Rhetoric & Gaming Week 1 / Class 2

Today we need to:

  • Twitter 101
  • Talk about Ebert
  • Talk about games and the Canon
  • Provide preface to Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Introduce Google Docs for the Gaming Journal

Twitter 101

The #, the @, and the DM

Ebert: Focusing on his Argument

Hey let’s do this.

Aristotle’s Poetics

A response to Plato’s critique of art. Shadows, caves, Idealism–oh my!

Gaming Journal

Over the next few weeks I will ask you to play video games for homework. That’s a pretty awesome sentence.

I will also ask you to keep a reflective journal as you play. Whether you are playing for the first time or revisiting a game you have played before, you will want to keep a journal that catalogue’s your thoughts on a game. Additionally, you should use the journal to record links to screen shots, ideas re: the aesthetic theories we discuss in class, links to articles/discussions of your game, or anything else that might contribute to your first project.

I will ask you to do this in Google Docs, and to share the Doc with me. My email address is insignificantwrangler@gmail.com. We will set this up in class today (Thursday).

Homework

  • Read sections from Aristotle’s Poetics [distributed via PDF]
  • Pay attention to two terms/concepts: mimesis and catharsis
  • Identify the game for your first project. Play the game for at least 45 minutes. Then spend 15 minutes writing about the game in your Game Journal

A Basic Introduction to Twitter

If you are reading this, then you are likely signed up for one of my courses in USF’s undergraduate Professional Writing, Rhetoric, and Technology major. I am requiring you to use Twitter for the semester in some fashion.

I want to briefly go over a few basics and point you in the direction of some materials. Even if you are already familiar with Twitter, and have an active account, please read this.

Choosing a User Name

I am very glad that people cannot read anything I wrote when I was 19. I don’t remember 99% of it, but I am pretty sure that I would now think it is dumb. Fortunately, I went to school way back before any of this interwebs nonsense and had to write papers uphill both ways to school. In short, there is no digital record of my learning.

Today, that is often not the case. From blogging to Facebook to Twitter students leave a digital trail. I highly advise you create an anonymous identity for your twitter account. Don’t use an email account that contains your real name. Choose a handle that is professional enough that you won’t mind when and if you later decide to “come out” (such as Oisin or Insignificant Wrangler or Santosis).

People Suck

Not all of them. Most people are kind. But there are a few people out there who are rude, obnoxious jerkwads. And, if you are on Twitter, you will find them. Some are trolls out to pester and annoy. Some are hateful or ignorant people committed to remaining ignorant and hateful to anything different from their very small identities. First and foremost: don’t be either. Don’t poke around looking for fights. And if someone harasses you, then learn how to block them.

Men are Horrible

Again, not all of them. If you are a woman, and you post a picture of yourself online, then you will likely at some point be harassed. This is one reason why I advise changing your profile picture to something other than a personal photo.

Take Julie Pagano’s Advice

Julie Pagano, a software engineer and tech activist, has written two great primers for dealing with people on Twitter. I strongly recommend reading both of them:

Below is an old post and my first attempt to preface using Twitter

I feel like I should justify why I am making you use twitter in this class. So here goes. 

Given that this is a writing class, it is my job to introduce you to a range of tools that help facilitate writing. Some of these are research tools, such as Google Scholar and delicious (which we look at in a previous class). Others, however, deal with distribution. Certainly medium.com does that. But so does twitter. 

A few months ago, an infographic made the rounds detailing which social media technologies top corporations were using. Unsurprisingly, twitter tops the list. Although I wonder about there methodology, since I find it hard to believe that only 4 corporations maintain an active facebook presence. But I digress. My point: in the 21st century, being literate requires a familiarity with a new range of tools. I am reminded of Steven Johnson’s 2005 article comparing the web to ecosystems: if you don’t want your piece to end up unattended, in the desert of the web, if you want it to attract attention, to be a part of the vibrant rainforest, then you need to know how to leverage social media. 

And, thus, we tweet. I imagine that a number of you are already familiar with twitter. But I don’t want to assume that you are all digital natives, and so I will take some time today to introduce twitter and three terms associated with it: timeline, follow(ers), and the almighty hashtag. 

  1. Timeline: For those used to facebook, twitter will initially appear like a completely clusterfuck. It can be disorienting. This is because the twitter timeline is simply a running list of all the posts made by anyone you follow (with a few scattered advertisements, or promoted posts, thrown in). Also, some of the feed might seem nonsensical, since it is possible to read only a part of conversations. Recently, twitter changed the way it organized conversations, linking together responses. But even this can be difficult to follow at first. Advice: Just jump in and get used to the chaos. After awhile, it will seem far less disorienting. 
  2. Follow(ers): When you first join twitter, your timeline will be empty. You first have to populate it by following people. I have asked that you follow me for this class. I will post links to these daily class notes out via twitter. Also, I will ask that you follow everyone else who is in the class. This makes it easy to ask questions and facilitate discussion. To Do: I want you to send out a tweet with a 140 character description of your topic. 
  3. Hashtag: The hashtag is what really powers twitter, what organizes the chaos. Advice: Try not to post anything to twitter that doesn’t contain a hashtag. Rule #1: Every time you read something for your project in this class, or anytime you read something that connects to a project someone else is working on, post it to twitter with the hashtag #enc3310. Got that? #enc3310Rule #2: Every time you post an essay to medium.com, tweet out a link to the piece with some kind of description. 

Some other pieces of twitter advice/resources:

  • Working in 140 characters is tough. It requires concision. If absolutely necessary, you can chain tweets together by numbering them. For instance, check out Mark Cuban’s twitter apology. So, on the first tweet, you have a short title, like Apology 1/5. Then every other tweet just has a different number. This lets people know there’s more than one tweet in the chain. 
  • Because every character is precious, we don’t want to waste characters on long links. Use something like tinyurl.com to shorten and redirect links

Rhetoric & Gaming – Introduction

Week One / Class One

Look, we’re in the news!

Let’s go over the syllabus.

Let’s talk about video games a bit. And let’s introduce the first project.

I will do this by asking something(s) that has nothing to do with the first project. A series of questions. A poll. Which of the following are sports:

  • football
  • chess
  • baseball
  • golf
  • hockey
  • figure skating
  • basketball
  • diving
  • olympic wrestling
  • cheerleading
  • professional wrestling
  • billiards
  • marathon running
  • long jump
  • speed skating
  • skateboarding
  • cross country skiing
  • competitive eating
  • soccer
  • boxing
  • synchronized swimming
  • NASCAR
  • ballroom dancing
  • darts
  • snowboarding
  • darts

After you have answered these questions, I will ask you to form into teams of 3. Each team will have to compare answers, identifying which questions:

  1. they all identify as a sport
  2. 2/3 identify as a sport
  3. they all identify as a non-sport

The group must then write a definition of what constitutes a sport that encompasses all of #1 and all of number #2. The definition should also make clear what isn’t a sport (not which things are sports, but which qualities preclude something from being classified as a sport).

These definitions should be posted to Blackboard.

Then I will explain what on Earth this has to do with the first project.

Homework:

Speculative Rhetorics CCCC’s Proposal

Below is a copy of a CCCC’s panel proposal by David Grant, Brooke Rollins, Nathaniel Rivers, and myself. I share this here specifically for my upcoming New Media Production seminar, to show them how digital pedagogy can be developed and framed for a conference proposal. Disclosure: I am speaker four, and my presentation has already been accepted in article form by Enculturation. The seminar will be doing the assignment generated from Kalman’s work and approach.

We are all pleased to be a part of the program!

Our emphasis was to stress the

Composing Speculations / Speculative Rhetorics

Keywords: speculative, invention, nonhuman, gambling, deliberation

The word “speculation” is cognate with words such as spy and scope. Its etymology resonates with meanings of mirrors, light, and silver. Its grammatical mood is the subjunctive and it deals with the unreal. Recently, it has been used as a rhetorical mode in speculative realism and it now frames other discourses in fiction, economics, and music. These uses point to distance, removal, and probability but also to hope, fortune, and foresight. Such resonances entail risks and suggest rewards among competing courses of action.

This panel frames the relevance of this term to rhetorical and composition theory. Each speaker articulates a different sense of the speculative and explores its potential impact on deliberation, agency, invention, and/or pedagogy. Speaker One theorizes the speculative in terms of distributing economic risk and probability, speaker two in terms of risk and gambling, speaker three use the speculative to rethink deliberation, while speaker four frames the speculative in terms of vitalism and the chora. Given the speculative turn in philosophy, attention to serendipity, and their impacts on rhetorical theory, this panel addresses contingency in rhetorical invention and demonstrates how the speculative and contingent are informed by rhetorical practices.

Speaker One: Speculative Economies

Scholars of literacy such as Deborah Brandt (2002) have argued that the ability to read and write is an often unacknowledged economic good. However, this ability is always interwoven with social and technological orders whose current rapid pace of change carries a great deal of uncertainty about literacy’s value. As an economic good, then, literacy skills may have a certain shelf life as new technologies disrupt the old. Indeed, literacy may be thought of as a speculative endeavor. The Canadian Scholarship Trust’s “Careers 2030,” a speculative endeavor about careers that will appear by 2030, is just one response to this dynamic. This dynamic poses similar problems for composition teachers and scholars who must decide what to teach or study and how to do so based upon some speculation of future conditions, be that for their students or for themselves. That is, these moments of literacy entail risks, perhaps greater risk now than at other times in recent history.

Economists, such as Louis Bachelard (1900), John Maynard Keynes and Sir John Richard Hicks (1930), and Holbrook Working (1953) focused on speculation as means to manage economic risk in an uncertain world. Because economic speculation already assumes a market, its connection to risk is understood as distributed. The aggregate distributes the risk and works distributively to understand that risk via speculation. While “literacy” and its practices cannot be valued in any standardized fashion, economic discussions about managing risk have resonance with contemporary scholarship in writing studies. Ecological (Cooper 1986, Dobrin and Weisser 2002) or ambient (Rickert 2013) frameworks are inherently confronted with risks since interlocutors may not be sufficiently “attuned” to each other. Understanding speculation as a distributed endeavor that can help manage such risks sheds further light on ecological and ambient rhetorics, their complexity, and their connections to speculative realist philosophies.

Speaker Two: Speculative Agency: Rhetorical Practice as Action Gambling

Drawing on recent clinical studies on compulsive gamblers and gambling pathology, Speaker 2 argues that the arts of rhetoric and writing involve an essential gamble in which the identity of the speaker or writer is put at risk through a disruptive encounter with the future. Persuasive texts, that is, are defined in part by how they affect audience members, and so writers and speakers are tasked from the very beginning with making their best guesses about the future reception of their rhetorical work. No matter how strategic, reasoned, or carefully crafted, rhetorical acts are speculative in so far as persuasive texts are defined from the start by the fact that they must be given over to their unknowable futures.

Because of the speculative element of rhetorical practice, composition and rhetoric needs a framework to account for the surprisingly high-risk nature of rhetorical activity. To meet this need, Speaker 2 theorizes persuasive speaking and writing as forms of “action gambling,” a category of addiction used to characterize gamblers who experience a loss of self-control even as they deploy highly calculated gaming systems or strategies that demonstrate their knowledge and acumen. Unlike “escape gamblers,” who exhibit dissociative behavior and prefer games of pure chance that require little active involvement and no independent strategy (typically slot machines), “action gamblers” gravitate towards games of chance that require a strong element of skill. Arguing that rhetorical acts are gambles in the sense that deliberative rationality is infiltrated by chance and unpredictability, Speaker 2 suggests that “action gambling” provides a fitting framework for refiguring rhetorical agency as speculative identity.

Speaker Three: Speculative Deliberation: Deciding with Science Fiction

Speculative science fiction films such as Minority Report, Moon, and Her are compositions posing problems that are deliberated upon both inside and outside of the film. Such films explore the complex relationship between technology and concerns over justice, personhood, and consciousness. As a particular kind of science fiction, such speculative compositions increase the inventive potential of deliberative. To decide in the present, we must be able to imagine possible futures, and imagining possible futures is the implicit (and at times explicit) task of science fiction. In charting the unknown, in going where we have not gone before, science fiction does important, rhetorical work.

In arguing for deliberation as a necessarily speculative practice, Speaker 3 treats Spike Jonze’s Her as a speculative performance of a certain set of risks concerning the human/nonhuman divide. Understanding deliberation as a speculative practice allows us to see speculative (science) fictions as deliberative compositions. A key question in science fiction specifically and in our culture at large, concerns the human relationship with the nonhuman. We are concerned about the shapes of these relationships as well as the possibilities of these relationships as such. Buried within these concerns is a more general anxiety about the very boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. Such boundary making activities are inherently rhetorical, involving as they do choices about what to include and what to leave out.

Speaker Four: Speculative Invention: Maira Kalman’s “Empty Brain” and the Chora

Speaker Four places Maira Kalman in conversation with contemporary scholarship concerning the chora to articulate a vitalist, speculative form of invention. Kalman repeatedly linked her creative process to specific locales and idiosyncratic experiences, highlighting the significance and unpredictability of serendipity. Thus, her methods coincide with a group of scholars, including Gregory Ulmer, Thomas Rickert, Sarah Arroyo, Byron Hawk, Jody Shipka, and Jeff Rice, all of whom advocate for forms of invention opposed to the static, topical heuristics that dominate rhetoric’s history.

While these forms of invention can be incredibly productive, they offer no guarantees. Invention, seen through Kalman’s notion of the serendipitous, is always a risky business.
To be comfortable with speculative invention is to accept that invention must always be materially situated in rhetorical situations, and that rhetorical situations must be treated in terms of Heraclitus’s shifting river: the idiosyncratic elements of every rhetorical situation call for us to invent new methods of invention. Invention cannot be willed or controlled, and thus should not be framed in terms of pre-existing heuristics. Maira Kalman’s aesthetic process, ground in what she calls “walking with an open brain,” offers a viable perspective for reframing invention as a speculative risk.

Expository Writing: Peer Review

Today I’ll be asking you to read and respond to each other’s work. You will be working in pairs of two. I want you to provide constructive feedback to author’s as they revise their paper. So, for each paper, please:

1. Underline the thesis statement / statements. If you were unsure what the paper’s specific purpose was, then let the author know at the end of the essay. Also, feel free to suggest how the author might make their argument more specific.

2. Look for claims and evidence. Do they supply evidence to support claims?

3. Pay Particular Attention to Transitions Between Paragraphs. Does the author make the connection between paragraphs clear? Are their sudden jumps?  

4. Pay Particular Attention to what they do before and after quotes. Does the author transition into a source? Do they establish credibility for the source? Do they explain quotes? Do they do something with the quoted material, or move onto a new idea before making it clear why the quote is in the paper? Are they asking you to do their thinking for them. 

5. Highlight ideas that grab your attention and interest them. Let them know what to do more of, what ideas to expand, what they are doing well. 

Don’t “kill” a paper. I’m looking for you to do two of the above on every page. Sure, you can correct grammar or formatting, but those aren’t the kinds of comments I’m looking for. I want something more constructive. 

Expository Writing: Argumentation and APA Format

So today I want to spend some time on two different topics. The first should apply to everyone; the second to those people working with APA formatting (as opposed to MLA formatting) for their final papers. 

A Quick Primer on Argumentation

I know many of you will be putting your final paper together this weekend. Before you get started, I wanted to cover some basic argumentative Do’s and Don’ts. What makes for a strong argument? What kinds of moves set you up for failure?

First, I want to go over the basic kinds of arguments. These come from Cicero, Quintilian, and the Roman rhetoricians and their articulation of stasis theory:

Arguments of Fact/Existence: What happened? (You says it did happen? who questions what happened? why do they ask these questions? What changes if we agree that something different happened?)

The classic example here would be global warming and climate change, since there is a question of whether the science here is conclusive. Or there is the question of the Kennedy assassination and whether it was the result of an individual, deranged shooter or a larger conspiracy. 

Arguments of Definition: What is a Thing? (How has the thing been defined by different people? How have other things similar to the thing been defined? How has the definition of the thing changed over time? What might be a new definition for the thing?)

Two examples worthy of note: First, 9/11. 9/11 was categorized/defined as an act of war. Because it was an act of war, that led to a different series of procedures (arguments of procedure below). But what if we had categorized 9/11 as a crime? That would have conjured a completely different set of agencies and expectations. 

A second might concern marriage, a term whose definition has become a site of concern and contest over the past 15 years.

Arguments of Evaluation: Is a thing good of bad? Who thinks it is good? Why is it good? Who thinks it is bad? Why are they wrong? 

The complexities of an evaluative argument lie around establishing the particular scales different people use to evaluate whether a thing is good or bad–what are the grounds for such an evaluation? On what scale are you measuring good and bad (for instance, think of the complexities surrounding the Edward Snowden situation). Often, an evaluative argument centers on explicating and comparing different value systems in relation to a particular thing as much, if not more, than actually evaluating the thing. 

Arguments of Procedure: What should we do about a thing? What have we already done about the thing? What have we done about similar things? (precedent) What are the options available to us? What will we gain? What do we lose? These are often phrased as “if….then….” arguments dependent upon an agreed definition (see above). For example: if we agree that marriage is primarily a union of two people committed to each other, then there is no sound reason to oppose LGBTQ marriage.” Or “If we agree to look past this season, then the Ray’s trade of David Price doesn’t look quite so bad.”

Each of these types of argument engenders a different series of questions or expectations. As a writer, you have to have a clear sense of what kind of argument you are making, and recognize and make clear when you are moving into a different kind of argument. 

Generally, arguments can be thought to have two parts–there’s a claim, and then there’s the evidence. I’ll be looking for both 

What you want to avoid is falling into bad argumentation, what we call logical fallacies

APA Format Workshop

Today we’ll be working on the same paper we worked on Monday, but we’ll be putting it into APA rather than MLA format. Once again, the OWL will be our guid

Homework Clarification

I’ve gotten a few questions about this, so let me clarify here. 

Due tonight at midnight, Review Essay #3. This does not have to be a single book source; rather, it might be useful for you to look at 2-5 other, shorter sources. Use Google Scholar to find articles that discuss your current sources. Or perhaps you need to find an extended book review of one of your sources to establish (or challenge) its credibility. Or you realize you are making a different argument than you expected and need to find some new evidence. Review Essay #3 is a chance for you to get some credit for doing the research you need to do in order to complete your final paper. 

Due in class on Monday, 8 paper copies of your final paper. Those copies will be read and commented upon in-class on Monday. You also need to share a copy of the paper with me via Google Docs. This replaces medium essay #4–I think it makes more sense for you to crank out a complete draft of your paper. 

Due next Sunday at 11:59pm, Your revised final paper. That’s all folks. 

Expository Writing: The Guts of an Introduction

As you move toward completing your final papers, I wanted to spend some time considering introductions. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout class, the introduction is always the last thing you should write: its primary job is to provide a reader with an overview of what is coming and you won’t know yourself what is coming until after you have written the paper. Today I want to break introductions down into three primary parts: kairos, the thesis “statement,” and road mapping. 

Kairos

In your reading for last night, Booth et al. urge you “to adopt the role of someone who knows what others need to know and to cast your reader as someone who doesn’t know but needs to” (19). In a sense, they are providing a cursory introduction to an ancient rhetorical concept: kairos. Literally, kairos translates as “opportune moment,” the right time to do or say something. 

Scholars debate the implications of kairos–generally, there’s two schools of thought. First, there are those who frame kairos as a kind of recognition: a talented writer will be able to recognize a moment of opportunity and act accordingly. Second, there are those who frame talent with kairos as the ability to create moments of opportunity; for these scholars kairos isn’t merely a matter of chance, but rather one of skill and force. 

Either way, when it comes to writing or communicating, you want your audience to have a sense of why now is the opportune moment for action. The best writers are able to do this subtly. This is one thing your introduction needs to address: why are you writing this now? Why am I reading this now? What can be done now that either/both couldn’t be done yesterday or/and tomorrow? As Booth et al address, there is the question of “why care about this?” In short, attending to kairos means making the relevance of your writing apparent. What is the problem or opportunity this writing seeks to address. 

The Thesis “Statement”

The reason I highlight statement here is because I want to emphasize that the thesis isn’t always a stand alone sentence. Rather, it is the section of the introduction that makes clear the claim that the paper will argue. What are you trying to prove?

What specifically are you trying to prove? This is the point of the Booth et al reading–the best paper’s are able to narrow their focus as much as possible. As Booth et al explain, a focused thesis can rarely be explained in five words. Examining his example topics (page 43), we see how he recommends focusing on one event. Don’t study “the history of commercial aviation.” Rather, examine “the crucial contribution of the military in the development of the DC-3 in the early years of commercial aviation.”

Note that the second topic narrows its scope in terms of who (the military), the what (only the DC-3), and the when (the early years of aviation). My hope is that, as you have been writing this semester, you have discovered “just one thing” worthy of more attention and research. As you’ve been writing your book reviews and your medium.com essays, I have left you free to explore a number of different avenues. Now I will ask you to focus on just one. And I would advise you to follow the advice that Booth et al. provide on pages 46-47 by addressing the questions they offer (this week’s quiz in Canvas). 

Road Mapping

Booth et al comment that you should be prepared to do a lot of writing as you figure out what you are trying to say. Essentially, everything you have written thus far this semester is this kind of inventive writing, “writing to understand” (38). Not all of this writing should be in the final draft, because much of it is there to help you discover your thoughts. 

As you move into the final drafts of a paper, then you are ready to organize or arrange it in a way that makes sense. Only after you have done all that work are you ready to craft a road map for your introduction. To get a sense of what I mean by road mapping, look at the introduction to this article I wrote with my grad students. Or the final paragraph of the introduction to the “Postpedagogy and Web Writing” article you read early in the semester. Or, for a “softer” version, look at the very short introduction to my essay on ethics, social media, and my experiences with my daughter’s cancer. I end the introduction to these works by laying out the major sections of the essay, letting the reader know where we will go, and often giving a sense of why I am going in that order. This provides a reader with a sense of direction and purpose–two things that help them digest and engage your writing. (Nigel did a great job of this in his third medium essay). 

Of course, you can’t road map a paper like this unless you have written it in a way that makes purposeful, rhetorical sense (first I need to x, then I can argue y, finally I suggest z). As you synthesize the material you have already read this semester, and add more (I hope) into the mix, you will need to think about how those things fit–what is the narrative trail you want, or need, your readers to follow?

Booth’s The Craft of Research nd Refutation

A final thought before I ask you to finish drafting your final paper: the quality of a piece of writing is often directly related to the consideration and care of its refutation. Ancient Roman rhetoricians conceptualized a speech in seven parts. Here I am concerned with the fifth part, refutation, in which a speaker/writer addresses the arguments of her opponents. It is not only the content of your counterarguments, but also their character, that often determine how an audience reacts to your writing. In short, if you are a jerkface, then you can expect harsh criticism (even when your audience largely agrees with you). 

Booth reminds us that all writing is part of a conversation of voices and sources. Often, our judgement of a writer is a measure of three questions: “do they listen carefully? make claims thoughtfully? answer questions directly?” (17). In other words, how fair are you to your opponents? Does your writing indicate that you know their arguments intimately? Are you able to concede that they make worthy points requiring address? Or do you present “straw man” versions that exist only to be knocked down?

Let’s say I wanted to argue that conservatives do not support racial diversity. Who do I select as representing conservatives? This is a meaningful choice. If I end up selecting only the most radical of the voices (say Ted Nugent), then have I fairly depicted my opponents? If I wanted to argue against liberal economics, and I chose Elizabeth Warren as representative of the democratic party, then have I fairly depicted my opponents? In either case, I would say that you have chosen someone from the fringe who by and large does not resemble the “mainstream.” Part of being fair is reading sources carefully. But part of being fair is making sure that you are choosing the right representatives in the first place. 

Expository Writing: Reviewing the Amazon Reviews

After reading the first collection of Amazon.com reviews, I have some general comments. 

1. When writing for the web, avoid the one large paragraph–it is more important to try and break paragraphs up into single ideas. While it would be very rare to have paragraphs of one or two sentences in a traditional paper, it is not uncommon on the web.

2. Remember to put spaces between paragraphs:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1TKPB685G0KIT/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Formatting issues such as these not only affect readability but also ethos

3. Similarly, proofreading. Rarely do superficial errors (spelling mistakes, missed commas) affect comprehension (although they can–commas save lives, after all). They do, however, undermine ethos. If you don’t put care into your writing, then it is unlikely that a reader will put any thought into it either. 

4. In general, what distinguished an A from a B involved detail and specifics. Another general issue: discussing evidence. Some of this might be the small word counts I have implemented–it takes a bit more space to properly assess evidence. But I would like to see more consistency identifying the types of sources a book uses.

5. Academic gibberish. I received more than a few sentences that look like this: 

Going into depth about the forces that drive the economy Debt: Ethics, the Environment, and the Economy (21st Century Studies) relates the economic growth imperative to the climbing debt faced by America as it pertains to sustaining the status of the American economy.

I would split the sentence up after America. Then, in the next sentence, explain what the “economic growth imperative” is. Then you can circle back and explain how this imperative affects sustaining the American economy. 

6. But my general advice for revision and copyediting is to read your prose out loud. Your mouth will catch many mistakes that your eyes simply correct. Additionally, your mouth should catch awkward, twisted syntax. If it is difficult for you to read out loud, then it will probably be difficult for a reader who didn’t write it to read at all. 

Essentially, there is nothing wrong with writing prose that resembles everyday speech (minus the pause words that so many of us use, the ums, ahs, likes, etc). Often prose goes wrong when people try to over-intellectualize it. 

 

Expository Writing: Amazon Book Reviews

This Friday you have to post your first of three book reviews to Amazon.com. I wanted to highlight my expectations for the reviews, and to provide some instructions for both 1) how to compose the reviews and 2) how to post the review. 

In simplest terms, I am asking you to post a short (200-300) word review to Amazon.com. You should submit a link to your review via Canvas. 

Your review needs to address some fundamental questions / areas of concern. Note that you don’t have to answer every question listed below, but answering the questions will likely help you generate material for your review. Also, I do not want to read a bunch of reviews that are simple answers to these questions strung together. 

Before you begin to write your review, you should take the time to skim 2-3 others. This will help you identify what other responses to the book have been. You might agree with one of these responses; conversely, you might disagree–regardless that provides you material for a review. 

Purpose

What is the purpose of the book? What is the author trying to get people to think or do differently? Why does the author think the book is important? 

Evidence

How does the author prove their point? What kinds of research do they do? Surveys? Interviews? Anecdotes (stories)? Maths? 

Furthermore, with what other writers, scholars, scientists, politicians, ideas, theories, does the author align herself? 

Author

Sometimes it is important to highlight who the author is, especially if her identity helps us to establish the credibility of the work, or if we can highlight other books on a similar subject. 

Audience

Who is this book written to? Most authors will explicitly establish the intended audience for a book in its introduction?

Relatedly, how accessible is the book? In order for this information to be useful, a reader likely needs to know your familiarity with the topic. Are you new to the material? As a newcomer did you find the book accessible or arcane? 

Specifics

Finally, I think strong book reviews often point to a particular part of the book to exemplify either 1) the book at its best or 2) the book at its worst. Don’t just tell me that the prose is often too-jargon laden and impenetrable, provide me an example of a moment in which you were overwhelmed by jargon. As a reader, this allows me to get a sense of whether agree with your assessment.

Similarly, you can highlight a particular idea that caught your attention–one that stands out. 

The grading rubric for this assignment:

  1. Does the review address the books’ purpose?
  2. Does the review assess the books’ evidence
  3. Does the book adequately address the author’s ethos without sounding like the bio off the book jacket?
  4. Does the review identify the books’ intended audience?
  5. Does the book supply sufficient specifics to support its generalizations? Does the review highlight the books strengths? Does it point to any weaknesses?
  6. Does the review avoid the “good / bad” terms discussed below?
  7. Is the review free from grammatical error? 

Finally, I want to avoid a particular kind of response. If you use one of these words, then I will deduct a letter from your grade: good, great, excellent, bad, awful, terrible. The spirit here is that I don’t want generalizations, but specifics. Instead of writing, “the book does a good job introducing people to discussions of income inequality,” aim for something like the book provides a thorough introduction to income inequality,” or, even better, “the book’s detailed overview of the perilous effects of income inequality will likely help anyone new to the discussion.” 

Here is a link to wikiHow.com instructions for posting a review to Amazon.com. Once you have completed the review, you should post a link to the review to the assignment in Canvas (Amazon Review1). 

Expository Writing: First Sentences and Titles

20, maybe 30 words. That’s all you get. That is your opportunity to grab someone’s attention before they close your tab or click the next link. The first sentence, and before that your title, present a limited opportunity to capture an audience before they move on.

I want to focus attention on an essay’s first sentence. First, I’ve collected some resources designed for fiction writers. While this might not be a creative writing class, I believe we can benefit from thinking about how their craft can relate to constructing enticing non-fiction prose.

First, from an article over at A Tate Publishing Blog, I pulled three criteria:

  • excite a reader’s curiosity, particularly about a character or relationship
  • introduce a setting
  • lend resonance to a story

These criteria are the goals for an effective first paragraph, but I think any of them additionally apply to a first sentence. I want to break the idea of setting down into three more distinct notions: time, place, and mood.  Time and place are fairly straight-forward when it comes to fiction, but mood is more complicated. I want to think move in relation to Heidegger’s sense of our “being-in-the-world“]. The post then gives two questions to ask of a first sentence:

  • Does it convey an interesting personality or an action that we want to know more about?
  • Can you make it more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, something will surprise the reader?

Given my favorable disposition to Peter Brooks’ psychoanalytic treatment of hermeneutics, I boil that second question down to “suspense”: does the first sentence pose a question we want answered?

From a creative writing handbook, I pulled two more criteria for evaluating good sentences:

  • Flashes a picture in your mind, using concrete details
  • Puts you right in the middle of something happening

Not every first sentence has to be shocking. But it does have to at least have a kind of gravity, something that pulls a reader in, something that makes them want to read more. 


Next, let’s read the short article Killing the Babies and Captivating First Sentences” over at footnoteMaven. I like this article not only for its title, but also for its pragmatic advice. When revising, fM focuses on identifying the most compelling sentence in a piece, and then finds a way to “rock” that piece up to the very beginning of a document.

For non-academic writing instructors out there, this makes for an excellent exercise. Come to class with a document that contains every first sentence your students have written for a particular project. Have the students select their three favorites from the list; additionally, have them mark off the three sentences that need the most work. After tallying results, have students apply fM’s theory to whichever piece of writing received the most critical votes–can they, looking through the entire paper, find a compelling sentence that could be crafted into a more engaging opening? And, then, can they use this principle on their own writing?

And, of course, I hope the critical attention such an activity fosters is applied to every sentence they write.

But I don’t want our attention to end with the first sentences–I also want to stress the importance of writing relevant, informative, and intriguing titles. In academia, titles come in two general flavors, MLA (humanities) and APA (science). MLA titles tend to have two parts, the gag line followed by a colon and description of the project. APA titles, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more conservative and usually forgo the gag line. For instance, here’s a journal in Rhetoric and Composition that uses MLA format, CCC. And here’s a list of the top downloaded articles at a journal that uses APA format, TCQ. The point here: put more time into thinking about the title of an essay. 

Here’s a collection of the first sentences from the first round of medium.com essays:

I’ve recently become much more interested in the notion of independence days.

The war on terror is widely known among the American people in a very broad/ unclear sense. 

Depending on the model used when developing a game, in-app purchasing options can make or break a company and a person’s patience. 

Since the beginning of time, people, by nature, have been trying to gain advantages over one another. 

How long has it been, really? 

Diabetes hasn’t been around as long as many other diseases but it has become a very popular one in today’s time.

Why did you decided to come to college?

Since the rise of the Capitalist economic model beginning in the 1600s, the quality a states’ economy has been dictated by the ability of people to accurately balance the worth of goods against the price being paid for them.