A Rhetorical Writer

Fang Da and Chris Hidey

Fang Da and Chris Hidey

Here I present the ideas of Computer Science Ph.D. student Fang Da and his personal understanding of what it means to be a rhetorical writer.

“Rhetorical writing refers to the practice of leading the reader into willingly recognizing a fact, accepting an opinion, or agreeing with an argument, through the art of writing. This definition emphasizes the objective of the writing, because the achievement of this objective should be the sole metric for measuring the quality of the writing.

The objective may vary according to the genre and the circumstances of the writing. For example, an experiment report may be deemed successful if the reader can easily understand the data results after reading it, even though the discussion section may fail to propose interesting directions for future investigation.

On the other hand, a research proposal that clearly presents the preliminary data would still be a failure if it does not convince the reader of the value of the proposed research.

Of special interest is the word “willingly” in the definition, which states that it is the writer’s responsibility to make it as easy and pleasant as possible to read the written work. The reading may happen under a variety of circumstances, and the reading of certain genres is associated with a decision-making process that is inherently subjective. For example, a request for a personal favor may very well be ignored simply because of an ungrateful tone.

Even in more professional situations where decisions are supposed to be made objectively, well-written works are still more likely to gain an edge, because subjectivity is in human nature. For example, there are countless occurrences in science and engineering history where an elegant and powerful technique stays unnoticed for decades because the technical paper describing it is confusing. Instead of digging deep and reading the obscure text over and over again like they are supposed to, many researchers turn to more mature and better-understood techniques even though they do not perform as well.

In order to achieve the objective, the writer must fine-tune the written work on factors like the word choice, sentence length and structure, paragraph length, formatting, register, tone, and so on.

Academic Writing -Columbia CS 2014

Academic Writing -Columbia CS 2014

For example, the writer must adjust the vocabulary to find the sweet spot between being technically precise and being friendly to the target audience, because confusing the reader by not being technical enough and exhausting the reader by being too technical can both hurt the chance of conveying the point to the reader. Sentences that are unnecessarily long or complex in structure may consume too much processing power of the reader’s brain so that he or she has less energy to digest the meaning of them. Although bad formatting does not change the content of the writing, it creates a barrier in the reading process and thus reduces the chance of success.

Only when all of these factors are properly treated will a written work effectively achieve its intended objective.”

Thank you Fang!