Rhetorical Think Piece
Think pieces are generally defined as thought-provoking and speculative articles that provide background information and, sometimes, personal opinion on an issue.
There are at least three immediate benefits of writing a think piece. One, they provide a lower-stakes place to do some thinking about your topic. This can be useful if you have to eventually write a more formal argument (as you’ll do in the final assignment of this course). Second, they provide excellent practice in summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting from secondary sources. Third, the popular audience allows authors to play with their writing voice and style in a manner that prepares them to rhetorically adapt their styles in various writing situations both in and beyond college. Level of formality and stance are two of the many factors that go into creating each author’s unique style, and you will have the chance to experiment with both in this assignment.
Using the topic of your proposal and annotated bibliography as a starting place, write a think piece with the main purpose of informing readers about the various and differing perspectives on the issue you chose. While in your next assignment you’ll be making a focused, cohesive argument about your own position, the objective here is to summarize, inform, and also provide initial commentary about the competing views that have already been expressed about your topic.
First, you need to select three of your annotated bibliography sources that seem to provide a broad range of opinions on the issue. The three sources you choose can all have significantly differing points of view, or they may have more subtle nuances of difference. The key is to make sure that all three offer something unique or different that adds to the complexity of the issue.
Next, you need to pick a target audience that you could imagine reading your think piece. Your choice of audience will dictate how you approach the writing task and affect many of the choices you’ll make. Try to pick a demographic, a level of familiarity, or a degree of direct impact. For example:
• People roughly your same age or members of your own generation
• People in an older generation and/or authorities in a position of power
• People who likely know very little about the topic at the moment
• People who are likely already well versed in the basics of your topic
• Residents of a specific geographic place
• Members of specific community groups or organizations impacted by the issue
Your final rhetorical choice is to choose a stance. Chapter 29 in Everyone’s an Author explains that a stance is “the attitude authors take toward their topic and audience.” Do you want to come off as a heartfelt, concerned citizen? Do you want to invite your reader into your text and make them comfortable or do you want to make them complicit in the issue’s ramifications? Do you want to inject plenty of humor (if it’s appropriate for the topic and chosen audience) or keep things more straight-forward? Any of these, and more, are possibilities. Think about the style, voice, and stance you want to write in and what’s appropriate for the topic and audience you chose.
With these choices made, write a think piece that accomplishes all of the following with each of your three sources:
• Briefly summarize the main points of the source and highlight the key points/positions that make the source different from the other ones
• Paraphrase and integrate numerous quotations from each source with proper use of citation
• Discuss both the strengths and weaknesses and/or pros and cons of each source’s position
The last bullet is key. You’ll likely be more personally drawn to one position at this point, and that may be the position you further pursue and develop for the final assignment. However, for this assignment, you must give consideration to all sides, finding both strengths and weaknesses in all of them. Though this is a good exercise for your own developing thoughts on the issue, remember that for this paper, your primary goal is to give the audience a broad overview of the issue with a style, tone, and approach tailored to their needs.
Finally, you must include a full page at the end of your essay (after the Works Cited or References), separate from your actual think piece, that justifies and explains what audience you chose to target and identifies a few ways that you made specific choices in your piece to appeal to them (think of this as a self-rhetorical analysis of your piece). Your chosen audience should be apparent based on the paper itself (and even the title), but this separate write up should make it perfectly clear. In many ways, this separate write up will be key to grading your assignment, since it will help your instructor evaluate the rhetorical appropriateness of your choices.
Style and Format
Take advantage of this assignment’s opportunity to really experiment and play with your style and voice. The level of formality can be considerably lower than academic writing (as traditionally conceived), business or technical writing, or legal writing. This does not mean write poorly or dumbed down. It means: use a conversational tone, use humor when appropriate, use slang if it’s appropriate, make direct appeals to the audience, and please use “I” (because it’s rhetorically appropriate to). In other words, your style should reflect your audience and audience expectations.
Requirements: 4-6 pages, double-spaced, properly formatted
Remember, you’re defining the audience for this think piece. Therefore, all the writing choices you make should be in service of targeting that specific audience.
• Directly acknowledge audience skepticism.
• Using generational or cultural references known to the audience you choose.
• Reference your own experiences (to establish trust and ethos with the audience).
• Pay attention to word choice and phrasing used by a specific audience.
• Write a short introduction that details the general issue and explains what you’re doing in the piece (the intro is also an important place to immediately start setting your stance and style).
• Try using headings throughout the essay, before each discussion of a new source, that quickly summarize the core of the source’s position.
• “Writing Analytically,” pp. 219-220
• “Quoting, Paraphrasing, Summarizing,” pp. 512-526
• “What’s Your Style,” pp. 641-651
“Representing Yourself in Your Writing,” “Establishing an Appropriate Tone,” and “Connecting to Audiences,” pp. 657-661