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English 373, Spring 1996


Carnegie Mellon University

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming
  • CLASS MEETINGS: MW 9:00 - 10:20 a.m., Baker Hall 255A
  • OFFICE: Baker Hall 145G
  • OFFICE HOURS: W 1:00 - 2:00; & gladly by appt.
  • EMAIL:

  •  Description | Assignments | Texts | Calendar | Bibliography


    [A]ny story will be unintelligible unless it includes, however subtly, the amount of telling necessary not only to make us aware of the value system which gives it its meaning but, more important, to make us willing to accept that value system, at least temporarily.  It is true that the reader must suspend to some extent his own disbeliefs; he must be receptive, open, ready to receive the clues.  But the work itself -- any work not written by myself or those who share my beliefs -- must fill with its rhetoric the gap made by the suspension of my own beliefs.

    -- Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), p. 112.

    This course is about the "telling" necessary to design, the rhetoric involved in the invention, production, dissemination, interpretation, and use of the built world.  Designers use language in many ways: to propose designs that do not yet exist; to construct and modify designs in collaboration and competition with others; and to present their work to clients, employers, instructors, users, and other designers.  This course offers practice in, and reflection on, these and other uses of language.  Our perspective is rhetorical; that is, we see the design process as constituted, at least in part, through inquiry, argument, narrative, dialogue, and text.

    The primary goal of this course is practical: to help you more effectively use language in your work.  We will consider the professional practice of design to be a set of activities saturated with language ? proposing, describing, conversing, inquiring, reporting, corresponding, researching, collaborating, narrating, interviewing, arguing, evaluating, presenting, advising, specifying, and documenting.  These activities involve the designer in interaction with a variety of participants: other designers, employers, teachers, clients, printers, contractors, engineers, and users.  Our focus in the course, then, will be on simulating some of the complex inventional and communicative problems of design and providing opportunities for improving rhetorical production in response to those problems.

    But we will do more than just practice good design discourse.  Another goal of the course is enhanced reflection on the role of langauge and argument in design.  We will devote time to developing and critiquing various theoretical vocabularies intended to help designers and others exercise greater control over their ideas, their relations with others, and their work.

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    Classwork is organized into four units.  The first concerns what might be called the paradigmatic rhetorical activity: inventing, composing, and delivering formal, extended monologues (whether spoken or written) intended to (in the words of Cicero) inform, persuade, or delight a particular audience.  In the first few weeks of the course, we will discuss and practice some of the principal genres of extended, formal design discourse.  In the second part of the course, we will focus less on spoken and written monologues and more on the informal, communicative interactions of collaborative design.  The collaborations of interest will be both intra-group (within a team or organization) and inter-group (between designers and clients, for example).  The third part of the course will treat some of the practical, social, cultural, and discursive features of "professing" design.  We will concentrate on what it means to make the transition from design student to design professional, particularly in light of how rhetorical theory can inform that transition.  The fourth unit of the course will be devoted to your final projects.

    There are three projects in the course, one involving written communication; one, small group collaboration; and one, oral presentation.  The subject matter of the first and third projects will come from your own work (past, present, or future); for the second project, you will be assigned a design problem to solve.  The first project will be a portfolio of writings about your work and will include three short "essays" illustrating different rhetorical presentations of the "same" artifact (e.g., narrative, description, comparison, analysis, argument, etc.).  The third project will be a 12-15 minute formal oral presentation to the class about one or more of your designs, demonstrating sensitivity to the rhetorical problems discussed during the semester.

    Because our emphasis in class will be on discussion and practice, attendance is crucial; we ask that you come to every meeting, on time, ready to work.  If you miss more than one-fifth of scheduled class meetings this semester -- i.e., if you accumulate more than six absences -- you will not receive a grade for the course.  On those occasions when you must miss class, it is your responsibility to get information on assignments and class content from other class members.  Absences for religious holidays or medical or family emergencies will not be counted toward the total.  If you need to miss class for any reason, please get in touch with ME.

    Preparing for and participating in class will play an important part in the learning that takes place and will therefore influence your performance (and subsequent evaluation) on assignments and projects.  You are expected to contribute to class discussions, to seek feedback from other class members on your work, and to provide feedback for them on their work.  Late work will be penalized by one letter grade for each day late.  An extension may be granted in unusual circumstances if it is pre-arranged with the instructor.  It is your responsibility to talk with ME if an emergency arises that makes it impossible to meet any deadline.

    Point Distribution for Final Grade:

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    3. TEXTS

    We will do substantial reading in this course.  Please read assignments by the dates noted on the syllabus.  Five books for this course are on sale in the campus bookstore.  They are
      To facilitate class discussions on the readings, and to give you the opportunity to respond in greater depth to the readings, I ask that you prepare 1/2 to 1 page written responses to each reading assignment, this consisting of either a short (2-3¶) summary of the central argument of the reading or 3 good questions or 3 points of discussion prompted by the reading.  Responses are due by the beginning of class on the day the relevant reading will be discussed.  Responses can be sent by email anytime before class.  You are required to do a minimum of 7 reading responses.

    In addition, each student will be responsible for reporting to the class on one outside reading.  These will be assigned during the first or second week of class.  Your report should be approximately 10-15 minutes long and organized to convey what you see as the important contributions of the piece to the rhetoric of design.  You may use handouts.  Suggested readings are included at the end of this syllabus.

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    M 1/15 Introduction  Unit I:
    W 1/17 on description Burke in EB*   Writing and Speaking
    M 1/22 on exposition Bryant in EB*   the Built World
    W 1/24 on narrative Fisher in EB*
    M 1/29 on argument Perelman in EB*
    W 1/31 Aristotelian rhetoric Aristotle, Bk. 1*
    M 2/05 Aristotelian rhetoric Aristotle, Bk. 2*; Lunsford & Ede in EB*
    W 2/07 reports, group A (invention) Scott in EB*
    M 2/12 workshop on written style Williams, 1-4
    W 2/14 workshop on written style Williams, 5-10
    M 2/19 reports, group B (writing); Project #1 due (written portfolio)

    W 2/21 working in groups FPS, intro.*, ch. 3* Unit II:
    M 2/26 working in groups FPS, chs. 4*, 5*  Designing In and
    W 2/28 reports, group C (collaboration) FPS, chs. 6*, 7*  Between Groups
    M 3/04 NO CLASS (mid-sem. break)
    W 3/06 reports, group C (cont’d) FPS, ch. 8*
    M 3/11 reports, group D (communication)
    W 3/13 Project #2 due (group exercise)

    M 3/18 reports, group E (visual/verbal)  Unit III:
    W 3/20 reports, group F (inquiry & eval.)   Practicing Design
    3/25-29 NO CLASS (Spring Break)   as Rhetoric
    M 4/01 Project #3 proposal due
    W 4/03 reports, group G (professions)
    M 4/08 the reflective practitioner Schön, chs. 1*, 2*
    W 4/10 the reflective practitioner Schön, chs. 3*, 5*, 10*

    M 4/15 Project #3: Oral Presentations  Unit IV:
    W 4/17 Project #3: Oral Presentations   Pulling It All
    M 4/22 Project #3: Oral Presentations   Together
    W 4/24 Project #3: Oral Presentations
    M 4/29 Project #3: Oral Presentations
    W 5/01 Project #3: Oral Presentations
    Note: Senior grades due: 5/16; Commencement: 5/19; All other grades due: 5/21.

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