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Writing Program at New College

The Rhetorical Situation: Exercises


Let’s begin exploring questions of audience with a situation close to home. Take a few minutes to think or free write in order to remember a reasonably serious conversation you’ve had recently with a family member or friend. The subject of the conversation doesn’t matter much. You might choose a time you had an argument, either about an important matter, something that always crops up as an issue in your relationship. It’s also fine to focus on mundane, everyday issues, perhaps a dispute about whose turn it was to wash the dishes or to choose the restaurant. You don’t have to choose an argument. What about the time you shared really good news with family or friends? Think of conversations about favorite books, films, or after an exciting basketball game. Whatever you choose, make sure the conversation was with someone you know well about a common interest. Now share your reflections with classmates and others by working through these questions

What was the topic of the conversation?

What was the purpose of the conversation?

Who was your primary audience?

What was the purpose of the conversation?

What was my audience’s opinion toward the topic?

What kinds of background information did you need to provide to your audience?

What kinds and how specific were the details in your conversation?

What was your tone, style of delivery? What words did you use?

Taking into account your audience’s needs, opinions, and attitudes before writing allows you to create a document that is more understandable. With this information now in mind, what could have been changed in the conversation you recounted here to make the purpose of that discussion clearer or your point more understood by the person with whom you were communicating?

Different Ways of Thinking About Audience

Free write in response to the following questions as a way to further your thinking about audience. Discuss the questions and share your responses with classmates, your instructor, and others. 

1. How does thinking carefully about your purpose help you think strategically about audience?

2. What genres have the greatest potential for connecting with the audience or audiences you have identified?

3. How do you imagine your audience? What assumptions are you making about the people who will read your writing?

4. Based on your purpose and genre, will the members of your audience have expectations?

5. Do you have knowledge of your “real” audience, that is, actual readers or listeners? Is that knowledge speculative or proven?

Concepts of Rhetoric: Genre

We intend these exercises for students undertaking specific projects in specific genres and for those more generally interested in exploring genres they might work in or in which they are interested. 

1. Review and discuss what you’ve read about genre, and if you have time, read one or more of the recommended sources on genre HYPERLINK. Free write for 10 minutes, making a list of possible Final Project genres. Discuss this list of options with classmates, your instructor, and others.

2. Do some quick internet research on the issue or situation you have been researching. What genres do people tend to use to engage the issues in which you are interested? Editorials? Letters? Blogs? Research documents? Protest songs? Satirical writing or performance? All of the above?

3. If you have decided (or almost decided) on a genre for a specific project or assignment:

Find models of the genre in which you plan to work. Writing a blog? Search the blogosphere for blogs that seem particularly strong. If available, find a blog that address the issues that interest you, or at least related issues. Thinking about a long-form or “feature” article for a newspaper? Grab the Sunday New York Times, and read the weekly magazine, which will likely have strong examples of this genre. You might also check out a magazine that has a focus similar to the one around which you are designing your project. Ask your classmates, instructor, and others for suggestions about where to find good genre models.

Make a list of all the familiar features of your genre. For each of these familiar features or conventions, list ways in which they give you opportunities to effectively reach audiences. Letters have the virtue of directly addressing an audience, for example. Websites allow us to catalogue large amounts of information. Narrative forms, stories, allow us to evoke experience through vivid and memorable languages. What are the conventional strengths of the genre you have chosen?

Concepts of Rhetoric: Overview

In a small or large group, brainstorm a list of public issues about which people strongly disagree, controversies, or “hot topics” of the current moment. Select one or two from the list, and discuss how the rhetorical concepts we covered might come into play during public debate about those issues. What main claims are used? What reasoning and other arguments are used to support those claims? What evidence? It may be helpful to assign each group two or three key concepts on which to focus. Share the ideas you generate as a way to get familiar with the rhetorical concepts we have introduced.

Now brainstorm a list of arguments or disagreements in which members of the group have recently been involved. List arguments with friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Describe those arguments or disagreements using our key rhetorical concepts.

Writing Program