Coursera: Rhetorically Speaking

Two weeks ago I enrolled in my second MOOC, a course entitled “Rhetorical Composing” (click to read about my first) offered through Ohio State University via Coursera.  I’d previously taken a computer science course but decided to switch gears a bit and work on the universally applicable skill of writing.  Below is a piece reflecting on an original narrative I wrote a week ago, with insight from the work of my peers.

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Red Question MarkThe word, “rhetorical” to me had always made its home in the context of rhetorical questions – questions posed without expectation of an answer but merely as a way of making a point, as if you had asked me: “You don’t expect me to go along on your crazy journey, do you?” or “Who would want to eat that pickled olive and mayonnaise sandwich?

While attempting to explain to a friend that I was taking a class called “Rhetorical Composing”, I briefly entertained a silly thought in my head of being in a course where I could write entire works of one-sided statements and questions that would only serve to make my point, expecting no kind of reaction in return. But outside of those absurdist avenues of my mind (it’s a strange part of town), I’ve quickly learned that rhetorical writing is completely different. In reality, it actually stresses the benefit and importance of sharing and developing with other writers. It’s a fact that became clear once I noticed the insight that total strangers were providing me – by talking about themselves.

Unhelpful High School Teacher MemeIn Aundreta Conner’s narrative, “My Lifelong Relationship With Writing”, I immediately noticed connections with my own experiences as a youth. She described her strict high school English teacher, Ms. Lindler as being about “precision and making a point succinctly.” (We’ve all probably sat through a few Ms. Lindlers in our day.) Ms. Lindler personified the sense of confinement that I had felt as a first time writer when I was coerced into reading and composing book reports for only pre-approved stories and genres.

Luckily, I found my first taste of writing freedom through poetry class. It was a style of composition that bared all and judged no one. Poetry became and remained the metaphorical “open book” that was quite literally shut down to me in adolescence. It was interesting then, to read that Aundreta had concluded that through poetry, she instead wished she had worked harder to “cultivate a discipline” for writing during that time. It’s an insightful contrast to what I always saw as one of the most liberating and amorphous concepts of writing there was for a young person.

In addition to formal schooling, I’m convinced that one of the biggest influences of writing is work. Nothing makes you really take the time to develop and appreciate your writing like being in a situation that actually requires it. Andrew Terranova, another Rhetorical Composing peer in his piece, “My Writing Road: Stories, Technical Writing, Robots and Making Stuff”, described his evolution of writing within the context of his professional careers of engineering, consulting, and IT.

You are technically correct - the best kind of correctAndrew’s tie in of having to write for work and utilize technical-heavy language reminded me of my experience with writing through computer programming. Andrew’s technical writing and my computer code both demonstrate a foundational similarity in that they deal with the fundamental base of conveying information to others.

Probably the most interesting part of Andrew’s story is that this type of work-based composition renewed his interest in writing in general and led him on a road that demonstrates the reach that a skill in writing can have. Branching out with blogging and writing on social networks about do-it-yourself projects, robotics, and other general hobbies allowed Andrew to develop his writing skill in a creative and effective way.

It’s an eye-opener that I too discovered through computer programming and personal writing. Creative writing is one of the best ways to hone composition skill; and I don’t exclusively mean creative writing as in poetry or fictional stories – I’ve learned that there is tremendous utility in creative writing especially through a more technical medium such as programming. Developing a sense of how to make several hundreds or even thousands of lines of code more concise, or when and how to insert comments strategically in code so that your program is comprehensible to someone seeing it for the first time takes quite a bit of practice, and yes – creativity.

Similarly to Andrew’s case of branching out from what started as a hobby and a job, there’s also a huge opportunity in programming to expand on the kind of writing that doesn’t include code. When communicating with others, being able to summarize progress, or explain how things work, or give updates on new features for a program in plain English are all examples of ways that writing can take on many forms. Beyond all the technical language and the backend know-how, programmatic writing is still very much a reflection of one’s own creativity.

In my own initial narrative, “The 77th Percentile” I concluded that writing is “never limiting myself to what I may think I know, but opening myself up to learning what I want to know.” Through the words of other writers, it’s clear to me that everyone has their own sense of what they want to know, or gain through writing. In freedom and confinement, writing has many forms but there is always a prevailing sense of interaction, of intimacy between the author and the reader.

If you asked me again, rhetorically: “You don’t expect me to go along on your crazy journey, do you?

Yes, I do. And through the course, I expect to go along on yours as well.

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2 Responses to Coursera: Rhetorically Speaking

  1. William says:

    Greetings, fellow student! I am enrolled in the same course, Rhetorical Composing.

  2. Pingback: Genghis Khan the Cultural Icon | The Internaut

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