Archive | December, 2013

Thoughts on Ethos

I’m in the process of reading and annotating the text I’ve selected for my spring class, and I came across what I consider a great paragraph with a great message that I want my students to grasp and understand.

The text is Everything’s an Argument with Readings, 6th edition, by Andrea Lunsford, John R. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters. The passage appears in chapter 3, “Arguments Based on Character: Ethos.”

In fact, whenever you writing a paper or present an idea, you are sending signals about your character and reliability, whether you intend to or not. If your ideas are reasonable, your sources are reliable, and your language is appropriate to the project, you will suggest to academic readers that you’re someone whose ideas might deserve attention. You can appreciate why even details like correct spelling, grammar, and mechanics will weigh in your favor. And though you might not think about it now, at some point you may need letters of recommendation from instructors or supervisors. How will they remember you? Often chiefly from the ethos you have established in your work. Think about it. (45, emphasis original)

To me, this paragraph powerfully evokes the importance of ethos in all writing. As a web manager, I find I’ve developed an “institutional” voice that I use when writing brochure, flyer, catalog, and web copy. Each of these “genres” has slightly difference conventions, but all require the use of a trustworthy and authoritative voice. I work to develop the ethos of a school of the University of Richmond, and as both a graduate and an employee of the University, that ethos is considerable and respectable. I want to reflect my own pride in the institution through the voice I choose as a professional writer.

When I teach research writing, and when I teach Critical Writing and Research I in the spring, I want to be sure that I convey the vital importance of ethos to the long-term viability and acceptance of written work. To be honest, faculty talk to one another (gasps of horror ensue), and when we do we often consider  the “ethos” of specific students—would they be likely to succeed, for example, even if they have to miss a few more classes than usual for personal reasons? Their ethos, as conveyed both in their writing and in their classroom interactions, informs our conversations and assessments. As the text notes, it is students’ ethos, established in their writing, that I am most likely to remember and refer to when writing a letter of recommendation.

At any rate, this paragraph spoke to me in useful and practical ways, and I want to be sure I emphasize the importance of ethos in all writing and rhetorical situations.

Work Cited

Lunsford, A., Ruszkiewicz, J., & Walters, K. (2013). Everything’s an argument with readings, 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user ArchiveACT]

Reflections on the First Semester

The time lag between this post and the previous post is roughly proportional to my level of stress and busy-ness over that same period. As long as the time was between posts, so was I stressed and busy. The first semester of my PhD studies has drawn to a close—I submitted my two exam question responses last night—and the last meeting of the research process class I team teach starts in less than an hour. We’re simply returning final, graded papers to the students tonight. As a result, I have time to post and reflect on what the first semester has taught me.

First and foremost, I can do this! I am capable of doctoral level scholarship. That’s a relief. I doubted myself from time to time this semester (and I’m sure I will do so again in future semesters), but I pulled myself through my doubt and found ways to succeed. Now that the semester is finished, I’m wondering what I’m going to read next, and how I can keep up with scholarship over the Christmas break. I really enjoyed reading scholarship these past three months, and I don’t want to stop just because a class is finished. I think that’s probably a good thing for a scholar.

Second, I’ve discovered that scholarship is a way of life. After the first week or so of reading shock, I’ve enjoyed, even relished, the opportunity to read meaningful scholarship. To be honest, I had kind of quit on reading any literature, so I think I was seeking something more. Not that literature is “less”—I just wasn’t into it anymore. When it comes to recreational reading, I’m a binge and fast kind of reader. I’ll read several books in a row, quickly, voraciously, then fast from reading for months at a time. Reading scholarship, on the other hand, has been a challenge, but it’s also been “filling,” to extend the eating metaphor. What recreational reading had not been doing for me, scholarly reading has done. I’m eager to read journal articles (and I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence), and I’m not intimidated by ridiculous sounding titles that are written for keyword searches, not for creativity. I love literature and won’t stop reading recreationally—but I understand that, at this moment, I need and want to focus on reading a steady diet of scholarship. I’m probably still in the honeymoon stage with hundreds of thousands of pages to read in the future, but for now, I’m enjoying the sense that scholarship means something more than boredom and drudgery.

Third, I’ve learned more about teaching composition than at any other time in my teaching career. I’ve found reasons for my frustration with our research process class, and I’ve discovered why we’ve shifted out of an isolated research writing class in our new curriculum. I’ve learned to appreciate those texts with titles like Everything’s An Argument and They Say, I Say that teach writing from a genre and context/audience perspective rather than using EDNA or models of exposition. I’ve recognized that I’ve been trapped in outmoded theoretical positions, and I’ve found what those (not so new anymore) updated theories recommend about how writing should be taught. I’ve come to understand the value of multi-modal, multimedia composition and design as a way of extending the composition classroom into the professional world. And I’ve finally figured out the real goal of the composition class—to teach students to write in response to a composition assignment within a specific context to a particular audience using the proper medium, mode, or genre. I’ve been a decent writing teacher, but I believe I am going to become a stellar writing teacher if I can develop pedagogical strategies to complement my theoretical discoveries.

Fourth, I’ve discovered that the English department and discipline that I imagined was exactly that—imaginary. The real department is a mess, and the real discipline is in crisis. It’s taken me the second half of the semester to come to terms with those realities, but the end result for me is a sense of peace. I’m no longer mourning the loss of the English department and discipline of my dreams; it never really existed anywhere outside my head. English studies is in disarray as a perfectly natural function of the evolution of a 19th century discipline entering into the 21st century. What counts is my own perspective and place in this discipline; ironically, it’s the death of that imagined discipline that has freed me to start exploring a space outside literature and cultural studies. I believe that I will focus in technology and new media studies, and I think that I will have a secondary focus in rhetoric and composition studies. I will give up literature, literary studies, cultural studies, and critical theory in favor of technology and new media studies. I will base my study in a strong theoretical foundation, but I will ultimately develop a research project that connects my professional and academic interests. I’m not sure how to do that, but I confess that I could not see a way toward any such connection at the start of this term. I can now see ways to make this connection.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Peter Shanks]