Writing about Texts
Analyzing Content and Rhetoric
When we talk about rhetoric (REH-torr-ick), we’re talking about the ways we write and speak effectively and persuasively. We use rhetoric to explain, to describe, and to argue or persuade (see the glossary of terms).
In developing your reading and analysis skills, always think about what you’re reading, questioning the text—and your responses—as you read. Use the following questions to help analyze as you assess the text’s content and the ways it makes its points. Think of it as taking the text apart—dissecting it to see how it works:
- What is the author’s main point? Describe this in your own words. Do they make the point successfully? Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or does it wander at any point?
- What information does the author provide to support the central idea? Making a list of each point will help you analyze. Hint: each paragraph should address one key point, and all paragraphs should relate to the text’s central idea.
- What kind of evidence does the author use? Is it based more on fact or opinion, and do you feel those choices are effective? Where does this evidence come from? Are the sources authoritative and credible? (Learn more about the CRAP method for evaluating sources in the section titled “Finding Quality Texts.”)
- What is the author’s main purpose? Note that this is different that the text’s main idea. The text’s main idea (above) refers to the central claim or thesis embedded in the text. The author’s purpose, however, refers to what they hope to accomplish. For example, a cookbook is assembled in order to share recipes and cooking methods. But perhaps the author also wanted to include a group of treasured family recipes in hopes of sharing them with a wider cooking audience. The text has one purpose, while the author has an additional aim for the work.
- Describe the tone in the piece. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language, or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Point to aspects of the text that create the tone; spend some time examining these and considering how and why they work. (Learn more about tone in in the section titled “Tone, Voice, and Point of View.”)
- Is the author objective, or does he/she try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint? If the author is biased, does this interfere with the way you read and understand the text?
- Do you feel like the author knows who you are? Does the text seem to be aimed at readers like you or at a different audience? What assumptions does the author make about their audience? Would most people find these reasonable, acceptable, or accurate?
- Does the text’s flow make sense? Is the line of reasoning logical? Are there any gaps? Are there any spots where you feel the reasoning is flawed in some way?
- Does the author try to appeal to your emotions? Does the author use any controversial words in the headline or the article? Do these affect your reading or your interest?
- Do you believe the author? Do you accept their thoughts and ideas? Why or why not?
Check Your Understanding: Jargon
Jargon refers to language, abbreviations, or terms that are used by specific groups— typically those people involved in a profession. Using jargon within that group makes conversation simpler, and it works because everyone in the group knows the lingo.
The problem with using jargon when writing is that if your reader has no idea of what those terms mean, you’ll lose them.
- Read this paragraph that relies heavily on jargon:
Those who experience sx of URI might consider visiting a PCP. This should happen ASAP with pyrexia >101, enlarged cervical nodes, purulent nares drainage, or tonsillar hypertrophy. Tx may include qid antibios, ASA, fluids, and a mucolytic.
If you’re in a medical field, you probably understood that paragraph. Otherwise, it probably sounded like another language!
- Now read this translation in lay (non-jargon) terms:
Those who have cold symptoms might consider visiting their primary care provider. This should happen quickly if there is fever over 101, swollen glands in the neck, green or yellow drainage from the nose, or inflamed, swollen tonsils. Treatment may include antibiotics, aspirin, fluids, and medications designed to loosen phlegm and make it easier to cough.
That’s quite a change, yes? It’s a good example of why we usually want to avoid jargon, only use it with an audience that understands it, or explain each term carefully as we use them.
- What did you discover about jargon? What areas are you familiar with that may have their own types of jargon? Write a paragraph that discusses your experience with or ideas about this topic.
See the Appendix, Results for the “Check Your Understanding” Activities, for answers.