Abstract: A Grounded Theory of Rhetorical Reflection
in Freshman Composition

The following dissertation presents a grounded theory of rhetorical reflection
within the activity of writing performed by freshman writers at Texas Tech University.
Influenced by the portfolio letter as a paradigm, composition as a field has
predominantly framed reflection as a post-task activity; however, rhetorical reflection
asks writers to problem-solve and generate new understandings between drafts. The
following research sought to generate a new theory for two reasons: our field’s lack of
understanding about reflection’s mechanisms and our field’s attachment to theories of
reflection built from other speculative theories. The new theory satisfies each of these
gaps by providing a detailed description and explanation of rhetorical reflection
created from data following a grounded theory methodology. The grounded theory of
rhetorical reflection discovered through this research states that reflection involves
comparison, assessment, and judgment made in terms of essay success. As the mental
conception of what writers believe they should do, essay success is the key
determining factor for the rhetorical reflection of freshman writers and undergoes a
process of construction as writers engage in a writing task.

The theory generated from this research offers an expanded view of reflection
for the field of composition compared to the current portfolio-centric perspective. As a
teaching activity, rhetorical reflection helps freshmen writers learn rhetorical practice
and the flexible application of general concepts, theories, and rules in particular
contexts. This research has also recognized and reaffirmed how important writers’
mental models are for the act of writing.

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