As rhetorical act

While it’s true that writing is sometimes a private act (journal entries, letters never sent, jotted notes to oneself), for the most part in this class we will be talking and thinking and most importantly practicing writing as a public act of communication. To start off thinking about private and public writing, consider the difference between a grocery list you jot down for yourself and one that you will give to some hypothetical personal shopper who’s volunteered to do your grocery shopping for you. How might they be different in terms of information included, organization, appearance? If your personal shopper is a friend or family member vs a stranger, how might that affect the list you write?

Concerns about audience should be interwoven with the writer’s purpose. Is the writing intended to entertain, inform, persuade? In considering a particular audience, the writer should consider what he/she has to give to that particular audience. What does the reader know already about the subject, and what new information or different point of view does the writer have to impart? Why should the reader care?

Another important aspect for the writer to consider is genre, which can be explained more easily by example rather than abstract definition. Examples of written genres you may be familiar with include emails, editorials, science lab reports, song lyrics, short stories, informational brochures, movie reviews. Each of these (and there are many more examples) are particular forms of writing, with their own conventions of content, organization, and tone. We’ll talk about some examples in class. And this class, by the way, is a genre-based course in that the writing assignments you’ll be doing (memoir, text response, annotated bibliography, expository report, argument) represent a wide variety of genres.

Considering writing as a rhetorical act emphasizes its public nature: that it involves a speaker/writer (you), an audience (the reader), and a text. This rhetorical situation is often depicted as a triangle:

For more detailed info about the rhetorical situation, click here.

An effective piece of writing “touches on” each of the points of the triangle: the text itself has a clear focus developed with sufficient detail; it is shaped to respond to the experiences and values of the reader; and its author comes across as trustworthy and thoughtful.


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