READING FOR RHETORICAL CONTEXT
Critical Readers have a keen interest in the rhetorical context of the text. When we speak of rhetoric, we mean the author’s use for language for an intended effect. An important word here is intended. Both writing and reading are intentional. They are deliberate actions, guided by a purpose.
Rhetorical context: author’s purpose, author’s intended audience, circumstances of production, author’s position toward other texts, the larger conversation.
When you do a close reading of the text focusing on its content, genre, organization, and stylistic features, you perform a textual analysis. Another type of analysis is also important: rhetorical analysis. Rhetorical analysis examines the author’s purpose and motivation for writing the text, the intended audience, the circumstances surrounding the text’s production, the author’s position toward other writers and other texts, and the larger conversation of which the text is part. It also explores how the author’s choice of genre, organizational structure, and stylistic features advances his/her purpose. To perform a rhetorical analysis, ask yourself the questions in the box below.
|QUESTIONS FOR ANALYZING THE RHETORICAL CONTEXT OF TEXTS
· What is the author’s purpose? What do I perceive as the effect the author intends to have on the audience? What role does the author assume in relation to the audience?
· What do I know about the author’s credibility and background?
· How does the choice of genre, organizational structure, and stylistic features advance the author’s purpose?
· For whom is the author writing? In what type of publication – scholarly journal, popular magazine, local or national newspaper – was the text first published? In what type of publication might you think it would be published? Who might read this publication?
· In what year was the text published? What was on people’s minds? Is the text current or dated?
· What feeling, event, phenomenon, circumstance, or social practice prompted the author to write the text?
· How is the author drawing on other writers and other texts> How does he/she view what others have said about the topic?
You can answer some of these questions by drawing inferences from the text itself. Other questions require you to undertake research.
Equally important as the environment in which the author writes the text is the environment in which the reader receives it. You also need to consider the rhetorical context of the act of reading – the reader’s purpose and the circumstances surrounding the reading.
Read the below essay, “Why We Need to Understand Science,” 1989, Carl Sagan, Parade Magazine. Assess the essay utilizing the “Questions for Analyzing the Rhetorical Context of Texts” (box on previous page).