21W.747 | Spring 2015 | Undergraduate



Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course is an examination of the theory, the practice, and the implications of rhetoric & rhetorical criticism. This semester, you will have the opportunity to deepen many of your skills: Analysis, persuasion, oral presentation, and critical thinking. In this course you will act as both a rhetor (a person who uses rhetoric to persuade) and as a rhetorical critic (one who analyzes the rhetoric of others). Both the rhetor and the rhetorical critic write to persuade; both ask and answer important questions. Always one of their goals is to create new knowledge for all of us, so no endeavor in this class is a “mere exercise.”

For our assignments, think of yourself as teaching your readers something about rhetoric as well as something about the artifacts you analyze.


By the end of the course, you should be better equipped to:

  • read & listen rhetorically (analyze messages directed at you, avoid being manipulated);
  • think rhetorically (to discover all possible means of persuasion, to see persuasive possibilities, to evaluate those possibilities);
  • write rhetorically (to accommodate audiences, clarify your purposes & strategies for yourself and for your audience, to be as persuasive as possible with the evidence you have, to use your rhetorical skills ethically so as not to persuade others with questionable tactics or worse).


“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him [sic]; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself [sic] against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.” —Kenneth Burke

Other than to learn to be more persuasive, why should we learn about rhetoric?

“A person who persuades is not, or surely may not be, the only person to be blamed if others are wrongly persuaded. Gullibility, or having too open a mind, is a serious fault, and one to which many other vices contribute. And, of course, there is the opposite fault of having too closed a mind. Many speakers fare better than they should, and others deserve a fate better than their audiences allow.” —B. J. Diggs, professor of philosophy (1964)


A detailed reading list is provided in the Readings Section. Several pieces were excerpted from these textbooks:

Andrews, James R., Michael C. Leff, and Robert Terrill. Reading Rhetorical Texts: An Introduction to Criticism. Houghton Mifflin College Division, 1998. ISBN: 9780395731567.

Strang, Steven, ed. Writing Exploratory Essays. McGraw-Hill Humanities, 1995. ISBN: 9781559342629.


I grade on a 13-point scale (and I do not round final grades upwards)

A+ 13
A 12
A- 11
B+ 10
B 9
B- 8
C+ 7
C 6
C- 5
D+ 4
D 3
D- 2
F 1
Missing 0

Value of each assignment:

Essay 1 2
Essay 2 2
Essay 3 2
Average of Framing Oral Presentations 2
Average of Written Versions of Framing 2
Performance of Persuasive Speech 1
Written Version of Persuasive Speech 1
Total 12

Course Policies


I don’t distinguish between excused and unexcused absences

  • There are 3 free absences—save them for illness, job interviews, religious holidays, etc.
  • The 4th absence reduces your course grade by 1 whole grade (an A becomes a B).
  • The 5th cut reduces it another whole grade (so original A becomes C).
  • The 6th absence reduces your course grade 2 additional whole grades (so an A becomes an F)—automatic failure for course regardless of reason—no exceptions.
  • Don’t take this course if you will have to regularly arrive late to class or leave early.

Consultation at the Writing & Communication Center (WCC)

  • You must consult with the WCC’s professionals about your first essay no later than the day before the Mandatory Revision of Essay 1 is due. There is an automatic 1 whole grade penalty off your course grade if you do not (no excuses or exceptions).
  • You may consult at any stage—the “developing your ideas” stage, before your draft is done in workshop, before submitting your Mandatory Revision.

Late Papers

I realize that occasionally situations arise that prevent your finishing an essay on time. You get one “Get out of Jail Free” card—email me and say you want to use the card and you get an automatic one-week extension for an essay (not for Framing) with no penalty.

  • Thereafter, a late Mandatory Revision Essay loses the chance for an Optional Revision and an additional 1/3rd of a grade for each day it is late (“late” is defined as not being emailed to me as a Word document before class on the day it is due).
  • Each missing, incomplete, or incorrect element (Works Cited, Workshop Acknowledgements, WCC Acknowledgement) subtracts 1/3 of a grade from the essay’s grade.

Conference(s) with the Instructor

It’s always a good idea to discuss your paper topics and ideas with me, and I’m happy to meet with you about all of them if you wish. But I leave it up to you to decide if and when such conferences will help you.

Written Components

In rhetoric, how you write is as important as what you write. An essay with numerous writing glitches suffers in terms of being a rhetorical act of communication (your ethos is damaged) and in terms of grade.

Each essay must have 2 versions and might have a 3rd if you wish.

  • Reader-Ready Revision (RRR) for Workshop: I do not comment in writing on this version—former students have requested this approach in order to elicit more in-depth and thoughtful workshop comments.
  • Mandatory Revision: This draft incorporates any suggestions from your workshop group and from the Writing Center that you find useful. I grade the Mandatory Revision of each of your essays.
  • Optional Revision: If you wish, you may revise any Mandatory Revision once as an Optional Revision.
    • But if and only if you consult with the WCC before turning the Optional Revision in to me. No exceptions.
    • I will average the original grade and the revision grade (but will add in the revision grade twice) so if the Mandatory Revision essay received a C and the Optional Revision received an A. I would add C (6 pts) and A (12 pts) and A (12) = 30 / 3= B+ (10) so B+ would be the grade that counted.

Criteria for Evaluating Your Essays

One of your purposes in writing any essay in this class is to teach us all something about rhetoric and to demonstrate your understanding of the subtleties of the texts we have read and your ability to explicitly use rhetorical and ethical concepts to analyze them and to convince us (your readers) that your analysis, interpretation, and argument are valid. Your essays should show novelty in analysis and persuasion.

Your essays should go beyond hard work; they should show insight and should provide a clear, nuanced discussion. Always your goal should be to create new knowledge. Your essays will be evaluated for

  1. Clarity
  2. Coherence and Consistency
  3. Interesting, insightful, & relevant content
  4. Appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos
  5. Depth of thought
  6. Effective use of rhetorical strategies, techniques, and style
  7. Explicit explanation of assumptions (yours and theirs—whether theirs are stated or implicit)
  8. Explicit use of ethical concepts where appropriate
  9. Active engagement with ideas and with opposition’s counter-argument
  10. Awareness of your audience (i.e., the audience is accommodated)
  11. Clear and explicit thesis and topic sentences
  12. Prose that is varied, clear, accurate, concise, interesting, and essentially error free
  13. Adherence to format—e.g., use headings when requested, use MLA documentation style

Oral Components

  1. Class participation—You should be saying meaningful things in every class (I keep track). You should provide depth and complexity to the class discussions. It’s been my experience that students wildly overestimate how often they contribute to class discussions.
  2. Speeches and Framing—You should demonstrate careful preparation and practice as well as the ability to makes appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos.

Academic Honesty

Your essays should always be your new work created specifically for this course. Using work written for other courses will result in an unchangeable zero.

You show appropriate respect for other writers and thinkers by giving them credit for their ideas, their unusual structures, their phrasings, and their information. More importantly, you enhance your own ethos by showing how your insights and research build on the work of those who wrote before you.

In Western culture, not giving credit is an insult as well as an act of dishonesty. In all academic writing, you must give citations each time you use 1) someone else’s ideas, or 2) someone else’s words. Although material on the web is free, you did not create it; someone else thought it, researched it, wrote it—give credit to that someone else. Plagiarism—intentional or unintentional—results in a zero for the essay (and no possibility of revision). If you are unclear about what constitutes plagiarism, Talk With Me and / or consult the WCC about specific instances you are not sure about. Do not ask your friend—ask an expert. The WCC also has information about plagiarism, and MIT itself has good information. But you are encouraged to

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2015
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments
Instructor Insights