Matthew Vollmer’s 1106 Syllabus

English 1106: Writing from Research

Spring 2008: Issues in Appalachia

Time: T/TR, 3:30-4:45 M. Vollmer, Professor

Class Location: MCB 231 Office Location: 431 Shanks Hall

CRN #: 1256 Office Hours: T, TR: 10-12 a.m.

Course Overview

This course introduces the conventions and methodologies of research writing, while attempting to raise awareness about rhetorical practices and strategies. In class and at various libraries on the VT campus, students will explore mediums such as film, television, the web, newspapers, microfilm, books, movie reviews, letters, student essays and academic articles. Students will also perform fieldwork by observing and documenting events, people and settings in areas around Blacksburg.

Many students enter 1106 dreading research—and you may be one of them. You may remember reports from high school requiring the submission of note cards, the retrieval of information you cared little about, and those awkward attempts to try to write without using the pronoun “I.” Admittedly, parts of the research process can seem tedious, and the practice of searching for answers to the questions driving your project can be time-consuming. The most successful research projects, however, arise from some a particular need—a desire to increase knowledge, to inform others, to enact change, to transform yourself and those around you. Therefore, in this particular section of 1106, I will ask to you to identify issues that you care about and are connected in some way to Appalachia, upon whose ground we are leaving our mark, even now.

Course Theme

At Virginia Tech, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind of college life and to forget that we’re a part of a region with a long and turbulent history. Appalachia—the mountain range that extends from Maine to Mississippi—is a diverse land rich in heritage, traditions, folklore, and music. It is also a place—like many in America—where poverty, crime, injustice, and exploitation flourish, and it will be our job to make inquiries into these conflicts: to ask questions, to explore, observe, and report—to argue and enter a dialogue with others who have researched and written about this place.


They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein / Composition at Virginia Tech / Additional Handouts via Blackboard

Assignments and Grading

Important: Keep everything you write for this class over the course of the semester. Notes, brainstorm activities, free-writes, in-class activities, drafts, graded papers, ideas, lists, everything. At the end of the course, I will ask you to submit a portfolio of all the writing you’ve completed for this class, as well as a letter of reflection that considers this writing and attempts to say something significant about the work you’ve completed.

Title of Assignment


Percent of Total Grade

Paper 1: Primary Sources

A three to four page bibliographic personal history, with footnotes explaining the significance of books, comics, films, and music that have helped form your identity.


Paper 2: Taking a Position

A three to four page essay that asks you to take a position regarding the film “The True Meaning of Pictures,” a film investigating the work of Shelby Lee Adams, a photographer whose subjects are largely impoverished people from the “hollers” of Eastern Kentucky. In conjunction with the film, you will read essays about documentary photography as well as interviews with Adams. The project will culminate with the writing of an argumentative essay supported by at least three different sources.


Paper 3: Writing a Proposal

A one to two page proposal identifying a particular issue, conflict, or problem in one of the counties surrounding Blacksburg that you want to investigate further. The proposal will also include the articulation of a question you want to answer during your research.

Mandatory: proposal will either be accepted or denied

Paper 4: Annotated Bibliography

A three page annotated bibliography listing and summarizing ten sources you will draw from in order to write your final paper.


Paper 5: Proposing a Solution/A Call to Action

An eight to ten page paper that either proposes a solution to the issue/conflict/problem you identified in Paper 3 or proposes a call to action, drawing upon the ten (or more) different sources you annotated in Paper 4.


Individual Oral Presentation

Every student must either attend a screening of one of the movies offered by the Mountain Justice film series ( or go to the library to watch a pre-approved film (a list of which I will supply). Students will then report back to the class about the film they viewed.


Group Presentation

Groups will conduct research (via internet as well as local newspapers) in order to find an event to attend. Students will then construct a fifteen-minute multimedia presentation reporting on this fieldwork.



Participation includes attendance, willingness to talk in class, sharing workload equitably with group members over the course of the semester, completion of informal in-class assignments, and the assemblage and submittal of a portfolio at the end of the semester.




A 94-100

A- 90-93

Excellent. Superior work. Nearly flawless. Not only meets, but exceeds expectations of assignment.

B+ 87-89

B 84-86

B- 80-83

Above average. Solid paper. Some flaws, but for the most part, paper meets criteria of assignment and does so competently and well. With revision, could likely be excellent.

C+ 77-79

C 74-76

C- 70-73

Average/Satisfactory. Project reflects an understanding of assignment, but is thwarted by moments of incoherence.

D+ 67-69

D 64-66

D- 60-63

Unsatisfactory. Sloppy and mostly incoherent.

F 50 or below

Failure. Inability to accomplish goals of project; little or no coherence.


Participation is key. Attending class is a must. Come to class prepared. You will be expected participate in discussions and called upon to do so.

Please note: I do not “excuse” absences. If can’t attend class, contact me (and, if necessary, your group members). If you miss class, contact someone to find out what you’ve missed. Never, under any circumstances, email me to ask if we’ve “done anything important that day.”

Late Work

Late work will be penalized 10% each day it is overdue. If you know you won’t be able to meet a deadline, tell me beforehand and we will try to work something out.


I do not accept assignments via email.


You are allowed to revise and resubmit one paper over the course of the semester.

Paper Format

All papers must be:

  • Typed
  • Double-spaced
  • 1” margins

  • 12 pt font, in Times/Roman (or equivalent)
  • Stapled (do not come to class with an unstapled paper—I don’t accept them)


Copying someone else’s work and submitting it as your own is cheating—and as such is considered a serious offense. Plagiarizing will mean an automatic F for the paper and possibly for the course.

Academic Honesty

The Virginia Tech Honor System Constitution sets forth the vital principle that “every student has the right to live in an academic environment that is free from the injustice caused by any form of intellectual dishonesty.” Therefore, the Virginia Tech Honor Code will be upheld in this course for all work submitted. Department of English Composition Handbook pages 18-20 discuss plagiarism fully, and all students are responsible for reading and abiding by the concepts, policies, and guidelines in these pages, as well as those in the Honor System at

Special Needs

If you have a disability that requires modification in seating or any class requirement, please contact me via email, or set up a one-on-one appointment to discuss the situation.

The Last Word

This excerpt from Kenneth Burke’s The Philosophy of Literary Form best describes a great way to conceptualize our work this semester—i.e., that of reading, observing, speaking, writing, arguing, and researching:

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

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