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Will Johnson

WRT 303: Public Writing

Professor Fredrik deBoer

May 9, 2011

“Public Writing: The Re-Write”

Going into this class, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I needed it for a

300 level class in a discipline that wasn’t my major; having it fulfill a general education

requirement only increased my desire to take the class. A semester full of work later, I

have a new appreciation for the art of public writing and indeed, writing as a whole. This

course not only helped me develop a strong sense of what public writing entails to our

society, but shaped my writing on a grander scale as well. Without this course, I would

not have the knowledge of arguments that go into framing a succinct discussion of ideas,

and it is certain that my argumentative essays would suffer as a result. Considering my

major is going to be shaped on how well I can make my organization sound appealing,

this course was a development of practical skills I will use as a professional.

The hallmark of this particular course was the definition of public writing

assigned at the beginning of the term. I said it before and I’ll say it again: the easiest

definition is to simply state the necessity of writing for the public. But that would ignore

the mental processes needed to address the bigger issues, such as how a deliberative

democracy presents this tool as a necessary method to change things that sufficiently

motivate a concerned citizen. Our political system can be viewed as a financially based

one, where the candidate with the most amount of resources usually emerges a winner (a

technically free, but practically bi-partisan), but history shows that a driven public is a
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public willing to do what it takes to change. The examples listed in the text are not

limited to specific or even political contexts; the settings vary from New York City to

Kingston, RI and everywhere in between.

For my problem that needed addressing, I chose a problem relevant at the local

scale, but still pertinent at the national level: the diminishing role of public arts in local

culture. During my research, I found detractors saying that arts were not necessary for a

functioning community, operating under the assumption that arts are unnecessary wastes

of money. By attacking this supposition on the level that they were accustomed (the fiscal

level), I was able to effectively undermine their argument and (hopefully) gain support in

a real life setting. This skill I learned, the ability to pick an argument apart to dissect the

weak parts for an effective attack, is something I had thought about informally, but never

put down to paper in a formal sense.

The theoretical aspects that helped me in this class were aided by two main

things: the real life example featuring the Cigar and the podcast. The in-depth analysis of

the Cigar outrage was an intriguing breakdown of what public writing can accomplish, at

least on a college campus. It is important to note that truly important issues do not die

with a group of students graduating; whereas this issue seemed like a spur of the moment

thing, I feel a real issue can have significant support over extended periods of time if

properly motivated. The podcast illustrated another tool to use when employing public

writing and was a great gut check to see if the facts were established or arguments were

held strongly under pressure. Although not writing in the classical sense, a classical

definition of public writing is boring because it doesn’t account for the vast means of

communication we have in our increasingly connected world.


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So what is public writing? In the beginning of the semester, I stated that it was

“the act of a person who has been raised to action by a problem to address it through

written communication with some sort of audience”. I now propose to expand it to

include all mediums that can be used to communicate some information used to persuade

for an issue deemed by the writer. This definition is certainly wide spreading, but it’s

beauty comes from the wide amount of tools we enjoy as a society to make a point about

whatever we want, as long as it’s backed up. Hopefully, I can use it as a professional to

build a career off my major, which relies heavily on the concepts of public writing.