Russell A. Hunt
St. Thomas University  

Present at the Evolution:

Watching Student Writers Participate in the 
Development of Genres

 This is meant to be an "interactive poster."  It includes hypertext links to various examples of student writing produced under a certain set of rhetorical circumstances, and some explanation of what those circumstances are and what kinds of changes in the generic characteristics of texts produced seem to be manifesting themselves over time. On this first page, you'll essentially find an outline of what's on this site, with links to fuller explanations, background documents, and examples of student writing.

First, then, some explanation of the circumstances under which these texts are produced, public and dialogic in a way that student writing rarely is.. 

The consequences of this situation are that the writing occupies a rhetorical situation unlike any the students have been in before.  This is, as my proposal for this conference argues, a useful laboratory for studying the evolution of a genre. There are, of course, limits to the analogies with "natural" situations.

When they exist, patterns of change are, of course, best seen in the writing of individuals over the course of the term. One thing that we might expect to see is changes from the conventions of school essay writing to more dialogic models: rather than summarizing what is already known, for instance, one might find writers taking more cognizance of the fact that the readers all, by definition, share experience of the Occasion being discussed.

Here are some examples, with some proposed explications of what I think we can see in the texts.

Grace's writing, for instance, seems to become more intertextual and multivocal.

Rebecca's writing may exemplify a changing awareness of the dialogic situation, but the evidence isn't clear.

Neil's postings allow us to infer an awareness of situation, but there aren't clear markings of that awareness or of its development.

What might constitute unequivocal evidence of the beginning of a generic convention can be seen, I think, in Ken's direct acknowledgement of the readers and the community around the text.

More obviously, one might expect to see changes in the use of the titles to individual postings, as people realize that the title is all potential readers see.

This study is (in the true Bakhtinian tradition) a work in progress. You are cordially invited to participate in thinking through the implications and possible methods used in such a study, by going to the HyperNews forum where these ideas can be discussed.

You might also want to have a look at the paper I gave at the conference -- "On the Origin of Genres by Natural Selection: Inventing Genres Online," which deals with some of the same issues.