Category Archives: Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Award for undergrad Danielle Bisnar Griffin

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English undergraduate Danielle Bisnar Griffin, winner of the DiMarco Undergraduate Scholarship in Computational Rhetoric. This is not her first award from UWaterloo; she previously received the Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op English Award for her report ”Comparative Data Visualizations of Textual Features in the OED and the Life of Words Genre 3.0 Tagging System,” which addressed the work completed during a co-op semester. Danielle was kind enough to share with us a bit about what made her application stand out:

I received the award for my enthusiasm for computational rhetoric, evidenced by my participation in Dr. David Williams’ project The Life of Words and the research interests I developed due to working there. During my time at The Life of Words, I have completed co-op reports that examine the rhetoric of genre using computational methods and I have pursued these interests towards a senior honors essay, scheduled for completion March 2019. I have also consistently committed to improving my computational skills by attending conference skills workshops throughout my undergrad. Finally, I have also been working with Dr. Randy Harris and Dr. DiMarco’s Rhetorical Figures team, in which we work to develop an ontology of rhetorical figures. This is inherently very computational.

Thank you to Danielle for participating in Words in Place, and to alumnus Sam Pasupalak (BCS ’12) for funding the award.–JLH


The rhetoric of Kickstarter?

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, whose article “Crowdfunding Science: Exigencies and Strategies in an Emerging Genre of Science Communication” in Technical Communication Quarterly received honorable mention for the Nell Ann Pickett Award from the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. According to the abstract:

Crowdfunding is a novel mechanism for garnering monetary support from the online public, and increasingly it is being used to fund science. This article reports a small-scale study examining science-focused crowdfunding proposals from By exploring the rhetoric of these proposals with respect to traditional grant funding proposals in the sciences, this study aims to understand how the language of science may be imported into this popular genre.

Image: Kickstarter

Join us for a talk by Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill

Please join us for a talk by Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill, a non-citizen Cherokee Two-Spirit writer, performer, and activist. S/he is the author of Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory (University of Arizona: 2016) and Walking with Ghosts: Poems (Salt Publishing: 2005). S/he is also the co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (University of Arizona: 2011) and Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature (University of Arizona: 2011). S/he holds a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing from Michigan State University and is an Associate Professor of Queer Studies in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University.
Two-Li will be speaking on Friday, 3 March at 3:00PM in Hagey Hall, room 1104.
Co-sponsored by the English Department, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Drama and Speech Communication. 

Moving Together: Disabled Faculty and the Academy

We are pleased to announce a talk by Dr. Margaret Price, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, on Monday, February 13, 2017 — 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM EST. Room 2106, Renison University College at University of Waterloo. Dr. Price’s talk is titled “Moving Together: Toward a Theory of Crip Spacetime.” Her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life was published by University of Michigan Press in 2011. Price also publishes scholarly articles, creative essays, fiction, and poetry in venues including College Composition and Communication, Profession, Disability Studies Quarterly, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, and Ms. magazine.


How do disabled faculty react to and also reshape the spaces and times of the academy?  Disability studies (DS) has reached a point that Price calls a “crisis of precarity.” This crisis of precarity is a state in which neoliberal logics of wealth, privilege, and power are replicated within DS, doing material violence to some members of the discipline, while the discipline itself continues to flourish. Price outlines the ways DS has reached this crisis of precarity, and in response, offers a different way of thinking about disability, a theory of crip spacetime. To illustrate this theory, she presents findings from an interview study with disabled faculty.  Her analysis of these findings illustrates ways that precarity manifests for disabled faculty, but also ways that, through collective accountability, we can push back against the neoliberal logics of the university. Through acts of micro-rebellion as well as efforts toward structural change, we can work toward greater justice, not only for disabled individuals, but also within the discipline of DS itself.

Seating is limited – please register early.
CART (Communication Access Realtime Transcription) services provided.

This event is sponsored in part by (in no particular order): Renison University College, the Equity Office; Human Resources; the Women’s Studies program; the UW Staff Association; the Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies; and the Dean of Arts Office. Host: The Status of Women & Equity Committee

Using his degree at Microsoft: Alumnus Richard Lander
Richard Lander knows how to maximize things: he definitely got the most out of his UWaterloo English degree in Rhetoric and Professional Writing (now Rhetoric, Media and Professional Communication). And he appears to have utilized every classroom and co-op experience in his position as Principal Program Manager Lead on the .NET Team at Microsoft. Read on to learn more about his time at UWaterloo, his appreciation for Dr. Paul Beam (now deceased), and what he’s hoping to leave to his children. Thank you to Richard for participating!–JLH

JLH: Can you tell us how you ended up studying English Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the University of Waterloo?
RL: In high school, I was interested in three topics: computers, politics, and writing. As it came time to look at universities, in grade 12 and OAC, I explored all three of those options. In the end, I decided to select a university based on an Arts degree and then add computer science (CS) as a secondary focus. I already had a lot of technological experience – my brother and I ran a pirate BBS during high school – but I still felt like my strengths were in the liberal arts.

Waterloo was an easy choice. My older friends went there, it was only an hour away from home, and the school had an incredible general reputation. Also, I was well aware of the strong CS program, so it seemed like an excellent place to get the CS education I was looking for as a non-major.

At first, I was more focussed on political science at UW and had vague ideas on becoming a lawyer. I was very interested in both Canadian and US politics and a huge fan of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I also followed Conrad Black and his writings. Then, in first and second year, I had some eye-opening English courses with Drs. Neil Randall and Paul Beam. That got me fully focussed on English and I dropped the idea of continuing with political science.

JLH: Thinking back, what stands out from your time at UWaterloo?
RL: Everything about Waterloo was amazing. I loved my classes, co-op was a major game changer for me professionally, and I met my wife! If I’m to really pin it down, I have to talk about my work with Paul Beam. I worked for his online learning company during a couple of my work terms and while I was on campus. He put a lot of trust in me, giving me fairly vague marching orders and just letting me execute my own (more specific) version of his requests. I spent most of my time work on an online course called “Professional XML Authoring.” I created the course (content and software), marketed it globally, and then taught it as well, to students on four continents. It was strange to be preparing for a test in Hagey Hall and marking an assignment from a student in Europe as part of a commercial online course, all in the same evening. It was also really challenging from a time and stress management standpoint.

As my professor, Paul let me do more than my fair share of “independent study courses” in the English department. I used those to study XML and related technologies, which were very new in the mid- to -late 90s. I was able to take a bunch of that work and add it to the courses I was producing for his company. That might sound oddly circular, but to me it was a great opportunity to get my work published and gain experience. In many cases, I was learning the technology as I created the content, too. You hear students complain about being taken advantage of by professors. That wasn’t the case at all. I was the primary beneficiary, unknowingly building a strong resume for an employer in Seattle, WA.

I also got to present about XML and related technologies to companies Paul had relationships with and at the local Society for Technical Communication on campus. We also presented papers we worked on together at Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conferences. Needless to say, I was privileged to get these rare opportunities. I remain incredibly thankful for that.

JLH: How did your course of study influence your career? Were there specific experiences that proved more useful?
RL: We have two roles in the product groups at Microsoft: developers and program managers (PM). If I wanted to be a developer, I should have taken CS (as a major). There are tons of successful Waterloo CS folks at Microsoft. My choice of RPW + CS was great academic preparation for becoming a PM at Microsoft. You need to be a great communicator and technical.

The technical part of the job is often the easy part. Often, you have a variety of options on the table to solve a problem and you like one best. You have to decide how to convince others that this choice is the best, sometimes through straightforward and other times less than straightforward techniques. This is where the Rhetoric part of RPW comes in, although the Professional Writing comes closely behind as a poorly written great argument is never a winning strategy.

Other times, I need to be more introspective, particularly when reading or listening to a proposal that is outside my area of strength. I use skills I learned in a critical analysis course to help navigate these more challenging situations. In that class, we had to analyze works according to a given (often unfamiliar) analytical style, for example a feminist analysis. That experience is always a good reminder that there are multiple points of view that are objectively equal in nature. Further inspection can uncover biases, assumptions, and other flaws in each of these points of view. From that vantage point, the points of view remain equal in nature. It’s sometimes important to keep my initial thoughts and opinions in check as I analyze a proposal. I will search for a set of “first principles” that I can use to consider and analyze the proposal to develop an opinion. This approach usually results in a strong opinion that I have confidence in because it’s not based on an emotional response, but on values that are broadly shared and durable.

JLH: You seem to do a fair amount of outreach in your current position: can you tell us a bit about what you do and how that came about?
RL: For the first few years after school, I just focussed on my core job and didn’t do any external outreach at all. I was absorbing so much new information that it felt like I was doing a Masters degree at “Microsoft University.” We also had our first child relatively early on, after moving to Seattle. After catching my breath, I started writing for the .NET blog, the primary public outreach for the .NET Team at Microsoft. I later started the @dotnet twitter account. I’ve also written a bunch of documentation.

In terms of outreach, I’d say my primary activity is blogging. Every time we release a new version of the product, I write an approximately ten-page blog post that describes why you should care about the release and how you can use it. I have a few simple goals with each of those posts: tell a compelling story about the product, describe the state of the product at a point in time, and answer all of the obvious questions.

When I’m writing those posts, I try to answer most of the questions that appear in my head as I work through the various topics that need to be covered. I get feedback from my team that I’m “wordy” but I feel strongly about answering the main questions in the body of the document as opposed to in a disconnected FAQ. Also, while we have a ton of customers in Western English-language countries, we have another large set that have to work harder to get meaning out of blog posts written in English that may contain Western phrases and jokes. I try really hard to make sure that people in Japan, China, Egypt, and Germany, for example, can read my blog posts, assuming a base level of English competency. It is an exercise for the reader if I’m successful at that.

JLH: Finally, are there any books you are really looking forward to reading?
RL: I’m a fan of Patrick Rothfuss and his Kingkiller Chronicle series. The first book, in particular, was intellectually really exciting for me. Like many other people, I’m waiting for his third book in the series. The series is apparently going to become a movie, so I’m worried that he’ll get distracted finishing the last book. I did get to see him speak at Emerald City Comicon. He’s a great speaker and a very interesting and compelling personality.

I’m also interested in reading more from Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. I’ve been watching youtube videos and listening to podcasts by them recently, but I think it is time to dig in a bit deeper with those folks. Sam Harris is a bit controversial, and I’d like to understand that further and be able to participate in that conversation. I’m almost planning on going back to reading Noam Chomsky and some of the ancient philosophers. I plan to do that while taking time off in December. The recent election in the US is part of my motivation for reaching for these writers and topics.

I just read The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. It’s a novella from 1909. A bit like works by H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley, it’s an early but incredibly prescient dystopian tale. You can read it in little more than an hour. Recommended. While I like and appreciate dystopia, I think the genre is a bit overdone in contemporary novels and film, probably because it sells well. The recent movie Arrival is an example. I’d like to see more focus on possible futures and shared societal experiences that are compelling and possible and that I might want to leave to my children. That’s very much an open landscape for writers and artists.

Congratulations to our latest MA Grads!

We have three MA degrees in our English department–Literary Studies (LIT), Rhetoric and Communication Design (RCD), and Experimental Digital Media (XDM)–and last week we graduated students in ALL of them! So who did what? Who wrote about diseases in Hamlet? Who partnered with Systems Engineering? Who wrote about a travel guide for African American roadtrippers during the age of segregation? What else did they do?! Read on to find out more, and please join me in congratulating our newest MA alumni.–WIP

MA by Major Research Paper or Thesis
Thien Bui Thai (XDM, Co-op), “MyBerlin: An Exploration of Berlin using Mobile Technologies”
Greg Campbell (RCD), “The Negro Motorist Travel Guide: Navigating Jim Crow Then and Now”
Paisley Cozzarin (XDM), “Monstrous Bodies: Frankenfish and the Abnormal Body”
Alexandra Fournier (LIT), ” ‘My Name is Lizzie Bennet’: Successfully Adapting Jane Austen’s `Pride and Prejudice’ (1813) for the Twenty-First Century With `The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ (2012-2013)”
Christopher Giannakopoulos (LIT), “Resisting Mimesis: Poetry as Riddle in the poetry and poetics of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, and Paul Muldoon”
Zahra Jafari (RCD), “Metaphorized Diseases: A Study of Disease Metaphors in Shakespeare’s Hamlet”
Cayley MacArthur (RCD and Systems Engineering Co-op), “The Effects of Ambiguity: A Feminist Study of Human Signifiers in Human-Computer Interaction”
Giancarlo Mancuso (XDM), “The Case for the Theoretical Application of the Pattern in the Digital Humanities”
Robert Parker, “Creating Critical Messes: Videogame Scholarship Beyond the Core ”
Sophia Pelka (XDM), “Groteskkammer/kabinett: A Grotesque Stroll through Dark Media”
Alana Rigby (RCD, Co-op), “Digital Darwin: Editing The Loves of the Plants as a Case Study of the Theory and Practice of Digital Editions”

MA by course work
Jehan Abyad (LIT)
Natalee Blagden (RCD, Co-op)
Holly-Anne Ellander (LIT, Co-op)
Meredith Fischer (RCD)
Anne Galang (XDM)
Rhasha Ghanem (LIT)
Airlie Heung (LIT)
Kaitlyn Holbein (RCD, Co-op)
Andreaa Irimies (LIT)
Michelle Irvine (RCD)
Chitra Karki (RCD)
Zahra Pazokizadeh (RCD)

English alum Rupi Kaur makes top seller list

With 324K followers on Instagram and a best-selling collection of poems, Rupi Kaur is an emerging feminist artist touching on issues of love, violence, and healing in women’s lives. In just over two years, Kaur (BA ’15 English) has gone from self-publishing to landing on the Amazon top seller list for Canadian literature, alongside literary icons like Margaret Atwood. Her book, Milk and Honeyalso made it into the second spot for the Amazon best seller list for poetry.


Kaur, a recent Waterloo grad, is drawing hundreds of fans to her readings around Toronto and her online community has gone international with posts of support. Mainstream media has also taken note with the Huffington Post calling Kaur’s work, “beautifully honest poems read like the everyday, collective experiences of today’s modern woman.”

As a Waterloo student, Kaur juggled her academic courses and co-op terms with performance gigs and writing poetry on the side. Kaur, who graduated last year, said:  “I explored my passion for writing at Waterloo – I took writing breaks from my homework and became hooked.”

First self-published poetry edition sold 17,000 copies

The product of that passion was Milk and Honey, a self-published book of nearly 200 poems and line drawings that was picked up last fall for a second printing by Andrews McMeel Publishing after quickly selling the initial 17,000 copies. Her new publisher added Spanish and e-book versions.

Written in spare yet piercing language, Kaur describes her work as “a collection of poetry and prose about survival and the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity.”

She is emerging as a strong feminist artist and a voice for her generation as the fan comments show:

  • “I am not usually one for poetry, but Rupi Kaur’s book really spoke to me.”
  • “I loved it, and re-read it often. Every time I do, something new resonates.”
  • “Touches issues that tend to stay hidden because of shame culture”
  • “Read her poetry, it will change your life.”

A few months after the release of Milk and Honey, Kaur unleashed an online viral sensation with her project entitled period. – a final assignment for her Visual Rhetoric course with Professor Beth Coleman.

Poet advanced design, writing, and marketing skills in English program

“The Rhetoric and Professional Writing program taught me actual skill sets and provided a framework for literary analysis. It taught me what moves an audience and what doesn’t. I gained the skills of design, marketing, creative writing and branding.”

The easy route for sharing her poetry would to be to simply post them online. But, for Kaur, the poems had to be made tactile as a print collection. “The Internet wasn’t enough for me because the poetry couldn’t reach everyone it needed to reach by solely being online. The poetry needed to seep onto bookshelves and into libraries.

Co-op terms built job skills

“During my first co-op term I learned to use Adobe InDesign – which I eventually used to design Milk and Honey. In my last co-op job I mastered Adobe Illustrator, which I used for my illustrations.”
To students who want to build a career in art, Kaur says: “You have to work tirelessly. Sure you don’t get paid for a while. But work anyway. The tangible things will come. Trust me, there is nothing more liberating and freeing than being able to do what you love. Everything worth doing is difficult. So keep doing it.”

This story originally appeared on UWaterloo Arts.