Behind the Textbook: What’s in a Headnote?

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My editor and I just finalized the new table of contents for the second edition of Emerging. Now the real work begins and, logically, it begins at the beginning:  it’s time to work on the headnotes for the new readings. I have a pretty basic formula: the first paragraph gives some background on the author of the selection, the second paragraph contextualizes the selection, and the third paragraph telegraphs the argument. It sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot of research and reading involved. I often wonder if students even read the headnotes introducing the essays they’re about to read. I don’t assign them to my students per se, mostly because I assume they’ll read the information since it appears just before the readings. Assumptions, of course, are never reliable. Perhaps I should assign the headnotes—but I’m wondering, do you? Do you use them in your class? Do you think your students read them? Please let me know.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.