewer sources than the research genre approach, so they may develop a less full picture of the “existing conversation”; it may give them less opportunity to learn how to engage specifically with academic sources and their modes of conversation; and, it can be difficult to rigorously assess because of the creative and varied approaches students can take.

  • Whatever approach you take, what relationship does your TIC have to the RBA, and how will you articulate that to students? 

  • And since each approach layers on different learning goals (as the advantages and disadvantages above suggest), how will you ensure that in the process of developing this assignment, all of the TIC learning goals are met?


  • Think about how to help students see that the research you are asking them to do may differ from the kind of research they might have done in high school, where they may have used sources as a way to “gather information.”

  • Think about the fact that most students will not have written something like this before, whether you choose something creative or work with a research genre. How will you help them see the “work” this assignment is doing in their development as researchers and writers?

  • If the assignment is a specific academic genre (such as a literature review or proposal), it might be helpful to indicate some of the typical features of the genre and the role it plays in the academic fields that use it.


  • Timing is especially important for the TIC because students need to commit to a topic they will stick with for the next two assignments.

    • When will you have them start thinking about topics? (Often, instructors start prompting students to think about topics during the first few weeks of the quarter.)

    • When will you have them start developing preliminary research questions?

    • When will you schedule your library workshop? 

    • Will work on the RBA overlap with the last stages of the TIC?

  • Think about how students are learning about research in your class. What will they get from the library workshop (these typically are fairly narrowly focused on using library resources)? How will you supplement that? 

  • How might  you scaffold their strategies for representing sources ethically and stylistically?

  • What documentation system do you want them to use? Should they all use the same one (which makes it more possible for you to ensure that they are using it correctly but may create mismatches between the documentation style and their disciplinary leanings), or will you allow them to choose documentation systems based on their disciplinary leanings (which increases the likelihood of an appropriate fit between the documentation system and their project but makes you responsible for ensuring that they are using it correctly).

  • Do you want to introduce them to a citation management system?

  • Will you give them samples of past TICs? Will you want to discuss them in class or just make them available to students as a reference?


  • Since students have already learned how to do peer review for the Rhetorical Analysis, this assignment gives you an opportunity to deepen their understanding of what it means to engage in effective and meaningful peer review conversations.

  • Peer review offers different challenges for students depending on whether you went the creative or research genre route. In either case, since these are likely to be novel reading experiences for students, you might want to consider shaping your peer review prompts to help students understand what to look for as they read.


  • You might consider using the TIC reflection as a bridge to the RBA, which will provide forward transfer not only to this immediate assignment, but will spark metacognition that enables forward transfer to later research writing experiences.


  • As with any assignment, you’ll want to tie assessment to the learning goals, but it may be challenging to indicate how achievement of those goals manifests in specific features of their work, particularly in the more creative assignments. It may be particularly important to make that connection for students during formative assessment in written feedback and during conferences.

  • Often, instructors weight this assignment a little less (given the word-count requirement) because they view it more as a process assignment.