Let me introduce you to the main characters in the story of composition. Our hero—the protagonist—is known as “the writer,” who is supported by both the writing instructor—our hero’s mentor traditionally—and the reference guide. And of course, as is necessary in all good stories, there is the antagonist—the evil force that our hero must contend with; in this tale the “writing” will be the daunting task that is loathed and dreaded by our hero.
Where once the teaching of composition was left primarily to English teachers, there are now other sources—namely reference guides on writing—that claim to have the formula for success. There are a number of publishers who have capitalized on employing rhetorical strategies of sarcasm and humor to gain a larger share of the reference guide market.
In this paper I will examine a few of these writing guides—specifically: Barron’s Painless Writing, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Well, and Research Papers for Dummies—that have become so popular, extracting how they position the writer, the instructor and the writing process, as well as considering the usefulness of these texts for English 131 student1.
It is clear that these books are appropriating similar generic features to appeal to a certain type of audience. Humor is the main component used by all, from the title that refers to the person using the book as a self-proclaimed “dummy” or “idiot”—clearly an intelligent person would not be reading the “idiot’s guide—to the cartoons and jokes that fill the pages. On the cover and back of each book, they make their claims about what the offer the student. Each guide claims to provide advice that will “help” writers to “improve” or “transform” their writing with very similar language: . .
ity, Montreal, Canada.http://www.masondissertation.elephanthost.com/. 2002
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Rozakis, Laurie. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar & Style. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books. 2000.
——, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Well. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha
Strausser, Peter. Painless Writing. New York: Barron’s. 1997.
Research Papers for Dummies. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc. 2002
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