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In “Argument and Evidence in the Case of the Personal,” Candace Spigelman describes the multiple configurations of “the personal” in writing instruction. She explains that many writing instructors have interpreted the writing of expressivity pedagogy as “writing-as-self-expression” or “writing- for-self-discovery”. To counter “semester-long composition programs that call for writing as personal confession, the cathartic soul-searching narrative of trauma or enlightenment associated with expressivism taken to the extreme,” hard-core advocates of academic discourse banished all forms of personal writing. Still author of this article asserts that “narratives of personal experience can operate at a sophisticated level of argument”. Narrative can have its own logic. Arguing for the use of personal narrative in academic writing, Spigelman claims that “the telling of stories can actually serve the same purposes as academic writing and that narratives of personal experience can accomplish serious scholarly work”.

Drawing on Aristotle’s discussions of narration and example, she explores “the efficacy of narrative argument in academic writing”, and makes claims about “the personal as scholarly evidence”. Certainly, qualitative research methodologies such as ethnography demonstrate how personal stories can provide examples from which theories may be generalized. Thus, I wanted to examine how students used their personal tutoring experiences at Elm “not as a confessional essay of personal angst or therapeutic rehabilitation, but an analytic argument, in which personal experience is used evidentially to illustrate and prove a particular position”.

In the investigation essay, it was not a requirement to use Elm as a source, and only one student, William, actually did so, trying to contextualize his service/tutoring experience in that academic essay. The other students might not have used Elm as a source because they chose topics that were to varying degrees less directly related to issues at Elm. Although Area describes reading “a wide range of interesting and locally focused topics” in her students’ papers, I found that few students chose “locally focused topics” that related to their service experience in this class. Yet, William, perhaps fueled by critically reflecting on his service/tutoring experience and developing tutoring strategies accordingly, voluntarily made the connections among the “rich mix” of course texts — and other sources — in his academic essay.