Overview of Method

Adapted from Stoner and Perkins, chap 3

The why of method:

It's what we do when we encounter something unfamiliar, something not yet readily analyzed and evaluated by cultural reflex.

Method is learned in practice so we're being overt about it. I'm asking you to use notes in your practice so I can look over your shoulder and see what you're doing so to give you feedback. As the course progresses, the method will come more readily. You will find that you won't have to spend 2 - 3 hrs describing an artifact but can move into analysis more readily.

Rhetoric doesn't work the same way in digital media as it does for print. Affordances change, situations change, rhetors change. We're encountering new artifacts, new rhetors, in new situations. Hence the need and the opportunity for method - a systematic approach to a rhetorical message/artifact.

Method demands that we read and re-approach a single text multiple times. As you looked at the event in balcony view three times. In each look, you saw something else. Your view/understanding is now all three plus the reflection on them. More complete.

Critical method means proceeding systematically, from description to analysis to interpretation. Each phase gives you material to build on in the next.

A critical position: neutral and outside the exchange

Throughout your work with a rhetorical message, stand outside the rhetorical exchange, as an observer of the exchange and situation, not the rhetor or audience.

1. Description

You often begin to see patterns within the message that were not immediately evident, for example, argument structures, organizational patterns, shifts in point of view, word choice, and so on.... So, in doing description you must pay close attention to internal characteristics of the message: form, style, organization, and lines of argument.... You must also attend to the envrionment of the message: the social ... context, the nature of the audience(s), similar messages in the environment.... You must draw from all the knowledge you possess about the communication process in order to accomplish this task with rigor, depth, and precision. (Stoner and Perkins, 29)

description is neutral, fair, methodical, complete, and describes both the artifact and its contexts.

description and meaning

The meaning of a message is part of your description.

Example exercise

2. Analysis

The process of systematically discovering, identifying, and articulating the various parts of the message and the relationship of those parts to one another (S&P, 69)

At this point, you bring in a search model - a theory - and draw on your description to address two ends. The first is to

identify the parts of the messages and look for relationships between the parts....

The second is

to uncover the choices [the rhetor] made when constructing the message. (S & P, 32)

Analysis builds on observations generated by description by bringing a conceptual framework (a search pattern or theory) into play; looking for patterns. Analysis continues to focus on how the message works rather than interpreting its significance or evaluating the effectiveness.

An analysis stands out in that

Example exercise: [tba]

3. Interpretation

Interpretation, as we're using it, is not an interpretation of the message itself. Analysis produces a meaning, an interpretation of the work. This next step of interpretation builds on your analysis to explain and illustrate the significance of the findings of the analysis. Interpretation is

drawing conclusions about the rhetorical patterns you discover in the analysis so that something significant is learned from the analysis (S & P, 36).

The particular devices and rhetorical strategies you discovered in analysis produced a consideration of the message works. Interpretation addresses, "What does my analysis add up to?" or "What is significant about what I have found?"

Interpretations are inferences, reasonable conclusions based on evidence from your analysis. It requires making inferences, which is to extend our knowledge beyond observation and the theory we're using. Interpretation is a creative act: there is no formula for it. But it is done by careful reasoning.

Good interpretations are socially responsive: they explain. They let us see something new or something in a new way.The most worthwhile interpretations tell us the most - give us the most insight - about how the message works.

In rhetorical criticism, interpretations generally don't focus on intent or choices grounded in the personal. The significance - and your analysis of it - is grounded in the social position of the message. But interpretations arise from your interaction with the theory and the messages you're investigating.

Interpretation isn't necessarily groundbreaking. It can be small and slight.

To get started on making notes for an interpretation

4. Evaluation

Evaluation draws on all the evidence you've developed so far to make a worthy, responsible judgment concerning the message.


uses stated criteria to determine the merit, worth, significance, or effectiveness of the rhetorical strategies of a message. (39)

Evalution uses evaluative terms: professional, amateur, good, bad, right, wrong, effective, ethical ... grounds judgments on evidence, and places the message in an appropriate context.


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