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Project III: INVENTING A PUBLIC

Guidelines
In this project, you’ll respond to a public exigence by inventing and intervening in your own rhetorical situation.
This project will be largely self-created and self-directed; your classmates and I are here to help you, but the
responsibility for the project is principally your own.

So, what do I mean by “responding to a public exigence by inventing and intervening in your own rhetorical
situation”? In brief: You’ll use your research and writing skills to persuade others to join you in making an
important change happen. Less briefly:

• By public,
public I mean, very broadly, the human community or some part of it: e.g., the city of Denver, your
hometown, the country, the community of nations, the Green Party, your middle school, etc., i.e., the group of
persons affected by the exigence you’ve identified and in a position to do something about it. By exigence, I
mean (following Bitzer) a problem, issue, opportunity, or other circumstance, important to that community,
that demands action — or, more specifically, rhetorical action, i.e., communication intended to persuade.
• That rhetorical action is your intervention. For example, It might be a proposal for an environmental plank to
be added to the Governor’s campaign platform. It might be a film you’ll use to persuade DU faith groups to
contribute more to combat homelessness. It might be the script of the speech you’ll give at a town hall
meeting, proposing a tax revolt. It might be just about anything — provided you can justify your choice by
showing how your intervention will serve effectively to bring about the change you seek.
• Which brings us to the question of “inventing your rhetorical situation:” In order to intervene effectively in
the public sphere, you need to have a clear, complex, vividly imagined sense of your rhetorical situation: Whom
will you need to persuade? What’s the best medium through which to communicate with them? What
arguments are likely to prove convincing? What persona do you want to project? How do you want your
audience to perceive themselves? When evaluating your project, I’ll be paying as much attention to the quality
of the rhetorical situation you’ve constructed as I do to the editorial, video, web site, piece of legislation,
magazine article, etc., by which you intervene in it.
Due dates
Your plan is due to me by SUNDAY evening, May 2  The audience assignment due in class Thursday, May 6
1 of 4 The research assignment is due in class on Tuesday, May 11  Your first draft is due in class on Thursday, May
13. A revised draft (including ALL previous assignments) is due to me via email by the start of class on Tuesday,
May 18.
Project III: INVENTING A PUBLIC
Inventing Your Rhetorical Situation: Your Plan
Write a 2–3-page, double-spaced essay in response to the following. Be sure that your essay addresses all parts of
all prompts.

• Describe the exigence to which you’re responding, and describe your plan for addressing it. Be sure to discuss
what specific pieces of writing will you need to create to execute your plan. (We’re defining “writing” broadly
here: it could mean something conventionally understood as writing, say, a letter to the editor; it could mean
something less conventional, e.g., a wordless poster.)
• Describe your audience. What groups or individuals are affected by exigence you’ve identified, and how?
How can each group affect the situation? Which will be relatively easy for you to bring on board, and why?
Which will be difficult to persuade, and why? Which will be somewhere in the middle, and why? And which
specific groups do you intend to target, and why?
• Given your purpose and your audience, why do you believe that the specific kinds of writing you plan to
create are likely to be effective?
• What information will you need to gather through research to complete the writing you’ve planned? What
kind of research will you conduct to get it?
Due to me by email on Sunday, May 2

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Project III: INVENTING A PUBLIC
Inventing Your Rhetorical Situation: Your Audience
Perhaps the biggest mistake a rhetor can make is to fail to think about his or her audience. But to identify an
audience is one thing; to devise strategies for persuading them is quite another. We sometimes fall into a double-
edged trap. We envision an audience that oscillates between unremitting hostility and perfect pliability,
alternately so closed to persuasion that it’s pointless to talk to them or so open to persuasion that they agree with
us even before we speak. Neither of these personsae are really of any help to us as arguers. If we’re going to
persuade the people we actually need to persuade, we need to envision our audience as persuadable.
However, envisioning such an audience can be difficult to do when we’re thinking about our audience in the
abstract, e.g., as “voters,” or “physicists,” or “homeowners,” etc. So here’s a little rhetorical trick (a self-trick, so to
speak, since you play it on yourself):
• First step: Create a handful of characters that represent your audience, and make them as concrete as
you would if you were writing a novel or a play. That is, rather than imagining your audience only as
abstractions — again: “voters,” “physicists,” etc. — try imagining instead a concrete representative from each
group. Give them names, faces, families, professions, dwellings, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, political
preferences, tastes in art, past histories, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, etc., just as you would if you
were creating a novel or scripting a film. Ask yourself: “What does Fred eat for breakfast? What car does
Ellen drive? Where did Laurie go to high school?” and so on.
• And then, the second step:
step: Ask yourself: How would I need to present my argument in order to
persuade these particular people?
I don’t mean to suggest that you should actually address these imaginary characters in your writing (“Dear Fred: .
. . .”) Rather, you’re painting a picture for yourself, a portrait of the kinds of persons on the receiving end of your
discourse. Writing as if these (imaginary) people were going to read your piece helps focus your rhetorical
energies.
So, please write a one-paragraph description of each of THREE imaginary characters as vividly and in as much
detail as you can muster. Your characters should be representative of the three most important segments of your
audience, including the segment that you believe will be most difficult to persuade.

3 of 4 See the sample on WRITrhet


Due in class Thursday, May 6
Project III: INVENTING A PUBLIC
Inventing Your Rhetorical Situation: Your Research
Your need to incorporate into your project at least THREE sources gathered via the library’s catalog and databases:
one of which is to be a MODEL (i.e., an example of the kind of text you plan to create), at least one of which is to
be a BOOK from the library, and at least one of which is to be a newspaper, periodical, or journal ARTICLE. You
may use more than three such sources; you may also use websites, blogs, etc., as your project requires; and you may
conduct other forms of research, too (interviews, observations, surveys). However, you must use AT LEAST
THREE sources gathered via the library’s resources, no less.
You will record your research by creating an annotated Works Cited page. This page should record the relevant
publication data for ALL of your sources using in MLA citation style. At the end of each Works Cited entry, write a
paragraph explaining how each the text you’ve cited will help you with your project.
Due in class Tuesday, May 11

A draft of your project is due in class


on Thursday, May 13.

A revised draft (including revised


versions of your plan, audience, and
Works Cited page) is due to me via
email by the start of class on Tuesday,
May 18.
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