A Spam Project


Collect and print out copes of spam email. Spam is unrequested commercial email, sent in bulk rather than address to you personally, like junk mail.

Collect 20 pieces of spam. Go for a variety of stuff: long, short, and a variety of products or appeals.

Use common sense and decorum in choosing the spam you will be working with. Do not include spam with images that may be offensive to others.

Categorizing ...

(refer to Stoner and Perkins chap 4, pp 46 - 58)

Start a new page off the EmailIndex. Spam2005GroupA, etc. This will be your group's workspace.

Read the spam over, making notes of rhetorical features and specific devices you notice.

Start to organize the spam into categories. Here are some possibles:
* by subject or product
* by aim: the spam is attempting to persuade to do what: buy something, visit a site, reveal information about yourself (phishing), something else.
* by apparent audience (as you can infer from the message)
* circumstances: addressing common needs or wants
* by approach (as you gage them at this first pass)
* bait and switch
* too good to be true
* testimony
* ...

Expect to refine or even change these categories as you work. You're attempting to see how the messages will group together.

In your spam workspace, start a heading titled !!Features. Keep running track of features you notice as you read:
* large: subject, organization, paragraphs
* small, fine-grained: sentence length and kinds, curious misspellings, level of formality, notable variations in or deviations from English
* presence of rhetorical figures: metaphor, simile, irony, personification...
* Internet influenced features and devices: images, links to sites, email links, headings and subheadings, bullet lists, page design vs plain text

Draw on the ListOfRhetoricalFeaturesOfEmail to start you out, but add features and devices as you notice them. 'You're not describing any particular spam or category yet; just developing a set of features you notice.' Try to name what you're not sure of. (Later, I'll gather these features to a new page of HandlistOfSpamFeatures for common use.)

... and Describing

Read Stoner and Perkins chap 4, pp 46 - 58.

Once you have roughed out your categories, describe the messages in groups and as a whole.

Start a heading in your workspace titled !!Description, and use as subheadings your category names.

To describe each group, look to both the 'content' of the messages and the 'context'.

As you worked to categorize the messages, you noticed features: specific devices to look at that cause the presumed audience to think in particular ways - features of sentences, words, specific arguments, points of view, topics, and so on. That's what you're looking at now. You have your lists. See also the HandlistOfSpamFeatures.

There will be features in common between categories and there may be differences to take note of. Patterns will emerge, commonalities of messages within the categories will emerge as you work thorough describing. You may see common arguments or common approaches cropping up. Take note of them. Mention them.

Draw on 'the context of the messages' to compose your descriptions, as well. The context is "the relevant and significant social conditions, needs, or symbols, which serve as guidelines for interpreting the messages" (S&P p 54). Context includes a consideration of similar messages. Context can also include the relationships between the rhetor and audience as you as a balcony observer can determine. Refer to S&P pp 54 - 58.

Look towards the implicit agreement being made between rhetor and audience as it's generally inferable in the message. look to the relationship the message seems to create between the two
* I have product. You are interested. I provide, you consume.
* If you accept what I say, buy my stuff, you will become rich, better, fulfilled...

Look to the states of mind of rhetor and audience, and to the circumstances in which a reader encounters the message. Again, keep to what you can infer from the message and from your balcony understanding of how people encounter these messages
* in the inbox with loads of other messages
* reader may be in a rushed mood, or casually browsing, or suddenly curious

* You're seeking in your descriptions to characterize your collection of spam as a whole, and to characterize each category.
* Note the arguments and devices that are not present.
* Draw on what you know of communication, rhetoric, writing to help you describe the messages.
* Relationships between messages will emerge. Describe them; characterize them.
* Assume a balcony view. Use neutral - descriptive - language, and start drawing on the lists of features for precision.

Work from a set of notes towards organizing your descriptions. Notes are initial observations in no particular order. But to characterize the messages, those initial observations need to be ordered, given some meaningful structure. Two techniques commonly used are concept maps and bullet lists. And you an include bullet lists in your final description, but seek to characterize the category of spam.

And finally, advice from Stoner and Perkins, p 67
-> Inherent in precise description is a kind of analysis.... [D]escription and analysis are related and you will often find that some preliminary analysis happens as you work on description. That's good, and you should be preparted to notes ideas and message characteristics that merit further investigation when you intentionally begin the analysis of the message. However ... don't loose control when describing the message.

Use a plan.

Get started in class. Members of your group will have to revisit your working page over the weekend to refine and reorganize and edit your descriptions, ready for our next class meeting.

Use wiki writing techniques to coordinate your efforts.


for the week of Oct 3.
* Stoner and Perkins, chap 5.
* Stoner and Perkins, chap 9. Valuable in this chapter will be Arrangement (144 - 147), and Three forms of proof: ethos, pathos, logos (148 - 153). You'll need these concepts as the search model for this project.

Drawing on your description, and using a search model drawn from the forms of proof, conduct an analysis of your spam. In the course of describing, you may have already discovered a question, an issue, something that you want to work with here. To get your analysis started, it helps to creatively construct a question by drawing on your experience in describing and your general knowledge of the world.

For instances,
* Spam is a genre, a sub-genre of email (like the deliberative and the epideictic are genres). So, what kinds of arguments - what uses of the forms of proof - characterizes spam as a genre?
* Perhaps spam has a cred problem. So, what does it do to deal with that? How do the different kinds of spam vary in dealing with it?
* Do your categories of spam show similar rhetorical patterns, similar or different uses of the forms of proof? Is there something typical of the entire set?
* Any common and interesting argument patterns you find? The bait and switch? The overstated promise? Others?
* What's missing? Are there forms of proof that seem to be missing or nearly so?

Your question might be more specific because the good starting points come of the particulars you noticed in describing.

But, no matter what question you start with, be aware that better questions and directions might occur as you work. Analysis is creative, not formulaic, and so the process itself tends to prompt new insights and suggest new directions.

The aim of analysis is
-> to teach us something
-> new and useful
->-> about a message or set of messages
-> systematically discovering and identifying
->-> the various parts of the message
-> articulating their relationships to one another.

We have a lot to learn about spam.

Watch for
* Maintaining a balcony view. In analyzing, as in describing, you are outside the rhetorical exchange.
* Moving too quickly into interpretation. Analysis focus on the parts and patterns rather than their significance. Moving to interpretation too quickly can block analysis with unwarranted conclusions. You might want to create a !! Interpretation heading in your workspace so you can keep notes on possible interpretations. Signals: "This might mean..." Analysis shows a use of the search strategy terms.
* Analysis might include some reasoned speculation of context and motives, but it stays focused on the messages rather than the parties involved.
* Keep S&P near by. It's difficult to keep all the concepts you're working with in the front of your mind as you work. Refer to the long terms memory of the text.

SummaryReport: Optional
on Tuesday Oct 11, for Thursday
As a group, compose a report on what you have discovered (Go to your group's spam page and start a [=*SummaryReport=] page. The page can be informal, and can include a section of interpretation (mark this as interpretation so I can get a sense of how your group handles this).

You might be able to compile the report by drawing together and commenting on the main points your analysis has uncovered - and considering the significance of those points. This summary report as an opportunity for you, as a group, to compare personal notes on what you found and, as individuals, to explain what those findings suggest.

You can use the report to guide your presentation.

This report on your work and what you have found becomes part of the wiki that others will use in the future.

Thursday, Oct 13
As a group, present the fruits of your analysis to the class, using a chart, handout, illustration, concept map, ... to illustrate what you have discovered. 10 mins. Present what you found in analysis, but you can be moving into interpretation - the significance of what you've found - too.

Interpretation: Do it yourself spam, Oct 18.
Stoner and Perkins, chap 6.

Each student individually creates a piece of spam that draws on your group's analysis and study of spam. Print it out without comment. You will be posting it in the classroom and we will circulate for a studio review.


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