Unit 3:  Learning to Use Academic Research and Rhetorical Strategies in Writing to Persuade Civic Audiences




1)      Develop writing, critical reading and analytical skills from the earlier units through examining and practicing academic argument for a civic purpose and context

2)      Learn to generate a rhetorical situation based on research and inquiry into an issue and to consider how purpose, audience, and context work to influence students’ writing (including readers’ expectations, available choices, etc.)

3)      Learn to write to that rhetorical situation by deciding on a public audience, purpose, and focus for their argument

4)      Learn to see and use academic writing and research skills as applicable to writing outside of school for positioning themselves in culture and offering informed public opinions


Unit 1 moves students from responding to a personal context to defining and writing to an academic context.  Unit 2 uses the rhetorical situation as a way to open up a public, cultural context in which students have to construct a sense of exigency for their writing.  Now, Unit 3 is designed to provide students an opportunity to more fully define their own writing context.  In many ways, this final unit asks students to draw upon what they have learned about writing to an academic and cultural context because they are negotiating both in this assignment; they are asked to write on an educational issue (using academic argument) but for a civic purpose and audience.  Our aim here is that students will see that writing begins with defining a context (and use what they’re learning throughout the course to be able to define and write to that context effectively), which can help in writing to both academic and civic contexts.  Writing, once they leave this course, will involve either negotiating a context given to them or writing to a context they generate (or sometimes both, as we know that often other professors do little to define and discuss context for assignments they assign students).


Therefore, in this unit students are expected to take a more active role in generating and negotiating their own context.  Here research becomes a way of finding/seeking and “seeing” a context that students will then “position” themselves within through their writing.  This process involves inquiry (asking questions to seek a range of views) to first discover what issues/debates are out there relating to education but also to choose and become well-informed on a particular education-related issue. Students are, in effect, asked to argue in response to a defined context they have generated.  Since students are taking a more active role in defining and shaping their writing context, we help them develop questions to guide their research; to find and narrow their focus, audience, and purpose; and to revise their ideas and writing.  Ultimately, this unit challenges students to construct a relevant, meaningful public context and audience to produce an academic argument designed to argue for a particular viewpoint and perhaps challenge or move readers to a new understanding of the issue.  Students learn to use academic research and rhetorical strategies to write to engage and persuade a public audience.


Writing Skills Emphasized:  The academic writing skills from the previous units—purpose, focus, thesis, audience awareness, summary, development, textual and personal evidence, analysis, organization, and cohesion—will be re-emphasized here.   Yet, the difficulty level of these elements is once again increased.  By being required to define their audience, purpose, and rhetorical situation, students will be writing to what is initially a fairly unfamiliar environment.  (Students will have to draw upon what they have learned about the writing process and negotiating a rhetorical context in order to successfully respond to this assignment.)  Targeting an audience that is unknown except through reading is the most difficult kind of writing.  Similarly, the use of outside sources in this paper raises the difficulty level in that writers must carefully use and integrate sources in their writing to support their argument.  While personal experience/observation or familiar cultural texts might still be used, relying on textual evidence which has not been pre-selected or discussed is extremely difficult.  Finally, modes of development in argumentation can be new, particularly the concepts of appeals, arguing strategies, and logical reasoning. 


Role of Reading:  Reading, both in class and on their own, serves multiple purposes in this unit.  Much of the reading, particularly that completed in class and for the position analysis, is meant to helps students generate and construct their own writing context.  As a result, the goal of in-class readings again changes here.  In the beginning of Unit 3, the goal is not accuracy as much as it is reading to define issues and positions—reading to understand the “conversation” the students will be trying to enter with their papers.  Readings in the initial part of the unit are also designed to provide students with avenues to consider education as an institution with its own cultural values, assumptions, and expectations.  In the second half of the unit and in their research specifically for their paper topics, evaluation of sources and argument becomes essential.  Just as we are teaching the students to create reasonable, supported arguments themselves, we are also teaching students to critically evaluate and screen the sources they will be using in terms of their context and argumentative strategies.  Also, they’ll be reading to generate ideas for evidence and context in their papers.  Finally, in-class readings in the end of the unit will serve as comparative samples of written arguments that students will critique in terms of strengths/weaknesses as they consider how they will approach and shape their own arguments.  Therefore, four reading skills are emphasized here: reading for topic/context, reading for applicability to a given topic to use in their own writing (material to build and support their own argument), reading arguments critically for source evaluation, and reading other writers’ arguments as models to critique and perhaps modify.



Warning about changes in how this unit is written:  The first 10 weeks of the syllabus provided a lot of detail on what to do in class.  In this unit, that will change.  Gradually, as the unit moves on you will be provided with less and less direction for a given class meeting.  While we provide suggestions and a class outline, our hope is that in this unit you will begin planning your own lessons even more.  Each class will continue to explain the goals (i.e., why we assigned what we did), but how you get this across in class will be left more and more up to you.


Tips from Experience:


·        If you have time or can make time, it can be useful to schedule one class-meeting in the library.  You can either run a library exercise on your own, or have one of the reference librarians run the class and explain the library’s research resources.  In either case, plan well in advance and make sure to check with the library early to either schedule a librarian-led session or make sure you can bring your class in that day.

·        Students by this point in the semester frequently pressure you to let them “write about whatever I want.”  Although you may want to give in to their desires and let them write arguments on any topic, DON’T.  First, this unit doesn’t work unless there is a shared topic.  The skills based on analyzing context, reading for issues, etc., can only be accomplished if everyone is working with a similar, broad topic.  Secondly, education is really broad enough to include almost any “slant” that can address students’ interests as well as having the advantage of being a key aspect of all their lives at this moment.  Finally, writing about education, a public institution, helps us meet the overall course goal of seeing writing and reading as part of everyday life with public, cultural purposes as well as academic ones.

·        Focus, focus, focus.  Students like to take on “huge” topics, not realizing that it’s impossible to argue that all public colleges do X . . . in a five-page paper.  Bring this up as often as you can and watch for it in discussions and, especially, in the position analysis they will write in this unit.

·        Many students will be happy to see this paper because they assume it’s “just like what I did in high school.”  Be careful of this.  Most of them will have written a research paper in high school, but typically the research paper assignment is an informative one without an audience or purpose.  That is, the paper will most likely summarize what’s known on the topic or alternatively, offer a summary of the different positions.  Taking a position and arguing for it—particularly making sure the information provided is relevant to the purpose and audience of this paper—is not something most students have had to do in their high school “research papers.”