Assignments

There are 2 major projects in this course as well as regular postings to the MIT server and a portfolio at the end of the term. The projects are both completed in pairs. You may change partners for the second project, if you wish. Both partners will receive the same grade for the project.

  • 2 major projects, including two papers of 6-8 pages and two 8-10 minute presentations. Each paper and oral presentation includes one draft as well as a final revision of the draft.
  • 1 portfolio and portfolio review
  • 6 postings to the MIT server

MIT Server Postings

This project is completed individually. See calendar for due dates. Length: 250-500 words each.

We are using the MIT server in this class as an archive of scientific/engineering samples. As noted in calendar, 6 times during the semester you are to post a sample to the MIT server along with a 250 word mini-analysis of the sample. The repeated postings are meant to give you practice in using rhetorical analysis methods. You may post articles, abstracts, posters, speeches or grants from professional sources. For example, you may choose an article from the journal Science or a Physics poster that you like in one of the MIT hallways (you may take a picture of the poster or ask the professor for a PDF copy).

Experiment using the rhetorical concepts from the readings to analyze your sample. The postings are a place for your brainstorm and experiment with using rhetorical analysis. I will give you feedback on your postings. If you are clever, you will use the MIT server postings as a springboard for your Projects. In other words, you may use them as “pre-drafts” of Project 1 and Project 2.

Project 1: Rhetorical Analysis of a Scientific/Engineering Text

This project is completed with a partner.

Oral Presentation: Draft due in Lec #9; Final due in Lec #11. Length: 8-10 minutes.

Paper: Draft due in Lec #11; Final due 3 days after Lec #12. Length: 1500-2000, ~6-8 double-spaced pages.

Purpose

Analyze a professional scientific text, using one of the rhetorical theories we’ve discussed in class. You may use Artistotle’s framework (e.g., logos, ethos, pathos) or the one described in Penrose and Katz’s, Writing in the Sciences. Halloran’s essay is a good model for this assignment. You may apply your analysis to the text as well as the graphical elements of your sample.

Your Method

  • Start by choosing a sample professional scientific text of some kind. The sample may be a research article, a poster, grant, or any other form of professional writing (that means, no student papers for this project). You may start by using one of the samples you or your partner posted on the MIT server.
  • Read the text carefully. If your sample is long, you will want to focus on just one small piece of that text.
  • Using no more than 4 rhetorical concepts, go through the text, looking for and listing all examples of each concepts. For instance, if you were looking for ethos, you would make a list of all the places where you think the authors are positioning their ethos in the text.
  • Then, classify each of those “moves”- e.g., moves to enhance ethos vs. places where ethos seems irrelevant.
  • The next step is for you to decide/discover the impact that unit has on the meaning and effect of the whole text. Consider why you think the writers felt it was necessary to make such “moves” in their writing. Consider what effect those “moves” may have had on the reader.

How that Translates into a Paper

  • Like Halloran, you will want to start your paper with by framing your analysis around a research question: what did you set out to do and why? (1 paragraph*)
  • Then offer a brief explanation of the article (1 paragraph). Who are the authors? Where was it published? What discipline?
  • Follow this brief explanation with an audience analysis (1-2 paragraphs): Who are/were its intended readers? On what evidence, can you make that claim? Is that audience a receptive or hostile audience? How do you know?
  • Then, provide a summary of the article (1-2 paragraphs). What are the thesis and major claims made in the article?
  • In the subsequent body paragraphs, lead readers through your analysis. Develop your argument about the rhetorical “moves” that the writer is making in your sample. Explain those “moves” as well as suggesting what effect those “moves” might have on readers. Make sure that you link your discussion to specific quotes from your sample. That will make your argument more convincing! (4+ paragraphs)
  • After offering your analysis, evaluate the author’s overall argument and explain why you feel this way. (2-3 paragraphs)
  • In conclusion, turn your analytical skills on your own analysis. What does it provide or explain helpfully? What does it lack or not explain? What other possibilities might there be to analyze your article? (2-3 paragraphs)

*These are recommended, not required lengths.

And What about the Oral Presentation?

The purpose of the oral presentation is to help you with your public speaking abilities and to help you learn how to tailor a presentation to certain time constraints and still meet audience expectations.

An eight-minute oral presentation is actually a rather short presentation, especially when you have to spend 3-4 minutes, explaining to the audience the purpose of your project, background of the article, and choice of analysis method used. The last half of your presentation should be one or two examples from your sample text. Give the audience a sample snippet of text (or a visual) and then lead the audience through your analysis. Conclude your presentation by explaining the larger impact of the writers’ rhetorical moves on the audience. You may also tell us about unanswered questions.

To prepare for your speech:

  • Make an outline of the main points you wish to make (never more than 2-4 main points and then examples or evidence or reasons to support them)
  • Practice the speech at least 3 times all the way through: 2 times by yourself (practicing gestures as well as the phrasings), and at least once in front of someone (e.g., a Writing Center Consultant, a friend). The more you practice, the less nervous you will feel and the better your performance will be.
  • Time your speech when you practice- never run over the allotted time!

Giving a Speech

  • No notecards!
  • Act like a professional speaking to other professionals.
  • Use an “enlarged conversational quality” (speak with the same naturalness you would use with a friend, but enlarged a bit for a whole audience)
  • Use gestures to emphasize points, but don’t randomly gesture
  • Make eye contact with members of the audience so they feel involved (this also helps you see if some point didn’t get across to them)
  • Use facial expressions to convey your feelings-but subtly
  • Average speaking rate is 110-130 words/minute. Don’t speed up
  • Enunciate and pronounce words clearly
  • Vary your rate of speech, the pitch of your voice (don’t speak in a monotone), and volume (don’t shout and then whisper, but some variation is good).

The Structure of Any Speech

The overall structure of any speech (or essay, for that matter) is straightforward: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

Introduction

The first few seconds of any speech establish its rhythm and mood. The Intro should be 10-15% of your speech (an 8-minute speech has 480 seconds, so 48-72 seconds for your Intro; a 10-minute speech has 600 seconds, so that means 60-90 seconds for the Intro). A common mistake is to give too much information in your introduction.

  • Never start off with “My name is” or “My topic is” or “Ah…er…gosh.”
  • The first words out of your mouth should be your attention getter-a question or a startling statistic or a thought-provoking quotation (e.g., “Without question, the most important class we can take at MIT is not an engineering course or a math course or a science course-the most important class we can take here is ‘Rhetoric,’ 21W.747”)
  • Avoid starting with a joke.
  • A forecast of your main points should follow the attention getter. This is a one-sentence statement of the 2 - 3 main points you will present (e.g., “What other class can help us make our writing persuasive and, more importantly, improve our thought processes?”)

Body

The Body of the speech develops the main points of your talk. No speech, no matter how long, should have more than 2-3 main points. Longer speeches simply develop those 2-3 main points in greater depth, using more examples and more evidence. The Body constitutes 75-85% of your speech (for a 5 minute speech, that’s about 3.75-4.25 minutes; for a 10-minute speech, that’s 7.5-8.5 minutes).

  • The Body of your speech may follow any of the typical essay ordering schemes, including (but not limited to) the following:
    • topical order (“2 reasons for buying supplies at the MIT Coop”)
    • chronological order (“3 steps for writing a good essay”)
    • advantage-disadvantage order (“the advantages and disadvantages of attending Interphase”)
    • problem-solution (“grades cause anxiety, so we should abolish grades”)

Conclusion

This section is as crucial as your Introduction since it is the last thing listeners will hear and hence the thing they will remember the longest. It should be 5-10% of your speech (15-30 seconds for a 5-minute speech; 30-60 seconds for a 10-minute speech).

  • Never end by saying something like “Well, I guess that’s about it…”
  • Begin your conclusion by summarizing your main points in one sentence (e.g., “I have been arguing today that, even though we are at a technical institute, the most important course we can take is a humanities course called ‘Rhetoric’ because it makes us more persuasive arguers and more careful readers.”)

Then end with a final thought (something for your listeners to remember) - a short quotation, a brief anecdote that illustrates your final opinion of the article you’ve analyzed, a call to action (e.g., “Let me leave you with this final thought: No matter what plans or discoveries we make as engineers and scientists, if we cannot communicate them in a persuasive manner, we will not succeed. So sign up for Rhetoric as soon as you can. Thank you.”).

  • You can lead into your final thought with words that indicate the speech is ending - e.g., “Finally,” or “Let me conclude with an anecdote” or “I’d like to leave you with this final thought-”

Project 2: Situated Analysis of a Scientific/Engineering Scene

This project is completed with a partner.

Oral Presentation: Draft due in Lec #20; Final due in Lec #22. Length: 8-10 minutes.

Paper: Draft due in Lec #22; Final Due 1 day after Lec #23. Length: 2000-2500, ~8-10 double-spaced pages.

Purpose

Analyze a professional scientific context (not just a text), using an ethnographic approach like Latour and Woolgar’s approach. By drawing upon your observations of the MIT “scene,” the goal is that you will learn more about how students and faculty of science use rhetoric in their day-to-day lives.

Your Method

  • Start by choosing a research question: What do you want to know about MIT culture as a place where individuals practice the rhetoric of science? (NOTE: I must approve your research question before you start taking field notes.)
  • Next, choose a “scene” for your research: Where can you watch people working to answer your question? You may choose to study a group of students of science working on a project or researchers working in the lab. Choose a “scene” to which you will have access and ask permission from the participants (e.g., “I’m working on a study of how students work in teams for my Rhetoric class, do you mind if I watch you work?”)
  • Observe the participants at work. Observe when and how issues of persuasion (i.e., rhetoric) arise. Does one person talk over the top of another? What happens when participants disagree? How do they reach consensus? What constitutes a reasonable claim to these people? Why? When you take observation notes, also ask for sample papers for other “artifacts” that might be useful in your analysis. (NOTE: We will work on some exercises in class to help you learn how to take field notes. Taking field notes is not just a random exercise. It’s a method that you need to practice.)

Anthropologists spend years studying a culture. Depending on your choice of scene, you may need to make several trips to watch the participants at work or you may only have 1 visit to watch a group (most groups meet more than once!) It would be best if you and your partner observed your participants at the same time. This dual observation will give you much more “data” to work with. No one researcher can possibly see and understand everything going on; you and your partner can compare notes to see where your observations were similar and where they were different. You can discuss these differences in your final paper, if you wish.

  • In addition to observing people at work, talk to them. Develop a brief set of interview questions to ask them about their work, how they go about the process, and ask them about specific rhetorical moments that you observed. What’s their opinion about what happened in those moments?
  • After you’ve collected all your data, you will need to type up your field notes so that you can begin to organize the information. Give your participants pseudonyms.
  • After you have all the samples of data from your research typed up and assembled, begin the coding process to help you “make sense” of the data. The coding process helps you organize your data into “themes.” (NOTE: We will do some exercises in class to show you how to code data successfully.) Through the coding, you can classify the rhetorical “moves” your participants made and what effect they had.

How that Translates into a Paper

  • Like Latour, you will want to start your paper with by framing your analysis around a research question: what did you set out to do and why? (1 paragraph*) Why is it interesting to “study” scientists and students of science at work? You can precede your Introduction with a snippet of your notes, such as Latour and Woolgar do in Chapter 1 of Lab Life. (NOTE: I do not expect you to do a lengthy theoretical overview like Latour and Woolgar!)
  • Explain your Methods (See Latour and Woogar, p. 39) and offer a brief explanation of the scene. Where is this scene? Who are the participants? What were they doing and why? What discipline? (2-3 paragraphs)
  • Then, summarize the particular moment or moments that you focused on. Why did these moments seem important? In a 8-10 page paper, you cannot analyze every moment that you observed, so you need to focus on several key moments.
  • In the subsequent body paragraphs, lead readers through your analysis. Develop your argument about the rhetorical “moves” that the participants made. What was rhetorical about those moments? Why was persuasion necessary at that moment? Explain those rhetorical “moves” as well as suggesting what effect those “moves” might have on readers. Make sure that you link your discussion to specific quotes from your data collection (quotes from participants are even better evidence!) (4+ paragraphs)
  • After offering your analysis, evaluate what effect persuasion had in those moments and how those moments changed the overall shape of the larger scene. Those moments may have acted as pivotal moments or barriers to the group’s completion of the project. If possible, add evidence here from the other artifacts that you collected while observing (2-4 paragraphs)
  • In conclusion, turn your analytical skills on your own analysis. What does it provide or explain helpfully? What does it lack or not explain? What other possibilities might there be to analyze your scene? (2-3 paragraphs)

*These are recommended, not required lengths

And What about the Oral Presentation?

Your oral presentation will follow the same format as used in Project 1.

Portfolio and Portfolio Review

This project is completed individually. Due at your final conference. Length: 500-750 words (2-3 pages double-spaced.)

At the end of the semester, you will assemble all your materials from this course into a portfolio. Assemble your MIT server postings, notes, and papers into an organized folio of your work (please put in some folder and make sure the pages are not loose). Reviewing those materials, what can you say about how your understanding of rhetoric has changed over the semester? What questions about rhetoric do you have now? How can rhetoric (if at all) contribute to a better understanding of science? What does it miss? What else would you like to know or study? I also welcome observations about how your own ability to do rhetorical analyses had changed over the semester. You are also welcome to talk about how the class activities and/or projects contributed to that understanding.

At your final conference, we will discuss your portfolio and your observations about the class.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Written Assignments
assignment Presentation Assignments