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Old words in new orders: Multigenre essays in the composition classroom

Susan Anne Johnson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation I make a case for multigenre essays to be made more available to students in all disciplines, but especially to students in freshman composition classes. I also present the results of a case study where I acted as teacher/researcher investigating how students experience the writing and reading of multigenre essays. By multigenre essays I mean essays that include creative elements such as lists, letters, and interviews, in addition to traditional academic prose. By combining creative elements with academic prose I propose that writers will be able to express more of what they want to say in an essay by using both analytical and associative ways of thinking. The benefits of having students write multigenre essays are three-fold: (1) when students are given the option of including such things as dialogs, poems, and vignettes in addition to standard academic prose, they gain in rhetorical flexibility---experimenting with and finding the right genres and combination of genres that best fits what they want to say; (2) they also gain in their ability to take a more personal stance on an issue by having more options for positioning themselves in reference to a given topic; and (3) they gain in their ability to push at the perceived boundaries of a discourse. In this dissertation I discuss how eight students in an experimental writing class responded to the writing and reading of multigenre essays, to what extent they found them worthwhile and/or pleasurable, their thoughts in reference to audience and subject matter, how they used multigenre essays for cognitive travel, and how writing multigenre essays gave them a way to push against the perceived boundaries of their discipline. My data come from four essays the students wrote, reader response assignments, reflection letters, and from interviews with five of the students. Overall students found the writing and reading of multigenre essays more difficult but more satisfying than that of standard academic prose. In some cases multigenre essays made them think in new ways about audience and subject matter; for almost all students, multigenre essays made them think differently about an essay's form and how a change in form allowed them to position themselves differently within their discipline.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Susan Anne, "Old words in new orders: Multigenre essays in the composition classroom" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3242305.