Posts Tagged ‘voice’

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posted: 4.2.14 by Barclay Barrios

The first year, I just didn’t know. But of course we never know what we don’t know, ya know?

My first time teaching ENC 6700 Introduction to Composition Theory and Methodology (the required seminar for our new Graduate Teaching Assistants) I blithely, blissfully, blindly led the class through some classic and foundational essays of the field, only to be blindsided by the final papers, all of which worked from the base assumption that the way we approached the teaching of writing at Florida Atlantic University was the way everyone approached the teaching of writing. [read more]

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Categories: Barclay Barrios
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Politics and the English Language

posted: 10.17.11 by archived

One of the realities of life for most teachers is that we sit in a lot of meetings. I meet with groups of distinguished academics or community leaders about once a week. The discourse is sometimes a bit contentious, sometimes a little boring, but always smart and fair and democratic. In these meetings, I am surrounded by people whom I respect and admire. Yet several times over the last few years, I have been surprised and upset by something a colleague said. Adults who care quite a lot about social justice, who understand prejudice in a deep way, still use words like “moron,” “idiot,” and “retard”—and I am shocked every time I hear them.

Listen, I’m not the language police. I am all for freedom of expression—but I am also all for examining the impact of what we say.

Some terms are truly distasteful.  “Moronic” is a word with a long and terrible history, as are the words “retarded” and “idiot.” Yet, it seems like these are all words that we’ve decided it’s now okay to use—for some reason, we even think they are funny.  Call some thing retarded, moronic, or idiotic, and someone is likely to laugh and agree with you.  Adding this word as a descriptor is a way to condemn whatever you disagree with and to add a slightly subversive edge to your comment.

Hopefully, we know that it is not okay to label any person with these words. But then why do we use them words at all?

To be labeled a moron in North America for most of the last 150 years meant that you would be institutionalized and perhaps sterilized. To be labeled a moron, an idiot, or retarded meant that you were not treated as a full person—in the legal sense or the conceptual sense. These labels, we clearly now understand, were the product of the worst kind of racist pseudo-science.

As I said, why do we use these words at all any more? [read more]

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Categories: Jay Dolmage, Uncategorized
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Warning: No Yelling in the Food Court

posted: 12.8.09 by Traci Gardner

I found an idea in the Problogger post Why Nobody Cares About Your Blog by guest blogger David Risley that you have to try in the classroom. Risley shares this scenario to ask bloggers to think about how they interact with their readers: “If I walked into a crowded mall, went into the food court, stood there in the middle of it and just started talking, what do you think would happen?”

It’s an incredibly simple but quite useful question to ask students struggling with issues of audience and style. Students are likely to understand the original analogy, but you can customize the Food Court Analogy to a Dining Hall Analogy to make it a little closer to campus life if you like.

You can read this passage from the Colorado State University Writing Guide Introduction: Audience to students to focus on the underlying rhetorical principles at play in Risley’s food court analogy:

When we talk to someone face-to-face, we know just who we are talking to. We automatically adjust our speech to be sure we are communicating our message. Many writers don’t make those same adjustments when they write to different audiences, usually because they don’t take the time to think about who will be reading what they write. To be sure that we communicate clearly in writing, we need to adjust our message—how we say to and what information we include—by recognizing that different readers can best understand different messages.

To return to the analogy, someone yelling in the food court is not paying attention to whom he is talking. He’s just yelling at the crowd. There’s no sense of specific listeners (or by extension, readers).

After discussing the food court analogy, ask students to search their writing for indications that they are speaking to, and not at, their audience. Have them imagine they return to the food court, but this time, instead of standing in the middle and yelling at no one in particular, have them focus on their audience by suggesting this scenario:

You’re at the food court, and you sit down at a table with three or four people who are interested in your topic. First, decide who these people are. Jot down a few characteristics about them so that you have your audience firmly in mind before you move on.

Next, think about how you would share the information from your writing with the people at this table. What would they want to hear? What information would they find interesting or convincing? What questions would they ask? What would you need to say to see them nod in agreement with you?

Once students think through the scenario where they are talking to a specific group of people, they are ready to return to their writing. Ask them to consider questions like these:

  • How do your words and sentences engage readers?
  • How can the ideas be personalized for specific readers?
  • Are all the terms clear to readers? Does anything need explained or defined?
  • Are there questions you haven’t answered? What are they?
  • Are you reaching a specific group of readers (and not simply yelling at the crowd)?

If students need an example of how speaking to a specific group of readers can make a difference, look back at my 4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice. Ask them how the eBay ad included in the video does a good job of talking to the people at a specific table in the food court, and not just yelling at the crowd. Soon they’ll be speaking to, and not at, their audience.

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Categories: Rhetorical Situation, Writing Process
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The Art of Revision

posted: 10.19.09 by archived

By Sage Cohen

One of the trickiest—and most liberating—aspects of poetry is that there is no Gold Standard against which we measure its worth. Without this standard, it can also be difficult to evaluate when a poem is finished. Because each poem is trying to accomplish something different, it is up to us to decide when the poem has arrived. This is not easy to do, even when one has been writing for decades, but it sure is satisfying to practice!

The important thing to remember about revision is that it is a process by which we become better acquainted with the poem and push it farther toward its own potential. In the revision stage, we revisit and may reinvent the choices we’ve already made with language, image, voice, music, line, rhythm, and rhyme.

The tricky balance involves wildly experimenting with what might be possible in a poem—beyond what we first laid down on the page—without losing the integrity of idea or emotion that brought us to the poem in the first place. This is a skill that develops over time, through experience and largely by feel. If it seems like you’re groping around in the dark when revising, welcome to the club!

The process of revising poems is unique for each poet; often, each poem has its own, unprecedented trajectory. I’ve had a few “whole cloth” poems arrive nearly perfectly complete in one contiguous swoosh of pen to paper. And I have other poems that have taken me more than fifteen years to finish. More typically, I work on a poem for a few weeks or months. Sometimes, I think a poem is finished, but years later, it proves me wrong, demanding a new final verse or line structure or title.

For the purposes of establishing a revising practice, I recommend that you divide writing and editing into two completely separate acts that happen at two different sittings, preferably on different days. The goal of this checks-and-balances system is to give yourself the space to let it rip when you’re writing without fearing interference from your inner editor. Don’t worry: If it’s bad now, it will still be bad next week; you can fix it then.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted every last drop of poetic possibility in the writing of the first draft, or any time you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, put your poem aside for a while. The next time you return to it, you’ll be wearing your editor hat.

In my experience, time is the greatest of editors. The longer a poem sits untouched, the more likely you are to have a sense of how to proceed when you sit down to revise.


Don’t know where to start with your revisions? Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is most alive in your poem? Underline the line(s), word(s), phrase(s), stanza(s) that seem to be the kindling feeding the fire of this poem so you can easily reference what’s working throughout the revision process.
  • Is there introductory information at the beginning or summary information at the end that could be trimmed?
  • Who is speaking? What would the poem be like if told from a different perspective? (For example, if a poem is about an experience shared by a mother and daughter, and told from the daughter’s point of view, try telling it from the mother’s point of view.)
  • Where is language weak and flabby? How can you give it more energy and muscle? Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  • Verb tense: What would your poem be like in a different tense than it was written? Even if it happened in the past, try the present, and vice versa. See what gives it the most power and energy.
  • Does the shape of the poem (line length, stanza breaks, white space) mirror the emotion and rhythm of its content? Should it?
  • Are punctuation and capitalization consistent?
  • Is there good music of repeating sounds throughout the poem?
  • Does each line break create the desired interest, pause, movement, and focus on key moments or words?
  • Does the title serve the poem? How can the title take the poem further?

Remember that only you know the best way to craft your poem. Have fun, be willing to experiment, and you’ll learn a little more about revision each time you try.


Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing, publishes the Writing the Life Poetic Zine and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Join the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at!

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Peer Review, Teaching Advice, Writing Process
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Blogs vs. Social Networks: How Identity is Shaped

posted: 8.7.09 by Nick Carbone

So much of writing is about the author shaping how he or she is to be perceived; it’s about ethos, persona, and voice.

What’s fascinating in this early Internet age are the increasing number of places and ways writers can write. All the print forms persist — articles, papers, books, profiles, newsletters, and more. And added to these are new ways of being via writing: blogs, social networks, Twitter, wikis, discussion boards, and e-mail. All these forms require words to be written, but where and how those words are read change how writers create a person and how readers perceive the ethos of the writer.

In a Gawker post called “Was Blogging Just a Fad?,” Scott Rosenberg describes a key distinction between blogs and social networks:

A blog lets you define yourself, whereas on a social network you are more likely to be defined by others. Sure, blog readers can write comments — but the blogger can delete the comments, or disemvowel them, or turn them off entirely. Sure, a blog is dependent on the links you point outward and those that others point in; but it has its own independent existence in a way that no amount of messaging and chat and interaction on a social networking site can match. A blog is not necessarily better than a Facebook profile, nor is it worse; it is, simply, different.

All writing is part of a social network, of course. But Facebook and other online social networks accelerate the social. Researchers have found, for example, that what you say in your profile is not taken at face value by members of the network; how you are viewed is determined by the accumulation of your activities in the network. The wall posts you make, the status updates you write, the comments you make on the walls/updates of others; the images you share, and so on. Hundreds of discrete, relatively micro writing acts accumulate to create a pointillistic composition of your identity.

Whereas a blog, as relatively longer form done in a technological environment that the blogger can control more fully, is more about the writer as he or she attempts to define themselves in broader, often richer, strokes.

What’s really interesting to see are writers who work across several e- and print media delivery methods. Do you know them more or less depending upon which technology you read them in?

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice

posted: 7.29.09 by Traci Gardner

Too many times I’ve seen students’ eyes glaze over when I explain how audience, purpose, and voice matter in composition. No more. From now on, I’ll let The Wicked Sick Project video take care of this lesson.

The short video, which Chris Boese shared on Facebook, shows two employees from Australian PR firm George Patterson Y&R who buy a generic bike on eBay and then write a new ad that sells the bike for 5 times what they paid for it. The only difference was the description of the bike in the eBay ad.

In their entry for PR Lions category of the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the company explains their goal for the project:

Every advertising agency around the world is locked in a constant battle of creativity vs effectiveness. Some clients don’t believe in the value of a creative idea. Instead of just TELLING our clients that creativity works, we decided to PROVE it to them.

So the employees set off with the basic plan of “Show, Don’t Tell” and created a short video that documents their effort. The eBay ad that they created demonstrates a clear understanding of audience, purpose, and voice.

Here’s the video. It does include a couple of words used that the MPAA would label as “one of the harsher sexually-derived words,” and there’s a derogatory use of the word gay. I realize it won’t be appropriate for every classroom. That said, I would probably ask students to discuss why the employees included those problem words as part of the overall exploration of how the employees’ voice and choice of details builds their ethos with their audience.

The eBay ad is not the academic language of the classroom. It’s not even what I’d call great design for an online document (please, fewer lines in all caps!). That’s okay though. The ad wasn’t written for a college composition or professional writing assignment. It was written to sell a bike at a profit, and it does a stunning job of accomplishing that goal.

Show this video to students, and in 4.5 minutes, you’ll show them that shaping language for a particular audience and goal really does make a difference—in some cases, an especially profitable one!

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Categories: Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology
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Plug-in Composition Lessons

posted: 5.11.09 by Traci Gardner

Last week on the TechRhet discussion list, Mark Marino shared some cool student widgets that are definitely worth checking out. What are widgets you may well ask. “Widget-Based Education” relies on small plug-ins that communicate nuggets of educational information. Their small size and specific focus make them perfect for fast mini-lessons and they work well to remind students of key ideas or writing practices. To give you an idea what these widgets look like, here’s Marino’s own Topoi widgets, which is part of the Topoi Flakes page.

Students in Marino’s advanced writing course at the University of Southern California created these three widgets, which you can plug-in to your own site to share with your students. To the right of the content you’ll find a panel of buttons that gives you the code to add the tools to Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, and more. If you want to add the widgets to a site that’s not listed, just copy and paste the embed code under the buttons.

Here are the three tools. Each is an alpha version, so remember that students are still tweaking and polishing their work!

  • Writing Process: How to Cure Writer’s Block” suggests 10 different ways that writers can get past blank-screen syndrome. You’ll find links sprinkled through the different sections that will take students to recommended sites, like MindMeister and
  • Rhetorical Devices: Do you Have MagicSpeech?” tests visitor’s knowledge of figurative language and other rhetorical devices. A series of cartoon scenarios demonstrate rhetorical devices in action. Visitors choose one of three options to identify the techniques and get automatic feedback on their performance.
  • Voice: The Wheel of Moody Voices” defines and demonstrates six different moods or modes that writers can adopt as they write. Note that the example sentence for each mood communicates a similar idea, but each in a different way. Suggest students compare the examples to see voice at work.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Teaching with Technology
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Audience and Argument

posted: 3.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the materials in the handbook on voice, tone, and argument. Have them summarize the argument of their current draft or the current reading and then reword that argument to be sent as a text message on a cell phone, as an instant message online, as a blog posting online, and as a note to their parents. How does medium change message?

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Document Design, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology, Thesis Statement
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