Research Blog Tip of the Day #4 and #5

I missed some days, so I’m doing two today!

Tip #4: Don’t forget the rhetorical triangle! The rhetorical triangle refers to the interaction between the message or text, the author or speaker, and the audience. (Click on the above link for a handy, concise review).

I want to talk about audience because most novice writers get so caught up on the message and author parts that they don’t consider their audience. How do I know? Because I spend hours making very detailed rubrics, which, basically, serve to explain EXACTLY what the audience (that would be me) is looking for. When I ask kids to turn these in with their papers, I get questions like, “What does that look like?” This indicates to me that the student didn’t even look at the rubric when writing or editing his paper!

Anyhoo, for this paper, your audience consists of several people. First is me. Since I’m grading you, you will probably consider me the most important audience member. (More about me as your audience later!) However, you should also consider that some of your peers will read your blog. How do I know? It’s going to be an assignment! Finally, you should consider that I am also going to require you to invite at least two of your sources to read your blog. So, you need to make decisions based on this.

Notice in the diagram in the link that the “audience” includes not just who is reading your text, but also their “beliefs, values, knowledge, and experience.”  When considering your classmates, for example, you may ask yourself what the typical teenager knows about your topic. If usually not a lot, then you may need to add information into your narration to make the topic understandable to them. When considering your sources, for another example, you may ask yourself what beliefs or values they have and whether or not your position challenges their beliefs or values. If it does, how are you going to convince them of your point of view? You may look carefully at your concession/refutation and your tone when thinking about your sources.

Then there is me. As I said, since I’m grading you, I’m the most important audience member. (Let’s face it: no one would be doing this blog if  I didn’t assigned it!) The good news here is that you have a detailed rubric that tells you what I’m looking for.  Another piece of good news is that I try to stay neutral as far as my own beliefs or values go. Remember the lowest scoring sample research paper we read? About how people should read more books? I complete agreed with the writer–she just didn’t really prove her point well.

Which leads me to the most important thing to remember about me as a reader: I will read your paper as an interested, critical evaluator. I will not read your paper as your mother or your friend or favorite English teacher from a previous grade. I will evaluate how well you demonstrate the more objective skills of a research paper–format, documentation, organization, etc. I will critically read your argument–looking for holes in support or lapses in logic or misrepresentations/oversimplifications of the alternate points of view. And I will read your paper as an interested reader. No, really. I like reading research papers because I learn a lot. BUT–I do like to be entertained! I appreciate attempts at emotional appeal and a lively voice, at graceful sentences and clever attention-getters.

So, I am basically looking for three main things when I read. If you don’t nail any of them…well, we won’t talk about that. If you nail two of them, you probably will earn around a B, maybe an A-. But for that A, you have to nail all of them.

Tip #5: Try a Controlling Metaphor

Since, as I mentioned above, I enjoy being entertained when I read the research papers, you will want to include emotional appeal techniques. This, however, can be a little overwhelming when you have so much more to think about. So, I suggest that you concentrate your emotional appeals in your introduction and conclusion and then just try to add one other emtional appeal per section of your paper. One way to do this is with what I call a controlling metaphor.

The idea here is that you establish an appropriate metaphor in your introduction and make it part of your thesis. Then, your topic sentences extend that metaphor. Finally, you use the controlling metaphor to “tie up” your conclusion. 

Here is an example of a student paper that used a controlling metaphor. Yes, it is a little heavy-handed, but it was from a Comp. 11-A student, not an AP student! Besides, I’m really just looking for a sincere attempt at some of these technques, not necessarily mastery of them!

This paper employs a two-paragraph introduction which includes the background information (Comp. 11-A students were not required to have a narration section). Also, there is no internal documentation because we hadn’t covered that yet! Finally, it was assigned as a cause-effect paper, not an argumentative paper. But, you can still get the idea. Here is the entire intro:

     In 1970, a pregnant, unmarried woman, whose fictitious name was Jane Roe, sought to have the Texas anti-abortion statute declared unconstitutional. Her initial action was against Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County. She claimed that the satute violated her right of privacy guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The U.S. Supreme Court heard her case, and a majority of seven to two favored Roe and declared the statute unconstitutional. They felt that Roe did indeed have a right to privacy based on the Fourteenth Amendment. Also, this right was “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” This case is now known to the American public as the famous Roe v. Wade case that made abortion legal in the United States. It was a decision launched into a sea of controversy.

     The highest number of  abortions for every hundred live births is for women under 15 (77.5 percent in 1992). Eighty percent of women having abortions are single and 20 percent are in their teens. These statistics help explain the intensity of the storm surrounding this issue. Perhaps the most telling statistic is that the number of abortions for every 100 live births has actually shown a decline from the early 1980’s to the early 1990’s. Is the great vessel of “choice,” launched some 20 years ago, being forced to turn back on its course? Has the tide changed concerning this much debated issue? It would appear that the tidal wave of forces aligned against abortion have changed its course.

See the controlling metaphor? Notice that not only is one established, but it is one that is broad enough to encompass the topic. Also, the writer stays consistent. She does not mix the main metaphor with another one, and the logic of the metaphor works: The Roe v. Wade decision is always the ship; the forces against it are always the sea/storm.

Now look at how the metaphor was used to tie the whole paper together by also being extended through the topic sentences:

Topic sentence #1:  One of the influences recharting the course of abortion is the pro-family undercurrent that has become more prevalent in the last ten years.

Topic sentence #2: Another of the forces turning the tide is the more frequent use of contraceptives.

Topic sentence #3: The medical community has also recognized that abortion has not been smooth sailing for many women.

Topic sentence #4: Another factor that may be causing abortion to run aground is the lack of access to abortion facilities.

Topic sentence #5: Perhaps the strongest force in charting a new course for abortion is the one that launched it–the American legal system.

See how these topic sentences extend the metaphor? This not only unifies the paper, but it also means the writer employed at least one emotional appeal technique in each body paragraph. Finally, here’s the conclusion to the paper:

     With all of these factors working against it, abortion still plots its course across America. The tempest over abortion rights has moved to the state legislatures adn to the streets as massive demonstrations for and against legalized abortion continues. Few topics have proven more controversial or more devisive in the history of our country. With all of its religious, moral, ethical, and social implications, the one absolute for abortion is that it is unlikely to ever cruise a calm sea.

Pretty good, huh? Oh, and by the way, that was an eight paragraph paper–with research–done in 3 pages. There is something to be said for conciseness, too!

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