Writing for College and Beyond

Life Lessons from the College Composition Classroom

by CJ Kent (Author)
©2019 Textbook XXII, 238 Pages
Series: Writing in the 21st Century, Volume 1


Writing for College and Beyond: Life Lessons from the College Composition Classroom explains how the many skills taught in the Freshman Composition course apply at work and in life. The composition class is a pre-requisite and General Education course for most colleges and universities in the United States. It reaches students in every area of study. As people wonder about the value of a liberal arts education and question whether colleges and universities are truly preparing students for the workforce, Writing for College and Beyond challenges those arguments by pointing out exactly how classroom policies and writing assignments apply beyond school walls. Professors, lecturers, and graduate students teaching Freshman Composition courses will find this book helpful. Administrators who service the Freshman Composition population, such as Writing Center Directors, will also find Writing for College and Beyond: Life Lessons from the College Composition Classroom a wonderful aid.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Writing for College and Beyond
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Section One: Some Classroom and Life Basics
  • Chapter One: You Know to Read, Not How to Read
  • Chapter Two: The KISS of Classroom Behavior: Knowing Important Soft Skills
  • Chapter Three: Netiquette Is Vital
  • Section Two: What Different Essays Do: A Guide to Rhetorical Modes
  • Chapter Four: General Remarks on Writing
  • Chapter Five: Abstracts Aren’t: Analysis and Synthesis
  • Chapter Six: The Argument Essay for a Promotion and Raise
  • Chapter Seven: Causal Analysis: Why That Happened
  • Chapter Eight: Compare and Contrast for the Job Cover Letter
  • Chapter Nine: Define and Classify to Know What’s What
  • Chapter Ten: The Personal Essay Isn’t About You
  • Section Three: Researching the World
  • Chapter Eleven: Information in the Library
  • Chapter Twelve: Online Searches and Keeping It Safe
  • Chapter Thirteen: The Research Paper Is Your Future
  • Chapter Fourteen: Citations, Plagiarism, and Not Getting Fired for Dishonesty
  • Chapter Fifteen: Present What You Know; Don’t Hide What You Don’t
  • Section Four: Some Writing Basics: How You Say It Matters
  • Punctuation: It’s Not Just for Emojis
  • Spelling: Spell Check Doesn’t Work
  • To Succeed, Avoid Some Common Grammar Errors
  • 8 Parts of Speech: There’s Nothing to Say without Them
  • Some Sentence Fundamentals
  • On Editing and Revising
  • Series index

| ix →


This book would never have come to fruition without the experiences teaching at many different universities and the conversations with colleagues along the way. I am first of all grateful to all the great teachers I had across the years. I need to mention one in particular. Wherever she is in this world, Ms. Marilyn Mead at The Anglo-American International School in New York City drilled into me with her red pen to Be Specific. In addition, the faculty in the Comparative Literature Department of the CUNY Graduate Center supported me in the final stages of my educational journey (the intellectual one continues, thankfully), critiquing my thought and language to help me understand the task of writing better that I might teach it better.

As a Visiting Professor at Mercy College, my colleagues provided the setting to think about what composition curriculum would help students who were always and already worrying about their futures. I should note in particular the support and encouragement that Kristen Keckler, PhD and Tamara Jhashi, PhD offered with generosity and grace.

Adele Kudish, PhD and I met frequently to brainstorm about classroom challenges and those conversations helped me develop the ideas that I practiced in the classroom and present here. I can’t imagine my teaching life without our regular Bitter Wifeys—homemade, or at Otto. ← ix | x →

I first started drafting these ideas in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, whose willingness to publish my nascent thoughts allowed me to imagine a wider audience for my approach to teaching writing.

The editorial staff at Peter Lang have been patient with the changes in my schedule that came with a new faculty position at Montclair State University. Their tolerance of those upheavals allowed this book to finally appear, albeit at a slightly slower pace than first anticipated. As series editor, Staci Shultz, PhD offered precise, pertinent, perfect feedback and suggestions, but as a colleague she provided much needed humor about the endless juggling task that is an academic life. Many thanks to the whole team!

Finally, I must thank Tim Kent for accepting the absences from our communal life that come with marriage to a writer and academic. He has endured the highs and lows of many different writing tasks, offering encouragement as well as perspective. He has prompted me to walk the dog and pet the cat when I needed space to think things differently. He reminded me that career building makes no sense if there is no vision of one’s place in the world. These points I then brought to my students about their own writing and lives. His insights help me become a better teacher, writer, thinker, and friend in the world.

| xi →


Dear Instructor,

This isn’t a book that is meant to explain everything about writing to students.

This is a book that aims to help them understand why composition matters in the “real world” they are so anxious to join.

When I first stepped into a classroom, I had heard so much about the apathy of today’s college student that I was convinced that I would encounter an aggressively inattentive audience. I had done presentations to corporate clients, spoken in front of large groups, but I worried how I would get twenty-five indifferent 18–24-year-olds to speak. What if they stared at me in abject silence?

Of course, that did not happen. I had a perfectly ordinary group. Some spoke. Others didn’t. That first semester teaching was an education for us all. I mostly learned that my students were worried about getting a job, hoping to improve their life options and finances. You know, success. So was everyone else I knew.

If they were silent, it wasn’t that they inherently didn’t care. It was that they didn’t understand why the topic mattered.

If they were disorganized, it was because they didn’t know how not to be and why it mattered that they learn.

If they were late, rude, or indifferent, it was because they didn’t know the impact it would have.

The trend became obvious.

My job became to show them why it mattered. ← xi | xii →

Whatever “it” was, I needed to explain why it mattered to them as students, as humans, as future employees. What I was offering would make a difference, not just for this paper or assignment, but for life.

I had nearly a decade of work in different parts of the business world when I went back to get my PhD and started teaching in college classrooms. I had accomplishments and errors of my own, as well as triumphs and mistakes I’d seen committed, to help explain what success required.

Every student worries about his or her major. The major introduces them, after all, to the technical skills they will need in the careers they plan to pursue. As a culture, nationwide, we reinforce this by asking college-aged students about their major. We rarely ask about General Education requirements, like Writing 101. Are we surprised then that students don’t recognize the importance of these foundation courses? When major programs, parents, and even employers express concern about the need for specific work skills, students perceive courses focused on those as being the most important. This gives a false impression of what abilities students need.

Major programs are dismayed when their students don’t write well. Parents are appalled if their children lack basic writing training. Employers care too. In a 2013 study by the Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 53% of employers wanted employees to have both “field specific knowledge AND a broad range of skills and knowledge.”1 Of course, they do. Employers can’t predict what they will need as a business develops and adapts to the marketplace.

Everyone wants students to do well because good writing is key to their future success. A bad cover letter means no interview, no job, no prospects. Peter Cappelli explains in his book Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs that “when applicants far outnumber job openings, the overqualified bump out those only adequately qualified.”2 The scary truth is that plenty of people can do a job. Good writing provides an edge.

The writing classroom instills these general job skills, but it does more than that. As with any General Education classes, faculty must often introduce students to responsibility for their own work, self-motivation, and timeliness. The Business Roundtable, in a 2009 survey of employers, identified concerns about certain technical and job-related skills, but “the most serious gaps are believed to be ‘soft skills,’ such as work ethic, accountability and self-motivation.”3 These are skills students develop in college when faculty expect them to meet work deadlines, research assignments in their own time, arrive in class on schedule, and so forth.

Certainly, employers predicted in that same survey that they always need workers to have improved, up-to-date technical skills, but those people are ← xii | xiii → comparatively easy to find. Employees can be trained and new hires with the specific education can be sought. Finding people who have the personal traits that help a business succeed is much harder. The study also concluded that the gap between the skill and performance levels of 51% of employees has an impact on company productivity, meaning that employees with performance issues are affecting the bottom line. Plenty of applicants had the skills for jobs in specialized IT, management, administrative, or mechanical work, some of the largest job sectors at the time. These applicants, however, often did not meet behavioral requirements, including personal accountability for work, self-motivation, strong work ethic, punctuality, time management, professionalism, and adaptability.

People can work; they just don’t act like it.

This book provides basic explanations of some common elements introduced in Composition—or your general Intro to College English course, such as English 101/102—but its main goal is to hone a type of skills transfer that we too often forget to include when we are teaching writing. I think problems exist with the supposition that teaching writing in a semester or two will ensure students know how to write across all the disciplines they will encounter in college and beyond. Given the differences among disciplinary codes, the task set to most writing instructors seems patently absurd. I can’t address that here, except to focus on the importance of emphasizing skills transfer: the lessons in the composition classroom can and do apply to students’ ability to master future situations; what they learn in a basic writing class are skills that they can use not only in other courses, but eventually to get a job and keep it. It’s up to them to learn it well enough that they can apply it elsewhere.

This book, therefore, is about helping students see how the work they do in their college classrooms will help them succeed at work. When students look beyond the specific skills of their major, they can observe how much there is to learn in other places, such as the introductory college writing course. The General Education writing class that I describe in this book establishes proficiencies that will help them craft better cover letters, ask for promotions, tackle obtuse templates, and write emails to build better relationships. It will introduce them to successful online research, a vastly different exercise than their belief in the power of Google. It will help them learn how to interact with colleagues at a variety of levels. It will ensure they develop personal habits that will serve them throughout their lives and careers. The General Education writing class will do all this while introducing them to classic and contemporary texts of fiction or non-fiction and the basics of literary analysis.

As doubt about the value of college rises, as professors are increasingly asked how their disciplines relate to career futures, we have no choice but to help students, ← xiii | xiv → administrators, and parents understand the relationship between what we do now and students’ futures. Arguments about the value of inculcating cultural capital remain relevant, but don’t satisfy many. Some argue that students should simply learn how to do the tasks needed at work—reading contracts, writing business documents, job specific research—but this undermines the specific kind of thinking that comes from skills transfer.

When students discover tone in character dialogue or narrative essays, they grapple with articulating what their instincts tell them about these people. Doing so will help them navigate the complicated social interactions they will have as adults, when they need to understand why they believe what they believe about others’ social cues. When students struggle to write about a text that seems ideologically or culturally foreign, they have the chance to become more fluent to the differences they will encounter in an increasingly global marketplace. We can’t predict the specifics of what students will encounter in six years, let alone twenty or fifty. A solid foundation that they can manipulate and apply to the world they encounter seems a more realistic goal for us as instructors.

Writing is a means to figure out what they think about the world in which they live, a task that could not be more important today. The structured writing assignments of the composition classroom offer students paradigms for thinking. When students learn how to write within a rhetorical mode, they learn the basics that allow them to adapt it to whatever situation they may later encounter. To be able to think in myriad ways, to reflect and evaluate, to analyze and synthesize, is vital to succeeding in this constantly changing world. The writing classroom guides them into ways of thinking that will help set them on a path to achieve goals they have not even imagined yet.

This book is a practical guide, but it does not address specific texts that students might read alongside it. This book introduces some standard writing-related tasks, from reading carefully to writing the research paper, and contextualizes these activities by showing what they look like beyond the classroom walls. It aims to apply to courses that are reading a variety of material, since departments use wildly different reading lists alongside writing expectations. The conversations in class on the particularities of individual texts are often what students remember best. Instructors know how to guide those sitting in front of them to develop an appreciation for the beauties of assorted literary works. This textbook does not offer instructions or recommendations on how to do that. Instead, it aims to make the conversations around writing assignments a little livelier and a lot more relevant.


XXII, 238
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXII, 238 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

CJ Kent (Author)

CJ Kent, PhD is the Assistant Professor of Visual Culture and Program Director for Art History at Montclair State University. She received her dissertation on art writing from the CUNY Graduate Center, and oversaw the implementation of a new writing program as the Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at Mercy College. While working as an international coach, she founded Script & Type to help young professionals and artists better present themselves in writing and in person across different cultural contexts.


Title: Writing for College and Beyond
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