Some techniques for observing

drawn from S&P chaps 3 and 4.

Observing is what you do. It goes on inside your head. But it leads to description. The description you create (neutral language, from outside the rhetorical exchange) provides the support for analysis

At this stage in addressing a rhetorical message, you're on a collection mission: collecting and synthesizing observable objects and situations, watching them for patterns and characterizations. It's all notes at this stage, but best to keep those notes organized.

Use a planned survey


Record your thinking as a way of monitoring your observing.

Work towards a characterization

Description is the ground for analysis and interpretation: It will be the evidence you focus on to analyze. You're striving for a neutral, complete, and fair characterization of the artifact - typically two to three paragraphs culled from your more detailed notes. Work towards this.

Describe the artifact


Describe the text


Consider what terms are in control by looking at


View the text three times -


Describing the Context

KairosAndTheRhetoricalSituation outlines contextual matters. Situations present the rhetor and audience with opportunities and constraints. Describe the situation to draw them out into the open.

Consider and describe the elements of the rhetorical situation: the specific situation


Patterns and Characterization

In description, you're watching for details that constellate into patterns. Your aim at this point is to work from the ground up to characterize the message, rhetor-author, and elements of the rhetorical situation. That characterization comes from the patterns you see developing in recurring details.

Describe What's There, Not What You Think Should be There

You can record your prescriptive observations ("That should be deliberative discourse, not ...") but make a note that it is your prescription and not a description. Observing and describing is done in neutral language.

Consider and Describe What's Not There

Anything missing that you would expect to see? Mention that.

Make Multiple Passes and Refine Your Notes

Make multiple passes at the text, and revisit and refine your list of notes. Keep a record of your early observations, however, so you can get a sense of how your observing changed. You will see things on a third, fourth, and fifth pass that you missed at the first pass.

Consider the elements of similar circumstances and messages

Look at other messages that address similar situations, or messages in the same forum or genre.


CategoryExercise CategoryNotes
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