Rhetoric and Composition

Sarah worked hard in high school and got good grades in most subjects. One area she always struggled with, however, was writing. She always needed help writing her papers, and her parents hired a tutor to help her write her college admissions essay. She was accepted to the college of her choice, but worries that she is not prepared to write well at the university level. What Sarah needs is an English course. Specifically, she needs a composition and rhetoric course.

Composition and rhetoric courses—also called “Writing Studies” or simply, “Composition” courses—are English courses that will help you become a better writer. They also tend to familiarize you with different kinds of writing, as well as the history and evolution of writing itself. These courses are not just for people like Sarah, who may struggle with writing, but they can also benefit those who already have good writing skills.

Most rhetoric and composition courses are offered by colleges and universities, but you can find some offered online, too. Many colleges even require first-year students to take such a course to ensure that students can write competently in every subject, not just in English. If you are not enrolled in college, there are reputable study guides that will lead you through the writing process. Though rhetoric and composition courses are usually offered as foundational courses for college freshmen or required for those majoring in English, the courses can benefit anyone who wants to become a better writer.

A typical composition and rhetoric course will take you through the writing process, from forming ideas to organizing information to drafting and revising your work. You may also study the history of writing, as well as different types of writing. Some specialized rhetoric and composition courses may emphasize writing for publication and encourage students to try to publish their polished work.

Rhetoric and composition courses usually provide a basic overview of writing, but sometimes they focus on teaching you a specific kind of writing, such as journalism, scholarly writing, technical writing, travel writing, or grant and proposal writing. After all, the skills required to write for a newspaper or magazine differ from those required to write an effective proposal.

A more focused rhetoric and composition course can be helpful to an undergraduate who wants to go into a specific field of writing. It can also benefit an adult who already works in that field, such as a software engineer who wants to learn technical writing, too.

Though rhetoric and composition courses are most common at the undergraduate level, they are also available as part of graduate and doctoral studies. The quality of your writing in graduate, business, or even specialized schools such as medical school or veterinary school, must be significantly better than it was in college. A graduate-level rhetoric and composition class can prepare you to write well in these challenging academic environments.

Most rhetoric and composition courses last for a full semester, though some may last for a full year. College-based courses will cost between a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the university, but sometimes you can audit a course at a lower cost if you are not seeking college credit for it. Of course, a study guide purchased online or checked out from the library is always going to be the least expensive option.

Rhetoric and composition courses are not just for struggling writers like Sarah. Whether you are a college or a graduate student, an adult who wants to write better, or someone who wants to learn a specific kind of writing, a rhetoric and composition course can help you become a better writer and improve your ability to communicate effectively.

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