Plan for the Day
- Technical Writing vs Technical Communication
- Choices, Styles, Standards
- More on Rhetoric
- Word Usage
- Preview Review #1
Last Week’s Stuff
Jump back to last week’s (8/22) discussion on “Technical Writing vs Technical Communication.” We’ll finish that page, move to our reading, discuss Review #1, and go over the “Exam.”
Choices, Styles, Standards
As your reading notes, grammar is often considered a boring, pedantic topic. No doubt, many of you have had language authorities, pseudo-authorities, and the generally uncritical prescribe grammar rules to you. Both our textbooks would caution us not to think in terms of right or wrong, correct or incorrect. However, there are standards and conventions that audiences expect, and not following conventions can hurt your ethos. Our concern will mainly be professional contexts, but we will consider a variety of contexts. Please rank the formality of the following writing modes (1–most informal to 5–most formal).
Ok…the above list is devoid of context, so how about the following:
- Presidential Correspondence
- E-mail to one’s boss…to a co-worker…to a client
- Grant Proposal
- Application Letter
- Wedding Invitation
Great! No ambiguity in the contexts above. Review our discussion on ethos, pathos, and logos. Kolln & Gray define rhetoric as “the art of using language effectively” (p. 2). An older definition follows:
- Aristotle defines rhetoric:
“Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion” (1.2.1).
- On ethos:
“[There is persuasion] through character whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker worthy of credence; for we believe fair-minded people to a greater extent and more quickly [than we do others] on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge but room for doubt.” (Aristotle 1.2.4)
Let’s consider these one at a time.
Rhetoric is often associated with oratory, but we study it in writing as well. In fact, Plato didn’t like writing because he felt it would hurt one’s memory. If something was written down, one wouldn’t have to commit the information to memory; therefore, one’s memory would diminish (p. 96).
Why the Negative Connotation Associated with Rhetoric
You’d think that with such a rich history, rhetoric would be introduced to students long before college. Well, it is, but not necessary as a pillar of Western Civilization. The term comes up when politicians or their critics denounce an opponent’s speech as empty; therefore, “rhetoric” is often associated popularly with “empty speech,” non-contributing verbiage, or fluff.
But the study of rhetoric is much more complicated. Just as each discipline has its own epistemology, each discipline’s communication has a rhetoric. And rhetoric isn’t limited simply to disciplines: Movements, Social Norms, Technology, Science, Religion, etc. have a rhetoric. I often define such analyses into “rhetorics of…” as common factors surrounding the power or belief in a particular area. In other words, beliefs, attitudes, values, and practices are rhetorics of prevailing social ideology: One’s acceptance of cultural “truth” is based largely on one’s immersion into the culture’s myths and beliefs.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t rhetoric just BS…empty political speech? While empty political speech is a definition of rhetoric, it’s too reductive a definition for enlightened college students such as yourselves. Rhetoric is much more involved than the unfortunate popular definition. For this class (and others) you should have a broader view of rhetoric. I like to define rhetoric as “what builds meaning into something.” That something can be an object, belief, event, or system, but, whatever it is, meaning is attached personally and culturally.
Take the following words for example: Communism and Feminism. Both have denotations and connotations. The denotative definitions (from the dictionary) are below.
- Communism: an economic system based on total equality and ownership of the means of production.
- Feminism: a philosophy recognizing and attempting to change women’s subodinate status in patriarchal society; a philosophy promoting the equality of all people.
Connotations are the feelings, allusions, and values a group (such as a culture) associates with certain words. Likewise, conscious and unconscious rhetoric describes what gives messages (even visual ones) their meaning–explicitly and implicitly.
Barrett advises writers not to “use a thesaurus to find new words….because a thesaurus does not always indicate which words are appropriate for which contexts” (p. 18). Let’s consider a lesson that highlights this. What’s a common word we could use?
Of course, this isn’t a class on music history, so I’m not asking you to read this for information. Instead, consider how the author describes the album Working on a Dream. By the way, what’s going on with subject verb agreement in “The E Street Band Keep…”?
Fricke’s article is a series of prepackaged ideas that carry his discussion of the Springsteen album. Phrases such as “pop stomps loaded with Beatlesque guitar jangle,” “1966-Beach Boys vocal harmonies,” and “pedal steel guitar a la Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline” (para. 3) are loaded with information–hypercompressed–and are references requiring readers to know them. Consider audience, purpose, and situation (context).
Review Fabulous First-Day-Of-Class Exam
If all went according to plan (as it always does), it should be around 8:30 pm. I’ll pass back your exam, so we can go over it. This isn’t graded, so don’t worry. It’s more of a preview of what’s possible for our discussions. However, please remember that naming parts of speech, knowing absolute rules, and thinking of grammar out of context isn’t the best pedagogical strategy to begin a class. I hope (hopefully) to reiterate throughout the semester that I’m more concerned with you understanding the choices available in writing than knowing all the specific rules, names, and variations out of context.
Keep up with the syllabus! While you’re enjoying your long weekend, get around to Ch. 2 in Rhetorical Grammar and Ch. 4 & 5 in Perfect English Grammar.
Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.
Kolln, Martha J. and Gray, Loretta S. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects (8th Edition)
Barrett, Grant. Perfect English Grammar: The Indispensable Guide to Excellent Writing and Speaking
Plato. Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII. Trans. Walter Hamilton. London: Penguin, 1973.