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Writing Program at New College


Values: It might seem odd to include values as a rhetorical concept, but in fact, thinking about the values your audience holds and that are at play in a particular rhetorical situation is crucial for a strong writing practice. When we write for audiences, we appeal to the values that they hold dear, and in so doing, we increase the chances that they will be convinced by our reasoning and accept our claims. You might not think that a student writing a research paper needs to be concerned with societal values, but that might be misguided. In the university, we value the pursuit and sharing of knowledge as socially beneficial. More obvious values like honesty and hard work are also hallmarks celebrated in academic communities.   

This simple graphic offers an example of how values come into play within a rhetorical situation.

Writer, Reader, Values

Writer making an argument in a blog post about wealth inequality in the United States Values that people attach to work, money, equality, and national identity. Readers of the blog, each considering the argument from the perspective of his or her own value system.

As suggested even in this simple graph, values offer a point of connection (or disconnection) between writers and readers. Putting serious thought into the “value structure” people use to evaluate situations and ideas will allow you to think critically about how to approach the writing task at hand.

Appealing to values is far from an exact science. What values we hold dear will likely be determined by a range of factors, for example personal experience, family history, cultural background, traditions of faith and secular codes of ethics, and current historical events, which tend to test our value systems. Even if we feel we may share values with others, for instance, those people in our audience, do we think about these values in the same terms? We can name values: loyaltycompassionsuccessstrengthhonestypatriotismintelligencediligencefaith; and so on. Still, after naming them, how do we define each of these values?

Writing Program