The Elements of E-Rhetoric

Course Statement 4.0 | August 2013
ENGL 3179/5179: Elements of Electronic Rhetoric

M C Morgan
HS 314 | 755 2814
Office hours: M W 12:00 - 1:00, T R 1:15 - 2:00. Other times by appointment

Course addresses

Prerequisite: Completion of ENGL 1151 and ENGL 2152, or permission of instructor.

Required texts

A definition

The art and science of creating and analyzing "messages that rely on verbal and nonverbal symbols that more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions." (Stoner and Perkins, 6).

And so e-rhetoric (or digital rhetoric)
The art and science of creating and analyzing "messages that rely on verbal and nonverbal symbols that more or less intentionally influence social attitudes, values, beliefs, and actions" as those messages are created, delivered, and function in digital media.

Course description

Elements of E-Rhetoric focuses on current and evolving stylistic, linguistic, and rhetorical strategies in online and digital communications. The course explores online artifacts and pushes the edges of theory and practice. Rather than looking at the style books and The Rules, we'll investigate the rhetorical principles behind the prescriptive do's and dont's - and look at those principles as they operate in their social, situated conditions.

Course goals

What do you stand to gain? This course gives you the opportuniuty to

Hopefully - and while this is your responsibility, I'll do my best to make it possible - you'll gain in insight into your self as a user and creator of media. I hope that you might come to a better understanding of how we adapt language to new situations and new media; and, even more, I hope you become more adept at adapting yourself.

Focus on the rhetorical

In this class, we're taking a rhetorical perspective on e-media. Rhetorical study is not an introspective, intuitive, quiet study. It's methodical, self-conscious, and grounded in noisy practice. It involves observing, analyzing, and interpreting forces and phenomena and people and situations in the social world as they play out in practice. Rhetoric focuses our attention on the social, the situated, the contingent, the probable, the particular - and how rhetors (that's anyone when we write, speak, txt, point a camera, create a tag) make choices to address and change particular situations.

A rhetorical focus is a focus on how messages work. Not so much on what a message means because most of the time the meaning is pretty obvious once it's seen. That is, we're not looking at personal meanings ("What this message means to me is...") but public, shared meaning, meaning that both writer and reader invest in and employ rhetorical resources to create: the writer in creating the message and the reader in interpreting that message. A rhetorical focus addresses the larger rhetorical situation that the message operates in. A rhetorical focus demands that we take a step back from the text we're looking at, and work with the text from outside the rhetorical situation, rather than from a reader's impression or a gut reaction. And a rhetorical focus means we sideline intent, because messages typically mean and operate in ways rhetors don't necessarily intend.

The questions we're addressing are

Our work with these questions will be social, grounded, specific, particular. Our approach is exploratory, methodical, pragmatic, social. We're going to try things out - then see what they mean. We will not come to any final, absolute conclusions about them. But we can develop some insights, illuminate matters. And that's enough.

A focus on method

This class focuses on practice, and that practice is one of rhetorical analysis. Rhetorical analysis is something you do, not just read about; and, in our case, it's something you do in writing - writing notes, mainly, rather than jumping to papers and essays. Work with a critical method will be the first part of the course.

Notes and notetaking

Analysis doesn't occur by pure introspection; it isn't all in the mind. Analysis proceeds by material means, means such as

So, expect to take lots of notes on paper and online. Expect to make lists and diagrams. Expect face to face and computer mediated collaboration based on those notes, lists, and diagrams. Expect to work in pairs and groups to develop ideas.

In-class presentation

Even though our day to day activity in this course is grounded in analytical procedures, I won't be asking you to write academic essays as an outcome. Instead, you'll be asked to present what you have discovered about the rhetoric of the medium you're studying, in class, to the class. That will require preparation, of course, but you'll have access to your notes and materials in preparing and presenting.

The wiki

Most of the writing we all do for this course will end up on the wiki. Notes, notes on notes, my comments, more notes, group notes and projects. As the course progresses, you'll find that we can begin to link up these nodes, developing them into topics, and further developing topics over the semester and across semesters. The wiki becomes more valuable (to us, to the next group, and to whomever looks in) the more we develop topics over time.

Writing the wiki is an integral part of this course and your learning for this course. As your notes progress, you will begin, I hope, to cross link to the notes and observations of others. University students and professors are now in the business of making their course work in progress available to those interested; it's another new rhetorical practice of digital space.

Class policies

This is a discussion and workshop course. I won't be lecturing so much as you'll be doing things in class. This means that you have to be prepared and be here, on time, for the full time, and on task.

We'll make the most of our time together. Be on time, be prepared, and expect to stay the entire class time. Late arrival is a miss.

Things come up, so if you must miss a class, let me know asap. Email or phone my office. To find out what you missed, refer to the wiki and talk to your classmates.

Missing more than four classes will likely affect your final grade. If you miss six, I will ask you to drop.

Do the reading and the writing for the class before the class. The concepts and methods are probably new to you, so if you have questions, bring them to the class so we can review the material. To make preparing easier, I'll generally ask you to post notes on your reading to the wiki so we can review what you have. If you're not prepared - if you haven't read the material - you will not be able to successfully engage in class exercises and discussions.

General considerations
Please be considerate of others in class, and plan to be on task.

Online writing and projects

Much of the writing you do for this course - notes, diagrams, notes, projects, notes - will be used in class. It's a workshop, after all. So your work, online or on paper, is due on time. You will have plenty of lead time. If you're not done, post what you have so others can work with it. It's always better to turn in something rather than nothing.

Responses to and evaluation of projects will take place in class. If you don't have a presentation done the class day it is due, you miss that evaluation, which will cut into your grade - and the value of your evaluation - for the project. Again, it's best to present or turn in what you have rather than coming to the evaluation empty-handed.

I'll evaluate your work on your notes for a project when you submit the presentation.

Feedback on notes

As I suggested above, practice, and practice through note-taking (rather than quizzes and essay tests) is the primary way you will be learning about e-rhetoric in this course. This means that note-taking is important to your success - that is, your grade - in this class.

While I will be reading much of what you post on line, I won't be commenting on everything. My job in commenting on your notes is to help you practice and master the analytical methods of this class, analytical methods that under gird many classes and most disciplines. So for notes, I'll do three things:

Especially at the beginning of the course, I will ask you to structure your notes in particular ways. I might, for instance, ask you to use headings to organize your notes, placing your observations under Description and your notes on analysis under Analysis. This request isn't frivolous. It allows me to see not just that you understand the method but how you understand what you're doing. (It's better than using a quiz or exam.)

You'll will also get feedback on your notes from your colleagues. And because notes are generally posted on line, you will be able to see how others approach the problem.


Final grading tries to balance mastering method (in note-taking and other assignments) with synthesis of knowledge (by means of presentations). Points come from your writing: there are no tests or quizzes. My rough cut is this:

As the course progresses, I may adjust the balance between notes and presentations if this plan doesn't reflect what's happening in class. Right now, I'm considering three projects of 300 points each, for a total of 900 points. The total number of points may increase.

Final grades will follow the usual scale.

Revisions of notes and presentations

Notes can always be revised during a project, and I would suggest you do so as you learn method. Once a project is finished, however, don't bother revising your notes. Move on.

We'll see how presentations and projects go. Sometimes they don't work as expected. If a revision is warranted (that is, if by revising a project, something can be learned, better articulated, better understood), you'll have the opportunity to revise.

Requirements for Grad Students

Overall, grad students are expected to go into more depth, more detail, and bring more insight to our work and class sessions. They should lead and guide and focus. There may be extra readings for grad students on some topics. You should draw these readings into your notes and projects.

Early in the semester, I will meet with the grad students to discuss grad requirements. Here are two I've considered and we have used in the past.

Option 1: Class project reports
During project presentations, grad students will spend time getting an overview of the projects and will submit (on the wiki) a 1000 - 1500 word or so analysis and interpretation of the collection of projects, and their project's place in that collection. This can be informally written - you're addressing the class - but should move from analysis towards interpretation. As a grad student, it's your role to help us all see what the larger picture might mean.

Option 2: Class exercise and presentation
Teach the class for a week. Starting with a rhetorical issue from the text, put together two class sessions. In the first, present and have an exercise we engage. In the second, lead a consideration of what we did. Topics might include: presentation of identity, reading, ethos, invention; or you may address and work with a mode or media: follksonomy, YouTube, rss news aggregators... Prepare a short report on what you did and how it went.

This statement is subject to change. You'll be informed if I do change it, and changes will be marked on the statement.

Accommodation Services

To request accommodations or other services for this class, contact Disability Services, Sanford Hall 201, 218-755-3883, email

below the line

Catalogue Description
An introduction to the principles of applied rhetoric integrated with continued writing experience. Students investigate email, web page and site design, online discussion, wikis, and weblogs. Introduces fundamentals of hypertext. Students create and analyze online texts and exchanges. Computer-intensive. Prerequisite(s): Completion of ENGL 1101 and ENGL 1102. Credits: 3

This course is part of the minor in Electronic Writing, and part of the Undergraduate and Grad Certificate in Electronic Writing. Other courses in the series are
- ENGL 4170/5170 Web Design for Content Writers
- ENGL 3530/5530: Teaching Writing with Technology

Tues 17 Sept: Cancelled

Thurs 17 Sept: From description into analysis

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