In this book encourage a deep consideration of writing as a dynamic response to rhetorical situations. We can all acknowledge that different circumstances, different audiences, different subjects require different kinds of writing. This variability demands that we think more expansively and critically about genre, language, style, and medium. It also requires us to acknowledge that there is no monolithic, static, singular model of “good” writing, contrary to what some traditionalists believe—and what many of our students have been trained to believe.
The realization that “good” writing cannot be essentialized is not groundbreaking in the field of rhetoric: indeed, we have known for thousands of years that audience and purpose should influence message and delivery. However, it often is groundbreaking for students today who have learned from both hidden and explicit curricula that certain dialects, styles, or perspectives are valued in academia.
Shifting the paradigm—from “How do I write right?” to “How do I respond to the nuanced constraints of my rhetorical situation?”—requires a lot of unlearning. As your students try to unpack more and more complex rhetorical situations, support them by deliberately talking through the constituent elements of the rhetorical situation and the preferred modes and languages utilized therein. One question to use to turn students’ focus to the rhetorical situation is: How will the subject, occasion, audience, and purpose of this situation influence the way we write?
Why this focus? Our emphasis on rhetorical situations is twofold:
We encourage consideration of the many forms that rhetoric take and critical encounters with all kinds of media and rhetoric that permeate our lives. Although you are using this book for a class with “Composition,” in the title, another primary goal of this book is to advocate for critical consumption and production of rhetoric in all its forms. We are centered on the nonfiction essay form (in order to satisfy the typical academic requirements of foundational college courses).