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Rhetoric and Composition

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 6 months ago

Rhetoric and Composition

The subject of this course is rhetoric: the study of how language works and how to make it work well. The goal is to help you develop your rhetorical skills—skills that are essential to success not only at the university but also in the world beyond the classroom. All of you are already somewhat skilled in rhetoric, in more or less intuitive ways. But the difference between intuitive rhetoric and conscious, artful rhetorical is something like the difference between walking and dancing, or between tossing a ball around and playing an organized sport. Our goal, then, is to develop your conscious rhetorical skills.


Developing your rhetorical skills means learning to write and speak with a coherent sense of audience and purpose, and with a strategic sense of argument and design. It also means learning to read rhetorically, with a critical yet open-minded attention to the methods of argument and persuasion employed by others. Such methods may be used to teach, explain, create knowledge, alter beliefs, protect the innocent, recommend action, and reform society; however, they also may be used to manipulate, exploit, and deceive. If we do not learn to look at rhetoric—and ourselves—analytically, we risk putting ourselves in powerless situations.


In this course we will focus our attention on the main aspects of effective discourse (logos, ethos, pathos, structure, style) and on the elements of the writing process (inventing, planning, organizing, drafting, revision, editing). By the end of the semester, you should be better able to evaluate the quality of others' arguments and to develop and articulate your own arguments clearly, thoughtfully, persuasively, and even eloquently.


Some things to keep in mind: this course asks not simply for self-expression, but for your participation in public discourse on matters of public interest, such as is expected of adults in their workplaces and communities. Interesting, important discourse develops not in isolated egos, but within communities committed to some mutual inquiry or to some shared question. In consequence, this course depends greatly on what you bring to it, which means you need to make a real commitment to the work and to your peers in this classroom. Note, too, that the university estimates that students should spend a minimum of two hours of study time outside of class for every hour in class. You can expect, therefore, to have various kinds of reading and writing homework due virtually every meeting of this class, and I expect you to come to class prepared.

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