Rhetoric is the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.
– Aristotle (Rhetoric)
I began my studies at Georgia State University in January 2011 as a freshman transferring from a smaller community college. I was already an English major and I was ready to choose a specific concentration for my major. I had always been stuck between the Creative Writing and Rhetoric and Composition concentrations. To me, the choice was always clear that I wanted to be a writer, as I always had since I was five years old. Choosing which of the two concentrations to pursue wasn’t as clear-cut to me.
Ultimately, I decided that the more practical approach was to choose the Rhetoric and Composition concentration because I thought that studying writing skills would benefit virtually any profession that I took after graduation. I took Dr. Elizabeth Lopez’s Introduction to Rhetoric and Composition (English 3050) class in the fall semester of 2014 as my first class I would take in the Rhetoric and Composition concentration. I had always taken general literature classes throughout high school and my early college years before I began my studies at Georgia State, but Dr. Lopez’s English 3050 class truly helped sculpt my understanding of exactly what rhetoric was.
From the beginning of the semester it was drilled into my head that the definition of rhetoric, according to Aristotle, was “the art of persuasion.” My view at the time, before I took the class, rhetoric involved a writer trying to convince an audience of some controversial topic or argument. To me, it felt like the “art” of rhetoric was nothing less than to sell something to an audience that they didn’t necessarily need to purchase. To me, it rhetoric was the “used car salesman” of writing.
Soon afterward, my perspective on rhetoric began to shift. Yes, Aristotle defined rhetoric as an art of persuasion, but rhetoric began to mean so much more to me than just an act of conviction. As we read through James A. Herrick’s The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction, I learned about the vast, and vastly different, eras of rhetoric from ancient Greek and Roman tradition all the way to the present-day writing in a digital realm. Even though at times the class seemed a bit like a long history lesson, I learned a lot about what the varying eras meant for writing and composition; that with different time periods, rhetoric must always evolve, yet remain true and unyielding. Rhetoric and composition were the two canons that went hand-in-hand further increased my appetite for writing.
During the same semester that I took Dr. Lopez’s introductory class, I also took Dr. Mary Hocks’ English 3115 class, Multimodal Composition. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly certain what type of class I was committing to when I registered for the course. I soon realized that it was very useful to take the two classes at the same time. On one hand, I was learning about the early history of rhetoric and how theories and concepts were being drawn. On the other, I was taking what I learned from English 3050 and was applying those concepts to the projects I was composing in Multimodal Composition.
One such project for English 3115 involved the creation of a blog site that had a central, rhetorical idea. It was a group effort, and I was made the design and layout editor. Our group started with the general idea that books that are published in different time periods and countries have greatly different book covers, depending on what period and what countries that the publication was taking place in. Not only was this project important to my understanding of rhetoric, but a learning experience in working with a group and collaborating with others with different ideas. Overall, Dr. Hocks’ Multimodal Composition helped me benefit by applying rhetorical devices to different mediums and how to know what to change and how to adapt for digital platforms.
The following semester in the spring of 2015, I took Digital Writing and Publishing (English 3120) with Dr. Ashley Holmes. This was one of my favorite classes that I have taken during my time Georgia State. In addition, it was a class that I ended up truly immersing myself in. It was imperative in my understanding of what rhetoric was as well as its importance. Because most media is now broadcasted on a digital platform, rhetoric has needed to evolve, and it will continue the need to do so in the future. In the class, in addition to being taught about rhetoric in the 21st century, we were also instructed on the use of different elements of design and how they all worked together not only to create an aesthetically appealing product, but a work of rhetorical composition. My favorite project in the class was a blog assignment that had to demonstrate effective writing skills and keen design aspects as well as being niche-specific and somehow involving the Atlanta community. I chose to create a WordPress blog and wrote about up and coming bands based in Atlanta. I used what I learned in Writer/Designer: A Guide to Multimodal Projects by Arola, Sheppard, and Ball as well as concepts and theories in Brian Carroll’s Writing For Digital Media. It allowed me to work with design components as well as creating a niche localized issue in which to present my argument. Our class also worked with Google Maps and iconographics, which I had never previously thought to be argumentative canons and rhetorical choices.
During the following semester in the fall of 2015, I also took Practical Grammar (English 3115) with Dr. Malinda Snow and Editing For Publication with Professor Jocelyn Heath. Again, these two classes were both challenging and helpful to take at the same time. In Dr. Snow’s class we learned about grammar mechanics and, in general, the guidelines that would help improve and sharpen my writing skills. Editing For Publication (English 3140) would take all of the grammar and mechanics that I was learning in English 3115 and put them to the test when it came to copyediting texts.
English 3140 was another class, along with Digital Writing and Publication, that I felt contributed the most of my understanding of what constitutes good writing versus bad writing. In the Editing For Publication course, I worked on an editorial group project with two other people, each of who had a specific duty. My duty was that of the layout and design editor, and it was my job to create the presentation framework for the project. I built a Tumblr blog for the project and, like my blog project for English 3120, it involved my comprehension of how different design features contribute to an audience’s interpretation of a text. With all of these components in mind (readability, accessibility, overall appearance), I was able to produce a site that presented our texts in a reader-friendly environment that put the texts at the forefront of the blog.
All of the courses mentioned in this essay contributed to what I taught critical thinking meant as a writer. My current definition of critical thinking is an interpretation of a text that dives deeper than the author had initially intended to present. I had previously believed that critical thinking involved a reader simply pointing out an argument in a text and critiquing the work. Since before beginning the Rhetoric and Composition concentration, it was simply restating the author’s original argument.
Lastly, my Senior Seminar: Rhetoric and Composition course (English 4320) is also exceptionally important for me as a student of the concentration. I am currently taking the class with Dr. Robin Wharton, and the main focus of the class is digital rhetoric and the issues of embodiment and emergence facing writing in a cyber context. So far, the critical response essays have been very effective and useful for me. Although many of the texts are dense, I understand that they are meant to raise more questions than to provide answers to the audience’s questions. However, this class is helping me hone my skills and perfect my critical thinking and writing process. Writing the critical reflective essays has helped fine-tune my critical thinking skills by assessing what the text isn’t stating rather than what is being presented. Along with the critical reflective essay assignments, the annotation assignments hosted through Hypothes.is have helped me ask the questions that the texts aren’t raising.
In conclusion, my time as an English major and a student of the Rhetoric and Composition concentration at Georgia State University has been rewarding and has helped me become a better writer. I have no doubt that the skills in writing and critical thinking that I’ve obtained through these courses (and well as countless others), will greatly assist me in any career or higher education pursuits I may consider in the time after graduation.