The St. Martin’s Handbook 8th Edition
For decades now, it seems, I have been saying, “These are exciting times for writers and teachers of writing.” And they have been exciting. But today, the word exciting scarcely begins to convey the wealth of opportunities at hand. Student writers are engaging with new literacies and with multimodality, creating arguments not simply as academic essays but as documentaries, videos, podcasts, visual collages, and much, much more. In fact, many teachers and researchers today regard all writing as multimodal: even a print text that relies only on words engages not only that linguistic mode but also the visual mode through layout, fonts, use of white space, and so on. Colleges and universities increasingly reflect this focus on multimodality, as Writing Centers become Writing and Speaking Centers or Writing, Media, and Speaking Centers. And writing teachers are working with a whole new range of media and genres as well, learning how to teach and assess the products of “new literacies” — while still holding on to the best of the “old” literacy, with its emphasis on carefully structured argument and analysis, academic essays, and traditional print texts.
Are student writers and their teachers up to the challenges and opportunities offered today? Absolutely. Research I (and lots of others) have done shows that student writers are already far ahead of us in terms of engaging new literacies outside of school, that they are thinking in sophisticated ways about the worldwide audiences they may now address, and that they are keenly aware of the need to adjust their messages according to audience, purpose, and context. In such an atmosphere of excitement and change, taking a rhetorical perspective is particularly important. In the first place, rhetoric has always been a multimodal art, one that attended to speaking as well as writing, to body language and illustration. In addition, a rhetorical perspective is particularly important today because it rejects either/or, right/wrong, black/white approaches to writing in favor of asking what choices will be most appropriate, effective, and ethical in any given writing situation, using any genre, any medium, any mode.
The St. Martin’s Handbook has always taken such a perspective, and the numerous changes to the eighth edition reflect this tradition. Throughout, this book invites student writers to take each choice they make as an opportunity for critical engagement with ideas, audiences, texts, media, and genre. But as I’ve incorporated new material, I’ve been careful not to lose sight of the mission of any handbook: to be a relevant and accessible reference for students and instructors alike.
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