Theory and Composition Forum

Posted by – August 30, 2010

Recently, a reader’s report was returned to me with a comment suggesting that the submitted manuscript might be “too theoretical” for publication in Composition Forum. This comment prompted me, as Managing Editor, to reflect on the role of theory in the featured articles in our journal.

Of course, such a reflection begs the question of what theory is, and I suspect you’ll forgive as much, so as to avoid another extended etymological investigation of the Greek theoria and praxisComposition Forum, as its subtitle announces, is a “journal of pedagogical theory in rhetoric and composition,” and thus aims to publish work that theorizes practice in sophisticated and provocative ways, or to put it another way that practices theory in sophisticated and provocative ways.  So that’s the easy answer to the query that launched this discussion.

The more difficult question is:  what amount of theory in a manuscript would be “too much,”  what would be “too little,” and what would be “just right.”  Trust me, the “too little” scenario is the easiest to recognize and to describe.  This is the kind of submission that amounts to little more than detailed lesson plans or assignments, or “research” bereft of any methodological articulation nor any speculative discussion regarding results, or an essay that reveals a surprising unfamiliarity with the current issues or debates within the field of rhetoric and composition.  But what might be “too much” theory?  I suppose the easy answer would be the case of a submitted essay that had no conversation with or implications for the teaching of writing.   Note, however, that I did not specify that the theory had to have a pedagogical application or that it had to be translated into praxis.  On the contrary, I can imagine many a worthy investigation into how a theory could not be appropriated by classroom practices or how a theory would be at conflict with writing pedagogy or how a theory could not explain the results of a classroom study of student writers.  So what amount of theory would be “just right”?  Although not reducible to a golden mean, the “just right” essay would contribute to the ongoing conversation of our field by responding to the published scholarship in complex ways that would construct provocative ways of knowing, thinking, and doing in rhetoric and composition studies.

To this end, we invite submissions that investigate composition theory and its relation to the teaching of writing at the post-secondary level.  We welcome essays that examine specific pedagogical theories or that explore how theory informs (or should inform) writing instruction, writing practices, and research into the complex literacies of our time.

Please visit our Submissions page, and send us your manuscripts or queries.  We look forward to publishing your “just right” essay.

With best regards,

Michelle Ballif
Managing Editor

Note:  All articles published in Composition Forum are subject to rigorous peer review by at least two reviewers who are experts in the topical area.