Students participate in an exercise during a November 2023 session of Xiao Tan’s class
Students participate in an exercise during a November 2023 session of Xiao Tan’s class. (John West / Trinity Communications)

New Minor Emphasizes Communication in a Complex World

The explosion of ChatGPT and other generative AI models supposedly prophesies a future where communication is fully automated. But writing is more necessary than ever.

To navigate today’s world is to navigate ever-changing digital platforms with differing rules and conventions. Text is mashed-up with images, video, sounds, memes and a dense network of allusions between each, and the public sphere is a morass of mis- and disinformation. And that’s all before you get to the emergent questions about generative AI.

How can students possibly communicate in the midst of all that complexity?

A new minor in writing and rhetoric from the Thompson Writing Program is designed to provide the answers.

“Now is a great time to launch a minor in writing studies. It’s more important than ever to have students who understand communication in all its forms — written, digital, oral,” says Denise Comer, professor of the practice and the program’s director.

The minor in writing and rhetoric was approved by the Arts & Sciences Council at their February 1 meeting. Students can begin to declare the minor as early as Fall 2024.

It requires five courses. Four must originate in the Thompson Writing Program and three must be writing intensive. Students must take at least one core writing studies course, which include History of Writing Studies, Research Methods in Writing Studies and Theoretical Frameworks of Writing Studies.

students in Katy Xiao's class
(John West / Trinity Communications)

Available electives that count toward the minor include Public Speaking, The Social Life of Memes, African American Rhetorics, and other Thompson Writing Program courses, alongside a diverse list of classes from other departments.

“Over the past few years we have been very intentionally building our faculty expertise in writing and rhetoric,” Comer says.

Those scholars include five hired in 2023 and four hired in 2022.

Thoughtful and effective communication is valuable across the university and with employers, Comer says. The proposal for the minor in writing and rhetoric notes that “oral and written communication consistently rank among the most desirable capacities across industries and contexts” in National Association of Colleges and Employers data.

With that context in mind, the minor allows students to target their writing studies to specific disciplines or align it with their major. “For instance,” the proposal outlines, “pre-health students could engage with coursework on science communication and health rhetorics.” Others could focus on persuasion, misinformation as a public policy problem, or communicating technical information.

"Arguably now more than ever before, the communication contexts students navigate at Duke and beyond are becoming increasingly complex. The minor in Writing and Rhetoric offers the knowledge and habits of mind to help Duke students meet these challenges with ethical and effective oral, written, and digital communication capacities.” Comer says.