Sunday, July 1, 2007

Some Rhetorical Forms


Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, usually in the forum of public speaking. But rhetoric can also be construed to mean the great variety of communicative forms - from short and humble to deep and exalted - that provides a bridge between an author's writing and a reader's attempt to understand.

Just as there is a range of reading styles from glancing at / scanning / surveying, an array of analytical reading techniques, to in-depth, reflective or contemplative reading - there is a range of writing forms that go from brief observations and attempts to articulate meaning, to scholarly research, team projects and multi-media presentations. The following list is a sample of some portfolio styles of writing/response that give an idea of the many ways a reader can intelligently react to and decipher a given text. A "text" is any condensed meaning, verbal or nonverbal, that needs to be clarified or explained more fully.

"LIVE SPECIMEN" "SHARD": a found object, image, artifact, icon, newspaper editorial, spatial or architectural arrangement, media piece, gesture or overheard conversation that expresses culturally significant attitudes or assumptions - a brief comment or commentary would try to pinpoint or elucidate or "unpack" what is going on (e.g. the socially conditioned gender discrimination of a five year old boy saying that 'girls can't be interested in hockey or being president(!)')

: a particularly rich, flavorful or expressive term that helps us understand an important aspect of human affairs or behavior (e.g., an authoritarian ruler, a sumptuous feast, an intriguing person, a vicarious experience, a montage of events, a prescient observer, laissez-faire economics, a political conservative, a religious mystic)

: a key idea as expressed in the author's own words or special vocabulary (e.g., what Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget means when he talks about a child's cognitive development; what Neil Postman means by the term narrative; what Ivan Illich means when he says that deschooling our society in this age of universal, mandatory schooling is a critical and important task)

: a key opposition or contrast, one of which an author is arguing against (e.g., Holt's distinction between learning and schooling, Tapscott's contrast between broadcast teaching versus interactive learning, Postman's discussion of the need for a 'metaphysics of schooling' against the prevalent 'engineering' technical-fix approach)

"COMMENT": to briefly make an observation on or state a reaction to a piece of writing

"A SENTENCE THAT STRIKES YOU": a particular sentence that strikes you personally as significant, and a brief comment or a brief explanation as to why

"THINKING OUT LOUD" ("stream of consciousness"): rapidly writing down or going with the flow of your own feeling associations without much organizing, editing or critically evaluating what you're saying; a way of getting closer to what you actually think

"JOURNAL": an attempt to record your personal observations on a given topic/task/problem in a daily, weekly or systematic fashion

"SUMMARY": an attempt to convey the author's meaning briefly, informally and usually in your own words

"OUTLINE": a skeletal X-ray of a piece of writing... using indentation (space!) and key phrases to illustrate the structure of main and supporting points [see the famous 'Harvard outline' format: I...II...III..., A...B...C..., 1...2...3..., a...b...c...]

"ARGUMENT": laying out the reasons for or against a certain stand or thesis (e.g., 'Standardized testing is harmful [or beneficial] because...')

"DISCUSSION": you and the author are on equal terms, dialoguing as it were - you try to explain or explore at length what the author means................... to honestly consider an author's ideas and why they are important (or wrong!), what the consequences are of accepting the author's point of view, the implications of what the author is saying, what's exciting or interesting about what the author is saying, where it may lead, etc., etc.

"RESEARCH PAPER": a study of a topic, theme or problem, done by citing previously done studies, comparing and evaluating, and interpreting results to illustrate a thesis or come up with a substantiated conclusion. Provides a discussion of studies and a list of reference sources as a scholarly 'trail' for the reader or researcher who comes along later.

"PROJECT": a complex task that involves a variety of disciplines or modes (e.g. field research and critical analysis) and often a number of people working as a team to complete over time, the outcome often presented in a collaborative report or multi-media presentation

"EXPLORATORY (PHILOSOPHIC) PAPER": an attempt to call attention to a new phenomenon or probe the wider implications of past or recent conceptual work; an attempt to frame a new way of looking at things, articulate a vision or new way of addressing old or unknown problems... a determined attempt to understand in depth...

"REFLECTIVE OR CONTEMPLATIVE" WRITING: not meant to prove anything, but to simply encourage self-reflection or awareness in relation to life's deepest questions... thinking or pondering in a slow, quiet listening mode, often in a situation of aloneness...