As I mentioned in my review of writer/designer by Cheryl E. Ball, Jennifer Sheppard, and Kristin L. Arola, I love the way this resource highlights the use of models and our existing knowledge of text as a key aspect of writing/designing.
I believe in the power of incorporating models and mentor texts into the writing process and I turn to mentor texts as a regular part of my own writing practice. writer/designer opened my eyes to the potential for inquiring more deeply into mentor texts through the process of rhetorical analysis.
The authors introduce the concept of rhetoric like this:
When we are talking about “effective” or “successful” texts, we’re talking about rhetoric. Texts need to be created for a purpose, to persuade an audience toward change in some way; rhetoric is the study of making texts that effectively persuade an audience toward change. Echoing that old philosophical question—if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?—if a text doesn’t induce change, then it isn’t rhetorically successful (35).
Our response to a text is the result of how well the author has addressed the rhetorical situation, specifically their intended audience, their purpose for communicating, and the context in which their text will be read.
The authors go on to say that “if you can analyze how a text works, you can often apply that understanding to the design of your own text” (37). They offer the following text components for consideration when launching a rhetorical analysis:
- the audience an author wants to reach (the who)
- the purpose an author has for communicating to that audience (the what and why)
- the context in which the author wants to communicate that purpose or call for action (the when and where)
- the writing and design choices an author makes in a text that draw on audience, purpose, and context (the how) (37)
Taking an inquiry stance toward mentor texts means approaching the text with curiosity about what it says, how it says it, and what it can teach us about writing. Guiding our inquiry through the lens of who, what, why, when, where, and how—What are the audience, purpose, and context of this text? How do they inform the writing and design choices?—helps us move beyond the text elements that are easily identified on the surface and reflect more deeply on how these craft choices came to be.
Try it out! Here are a few multimodal texts. What can you learn about them, and about writing, through a rhetorical analysis?
Poems From An Email Exchange by Hanif Abdurraquib
If Kawhi Turns His Back To The Basket, Watch Out by Michael Pina (FiveThirtyEight.com)
Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students from Grade School to Grad School (BrainPickings.org)
The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far (NY Times)