Writing 5: Parlaying with the Digital Pirates


This course explores your composing processes. We will read, invent, draft, collaborate, and revise. As we do, we will investigate digital piracy and the intersections between rhetoric, ethics, and technologies. To begin, you will compose multimodal texts that seek to define one of these three terms. We will then use these definitions to examine the emergence and impact of the hacker collective Anonymous and rogue publisher Wikileaks. These two groups represent two iterations of digital piracy: the hacker and the information pirate. How do these groups trouble our own experiences of online spaces? What ethical and legal questions do their actions invite?

Throughout the course we will read, talk, and write about work by those on the cutting edge of rhetoric and technology, including Bruno Latour, DJ Spooky, and the late Aaron Schwartz, among others. We will then spend the second two-thirds of the course reading, talking, and writing about Anonymous and Wikileaks (and the resulting legislation aimed at curtailing at least some of their activities). In exploring questions about rhetoric, technology, and digital ethics, you will compose the aforementioned multimodal definitional text as well as a literature review essay and a final case study that examines a case related to our course topic. Students will be encouraged to explore new genres and technologies throughout the course, and a significant portion of our class time will be spent writing, revising, and reading one another’s work.


Joseph Williams. Style: the Basics of Clarity and Grace, Fifth Edition. Longman. ISBN: 978-0321953308 [Available at the Dartmouth Bookstore]


Most of our readings will be available solely on Canvas. On occasion, I will print off copies to pass out to students, but generally, you can choose whether or not to print copies of these readings. Remember, though, that reading is not a passive activity. You should be making notes and marking up your copy whether you read digitally or on paper. Note: If you do not bring a copy of a reading to class, I expect you to bring a laptop or tablet to class. I expect you to participate in a detailed discussion about the class material each meeting, and you simply cannot do this consistently without some record of your reading experience available during the class session. If you aren’t able to efficiently use the comment functions on a pdf viewer, please use hard copies.

READING SCHEDULE (opens in new window)


In college, you might apply critical thinking, reading, and writing to conventional written texts such as essays, books, or poetry, but also to objects, images, performances, and even to non-visual media. You will learn to approach your own writing with what we call “rhetorical flexibility,” which means knowing different writing tools and strategies, and being able to choose the best tools and strategies to create and communicate your meaning for any given context and in different modes, such as multimodal projects, collaborative compositions, or speeches. You will be asked to demonstrate the core capabilities articulated below. These are the “outcomes” you will work towards in this course, and continue to work on in your First-year Seminar, and that you will go on to use in the rest of your college work and beyond.

Creating and Producing

Upon completing Writing 5, you should demonstrate the ability to:

  • Craft a strong, supportable claim to guide your paper, and represent that claim in a short statement (often called a thesis).
  • Support your claim with an evidence-based argument, choosing the best evidence, organizational structure, and rhetorical strategies for that argument.
  • Express complex ideas with clear, concise language, paying attention to voice and audience.
  • Participate in an academic conversation with both peers and scholars by engaging with, responding to, incorporating and appropriately attributing the ideas of others.

Inquiring, Interpreting, Integrating

Upon completing Writing 5, you should demonstrate the ability to:

  • Ask questions that inquire into the complex issues of the course.
  • Read critically, recognizing and questioning an author’s argument.
  • Assess the reliability of research sources.
  • Gather information through critical reading and research, distinguishing unsupported opinion from evidence-based argument.
  • Analyze information in the context of relevant social and scholarly conversations.
  • Transform information into a written argument that recognizes multiple perspectives in addition to your own.


All major assignments – and all drafts and peer reviews associated with those assignments – will be collected in an end-of-term digital portfolio. (I will allow you to revise and resubmit one of your first two projects for a better grade during exam week.) After each project, you will complete a reflective self-assessment. These self-assessments will help you look forward to future writing projects and consider how the literacies we develop and practice over the course of the term might be applicable to your future writing endeavors. Additionally, these self-assessments will give you a place to begin when you compose your end-of-term portfolio reflection.

Definitional Text   

Our course investigates three highly debated terms: rhetoric, ethics, and technology. For your first project, you will compose your own definition of one of these terms. This definition may take nearly any form you like except one: you may not compose a traditional essay for this project. In fact, you may use no more than 300 written words in the final draft of this project. You may, however, use as many spoken words, images, video clips, etc. as you like (within fair-use guidelines and in accordance with copyright law). Since there is no minimum written word count for this project, you will be evaluated instead based on three criteria: (1) how well you employ the medium/form you chose to convey your message, (2) how well you utilize evidence that is appropriate for the medium/form and persuasive to your chosen audience, and (3) how well you articulate your rhetorical choices for the project. In order to address these criteria, you will compose a project cover letter (of at least 1,000 words), addressed to me, that introduces your definitional project and speaks to these three criteria. You will revise your project draft at least twice in response to feedback from me and from your peers.

Literature Review Essay     

In order to (1) better understand how to read, analyze, and synthesize scholarly and popular sources and (2) explore a topic of interest related to our course theme, you will choose a topic related to our course theme (which might include investigations into technology, piracy, ethics, hacking, and other topics covered in our course readings and discussions), determine a research question related to this topic, and craft a literature review essay of at least 2,000 words that reviews and synthesizes existing research related to your question. You should consult as many sources as you deem necessary to complete a cohesive review of your topic, but you must cite at least 5 sources in your final Literature Review Essay.

Case Study     

Using a reconsidered/revised version of the definition from your first project (the Definitional Text) and some of the research you gathered for the second project (the Literature Review Essay), you will find, research, and describe a case that epitomizes your definition of rhetoric, ethics, or technology. This argument should be supported both by specific details from your chosen case and by other research, which might include statistical data, peer-reviewed arguments, well-respected theories, and other examples. You should also include and respond to counter-arguments and examples. This essay should be at least 3,000 words and should include, a minimum of 4 and maximum of 7 sources; at least 3 of these sources must come from your Literature Review Essay.

Portfolio Reflection Cover Letter     

In the final week of the term, we will spend time revisiting the three course projects – including all drafts, peer reviews, and revision plans – and reflecting on your development as a writer over the course of the term. Accompanying your course portfolio, you will compose a cover letter for your portfolio. Please review the feedback you received in this course, including faculty comments, peer comments, and the recording of your RWIT session(s)--if you attended RWIT. For you cover letter, please make a list of the writing ideas or strategies these interactions raised for you. From this list, choose one idea or strategy and examine the projects in your portfolio for evidence that you made use of it. Write a ~900 word essay making the case that your chosen idea or strategy productively informed your work in the course, citing evidence from your projects. It should be clear from your project--through citation or otherwise--what projects you are citing.


Image by Mike Williams and available on Flickr.