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Guide

to Writing Rhetorical Outlines


By Val Ross Students are generally accustomed to writing an outline before they write their first draft. The outline we ask you to do upon completion of each draft is intended as a tool for analysis and revision, which is why we ask you to write it after you write each draft. Through the outline, you will also quickly (within the semester) learn ways of assessing and constructing reasoned discourse. The purpose of the four exercises and outlines is to make reasoning, writing, and their assessment second-nature to you. The outline serves, first, as a means for you to determine whether your reasoning is sound; whether your sentences are lucid and functional, and whether you have followed directions. The says portion of the outline requires you to clarify and simplify the idea of each sentence, while the does portion prompts you to evaluate the purpose of each sentence. In addition to outlining your own work, you will also outline the work of your partner in each exercise. This will give you additional practice in rhetorical analysis, and introduce you to the basics of professional peer review. The outlines will also advance your understanding of your audience. While a novice writer depends upon a teacher and others to assess her writing and tell her what to revise, a sophisticated writer typically seeks a different kind of advice. She understands that a writer has many available strategies for any given rhetorical situation. She isnt looking for someone to fix her paper. She wants to know if her writers understand what she is trying to say, and if she is achieving her rhetorical purpose. The outlines provide precisely this type of feedback: your reader will let you know if he understands what you are saying and why he thinks you are saying itwhat it is you are trying to do. While students who enjoy rhetorical analysis are quick to see the value of the outline, many find the process frustrating, particularly in the first few weeks of class. Be patient. Keep an open mind. As you build your knowledge of rhetorical strategies, the analysis will get easierand that means that you are acquiring an awareness of the craft of critical writing, a vocabulary for expressing and assessing it, and a range of strategies for achieving your rhetorical goals. You will even find yourself reading and listening differently, attuned to the world of rhetoric. At that point, you have begun to control your writing, rather than allowing it to control you. The Outline In the first part of the semester, the outlines require you to provide the following: Proposition: Plan: Goal: Audience: The proposition is the conclusionthe statement that you wish to explain or argue. It should be paraphrased, not cut and pasted from your draft. The plan is the blueprint of your structure. The plan is more or less provided for you by the block of reasoning that you are practicing in the particular exercise, which mimics the basic form this aspect of reasoning usually takes. Thus your plan will be something like: a justificatory proposition with two reasons and evidence. In the second half of the semester, you will be supplying your own plan, though

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in keeping with the structure of reasoned discourse, it should have as its spine one or more of the blocks of reason you have been taught. The goal is the effect you wish to have on your audience. For example, your goal might be to explain a difficult concept, or to persuade them to change or perhaps strengthen their position on something. Your audience in the seminar will vary. Your audience for the mid-term and final portfolio will be members of the writing faculty whom you should regard as educated nonspecialists. Another member of your audience is, of course, your instructor. Your primary audience, however, should be your colleagues in the class. In the beginning, your colleagues will generally know very little about the topic at hand. As the semester progresses, you and they will become a more specialized audience, with knowledge of the field. You should strive to master an understanding of their knowledge, feelings, premises, and positions on topics through reading their work, listening to what they have to say, and attending to the findings of collaborative sessions. When describing your audience, be sure to address: What you think they already accept or know What you will need to explain How they are likely to feel about the subject What will require persuasion Next, you will provide a says/does description of every sentence in your draft. Thus the first sentence of the first paragraph might be described as follows: P1S1 says: Students usually outline before, not after, they write a paper P1S1 does: States a specialized quantitative premise to launch the explanation As this suggests, the rhetorical outline requires that you paraphrase each sentence and then explain what it is doing, emphasizing its role in your reasoning. SaysWhat a Sentence Means The says part of the outline is reasonably self-evident, if not always easy to do: using different words, restate the point of your sentence. Your paraphrase should try to capture the heart of the sentence, as well as strive for clarity, simplicity, brevity. Thus if I have written: When you really examine critical writing and the responses to it that professors and others may give to it, you will find that in the end what you have to say is more important in critical writing than how stylistically beautifully you say it. My says of the above sentence might be: Says: Substance trumps style in critical writing. Or: Says: A critical writers audience values substance over style. As these two paraphrases underscore, the says prompts you to eliminate clutter. It forces you to decide what, if anything, in the sentence is important to preserve. Notice in these two rewrites that one sentence foregrounds substance and style, while the other foregrounds the audiences desires. Each sentence sets up somewhat different expectations, different paths for the next sentence to take.
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The says part of the outline also prompts you to come up with different ways of saying the same thing. Each restatement will have a different effect. For example, I could also rewrite the above sentence as: Says: In critical writing, substance is more important than style. This sentence replicates, in meaning, the first says above. However, changing the verb from the strong trumps to the weaker is changes the voice and tone of the sentence from punchy and direct, to formal and passivefrom strong tea to weak tea. In turn, opening with a prepositional phrase changes the rhythm, texture, and intonation of the sentence. Polishing for the readers ear in such fashion is not the greatest priority of the critical writerwho indeed values substance over stylebut can be a lovely flourish once you are certain that your reasoning is clear, solid, well-supported, and attuned to your audience. DoesThe Method for Delivering the Says For most, the does statements are more challenging than the says statements. Becoming aware of the fact that sentences do things, not just say things, is half the battle. The does of critical writing is foundational to its meaning. How you reasonwhat you do to prove your argumentis as important as what you have to say. Weak reasoning is seldom persuasive. If your proposition is unsupported by reasons, or the reasons are contradictory, illogical, or lacking in evidence, your audience will be inclined to reject or ignore it, no matter how beautiful and engaging your writing happens to be. If you hire someone to build your house who neglects to create a solid foundation, you will not be impressed by lovely haphazardly-arranged piles of materials. Critical writing sentences do at least three things: they convey meaning (says); they provide reasonings scaffolding (method); and they produce various secondary effects (sound, other types and layers of meaning, emotional triggers). Your says statements address the first function of sentences. Your does statements focus on the next two, with the primary emphasis on reasoning. As you become comfortable with writing and identifying reasoned discourse, you may branch out and add other things your sentences are doing. What Sentences Do: Here are some of the things a critical writing sentence may do: 1. Introduce a premise: Arguments and explanations must always begin in agreement. One of the first tasks of a writer is to discover some point of common ground upon which to build an argument. It is best to begin with a shared premise. However, if none can be found, then writer and readers need to agree on something else. In argument, this will include agreement on what counts as evidence, and what form a persuasive argument will take: flipping a coin; arm-wrestling; the alignment of the stars; or, in academic and professional discourse, the form of reasoning. A premise is an already-proven or accepted proposition. It may be a fact, a principle, an axiom, a rule, a commonly-held belief. A premise is a generalization that you are reasonably certain your audience accepts. Premises are used to open argumentsproviding common ground between you and your readerand also used as reasons in support of your argument. Thus if I am setting out to argue for animal rights, I will likely begin
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by drawing upon the generally-accepted premise of human rights to provide common ground. From there, I will borrow and adapt reasons (premises) used to support human rights to advance my argument for animal rights. In your does statement, you might identify a premise and note what it is doing. For example, a premise might: establish common ground between writer and reader. be a precondition for the argument or explanation you wish to make. be a reason in support of your proposition. be evidence in support of your reason. This premise will be either: Universal: something most people would agree with; or Specialized: something your targeted audience, but not all people, would agree with This premise may state a: Truth: a concept, philosophy, approach, belief held by most or held by the targeted audience, or Fact: a proposition that has been proven through standard rules of evidence held by most people or by the targeted audience This premise may be: Abstract: a concept such as truth, freedom, justice, change, happiness Concrete: a concept grounded in concrete social relationships that can be observed and experienced, such as solidarity, fidelity, generosity This premise may be: Quantitative: percentage, majority, measurements, quantitative comparisons such as taller than, richer than Qualitative: based on abstract (universal or specialized) values such as desirable, rare, preferable, better, exquisite, important, significant 2. A sentence might introduce an explanatory or justificatory proposition. Note that your proposition is also a premise, though as yet unproven: that is your job. You can describe what your proposition is doing using the same vocabulary as that of the premises described above. 3. A sentence can provide a reason. A reason is a premise used to support ones proposition. Critical writers begin with a premise, and thereafter advance their argument through a series of premises which, depending on the discipline or profession, may have other names. We use the term reason because its the most generally applicable. To persuade my reader to give animals rights, I will provide a series of reasons and evidence to support my proposition. Ideally the reasons I choose will already be persuasive in their form. For example, I might use a majority/quantitative premise knowing that Americans are moved by majority/quantitative reasons. I might also use an abstract universal premise as a reason (freedom) knowing that Americans tend to have strong positive feelings about freedom. Reasons are used: in support of the proposition. to refute the proposition. to refute or concede to the opposition. 4. A sentence may support and develop a premise, proposition, or reason by:
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restating it to clarify a complex idea. defining a key term. providing evidence. Depending on the discipline or profession, this evidence may include: Personal experience or observations Others experiences or observations Quotations of authorities or authoritative texts Testimonials of authorities Excerpts, presentations, or quotations of primary sources, such as literature, recordings, artifacts Numbers Logical Proofs Lab Reports Analogies analyzing, interpreting, explaining, or evaluating it. qualifying or stating an exception to it.

5. Sentences may also incite a readers emotions (see list of logical fallacies). 6. A sentence may also provide a transition (linkage) between two paragraphs, sentences, arguments; or between proposition, reasons, and evidence. In most cases a transition sentence will also perform one of the functions indicated above in addition to acting as a bridge. 7. A sentence also provides texture, variation, rhythm, pitch that makes the experience of reading more pleasurable and engaging. Reserve this level of cosmetic analysis and polishing for final drafts. Does and DoesntWhen Sentences Lack Function As you outline your draft, or that of your peer, you will notice that some sentences arent doing anything. When this happens, briefly remark this in your does sentence: P3S4: says: Nurture and nature both determine character does: redundant. Repeats information already presented in P3S2 Or: does: seems to be a new idea not related to the reason being developed Or: does: introduces a new reason Or: does: not follow exercise format and open with a reason In turn, you may notice that two or three sentences are working in concert to do one thing: P2S3-6: says: I was given a painstaking lesson in outlining from my 5th grade teacher does: provides a personal anecdote to illustrate the reason Final Portfolio CriteriaDemonstrating the Ability to Discuss the Craft of Writing One of the four criteria of assessment for the final portfolio is demonstration of your knowledge of writing. The outline is the major tool for developing, practicing, and demonstrating this knowledge. Like any artist, your understanding of the craftand your aimis always going to outstrip what you are actually able to execute in the art itself. Along with being a valuable tool for metacognitive development and revision, the rhetorical outline is also a checklist for logical coherence as well as an excellent way to practice your skills of paraphrase and expand your
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repertoire of rhetorical strategies. As you analyze your own and others writing, you will acquire innumerable ways of, for example, supporting an explanatory reason or bridging two paragraphs. Artists learn from other artists, if they know how to assess a colleagues craft, a colleagues strategy for approaching a similar problem. As you peer review others work and see how they have outlined your work, note the strategies described and deployed. You will pick up new moves as well as new (and often better) ways of expressing your ideas.

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