Ch. 6—The Strong Response Essay
last revised 10/28/02

From the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing

In chapter 4, 5, and 6, you learned that by reading, writing, and analyzing, all authors, including you, make hundreds of rhetorical (PAGS) choices when writing--every word can create a different affect for a different audience.  Students who can analyze rhetorical choices, and get writing ideas from their analyses, gain a lot of textual power.  Being able to intelligently take part in a specialized audience's complex, textual “conversation,” can also make you a more compelling and interesting thinker, and thus a more compelling and interesting writer.  Being able to analyze another piece of writing can also help you think much more deeply (relativistically) about anything you read.  In order to make better rhetorical analyses, in chapter 6 you've learned more about using a process to read critically; how to write about subject preconceptions before reading; how to do multiple readings (with and against-the-grain); how to summarize a reading in order to understand it better; and how to respond strongly and closely to textual “hot spots” (both in subject-matter and in rhetorical choices).  You also continued learning about documentation, yet another rhetorical device authors use to gain more credibility with a specific audience.

The Assignment:

Write a “strong response” essay that includes: (a) a summary of one of the main readings at the back of this chapter (approximately 150-250 words probably at the beginning of your essay on either King p. 133; Escamilla, Cradock, Kawachi p. 138; OR Abbey p. 144); and (b) a strong response to that reading in which you speak back to (critique or dialectic dialogue with or close read) the author's subject matter AND rhetorical choices based on your own thinking abilities, personal experiences, education, mindset, and values, research, and things you've been learning thus far in this class.  Remember that when you do a close reading, your ideology plays a part in how you strongly interpret a text.  As you formulate your strong response, analyze both the author’s content choices (subject-matter) and stylistic (rhetorical) choices.  Try some of these questions to help you start.

Subject-Matter Questions:

Rhetorical Questions:

As you can tell from the questions above, you will not only deal with subject-matter critiques, but your strong response will include some kind of focused PAGS analysis or a simple rhetorical analysis (as seen in chapter 4; and the questions I gave you from the chapter 5 assignment, pp. 96-98).  You should do some good, close readings of small hot words in the text and then explain how those hot words effect the overall tone or mood or thesis of the piece.  You should also think about subject-matter significance--how does your wrestling with the dilemmas of the chosen text expand and deepen your thinking about its ideas?  How might other readers who encounter the text's subject-matter and/or rhetorical choices deepen their thinking about the topic?  Also think about focus: you will not be able to analyze the entire essay.  You will have to zero in on your favorite 3 or 4 narrow hot spots only.  

This essay is NOT to be a book report (as far as I know, we don't do mere book reports in college).  This essay is a close, focused analysis of the text you choose from chapter 6.  Another way to describe this assignment is as a dialectic dialogue with the author.  Picture yourself sitting over juice or coffee having a conversation with the author.  How would you both find ways to agree and ways to disagree about the topic and how they dealt with the topic?

Length: 4-6 pages, double-spaced (about 1200-1800 words).

Due Date: Start of week 15???  See calendar.

Your Subject-Matter Choices: The topic for this essay will come from the subject matter and rhetorical strategies you notice in your chosen reading (King p. 133—pro-smoking; Escamilla, Cradock, Kawachi p. 138—gender roles; Abbey p. 144—environment and Lake Powell).   You are NOT required to deal with each and every idea the author addresses—you should FOCUS (keep in mind all we learned from our "phat" paragraph assignment--the more focus, the more you can go into detail about a small idea, or do a very close reading of a single word).  Look primarily at textual “hot spots,” places that trigger strong responses from you, places that twist and stretch you in unexpected ways, places that make you think of complex dilemmas, AND places that make you take notice of and/or desire to critique the author's rhetorical moves.

Your Rhetorical Choices:  Often the audience you choose to write for will determine your purpose, genre, style and structure (see chapter 4).  Who do you think you are writing for in this essay?  The professor?  The author of the reading?  The audience that author is addressing?  Are you joining their conversation?  How will you best appeal to this audience?  Or are you speaking to another audience?  What kind of tone will you use?  What kinds of sentences and diction will you choose?  Will you begin with your least problematic point first?  Or your least angry point?  Will you only focus on the negative aspects of the reading--reading only against the grain (which you should avoid)?  If so, what effect might this dualistic, stacking-the-deck approach have on your reader?  How will you make your essay mean something significant to your audience?  What surprising points will you make that help you twist and/or stretch your reader (see ch. 3)?  What descriptive details, examples, definitions etc. will you use to really show your reader what your good points look like?

You will probably find a closed-form structure is easiest for this essay.  You might begin with an introduction that contains an interesting, risky, thesis about the reading (remember ch. 3--try to surprise me).  After that, an easier-to-follow structure would have a paragraph summarizing the reading (150-250 words maximum).  An easier structure will then have three or four strong response sections—your strong reactions to hot spots in the text.  In these strong response sections, you will probably have a section where you read with-the-grain (believe something compelling in the subject-matter of the reading--this is rhetorically powerful for you as a writer because it makes you look like you aren't just ranting against what you read).  You will probably have a section where you read against-the-grain (doubt some unsuccessful or overly problematic subject-matter in the reading).  You will also have at least one strong response section where you react to one or more of the author’s rhetorical strategies (tone; diction; structure; assumptions about audience; types of details included or omitted).  I know that it isn't always hard to pry subject-matter analysis from rhetorical analysis, so you might have sections of your essay that combine these critiques--that is fine as long as you are looking at both aspects of the essay.  Some advanced students might want the challenge of a more complex structure where small bits of summary from the reading are quickly followed by strong responses to that summary (this kind of structure can give an essay more fluidity, but it is much more difficult to control, and often the summary gets cut too short)--given the difficulty this essay often posses for students, I suggest you choose the easier structure.

Suggested Writing Process:  If I were doing this assignment, I would do the following:

  1. I might begin by reading the composing advice on pages 148-150 for more ideas.

  2. Then I might skim my chosen reading, and do a quick freewrite on my initial opinions about the author’s subject matter.

  3. I would then read the article carefully for general meaning (with-the-grain or believing), highlighting key ideas and writing “does” and “says” gist statements in the margins as I prepare to write my summary (119).

  4. I would try hard to see where and when I might agree with the author, and write my own supportive examples in the margins.

  5. I would clearly and positively mark well-done rhetorical moves (I might begin doing this by at least noticing how the author is trying to write, perhaps by thinking about PAGS, perhaps by thinking of the simple rhetorical choices on pages 96-98).  I would also begin to do a close reading of effective diction and look at all the possible, powerful, connotations.

  6. Then I would sketch an outline of the article, and summarize the article point-by-point in my own words (150-250 words).

  7. I would then re-read the article slowly and against-the-grain (doubting), trying hard to find flaws in the argument.  I would annotate all my more critical, doubting reactions to hot spots, my questions, and any counterexamples I can think of (see questions on pp. 127-128).

  8. I would clearly mark all poorly chosen or biased or angering rhetorical strategies and begin doing a close reading of their more negative connotations.

  9. I would then use the questions on p. 127-128 to help me begin an in-depth rhetorical analysis, writing down all my observations in the margins, or in my journal.  To help me find more rhetorical flaws, I would then freewrite about my observations based on those questions. 

  10. I would browse the web for additional ideas about the topic or the author (to look for biases or other clues to the author’s values, or to look for articles that agree or disagree with the author), read those articles, then I would freewrite about what I found. 

  11. I would, of course, read the sample student essay in chapter 6 to get ideas for my own essay's structure, and then I would fit my summary, annotations, and freewriting ideas into that structure (ok, ok, everyone does drafts in different ways, but this is one possibility).

  12. I would then have 2-3 peers review my essay and revise it according to the most useful feedback.

  13. I would let my essay incubate for a time (let it sit without looking at it so I can see it from a fresh perspective), and revise it again for clarity and details.

  14. I would send it to the OWL, and revise it yet again.

  15. I would think deeply about my stylistic fluidity in terms of transitional phrases, repetition, synonyms, and personal pronouns to help carry my ideas through each sentence.

  16. Finally I would edit its surface errors using a style and grammar handbook to help me.

Points Available: You can get up to 100 points on this essay.