Excerpt from "College Writing I" Bunker Hill Community College, Summer 2020
ENG111 Unit 2: Rhetoric Professor Molly Horton Booth
Introduction We spent the last unit developing our skills with reflection and revision. Bring those skills with you into this Unit – we are going to use them as we develop a greater awareness of our writing choices. In Unit 1 we learned that there’s no such thing as “writing in general,” because why and how we write varies so greatly depending on our purpose for writing. When we sit down to write and revise a draft of any piece of writing, we’re already making choices about why and how we’re going to write, even if we’re not aware of them. The circumstances and reasons we are writing make up the rhetorical situation. This sounds complicated, but by the end of this unit, you’ll have increased your rhetorical awareness and learned how to do a rhetorical analysis. To understand these terms, we need to time travel. Hundreds of years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle defined rhetoric as: “the ability to see what is possibly persuasive in every given case” (“Stanford Encyclopedia”). Rhetoric is all about why you’re speaking, who you’re speaking to, and how you’re speaking to them. Who is your audience, and how will you convince them that your writing and ideas matter?
Rhetorical Situation The rhetorical situation is why a writer is writing and whom they’re writing for. We can break down a rhetorical situation into these two parts:
Where is this writing taking place? Some examples might be: a formal essay in a college course, writing in a journal, writing on a chalkboard in front of a class, writing a Facebook post, etc.
What is the purpose of this writing? To answer this question, we need to know who our audience is. If you’re writing a formal essay assignment for a college course, your audience is your professor. If you’re writing in a journal, your audience could be your future self, etc. We need to know who our audience is so we can use the right strategies to persuade them and fulfill this piece of writing’s purpose.
In Unit 1, you wrote a Literacy Narrative paper. If we were to make this into a math problem, the equation for a rhetorical situation might look like this –
Where was this writing taking place? You wrote this Literacy Narrative paper in a college writing I course. + What was the purpose of this writing? The purpose of the Literacy Narrative paper was to persuade the professor, your audience, to understand your own personal experiences with writing. = The rhetorical situation for this Literacy Narrative paper is that you wrote it in a college writing I course to persuade your professor to understand your own personal experiences with writing. Ta-Da!
Rhetorical Awareness Rhetorical awareness is thinking about how a writer is trying to achieve their purpose. You might read a piece of writing and notice language choice, punctuation, vocabulary, structure, etc. Instead of just reading the writing, you’re reading it and thinking about its construction. Think of this like you’re watching a movie. Instead of just watching the movie and following the story, you’re watching the movie AND noticing the camera angles, the music, the lighting, etc.
Rhetorical Analysis This is what you’re going to do this unit! Rhetorical analysis is considering the rhetorical situation with rhetorical awareness. In other words, it’s thinking about where, why, and how a piece of writing was written and evaluating if the author persuaded their audience effectively. OK, BUT WHY ARE WE LEARNING THIS RHETORIC STUFF? When we break down writing and look at different parts of the whole, we better understand how that writing was created. This is important for you as a college writer because you are learning to think deeply about why and how you write. If we can identify choices and purposes in writing, we can make our own writing choices more intentional. We can actively think about how to persuade our audience effectively and fulfill the purpose of why we’re writing in the first place.