Assignment: (MY WORD OF CHOICE IS: “Magnetic Levitation Trains”)
Choose a word or phrase that most people may be unfamiliar with, or understand only ambiguously. The word or phrase can describe a class of objects, a process, or even a condition. It may even be a term that you are just learning this semester in another class, but one with which you can become thoroughly familiar. This assignment asks you to write two different articles that define the word or phrase for two different audiences: a general, intelligent audience, and a scholarly, specialized audience. Each article will inform the audience about the nature of the word or phrase, and will attempt to persuade the audience to accept the writer’s information, perspective and implications through development and use of support.
Rhetorical Situation, Locating Audience, and Exigence: Who? Why? So What?
For both articles, you must consider the rhetorical situation, “locate” your intended audience and give each audience compelling reasons to read your articles. Consider the following relationships, and use the questions that follow to plan your research and draft. Your content should naturally, implicitly answer the questions:
a.) Audience, Context, External Exigence (Why would a general, intelligent audience read your article? Is the definition of the word in question, or contested? Have there been new developments that should change the way the audience understands the concept? And which scholarly audience would read the article –sociologists, economists, historians, experts in journalism, etc.? What does your article contribute to what the scholarly audience already knows?)
b.) Audience, Writer and Creating Internal Exigence (What elements of style or structure will you use to “hook” your general, intelligent audience? Who comprises the scholarly audience and what kinds of choices will you have to make to help them trust in your authority? What can you leave out for an audience with a scholar’s expertise?)
Research Requirement: 6 sources total. Article for scholars must use at least 1 scholarly source.
We will soon access databases with a research librarian’s guidance. For workshop drafts, use LexisNexis Academic to search popular periodicals, and any of the bigger databases (Proquest, JStor, Academic Search Premier) to search for scholarly articles. Newspapers, magazines, books and interviews may also be used. You may use a source in both articles if it seems appropriate.
General, Intelligent Audience:
Imagine an audience of world-aware readers who respond to intellectual and emotional appeals, who are open to news and to new perspectives, but who are skeptical enough to want to see evidence in support of claims. It may even help to keep an individual audience in mind, to write as if you’re writing for that savvy reader of The Economist, Wired, National Geographic, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Popular Science, or Mother Jones. Keep in mind though, that an intelligent audience is not necessarily an “expert” audience, so field-specific terminology may warrant developed explanation, and some historical context may be necessary as supplement to present exigence. Figurative definitions are common for a general, intelligent audience. It’s okay to use articles from popular periodicals to jump-start and support your own argument or provide a “they say”; your article will be an original composite and analysis of what supporting sources have to say.
Look into fields of study around the university; think about conversations you’ve had about potential majors or academic concentrations. When you find a scholarly article, take note of its technical vocabulary. In your academic career, it’s likely you’ll read scholarly articles by feminists, economists, scientists, historians… In any field of study, scholars are deeply aware of the current state of knowledge, and are interested in developments or complications of what is known. Developments and complications constitute a form of exigence. Your scholarly audience is likely to value support from a familiar field, and will expect insightful use of such support. This audience will expect you to “talk the talk”, or use the specialized vocabulary of the discipline. How will you get a sense of this academic language? You’ll pick it up through your research. Scholars want to know what implications new knowledge holds for the future of the field. The conclusions of articles written for scholars often discuss how new definitions or perspectives can be applied within the field. (Think of how Keith Grant –Davie urged writing instructors to present a more complex definition of rhetorical situation and stasis theory to their students.)
Start with definition strategies:
Both articles will exploit the standard tactics that writers use when they define words and concepts:
genus/difference; contrast definition; definition by negation, by example, by etymology;
genetic/historical and operational definition. (We’ll go over these strategies in class, practicing them and identifying them in texts.) Try out these different techniques before beginning your draft, then think about which techniques generate the best content for each audience.
Develop your article with additional questions:
How much history do you need to provide a general audience versus a scholarly audience, and why? Are there any cause-and-effect relationships you’ll need to write about for either audience? Are you making a judgment about whether a situation is positive or negative, harmful or healthful, and if so, do you need to define your evaluative criteria? What conventions of form might be expected by either audience? What is your ultimate goal or purpose?