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Robert Speiser English 459CT Fall 2011 Professor Clark Midterm #1: Analyzing a Student Response to a License to Drink

In responding to Mike Brakes article, Needed: A License to Drink, a student writes, Americans Will Never Accept a License to Drink Law, an essay that shows some aspects of success, yet, at the same time, fails on other critical facets toward a more accomplished persuasive piece of writing. On the positive side, the essay displays signs of a focused argument with the student taking a clear position on the issue being discussed. The student (who we will call he from now on) also includes examples to support his argument, which conveys the author has some knowledge of a typical persuasive essays structure. However, despite these strengths, there are numerous flaws in the tone, the organization, and content of the students text. In this analysis, we will show how Composition and Rhetorical Theory cannot only address these flaws but can also assist the student as he develops and becomes a more confident and competent writer in his university career and beyond. Traditionally, the discipline of rhetoric examines several dimensions of the writing (and public speaking) process. The term rhetoric refers to the effective use of language to persuade, inform or educate (Clark, 2011: 199). These dimensions of the writing process include writing strategies, the relationship between author and audience, discourse analysis, the use of pathos, logos, constraints, among other topics. Similarly, Composition Theory

looks at audience, process, invention, revision, genre and other areas as a way to improve writers rhetorical effect. As we see here, for this student writer to improve his rebuttal of Brakes opinion essay, the student needs to consider most the composition aspects of audience, genre conventions, discourse communities, pathos, logos, and ethos. First of all, one thing this student does not lack is confidence in asserting his opposing view to Brakes claim that the U.S. needs to issue personal drinking licenses to people before anybody can legally drink. From the onset, the student writes, Brakes Needed: A License To Drink has many claims, but the thesis is anything but qualified. He goes on to ask, Do you honestly believe such a ludicrous idea [of issuing alcohol licenses] would work in todays society? The strong emotional tones conveyed in the students declarations, and in the rhetorical question here, show that the student does not suffer from a lack of exigence (Bitzer, 1968), or an urgency and motivation to write something. That is, the student senses there is a problem, situation, or need that can be impacted or changed in some way through writing (Clark, 9; GrantDavie, 1997: 105). The student seems angered, threatened, or just dismayed by Brakes drinking license proposal. He wants to assert that such a proposal is something that is other than it should be (Bitzer, 386; Clark, 199). Therefore, with this exigence, the student enters a rhetorical situation (Bitzer, 385-386;
Grant-Davie, 105). He feels a need to respond to Brake and persuade a third-

party audience (and, perhaps, Brake as well) of the absurdity of this new proposed regulation. Where this student does falter is in his style, tone, methods of argument, and ability to persuade an audience in an academic or opinion essay context. Unlike Brake, the student does not carefully utilize logos or pathos in a carefully planned, reasoned approach. Although Brake does not precisely quote the sources in his article, he carefully uses real world examples of alcohols tragic effects, as well as figures that amplify the problem of heavy drinking in our present society. By mentioning these costs and the various ways excessive drinking can harm multiple facets of our society (e.g., divorce, liver disease, spousal abuse, crimes), Brake uses the rhetorical device of pathos to effectively appeal to our emotions (Aristotle, 1991; Bawarshi, 2003: 209). In addition, Brake employs a sound, calm argument by drawing parallels between a proposed drinking license with hunting and fishing licenses, driving licenses, as well as a doctors social responsibility to report cases of public-health hazard diseases. This is an effective use of logical reason and argument, or logos, to influence the readers (Covino and Joliffe, 1995: 17; Clark, 110). While the student does utilize pathos, in appealing to the emotion of the reader and audience, he does not reason out an argument, give personal stories, or use statistics effectively to gradually build up to an effective emotional appeal. For example, in the first paragraph, he writes, In my opinion, this is a story that explains the desperation of a man who had family

members close to him pass away due to alcoholism. Even though this style of argument may be appropriate for other forums, such as talk radio, it shows that the student has not been enculturated thoroughly in the genre conventions of an academic persuasive essay. As Wardle (2004) discusses in her study of a computer technician learning to write in a new, foreign workplace setting, newcomers often undergo a process, or struggle, as he or she learns to become a part of a group or culture. An example of this struggle is that the rhetorical move employed by the student in this sentence may be considered an inappropriate ad hominem attack on the other rhetor, or participant (Grant-Davie, 108), in the debate about a proposed drinking license. An ad hominem, or personal attack, in such a debate or argument is not considered an effective, professional way of persuading an audience in an academic environment. Therefore, it is an example of how the student needs more experience and instruction in the form of an academic essay before he is fully enculturated in the community of appropriate academic writing. Mary Jo Reiff (2006) discusses how those who perform within genres or categories of texts that are recognizable to readers and writers (Wardle and Down, 2011: 725) assume a certain identity and relation between writer and audience. Reiff states, Students can access and participate effectively in academic situations by identifying the assumptions and expectations regarding subject, their roles as writers (as knowledgeable professionals in the field), the roles of readers..., and purposes for writing... that are embedded in

the assignment (Reiff, in Clark, 43-45). That is, there are certain expected conventions, or rules for writers (student or otherwise) to follow when they complete an academic essay. The student here does not appropriately comply with the genre conventions for footnotes in an essay, for example, when he counter-argues that, According to the gun violence website I visited, form 1981 to 2000, firearms were involved in 354,540 suicides, 281,904 homicides, and 27,470 unintentional shooting deaths. By citing statistics to convey that hunting licenses are more important that proposed drinking licenses, the student omits the citation within the text for the website on gun violence. Therefore, the students details leave the reader questioning the authenticity and authority of the argument. Appropriate ways of citing sources and the tone of the writers language are genre conventions within the discourse community of academia. Swales describes a discourse community as having a broadly agreed set of common public goals and distinct mechanisms of intercommunication among its members (1990, in Wardle and Downs: 471-3). As Harris writes, The task of the student is thus imagined as... taking on a new sort of language and that this problem of becoming a better academic writer is one of socialization into the peculiar demands of academic discourse (1989, in Wardle and Downs: 586-7). Because the writer in the sample here is a student, he is unaware yet of the full components of this type of writing essay writing in the academic discourse community. Other aspects that the student needs to revise in his next draft is the excessive personalized uses of I and the first

person without substantiating his claims enough via real personal experiences or other scholarly support. I simply cannot see anything this strict going into effect..., I know that does not mean they have an alcohol addiction problem and should be required to have a drinking license, and I believe he [Brake] should stop trying to make something happen that would not necessarily work in todays world are some of the sentences where the student writer solely emphasizes his personal belief over more credible support possibilities, such as surveys, scholarly literature, and statistics. It is not his fault that the writer is still a student. A critic, of course, cannot fault the writers age or experience. It is just that use of ethos, or utilizing ones own authority, values, expertise, and competence as a rhetorical strategy (Wardle and Downs, 2011; 724-5), will not be as effective as Mike Brakes use of ethos. Contrary to the student, Brake reveals what makes his person opinion more valid through his careful narratives of his familys experiences and struggles with alcohol, as well as his professional experience as a counselor in a chemical-dependency treatment center. Without such valuable first-hand experience, the student writers various assertive personal claims even fall short of mushfaking his way through the authenticity of effective academic discourse (see Gee, 1989, for further elaboration of mushfake). Therefore, the students teacher needs to encourage the student to produce further drafts of his argumentative paper against Brakes proposed drinking license law. As discussed above, these revisions need to especially

focus on moderating the personal tone and by producing much greater credibility in the students argument with the support of scholarly, government and other valid sources, not just from one website on gun violence. And, finally, because many student writers focus on revision at the lexical, vocabulary and, perhaps, grammatical levels, as Sommers found out in her study of student and professional Revision Strategies (1980), the instructor of this student will have to make the student particularly aware to think beyond that level of revision. It is this meta-awareness that the teacher can instill in the student - not only by telling, but by modeling successful rebuttal essays - that would be most valuable as the student grows as a university student and, later, as a career professional.

Works Cited Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse. Translated by George A. Kennedy. Oxford University Press: New York, 1991. Bawarshi, Anis. Sites of Invention: Genre and the Enactment of First-Year Writing. Genre and the Invention of the Writer: Reconsidering the Place of Invention in Composition. Utah State University Press, 2003. Bitzer, Lloyd F. The Rhetorical Situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol.1, 1968: 1-14. Brake, Mike. Needed: A License to Drink. Newsweek, March 14, 1994. Clark, Irene L. Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing, 2nd edition. Routledge: New York, 2012.

Covino, William A., and David A. Jolliffe. Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries. Allyn Press: Boston, 1995. Gee, James Paul. Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education, Vol. 171, 1989: 5-17. Grant-Davie, Keith. Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents. Rhetoric Review, Vol.15, 1997: 264-79. Harris, Joseph. The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 40, 1989: 11-22. Reiff, Mary Jo. Moving Writers, Shaping Moves, Motivating Critique and Change: A Genre Approach to Teaching Writing. In Relations, Locations, Positions: Composition Theory for Writing Teachers, Eds. Peter Vanderberg, Sue Hum, Jennifer ClaryLemon. NCTE: Urbana, IL, 2006, 157-206. Sommers, Nancy. Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experiences Adult Writers. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 31, 1980: 378-387. Swales, John. The Concept of Discourse Community. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Cambridge University Press: Boston, 1990, 21-32. Wardle, Elizabeth. Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces. Enculturation, Vol.5, 2004: n. pag. Web. 18 Feb. 2010. Wardle, Elizabeth, and Doug Downs. Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Bedford/ St. Martins: Boston, 2011.