Multimodal Persuasive Project

Introduction

The changing face of communication technology means that scholarship is changing as well. In this final Image of man peeking out of the screenproject, you’ll make a scholarly argument online by composing a lengthy, researched, persuasive piece of scholarship that can be shared publicly online (at a free web-development site called Wix). This piece will be composed in multiple modes of communication, meaning that it will be partly composed of text and partly composed of video, audio, or images.

For this project, you’ll prepare materials much as you would for a traditional research paper: you’ll read and annotate sources, enter into a conversation with those sources, and plan an argument about how others should change their attitudes or actions on your topic. The difference is that you’ll present your ideas using more than just words, opening up your rhetorical possibilities.

And fittingly, your topic will also concern digital communication. In other words, you’ll use a digital medium to make an argument about some aspect of digital rhetoric.

Assignment

Choose a focused topic that is related in some way to digital technology and rhetorical communication. Follow the plans you already laid out in your proposal and my responses to it.

Then, compose a multi-page website that persuades an audience (of your choosing) to change its attitudes or actions on your topic. That website must strategically use some blend of text, audio, images, and/or video to convince your audience.

I suggest you use the easy tools at wix.com to compose your website, but if you prefer, you may use Wix’s main competitor Weebly or another web design platform if you get permission from me first. We’ll play with Wix in class and do a practice assignment using it to give you the hang of things.

Assignment Details

  • Length: Your project’s “length” is up to you. (Make it long enough to deserve 25% of your entire grade for this course.) I encourage you to think of this project as having the “intellectual heft” of a ten- to fifteen-page research essay. Of course, you won’t write as many words as would be in fifteen pages of writing (~5,000), given that you’ll also be composing or arranging multimodal elements.
  • Modalities: At least two modalities (text, audio, image, video) must be used strategically and purposefully on your site. That is, it’s not good enough to write a traditional essay and toss a couple of images on the site without saying anything about them. (I call that “visual frosting.” Both of the images on this page are merely visual frosting, for example.) If the only modalities you use are text and images, make sure that the analysis or use of the images is central to your argument.
    • A good rule of thumb: if you compose any images, video, or audio yourself, you automatically fulfill this part of the assignment. If you embed images, video, or audio that you found somewhere else, you should discuss these elements at length, perhaps doing a rhetorical analysis of them (when appropriate to your topic and argument). (See “Tips for Each Modality” below for more specific advice about this.)
  • Sources: Your project must in some way “use” at least ten outside sources (though you may use many more, if appropriate), each of which must be cited formally in MLA or APA format on a Credits, Works Cited, or References page. The rules for those sources are as follows:
    • At least five must be articles in peer-reviewed academic journals.
    • At least one must be from a book. This can be an entire book or a single chapter from an edited collection. (You may use Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus or any chapters from The Social Media Reader as your book source.)
    • These sources do not have to be the same ones you annotated earlier.
    • When you include an image, audio clip, or video clip that you are discussing in a detailed, meaningful way, it counts as one of your ten required sources. But if you include images, audio, or video just as “frosting”–as something that is nice to include but isn’t substantially discussed–those won’t count toward your ten sources. (Audio or video that you compose does not count as one of your ten outside sources, even if it uses music or images from outside sources.)
    • When using copyrighted material, it’s crucial that you follow the guidelines in the Copyright Concerns section of the Practice Wix Assignment. See that section for advice about when to include something on your Works Cited/References page, and when to write a fair use statement.

Statement of Goals and Choices

Along with your final project, you’ll also submit a statement of goals and choices (SOGC). (You’ll use a Visualization of connections on Flickrsingle post on your WordPress blog to post both SOGC and a link to the project on Wix.) The SOGC is a way for you to tell me why you made the choices you did in your project. It must answer (at a minimum) the following questions in some way (but not necessarily in this order):

  1. What, specifically, is this piece trying to accomplish—above and beyond satisfying the basic requirements outlined above? In other words, what work does this piece do? For whom? In what contexts?

  2. What specific rhetorical choices did you make to accomplish the goals you describe in #1? Be specific—point me to specific places where I can see your goals made real by some choice you made.

  3. Why did you end up pursuing this plan as opposed to other possibilities? After all, you could have chosen many different topics, and you could have chosen many different ways to present your arguments about your topic. Feel free to narrate what your decision process was like early on.

  4. Who and what helped you accomplish this assignment? List human as well as nonhuman helpers, including software, web pages, and so on. Think of this as a way to give thanks.

You may write your SOGC (choosing a length that you feel is appropriate to a project of this intellectual heft), or if you choose, you may compose a video, audio file, comic, or use any other medium that will help me see what you had in mind as you composed the project. (Some students go to YouTube, click “upload video,” and record themselves talking into their webcam, which you can do right from the YouTube page.)

Some students find that the SOGC is easier to compose when they keep a project diary throughout the composing process, noting what frustrations and breakthroughs they’ve encountered recently.

Assessment

This project counts as 25% of your final course grade. The SOGC will be assessed the same way as your reading response blog posts: as a 20-point grade in the Small Assignments category, earning a check, check-plus, or check-minus.

Your project as a whole will be assessed in the same way as your rhetorical analyses were assessed: according to your quality of ideas, organization, evidence, and style. However, there will also be one additional grade category: attention to detail. 

Note that I’m not grading “slickness of design” or “flashiness of technology.” I’m much more interested in seeing evidence that you proceeded with a rhetorical sense of purpose, making choices that were appropriate given your goals for the project. Your SOGC will help me tremendously in that regard, as it will guide my assessment of the five grading areas. (For example, I might think at first that an organizational choice you made was poor, but your SOGC might explain that you did so purposefully, changing my opinion and increasing your grade in that category.)

Submission Details and Deadlines

  • If you want individual advice from me about a draft, you must email a draft to me by 2:00 p.m. on Friday, December 6.
  • On the last day of class (Friday, December 6), if we have extra time after the presentations are all completed, we’ll spend some time doing optional peer review of project drafts together. If you have a draft posted, we’ll spend five minutes (max) clicking around your draft on the big screen, giving you a chance to get informal feedback from me and the rest of the class on what you have so far. I suggest (but don’t require) that you create all of your pages by then, even if the content on them needs fixing up.
  • Your SOGC and a link to your final project must be posted as a single post on your blog by 9:00 a.m. on Monday, December 9. This is a hard deadline, as I’ll need to start grading immediately in order to complete them all. Missing this deadline means losing 10% per day late, following the guidelines on the syllabus.

Tips for Each Modality

  • Text:
    • Much of your project can be composed like a traditional essay, if that’s where you feel most comfortable. However, I suggest at a minimum that you challenge yourself to think of organization in new ways, given that you can put different parts of your conversation on different pages. And of course, you’ll have to include at least one other modality in some central way to part of your project.
  • Image:
    • You can find plenty of images licensed by Creative Commons on sites like Flickr. (Click the “advanced search” button.) Many of these photographers’ Creative Commons licenses specifically give you permission to remix their photos in programs like Photoshop, Gimp, or Pixlr.com’s online editor. You must still legally give credit to any images you use, even when licensed by Creative Commons, but you can do that on your Credits page.
    • You might also want to create your own images, perhaps using photography, painting, or mash-ups of your own creation. Anything is fair game.
  • Audio:
    • If you use audio, I suggest you incorporate it the exact way we did earlier in the semester: first get it onto SoundCloud, and then embed it from there. You might want to manipulate your audio first using the free software Audacity, which will let you export it as an .ogg file that you can upload to SoundCloud.
    • Legally, the safest way to use audio is to create sounds yourself or use files that are licensed by Creative Commons. (Their search site at http://search.creativecommons.org/ is great.) But if necessary, you can use copyrighted works within limits under fair use guidelines–as long as you write a fair use defense (which can go on your Credits page).
  • Video:
    • Creating and embedding video is much like creating and embedding audio. You first create a file using Windows Movie Maker or iMovie (or a free trial of the more-powerful software Camtasia, which I prefer). Then you export your project to a file that can be watched on other computers (like a .mov or .wmv), upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, and embed it on your site.
    • I gave you some more details on composing screencasts on the page Alternative Ways to Complete RA3.
    • And just as with audio, it’s safest to use video sources that you create yourself or which have been licensed by Creative Commons. If you use copyrighted works, I want you to be sure that your use is considered fair, and you’ll need to write a fair use defense.

General Tips

  • Communication with me: Stay in touch. Seriously. Send me drafts, come to my office hours, and keep me generally in the loop as you compose this piece.
  • Using prewritten words: Remember that you can use any words you’ve already written in this class for this project. So if you wrote a really good summary of a source for your annotated bibliography, you can copy that language directly into your project (as long as it makes sense in its new setting!).
  • Examples of multimodal scholarship: For ideas about how to work in multiple modes online, poke around in the the online book The New Work of Composing, available at http://ccdigitalpress.org/nwc/front/stacked.html. You’ll also find multimodal texts in these journals: KairosComputers and Composition OnlineHarlotCurrents in Electronic LiteracyPresent Tense, and The JUMP (which publishes undergraduate work–like yours!).
  • How Evernote can help: Consider carefully how best to organize your research and draft your writing. I have personally found Evernote to be particularly useful for organizing and tagging my quotations and notes from various sources. But you could also use Evernote or some other software to actually draft your work, allowing you to finalize your text there before pasting it into Wix. It’s part of our 21st-century rhetorical situation to have lots of digital writing spaces at our fingertips.
  • Organization: Your piece does not need to be linear, but your audience should never feel confused. For example, if you have three pages that can be experienced in any order, consider creating an introduction page that explains to readers what options you’ve given them.
  • Opposing views: Often, persuasive projects are made stronger when the author cites and responds directly to those with differing opinions. Consider purposefully looking for opposing views and responding to them in some way.
  • Calls to action: Often, persuasive projects are made stronger when the author makes a very clear statement of what should happen in the future (often placed toward the end of the piece). Consider making such a call to action in your project.
  • Audience: Sometimes, having a specific audience in mind can help you focus your argument. For example, if you decide that you’re writing to current and future teachers (not administrators or parents or the public at large), you can assume they know some things and give them suggestions that will best help them.
  • Giving credit: If you have a lot of different kinds of sources to cite, it’s okay to break them up on a Credits page in the way that fits most logically with your project. For an example, consider the complicated Credits page on a multimodal publication of mine: it includes sections for my bio, credit to a web designer friend who helped me out, a formal MLA-style list of works cited that were textual, a formal MLA-style list of the songs I was discussing, a formal MLA-style list of sounds I used in audio clips I composed, credits to every image I used (including links to the images on Flickr), acknowledgments, and a fair use statement. That’s a lot, so I had to be careful to organize all that info in a way that would make sense to my readers.

Images: JD Hancock, “Why I Decided to Become a Cyborg” and eskimoblood, “everyone knows everyone from flickr” The SOGC concept and language is adapted from assignments created by Dr. Jody Shipka.

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Annotated Bibliography Assignment

UPDATE: I’ve posted 2 sample annotations here.

Introduction

Photo of notecards layed outThroughout the second half of the semester, you’ll research a topic of your choice related to digital rhetoric for your final multimodal persuasive project. To keep track of that research and share your progress with me, you’ll add items to an annotated bibliography organized in the free program Evernote. We’ll use Evernote both for its functionality (because it’s useful) and to critically analyze it (to ask how it changes the nature of 21st-century communication).

Don’t let the name annotated bibliography scare you. A bibliography is just a list of sources, usually following some formal standard (like MLA or APA). Annotated means “with notes added to it.” (A book that I’ve scribbled in has been “annotated.”) So an annotated bibliography is a certain kind of bibliography, a certain kind of list of sources, one that has lots of notes added to each entry in the bibliography.

Though annotated bibliographies are made differently by different people, entries in them often include a formal citation, a summary of the source, and an evaluation of the source. Their purpose is always to help others understand sources without their having to take the time to read them. So while writing this annotated bibliography, imagine yourself addressing someone who is trying to decide if these sources are useful for them or not.

Assignment

Over the course of three and a half weeks, write annotations for twelve sources that would be appropriate to use as sources for your academic essay. (When you’re writing about new technologies, a small number of news and magazine stories are appropriate.) At least five must be articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, and at least one must be a book.

Each annotation must include the following 3 elements:

  1. A formal citation of the source in MLA or APA format (up to you)
  2. A paragraph or section summarizing the source in detail
  3. A second paragraph or section evaluating the source in detail. Your evaluation might include a mini rhetorical analysis of the strategies used by the author, notes on the general strengths and weaknesses of the source, your thoughts on how credible the source is, your prediction of how helpful it will be for your final project (and why), or anything else that occurs to you to comment on.

Write each annotation as a separate note in Evernote. (So when the final annotation is due, you’ll have twelve separate notes.) To share these annotations with me, simply write then in an Evernote folder that you have shared with me. (If you miss class on October 21, you’ll need to get notes from someone in class to show you how to share a folder with me.) Once the note is in a shared folder, I can automatically read it.

I also encourage you to add useful tags to each note, but that’s not a requirement. (Here’s how.)

Assessment

deeveepix - evernote-iphoneI’ll grade your annotations based on the correctness of your citations (i.e. how exactly it follows MLA or APA format) and the evidence that you put effort into writing a complete summary and a detailed evaluation.

You’ll receive two grades on your annotated bibliography:

  • Check-in: Before class begins on Friday, November 1, have at least four entries completed in your shared Evernote folder. Be as careful with these as possible, so I can give you advice on what you most need to work on before the final check. I’ll give you a 13/20, 17/20, or 20/20 based on how much effort it seems you put into doing those four notes well in all 3 categories (citation, summary, evaluation).
  • Final Check: Before class begins on Friday, November 15, have all twelve entries completed in your shared Evernote folder. (I’ll go get them there; you don’t need to submit anything else.) This grade will count as 10% of your final course grade, so I’ll be more formal with my grading: you’ll get a score for your citations, summaries, and evaluations, and your final score will be the average of these three.

Tips

  • Consider setting up a personal schedule for when you will write about longer or shorter sources. For instance, since you’ll have to include one book as a source, it would make sense to identify it early on, read it over a couple of weeks, and then write one of your last annotations on that book. You might want to write about shorter news stories early on and academic articles in the middle, too. It’s up to you.
    • Remember that you can get any book or article that exists through an inter-library loan. It’s free and easy: fill out the form here.
  • Twitter is a great place to find up-to-date information to respond to in an annotation. As you start to imagine what your final project topic will be, I encourage you to search out new Twitter feeds relating to it.
  • If someone else in class is working on a similar topic, feel free to share sources. Your annotations must be written by you, but you can collaborate to find sources if you like.
  • Any reading from the Social Media Reader that we didn’t read as a class is fair game for an annotation. (For the final project, you may use any sources we read throughout the semester, but it wouldn’t make sense to annotate those for this assignment.)

Images: Christmas w/a K, “External Memory – Analog saved me” and deeveepix, “evernote/iphone

Alternative Ways to Complete RA3

If you prefer, RA3 can be completed the same way that your first two rhetorical analyses were: as a traditional essay posted on your blog. But if you like, I’m giving you two alternative ways to complete the assignment: collaborate with one other person or create a video analysis.

Collaborate with One Other Person

Because we’re studying collaborative writing, you may fulfill the RA3 assignment by producing a single text written by two people. If you choose this path, the following guidelines apply:

  1. The assignment is the same: the essay still must analyze the rhetorical strategies used on a Wikipedia talk page. You’ll still need to study the original assignment sheet carefully.
  2. The essay’s length and detail should reflect the fact that two writers were working on it. If necessary, the authors may choose to write about more than one talk page to find enough things to write about; however, if they use more than one talk page, the pages should be on similar topics.
  3. The total time spent planning and writing the essay should be the same amount of time spent if each student planned and wrote an individual essay.
  4. Both students are equally responsible for the entire essay. It will receive a single grade that will be applied to each student’s grade.
  5. If you know another student taking another section of RHET 351 from me this semester, you may collaborate with that student (if you get my permission first).
  6. Each student will email me an individual statement about what the collaboration process was like. This is due the same day and time that the final draft of the essay is due. Though this statement can be informal, it should be a detailed, multi-paragraph narrative of what steps the team took. This is also the place to share private reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of your writing partner. (I won’t share these emails with anyone else.)

To successfully collaborate on this assignment, I have a few suggestions (which you can take or ignore as you wish):

  • Communication is key. Get each other’s phone numbers and email addresses (and maybe Twitter accounts?) as soon as possible, and discuss right away how you want to meet. (In person? Over Skype or a Google Hangout? Over email? By adding comments to a document? How often?)
  • Consider setting up a collaborative document that you can both edit whenever you like (like at Google Docs), as opposed to sending attached documents back and forth over email.
  • I love this page on Group Writing from the writing center at UNC Chapel Hill (@UNCWritingCTR). It might be worth skimming over it with your partner to see if it raises any questions you’d like to address together.

Create a Video Analysis

Or, if you prefer, you may compose a video analysis of your Wikipedia talk page. If you choose this path, these guidelines apply:

  1. Your assignment is the same as in the original RA3: you’ll analyze the rhetorical strategies used on a Wikipedia talk page. You’ll prove your ideas in an organized, evidence-filled production. But instead of writing an essay, you’ll create a screencast: a video where the viewers see your screen and hear your voice talking about what you see. (Most of the videos I make are screencasts; for example, this introduction to the course is a screencast.)
  2. This video will be assessed in the same four areas described in the main RA3 assignment sheet, with the style grade assessing your speaking voice–its clarity, liveliness, and suitability of word choice for a video’s audience.
  3. If you choose to create a video, you must submit it the same way you submitted your audio version of RA1: you’ll create the video (see below for my software recommendations), upload it to YouTube, and then embed that YouTube video into a new post on your blog along with a detailed written Statement of Goals and Choices. (See my post on how to write an SOGC for reminders of what I expect.)
  4. The video analysis may not be done collaboratively.

If you choose this path, I have the following suggestions:

  • While there are many options for screencasting software, I strongly recommend Camtasia, a popular and user-friendly program. The 30-day free trial is fully functional, so you can download it, use it for this project, and then decide later whether you want to buy it or uninstall it. (I use it a lot as well, so I would be able to help.)
  • If you use Camtasia, you can easily edit out moments where you mess up while recording. So if you make a mistake, you don’t need to stop your recording and start over; you can simply continue recording and edit out the mistake later.
  • There are lots of good tutorials on how to use Camtasia; if you’re confused, read the software’s official documentation or just search Google or YouTube. I bet someone else will have had the same problem.
  • You’ll want to plan your video extensively, including the big picture of what you’ll show when (to keep your viewers from getting bored) and the detailed picture of what you want to say. You may feel most comfortable reading from a script, or you might rather simply talk casually from an outline. Do whichever will make you sound the best (to keep your style score from suffering).
  • Obviously, much of what the viewer sees will be the Wikipedia talk page itself. But to keep the video visually interesting, consider what else you might show to help you make your point.
  • I use a free browser plug-in called Diigo to highlight text on webpages in different colors. If you want to highlight the text of your page, this might be a strong option. Consider what other creative ways you might emphasize your points (perhaps by zooming in and out or using other techniques).
  • Remember that you can check out USB headsets from the library for 1 day, to be used outside of the library. Using a microphone will help your voice quality sound much stronger and clearer (helping your style grade).
  • UPDATE: A scholar named Dan Anderson gives a screencasting assignment to his students, and he has lots of good advice on that page. I especially like his bulleted list of things you can show in a Screencast, like video of yourself typing, and his list of sample screencasts at the bottom.

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

Rhetorical Analysis 2: Analyzing a Videogame

UPDATE: Two sample essays are available in Moodle in the new “Sample Essays” folder at the top of our class page. We’ll discuss them in depth during week 6, but you’re welcome to read them over before then. Neither is perfect, but one is clearly stronger than the other.

Introduction

Man playing Pac ManIn his chapter “Semiotic Domains,” James Paul Gee writes, “I want us to think about the fact that for any semiotic domain, whether it is first-person shooter games, architecture, or linguistics, that domain, internally and externally, was and is designed by someone” (30). Gee’s emphasis on design overlaps neatly with the goals of a rhetorical analysis, which could be defined as an explanation of the way any piece of communication was designed to be effective in its particular rhetorical situation.

Like Gee, I’m interested in videogames as sites for rhetorical analysis because they are examples of designed, multimodal spaces. (“Multimodal” means “uses more than one modality,” like sound, text, video, or image.) And one of the primary questions we’ll ask in this class is “How is multimodal rhetoric similar and different from written and spoken rhetoric?” Therefore, by analyzing the rhetoric of videogames, we’ll start to critically consider the ways these multimodal spaces are designed for rhetorical effects–that is, how they persuade.

To make things easier, we’ll analyze games that were designed with very explicitly rhetorical goals. Specifically, we’ll discuss games at Games for Change (http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/), a site that indexes games that are designed for a “social good,” in the words of the site’s About page.

Assignment

Choose one game that is featured under the “Play” tab of Games for Change and write an essay that analyzes the game’s rhetoric.

For ideas about what kinds of things to analyze, see the Tips section below and the notes from our class on September 16, when we played a number of games together. (I typed our class notes into the Shared Notes document, which is available through a link at the top of our Moodle site.)

You must provide a link directly to your game the first time that you mention the game’s title, like this: “While playing Plague, Inc., I came to realize that….” You don’t need a Works Cited/References section unless you rely on material outside of your videogame (like an interview with the game’s creator).

As with RA1, you’ll post your essay on your blog, but the content of your essay will still follow many conventions of academic essays. Once again, think of this assignment as a merging of the two genres: use strong organization, clear evidence, intriguing ideas, and sentences that are powerful and varied. Follow the grammatical and mechanical rules for standard written English, but feel free to write conversationally and use the first person.

There is no length requirement. Write enough to reflect this assignment’s importance to your final grade (see “Assessment,” below).

Extra Credit: Include a Screenshot and Fair Use Statement

For 5 extra points in your Evidence category, consider including a screenshot from the game and a statement about why you believe your use of the image is fair use. (Put your fair use statement at the bottom of your post, separated from the text of your essay with a heading to make it clear that this is a separate section.)

You should only include an image that is an important part of your analysis. That is, don’t include an image just because “it looks cool” (like the images on this assignment page, for example). Instead, only include images that you discuss in some way. For instance, you might write this: “In the image below, the abundance of the color red is obvious: [image]. Notice especially how red shows up in places where you wouldn’t expect it: in lines through the sky and in pools of water. This use of color suggests….”

If you include an image, please be sure to crop it so that the screenshot focuses on the most important part of the image for your analysis.

Assessment

This assignment is worth 10% of your final grade.

Your essay will be graded in four areas: quality of ideas, organization, evidence, and style. I’ll use the same rubric to guide me that I used for RA1 (pdf here).

Due Dates

Bring a draft of your essay to class on Monday, September 23  for peer review. This draft can be messy, including lots of notes to yourself. It can also be digital or printed, depending on your preference. The main thing is that you must be able to discuss your draft with a partner in class, explaining what you are trying to communicate and showing your efforts so far. (We’ll be in the computer lab that day, allowing you to share a digital version if you prefer.)

Post your completed essay to your blog before class begins on Friday, September 27.

Tips

Kids playing Super Mario Bros

Strong Ideas Scores: The best way to get a good grade in the Ideas category is to identify a number of insightful strategies that you see the game’s designers using to convince you. It’s even better if you can articulate how those different strategies work together–that is, if you can explain the patterns you see in those how those strategies function as a whole. So a C- or B-level essay might list the strategies in a game (X kind of music, Y kind of visuals, Z kind of text), but an A-level essay would explain how all of those strategies fit together (to create an overall atmosphere of A, which was designed to help persuade players of B, the designers used X, Y, and Z).

Gee’s Chapter: You might want to address some of these questions suggested by Gee’s chapter. (They’re not required, but they fit naturally in this kind of essay.)

  • In what semiotic domains does this game seem to fit? Does it rely on any common logics/grammars/systems that tie it to other games you’ve played?
  • What are some characteristics of the internal design grammar of this game? (28)
  • What affinity groups might be drawn to this game? Which wouldn’t?
  • What modalities does the game use? Is one more privileged than the others?
  • Gee’s concept of critical learning involves thinking about how a system was designed. Is there anything about the game’s design that allows or constricts certain kinds of actions? What do those design elements imply about the game?

And like last time, for more general questions about rhetorical analyses, see “Basic Questions for Rhetorical Analysis.” You’ll see that some questions apply to this assignment more than others, but the list as a whole is excellent.

Organizing Your Paragraphs: If you’re not sure how to structure this kind of essay, consider following an organizational pattern similar to that in your first rhetorical analysis essay: 1) an introduction that introduces the topic and states the rhetorical strategies that you want to discuss in this essay, 2) a paragraph or section that briefly explains the game, its rhetorical situation, and what its designers’ primary purpose seems to be, 3) (most important) a body organized to help your reader understand what rhetorical strategies you’ve found in the game, split into paragraphs that are fully developed and proven with evidence, 4) a conclusion that discusses the broader significance of this conversation (instead of summarizing). (This is only one suggested organizational structure; if you’re confident that another structure will work better for you, go for it!)

Referring to Videogames: You may decide to italicize or not italicize the name of your game, as long as you’re consistent throughout the essay. (I can’t find a common consensus on this, though I’ve seen game titles italicized more often than not.)

I also write videogame as a single word, following the advice of The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual (pdf), published by The International Game Journalists Association and Games Press. But if you split it up (as many publishers do, including Gee’s), that’s okay too.

Credits: joyrex, “Pac Man” and smgee, “level 1.1

Rhetorical Analysis 1: Analyzing a Text

UPDATE: I’ve posted a sample essay on this blog. Check it out here.

Introduction

We’ve talked in class about rhetoric, a word that is often defined as “the art of communicating effectively” or sometimes “the art of persuasion.” This is an assignment where you’ll practice analyzing someone else’s rhetoric–that is, the strategies someone else used while communicating.

Specifically, you’ll ask yourself 3 main questions about a text:

  1. “What is this author trying to accomplish with this piece of writing?”
  2. “What strategies does the author use as he or she tries to have an effect on an audience?”
  3. “How effective were the author’s strategies?”

Assignment

Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical strategies used by an author of an online article that was primarily designed to persuade.

The article you analyze must be something that you found through Twitter. (You’ll prove this by supplying me with a link to the tweet that led you to your chosen article. See below for technical details on how to link to a specific tweet.) If you’ve already “followed” all the authors whose work we’ll read in class, you can find an article simply by reading the tweets in your feed, looking for one that has a link to an outside source, and then judging whether or not the outside source is primarily designed to be persuasive. But if you don’t find anything there that looks interesting, feel free to follow anyone else who you think is more likely to post links to online persuasive articles you find interesting.

See the Tips section below for advice on what rhetorical strategies you might want to write about.

Additionally, your essay must cite the article you discuss in two ways: the first time you mention the title of the article, you must link to the article itself (like this: “How Well Has The Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?”). Secondly, you must include a Works Cited or References section at the bottom of your post (depending on whether your major discipline uses MLA or APA format). In this Works Cited or References section, you must also include a formal citation of the website. For example, in MLA format the above article would look like this in a formal citation:

Sullivan, Margaret. “How Well Has the Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.

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.

There is no length requirement. Write enough to reflect this assignment’s importance to your final grade (see “Assessment,” below). Show me that you’ve carefully considered the author’s strategies and judged their effectiveness.

Submission

You’ll write this essay as a new post on your blog. It must be posted publicly before class begins on Friday, September 6. Once it’s posted, you don’t need to do anything else; I’ll be able to visit your blog to see it.

On Wednesday, September 4, we’ll spend the day discussing drafts of each other’s work. Therefore, you must bring a printout of a complete draft to class that day (for a completion grade in the Small Assignments category).

Assessment

This essay is worth 10% of your final grade. It will be assessed using a rubric that breaks down your success at communicating quality ideas, evidence, organization, and sentence style. (For a pdf of the rubric I’ll use, click here.)

You’ll post your essay on your blog, but the content of your essay will still follow many conventions of academic essays. Think of this assignment as a merging of the two genres.

Specifically, I expect your post/essay to follow these guidelines:

  • As in most academic essays, please use strong organization, including logically ordered paragraphs, clear topic sentences, and a sense that you are purposefully guiding readers toward a conclusion you understand.
  • As in most academic essays, support your claims with evidence. For instance, if you want to suggest that the author’s word choice implies that she is writing for an audience of people who already agree with her, you may find it helpful to quote the parts of her article that prove your point.
  • As in most blog posts, you don’t need to start with a formal academic heading listing our class or my name or the date. After all, I already know whose blog belongs to whom, and WordPress automatically records the date you publish your post.
  • As in most blog posts, you may use links to guide your readers to outside pages that seem pertinent to your discussion.

Technical Considerations

Linking to a Specific Tweet

On Twitter, every tweet mentions how long ago the tweet was published. In the image below, look for the “3h” in the upper right of the tweet, meaning it was tweeted 3 hours ago:

If you click that timestamp on any tweet, you’re taken to a unique page where all you’ll see is that tweet. For instance, if I click the “3h,” I’m taken to this page:

From here, I can copy the url (the “http” stuff in the web browser’s address bar) and paste it somewhere else, allowing someone else to browse directly to this tweet.

In your essay, I’d like you to paste that url into the very top of your post. That way, I’ll be able to see what tweet led you to the article you decided to write about for this project.

Linking to Outside Pages

In WordPress, you can highlight any group of words and make that group a clickable link. Here’s how:

1) While editing your post, highlight the words that you want to make a link. (It’s common practice to not highlight any spaces before or after the words you want to link.)

2) Click the button that looks like a chain. (Get it? It’s a link.) (This button won’t be clickable until you highlight some words first.)

3) In the box that pops up, paste the url of a website that you want readers to go to when they click those words. Be sure that this url includes http:// at the beginning.

4) Click save. While you’re editing the article, the link won’t work yet, but when you preview or publish your post, it should work just fine.

Tips

  • You should assume that your audience (me and the rest of the class) has never read your article. Therefore, it makes sense to give some background information about where this article was published, what sort of site it seems to be, what you can find out about the author, and what ongoing argument this piece seems to be a part of, if any. (In rhetorical terms, all of these things could be called a description of the rhetorical situation of the author.)
  • Focus most of your essay on the strategies that you see the author making as he or she tries to persuade an audience on the topic. Some examples:
    • Does the author use humor to try to make the article fun to read, or is the piece serious and somber?
    • Does the author draw attention to his or her credentials in an effort to win over skeptical audiences?
    • Does the author tell any stories that seem designed to affect the audience’s emotions, like a sob story?
    • Does the author use statistics or rely on outside sources (like scholarship, statistics, news stories, etc.) to help make his or her point?
    • Additionally, see this excellent list for a few more things that are commonly included in a rhetorical analysis: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/pedagogy/rhetorical%20analysis%20heuristic.htm. Feel free to discuss the answers to any of those questions in your essay.
  • You don’t have to include all of these things–just the ones that make most sense to you as you write your analysis.