Rhetorical Analysis 3: Analyzing Wikipedia Talk Pages

UPDATE: I’ve added two samples of RA3 to the top of our Moodle site. Both are links to real students’ essays on their blogs (so you can try out their links), and both have my permission to share these essays with you. (You have to go to Moodle because part of our agreement was that I would only share links to the essays from Moodle, not from a public site like this.)

Introduction

One commonly discussed aspect of the rhetorical situation for 21st-century communicators is our ability Image of cartoon characters building Wikipediato collaborate. And over and over, you’ll hear these discussions return to the biggest collaborative writing project of them all: Wikipedia.

Even though Wikipedia articles are supposed to be written from a neutral point of view–it’s even one of the site’s five pillars–a lot of persuasion is often needed behind the scenes to help an article achieve neutrality. After all, Wikipedia is a high-stakes writing space; the text that makes it onto a Wikipedia page has the potential to impact the thinking of millions of users over the years. Naturally, then, writers often feel strongly about the best ways to communicate an idea or fact. And they work out those differences through conversations on talk pages.

This final rhetorical analysis is an opportunity to analyze the rhetorical moves made behind the scenes of a Wikipedia page. You’ll ask yourself, “When discussing what should go on a Wikipedia page, what strategies do Wikipedia’s authors use to persuade others to agree with their side?”

Assignment

Choose a Wikipedia page that has a thriving discussion on its talk page. (See the tips below for suggestions on finding one.)

Then write a rhetorical analysis of some of the arguments made on the talk page of your chosen Wikipedia article. As always, a rhetorical analysis describes how an argument was made, and it comments on those strategies’ effectiveness.

The main difference from your last rhetorical analyses is that this time you’ll be analyzing the rhetoric of multiple writers in conversation with each other. This will give you a chance to compare and contrast some different techniques. Does one writer insist on using heightened, emotional language, while others repeatedly rely on facts? Does one link to Wikipedia policy while another tries to use basic logic as a source of authority? How else do the argumentative strategies differ?

As you analyze these arguments, consider looking up what you know about those who are arguing. Have those writers made substantial changes on other Wikipedia pages? Were those pages on similar topics?

As in the previous rhetorical analyses, you’ll write this analysis as a post on your blog, and your post will share many of the traits of an academic essay, including strong analysis, organization, details, and a confident written style.

As part of your evidence grade, you must include a formal Works Cited or References section citing your Wikipedia page and any other source you summarize, paraphrase, or quote. If you don’t know how to formally cite a webpage, a good place to start is the Purdue OWL’s pages on MLA format and/or APA format.

Optional Alternative Assignments

Instead of writing a traditional essay, you may choose to write this essay collaboratively or to make a video analysis. For details on the requirements for these alternative paths, see this post.

Assessment

As with your last rhetorical analysis, your essay will be graded in four areas: quality of ideas, organization, evidence, and style. (The same rubric will apply; the pdf is here.) But this time, the essay will count for 15% of your final course grade instead of 10%, reflecting the fact that by now you’re more of an expert on this kind of writing than you were earlier in the semester.

Due Dates

  • We’ll do peer review in class on Monday, October 7. Come to class with a complete draft that you can share (either digitally or in print).
  • If you want personal feedback, send me the draft no later than noon on Tuesday, October 8. (And don’t forget the services offered by the Writing Center and the Center for Learning Strategies.)
  • Post your final draft to your blog before class begins on Monday, October 14.

Tips

  • What to write about: Depending on the page you choose, you might choose to write about how the rhetor appeals to her ethos (her character as someone to be trusted), to logos (logical arguments and facts), or to pathos (emotions). Or perhaps instead you’ll base your analysis on some of the questions on this page about rhetorical analyses that we’ve used throughout the semester.
  • Talk page: If you’re confused about how talk pages are supposed to function, please read Wikipedia’s tutorial on them.
  • Finding a thriving talk page: Though any talk page is allowed, there are a few places you might look for ones with lots of conversation on them:
    • Article traffic jumps sometimes imply that a page is considered important by many people, and thus those pages sometimes have busy talk pages.
    • Other pages (like this article) describe the most popular Wikipedia pages, which again are sometimes more likely to have thriving talk pages.
    • You might also consider trying the talk pages of controversial topics (like these).
    • Or you could find a page related to your final project–perhaps a technology or writer that you see come up multiple times.
    • Remember that none of the above places to look are guaranteed to have busy talk pages; sometimes a popular page has been visited so much that the major debates have already quieted down and the major arguments archived from the talk pages.
  • The strongest rhetorical analyses make a claim about the effectiveness of the arguments being analyzed. Therefore, I recommend that you not just catalog the various moves made on your chosen talk pages but that you also assess their effectiveness.
    • With that in mind, a strong thesis statement for an essay like this might be something like this: “Though most people on the talk page for X relied on ______, the most effective strategy was when the arguers used ______ instead.”
    • A weak thesis statement might sound like this: “On the talk page for X, people tended to use X, Y, and Z.” That leaves me saying, “Okay, great, they used those strategies. But did they work? Were they effective?”
  • Notes on style: 1) Please don’t capitalize the phrase talk page in your essay. 2) Please put Wikipedia page titles in quotation marks, like this: “Lost (TV Series).” 3) Please link to the Wikipedia pages, talk pages, and other sites you discuss the first time you mention them. So a sentence you write might look like this:
    • The Wikipedia page for “Lost (TV Series)” has a thriving talk page that nevertheless pales in comparison to the level of detail discussed at Lostpedia, a wiki dedicated solely to the show.

Image: giulia.forsythe, “Wikipedia

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One thought on “Rhetorical Analysis 3: Analyzing Wikipedia Talk Pages

  1. Pingback: Alternative Ways to Complete RA3 | Rhetoric 351, Fall 2013

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