Major Project 3: Rhetorical Criticism

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“Rhetoric is pervasive. Given that it is an operating system for human meaning-making and interaction, any time we are making meaning and interactingotherwise known as ‘being human’we are using rhetoric. There isn’t any way to communicate without using rhetoric or ‘being rhetorical.’ Communication is inevitably rhetorical. You can’t choose whether or not to use rhetoric. The only question is how you’ll use it when you’re more aware of how it works.”Doug Downs, “Rhetoric: Making Sense of Human Interaction and Meaning-Making” Writing about Writing, First Edition, p. 460
“Intertextual theory suggests that the key criteria for evaluating writing should be ‘acceptability’ within some discourse community. ‘Acceptability’ includes, but goes well beyond, adherence to formal conventions. It includes choosing the ‘right’ topic, applying the appropriate critical methodology, adhering to standards for evidence and validity, and in general adopting the community’s discourse valuesand of course borrowing the appropriate traces. Success is measured by the writer’s ability to know what can be presupposed and to borrow that community’s traces effectively to create a text that contributes to the maintenance or, possibly, the definition of the community. The writer is constrained by the community, and by its intertextual preferences and prejudices, but the effective writer works to assert the will against those community constraints to effect change.”James E. Porter, “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community” Writing about Writing, First Edition, p. 563
Our work in the first two-thirds of the semester has largely focused on individuals and their stories as writers. For this project, we will turn our attention to specific texts in order to understand the decisions and practices that shape their creation, use, and impact in specific contexts. In doing so, you’ll have the chance to consider more closely how some of the social and rhetorical influences we’ve been thinking about actually play out in writing. This will hopefully help prepare you to translate the ideas we’ve been studying this semester to the new writing situations you yourself will encounter after this course.
The “criticism” in the name of this assignment takes on a particular meaning. We typically think of criticism as pointing out the flaws of something. In this scholarly context, however, criticism means systematically evaluating and investigating a text in order to better appreciate or understand it. This sort of criticism, in other words, seeks to reveal something about the text in question.
Your Task
Use a combination of background research, observation, and interpretation to construct a rhetorical analysis (at least 1,200-2,000 words) of a text of your choosing. Please choose a text that has been produced within the past 5 years. Apply some of the rhetorical concepts we’ve studied this semestere.g., audience, a rhetor’s literacy experiencesto help you think through and explain how your chosen text constructs meaning for its audience(s) as well as how those meanings in turn shape reality. Your discussion should not focus on description or reporting alone; instead, your goal is to use some of the principles about writing and rhetoric we’ve studied this semester to help you look behind the text, the choices its creator(s) made, and the impact of those choices on the text’s audience(s).
As with Major Project 2, your target publication for this article is Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing. Be sure to provide enough detail and context so that audience can understand the text itself, your analysis, and why your discussion matters.
For this third Major Project, You will upload the following files (#1 and #3 should be Word or PDF documents):
1) Your final Rhetorical Criticism research essay
2) The text on which you are conducting a rhetorical analysis (any file format or link will do)
3) A one-paragraph (at least 150 words) reflection of your experience in writing this paper. Include the following:
What challenges did you face?
What were your most and least favorite parts?
What was the most significant takeaway from completing this essay?
Objective: Use a combination of background research, observation, and interpretation to construct a rhetorical analysis of a text that has been produced within the past 5 years.
Audience: Your peers, professor, and Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing readers.
Format: 1,200-2,000 words, MLA-format
How you will be graded: The rubric below is based on a holistic grading system.
SAMPLE STUDENT WORK: See the “Student Samples” section as well as these two examples below.
a) Student 1
b) Student 2
c) Student 3
“What Text Should I Look At, and What Should I Do With It?”
You have a lot of flexibility in choosing what text to research for this project. As with Major Project 2, you might find it useful to link your work here to your major and/or career. This might include, for instance, something you’ll need to write once you get into your upper-division classes or grad school, or something that people working in your field produce. You might also use this project to do a bit of Villanueva’s “Professorial Discourse Analysis” (see Writing about Writing p. 121-22) and see what the professors in your discipline research and how they disseminate those findings. Alternatively, you might approach this project as a continuation of Major Project 2 and focus in on a text that your interviewee showed you, further investigating the rhetorical situation in which that text operates. You might also choose to talk to a friend or classmate and work to trace the rhetorical situation and/or intertextual nature of some particular project in order to see what you can learn there. The choice is yours, so choose a text to investigate that seems interesting and useful for you to consider. Again, please choose a text that has been produced within the past 5 years.
In the past, some students have chosen a text they like and are already familiar with, such as a popular song or a book they read in high school. These projects have tended not to work well since it’s harder to learn something from a text with which you are already familiar. Keep this in mind as you consider possibilities for this project.
Remember that analysis means looking closely at something and its component parts to think about how it works. Rhetorical analysis, then, means looking closely at a particular text and its component parts to think about how it works in a specific context. For ideas about what this can look like, see the student examples above as well as those listed near the bottom of this assignment.
In terms of what text to look at, you have a lot of options. For the purposes of this assignment, we’ll draw on Downs’ explanation of rhetoric in the quote at the top to help us think about what kinds of texts you might choose to analyze as well as Grant-Davie’s explanation of what each constituent of a rhetorical situation is, and Porter’s ideas of intertextuality. That means anything that is involved in making meaning or interacting between humans counts, whether it’s alphabetic, visual, auditory, or some combination. You might find it helpful to think about texts that make some kind of argument. I’ve listed a few ideas below to give you some inspiration:
A sales presentation used by the person you profiled for Major Project 2: Profile of a Writer
The website of a politician running in an election
A Facebook page for a UCF club’s fundraiser
A text message that started an argument between you and your friends
A poster for a UCF student organization
A particularly impactful Twitter thread
An evocative advertisement
A recent news article
A comedy sketch
A TV commerical
The list is endless!
What to Do
Here, I briefly outline the moves youll need to make in order to accomplish the task required by this assignment.
Introduce the text you’ve chosen to look at, the rhetorical context in which it appeared, any other information readers will need to understand your criticism.
Before launching into your analysis, you’ll want to briefly introduce readers to the text you’re looking at. This might mean summarizing and/or describing it as well as putting it into context. Think about how you can show readers what this text is like and where it came from. Use images and quotes as needed to support these descriptions. When contextualizing the text, consider where/when it was published or distributed, who the original audience was, and how that shapes your understanding of what the text’s creator(s) were trying to accomplish.
You might find, too, that you need to conduct a little informal research to learn more about the text as you begin writing about it. Try to learn as much as you can about your text, where it came from, and how it was/is received.
You should also introduce any terms or theories that readers will need to know about to understand your discussion. This might include, for instance, new ideas or ways of conceptualizing rhetoric drawn from the course readings.
Present an argument about what your rhetorical analysis of the text reveals.
You can think of this as introducing readers to the “so what?” of your article early on. What’s at stake in your analysis? What questions are you hoping to answer? What are you going to use rhetorical analysis to do or reveal? Why does that matter? Why should they care?
Remember what arguments do. You want to make a claim about the text and how it is working. An effective argument is one that is arguable (it’s not just a given or obvious fact), relevant (it’s connected, in this case, to the text you’ve chosen to analyze and our study of rhetoric), and meaningful (there’s something at stake so that readers will care).
Very likely, you wont know the focus of your discussion going into writing. Thats okay. You should discover it through your careful analysis of the text youve chosen to look at. Once you do discover your focus, revise your earlier sections of your paper so that you can develop and support that argument through your further discussion.
Support and illustrate your argument with very particular evidence from the text itself, analysis, and any other relevant data collected during your research.
However you choose to organize this analysis, be sure to support and develop your points with discussion of specific elements, passages, and moves within the text youre analyzing. This will mean carefully integrating and responding to quotes, paraphrases, and/or summaries from the text itself.
Refer back to course readings on rhetoric to add to your analysis; use at least two readings to build your own ethos/credibility. Remember, though, that this should primarily be your analysis. Im most interested in what you discover about this and how it is working within a particular rhetorical situation/ecology. Rather than repeat ideas from the readings, look to use those ideas to help you ask and try to answer questions about the nature of the text you’re analyzing. What would the authors we’ve read find interesting in this text and its rhetorical context?
When including particular evidence, be sure to make it clear to your audience why you’re including it and how it helps to further support and illustrate the claims you’re making about the text.
Reflect on the significance of your analysis in order to draw conclusions and consider the implications of your criticism.
Your conclusion should not merely restate what you’ve already said elsewhere. Instead, use this section to address the “So what?” question: what does your analysis reveal? What’s at stake? What can be learned from your analysis? What might readers or engaged parties in the rhetorical ecology(s) you were writing about do in response to learning the results of your analysis? If it seems appropriate, you might set this up as a call-to-action, but at a minimum try to give readers something to keep thinking about after they’re finished with your analysis.
Have you learned anything yourself that causes you to revisit or change your understanding of rhetoric? Have you learned anything about communication more broadly that you can use later, perhaps in the university, your career, or your civic or social life?
Also, consider what questions still remain unanswered. What might you need to keep thinking about as you continue thinking about rhetoric and these related ideas in your own life?
In general, these analyses are typically around 1,200 – 2,000 words. Writing less than that will probably not give you enough space to fully develop your ideas and examples. Writing much more than that means you probably have expanded the scope of this assignment too far. But exact lengths will vary, and your work will be assessed on quality, not length.
Stylus Student Examples
To get ideas for this project, you might find it helpful to see some examples of what past ENC 1101 students have done with rhetorical criticism for Stylus. I’ve included some examples to inspire your thinking below:
“Youre Filtering Me Out: Reviewing Snapchat Lenses through a Rhetorical Lens
” by Julie Wan in Stylus 9.1
“Rhetorical Reflection on an Air Force IT Ad” by Isaac Kyle in UCF Writes p. 21-25/Stylus
“Intertextuality and Understanding Dave Chappelle’s Comedy
” by David Galvez in Stylus 2.1
“Using Rhetorical Strategies to Examine War Protest” by Radharany Diaz in Stylus 4.2
“Galaxy-Wide Writing Strategies Used by Official Star Wars Bloggers
” by Arielle Feldman in Stylus 8.2
“Elements of a Storm: The Rhetoric Behind a 7th Grade Poem
” by Casiana Aponte in Stylus Knights Write Showcase Special Issue Spring 2016
What Makes It Good?
Here are the qualities I will be looking for when I grade this assignment:
Effectiveness of Argument
How well have you demonstrated your understanding of the readings and class discussions we’ve had about rhetoric and related topics?
Is your argument appropriately arguable, relevant, and meaningful?
Have you addressed why this argument matters to your audiencethe “So what?” question?
Thoughtfulness of Analysis
How careful is your rhetorical analysis of the text you chose to look at? Have you thoughtfully applied some of the ideas we’ve been studying this semester?
How clear and precise is the focus of your analysis?
Have you fully explained your reasoning as well as your reactions to the text and any additional research?
Use of Detail and Support
Are your claims and analysis well-supported and developed through appropriate use of quotes, paraphrase, and/or summary/description?
Is your evidence detailed enough that readers can understand the points you’re making?
Have you made clear connections between the evidence you’re presenting and the overall focus of your analysis so that readers can follow your thinking?
Is it clear how and why youre moving from point to point?
Do your ideas logically lead into one another?
Are sections and points fully developed?