Writing 20: Academic Writing
Writing 20 is the only course taken by every undergraduate at Duke University. Its aim is to help you write in interesting ways about texts and ideas that matter to you. Writing 20 is set up as an academic seminar—that is, as a course whose members read and talk about a common set of texts and issues, and who then share their writings about them with each other. All sections of Writing 20 share the same set of course goals, but each section is structured around a particular issue or theme chosen by its teacher. As someone intrigued by our current remix culture—in which writers continually quote, sample, and re-purpose texts composed by others—I’ve decided to center our work in this section around the question of what it might mean to own a style.
Students are often admonished to write about “your own ideas” in “your own words.” But what might it mean, exactly, to “own” a word or an idea? A language belongs to all its users, or to none of them. And few of us of can expect to come up with ideas that no one else has ever thought of before, at least not on a regular basis. So what does it mean, then, to say that someone has a way of writing that belongs to them, that expresses who they are, that is their own style?
Those questions will drive our work in this course. We will begin the semester by looking at some attempts to define what it means to steal the words or ideas of others—that is, to plagiarize. We’ll then move to consider some examples of what is, in a sense, the opposite case—when a writer or artist remixes other texts to create a new work. And we will finish the term by looking at several competing theories of style—some which emphasize clarity, others expressiveness.
I’ll ask you to write in several different modes—some of which may seem familiar but others not. I’ll ask you, for instance, not only to respond critically to the texts we read together, but also to experiment with different prose styles, to compose a text in which you remix the work of other artists and intellectuals, and to reflect on your own work as a writer. So if you’re someone who is interested in thinking about the workings of language, who likes to play with words and writing, this will be a good course for you.