Writing Rhetorically: Entering the Conversation

Composing a Draft

Cheat sheet: “How can you help students write an initial, exploratory draft in which they try on positions, work with evidence, and discover what they really think?”

In the early 1970’s, when compositionists such as Janet Emig were studying the “composing process” (see The Composing Processes of 12th Graders), researchers began with a simple view of the process which consisted of the following stages.

  • Pre-writing (activities such as brainstorming and clustering that were designed to generate content, similar to the concept of “invention” in classical rhetoric.)
  • Composing (The act of writing a first draft. Sometimes “composing” is distinguished from “inscribing” which is actually putting words on paper.)
  • Revising (Re-reading the draft with an audience in mind and making changes to improve effectiveness.)
  • Proofreading (Re-reading with a focus on surface correctness to discover and correct errors.)

The composing process is no longer a central focus of composition research, but later researchers discovered that the process described above is overly simplified, and that different writers cycle through these stages in different ways, often recursively. However, this basic four-stage process is still useful in thinking about the design of writing assignments.

The activities leading up to this point of the module comprise an elaborate and sophisticated pre-writing phase. It is time to put words on paper in the writer’s voice. However, different students will approach this task in different ways.

The classic four-stage process is better suited to writing a personal essay on a simple question. ERWC writing assignments tend to be text-based and to include multiple sources. Writing this kind of essay requires a more complex process.

The other important question here is about audience. The first set of questions in the “Rhetorical Essay Planner” is “Who are your readers? What do they probably think or believe about your topic? Do you share these beliefs or assumptions? If not, how will you change their views?” The essay prompt itself has left the audience undefined and whatever audience we specify, students are always ultimately writing to please their teachers. Some compositionists talk about “writer-based” drafts that are designed to get the writer’s ideas down on paper and later “reader-based” drafts that have been revised to serve the needs of the audience. However, though the concept of audience is certainly important in revising, it is also important in composing. It is easier to think of what to write if you know to whom you are writing.

Let’s tell the student to imagine that they are writing for students and teachers in other classes than their own. This is a mixed group consisting mostly of peers who have not read the articles they have. They could be writing an op-ed piece for the school newspaper.

Considering Structure

Cheat sheet: “How can you help students discover the most effective organizing strategy for their text?”

The best strategy here is probably to make a scratch outline with a thesis and main points plus possible support. Some students will want to just start writing and revise the order later. That is what I would have done when I was a student, but a rough outline, not a formal one, can help keep the writing process flowing.
Some students may try to turn this into a five-paragraph essay, but that is not the best format for this assignment. There are too many concepts, arguments, quotations, and examples to fit into three body paragraphs.

Using the Words of Others (and Avoiding Plagiarism)

Cheat sheet: “How can you help students learn to quote, paraphrase, and summarize their sources appropriately and document them accurately?”

Here we might ask the following:

  • What ideas need support?
  • What should I quote from Kinsley? (When are his exact words interesting or important?)
  • What ideas should I paraphrase from Kinsley? (When are the ideas more important to my argument than his words?)
  • What should I quote or paraphrase from other sources?

We could ask students to highlight these passages in the article and put a “Q” in the margins for “Quote” and a “P” in the margins for “Paraphrase,” or use different colored highlighters.

Negotiating Voices

Cheat sheet: “How can you help students represent the dialog between their own views and their various sources?”

We might ask the students to think about the following

  • What do I think?
  • Who agrees with me?
  • What do they think?
  • Who agrees with them?
  • How can I make these opinions clear to the reader?

It is good to return to these questions in the revising process, but they are also good questions to think about before beginning to compose.

Now the student is ready to sit down with his or her notes, outlines, and highlights to begin to write a draft.

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