To compose an interesting, engaging essay, writers start by gaining knowledge, insight, and further understanding of their subject matter. This grows from reading sound sources carefully and critically.
Writers must be enlightened and, as the adage goes, there are many paths to enlightenment. Writing, on the other hand, brings permanence to the many wonderful ideas we imagine as we read, listen, and speak in our daily academic lives. And the truth applies to so many other interests in our lives.
Take, for example, a cell phone. Anyone can walk to their local authorized cell phone retailer and buy a cell phone by picking the cheapest, the smallest, the biggest, or the first they see. But good consumers prefer to inform themselves. So, before buying a cell phone, they start thinking about what they want in a cell phone. A really good camera? Lots of storage for photos? Access to thousands of free apps? A touch screen guaranteed not to crack? These are all important questions to cell phone buyers, so they start reading reviews of various cell phones online. They talk to their friends and family about what they like and dislike about their current cell phone and then they mentally make a list of which cell phones are contenders.
In the end, a good consumer chooses a cell phone only after they are informed. Writing a paper is no different. When an instructor asks their students to reach, understand, and analyze a text, they are doing so because writing reveals knowledge and understanding of a subject…and it also reveals the lack of both. Armed with knowledge and understanding, writers are far better equipped to put words on the page and, in essence, give permanence to their ideas about a subject.
After all, writing a college essay is about sharing an idea, perspective or belief you have while providing reasons for why you have point of view. Knowledge and understanding of the subject means the writer shares an informed and thoughtful viewpoint rather than a haphazard one easily questioned and ultimately doubted by the audience.
As a writer, one seeks an audience but one never gains one if they do not earn the respect of the audience by demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the subject.
Text will often be our greatest source of knowledge and preparation to write. Luckily, we live in a world constantly surrounded text and also by rhetoric which is text that intends to capture our attention and convince us something. An advertisement is a text; a series of tweets is a text; a TV show is a text; an improvised dance number is a text and each might attempt to shape our beliefs about some common and uncommon issues.
Every text, in turn, is subject to interpretation which is the process of consuming rhetoric to create meaning. A text by itself does not actually mean anything; rather, we build meaning as we engage with a text. This is an important distinction to make because
- As a reader, your interpretation is unique and informed by your lived experiences, your family’s values, your education, your mood(s), your purpose, and your posture. To an extent, no two readers will interpret a text exactly the same way.
- On the other hands, as an author, you must be cognizant that your writing only impacts your audience when they encounter it from their unique interpretive position. You may carefully construct a piece of writing to capture meaning, but that meaning only exists when a reader engages with what you’ve written.
Because texts can come in such diverse and complex forms, the strategies entailed in “critical” and “active reading” are only the first step: they are tools in our toolkits that lay the groundwork for interpretation. In other words, engaged reading strategies prepare us for discovering our text through an analytical encounter with a text during which you, the reader, make observations and informed arguments about the text as a method of creating meaning and cultivating unique insight. Most often, this encounter will eventually lead to an essay that shares your analysis with your classmates, your teacher, or an audience of professional colleagues and the public.
The following section will first explore the tenets of critical and analytical reading using cognitive and rhetorical techniques. Once you’ve explored how one examines a text, then we will explore how to use this newly acquired knowledge and insight to create a truly unique essay. Thus, we will learn how to consume rhetoric, and then we will produce rhetoric. While your teacher may ask you to focus on a particular medium or genre of text, for this section we will explore analytical processes that can be applied to many different kinds of texts. First, we will review the ideas and skills for thinking analytically. After that, we will turn to ideas and skills for writing about that analytical thinking, including summary, note-taking, and synthesis.