A Call for Keywords

Yancey, Kathleen Blake and Brian M. Morrison.  “Coming to Terms: Vocabulary as a Means of Defining First-Year Composition.”  What is College Level Writing? Eds. Patrick Sullivan and Howard Tinsberg.  Urbana: NCTE, 2006.  267-280.  Print.

One sentence summary

Composition educators rely too often on squishy, swimmy terms when teaching writing; while process remains important, revised curricula (and the field as a whole) needs to include rhetorical theory, and a set of keywords would help shape that theory.

Key Terms

Keywords, FYW, Theory, Transfer

Key Quotes

“We often think that we define terms, but terms also define us.” (270)

“What are the terms of composition today–and in the early part of the twenty-first century?” (270)

“Writing is changing more quickly than we can record those changes.” (277)

“Writing, then, is the content for the college class in writing.” (278)


Yancey proposes a provisional set of key terms from which composition studies might develop theoretical and practical content for writing courses.  Those words include the following:

  1. composition
  2. material
  3. visual
  4. practice
  5. theory
  6. rhetoric
  7. circulation
  8. transfer
  9. broker
  10. reflection

Exigencies for developing a theoretical framework and set of terms include rapidly revising curricula (themselves set in motion by public policy and related exigencies) and rapidly changing modes of writing (especially through blogs and other digital media).

Seven years later, the list that Yancey proposes looks to hold up well, though the term “broker” might not have much shelf life.  The word “genre” seems conspicuously absent, and I think the term “network” has a place on any list of key terms for composition studies.

What would an updated list of key terms look like now?  And, speculatively, what might it look like in 10 years?  For instance, “visual” has a prominant place on Yancey’s list; given another decade of technological and theoretical evolution, might the word “aural” begin to make sense, too?  Tactile?  How multimodal (another term that could be on the list) do we want to get?

Further Reading

Connors, Robert.  Afterword. Coming of Age: The Advanced Writing Curriculum. Eds. Shamoon, Howard, Jamieson, Schwegler.

Trimbur, John.  “Delivering the Message: Typography and the Materiality of Writing.” Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work. Ed. Gary A. Olson.

Wenger, Etienne.  Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity.


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