digital inquiry

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To start this semester I asked you to analyze texts in accordance to their persuasiveness. By identifying what draws our attention to multimedia texts, we have come to understand that the very essence of argument extends beyond the confines of traditional media — and certainly far beyond the limitations of oration that Aristotle originally envisioned. Arguments exist everywhere: in print advertisements, in newspaper articles, inYoutube videos, and even in Facebook and Twitter content.

We have acknowledged this week, however, that medium does matter. The use of images, visuals, and sound in arguments greatly affects its persuasiveness — in ways both positive and negative. We simply cannot analyze a text on the basis of its use of rhetorical devices: we must consider the use of medium too, and we must ask ourselves if the medium being used is most effective for the text’s intended purpose.

We have also acknowledged this week, just as it was asserted by Ephron in the “Boston Photographs,” that we must additionally consider social context. It’s not enough to just analyze a text in accordance to the rhetorical strategies popularized by Aristotle, Rogers, and Toulmin: we must also analyze a text in accordance to what happens after the audience is persuaded. We don’t just read or watch material and simply consume it for ourselves; we like, we comment on, and we share information that we find persuasive. In this recognition, we must also recognize the need to look at texts not in the sealed vacuum of a rhetorical analysis but instead in the continuum of a cultural analysis. Just like the Boston photographs, it was the context that defined the audiences’ reactions and not the images themselves.

It is the inclusion of analyzing both medium and context that defines the digital inquiry. The goal of this essay, therefore, is quite a bit different from the rhetorical analysis. You are writing this essay not to analyze a text’s use of rhetorical devices but instead its cultural significance or social impact. The emphasis is not on what makes a text persuasive but instead what happens after the audience is persuaded. As such, our methodology differs quite a bit. To help you answer these questions, consider:

  • What medium was used to distribute the text? Is it a newspaper op-ed? A YouTube video? A print advertisement? Considering the significance of medium makes up a significant bulk of what this essay is all about, and it’s up to you to decide how significant the distribution method affected the text’s construction.
  • Who is the text’s intended audience? Who published the text says a lot about its intended audience and its goals. A news op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or Washington Post can differ quite significantly in tone, structure, and purpose — even if covering the same topic or subject matter. Sometimes this might be harder to identify (and that’s partially the challenge of this essay assignment), but by utilizing some of the strategies we’ve reviewed over the course of the semester — as well as performing a little bit of research — it can definitely be done.
  • What is that intended audience likely to believe regarding the specific topic or subject matter? By identifying who the text is being primarily distributed to, we can think about what ideas the text is very likely going to promote, oppose, or in some way respond to. Be imaginative. Consider age groups, demographics, and political orientations. Anything that you can think of that is relevant to the subject matter is on the table to be included.
  • Does the text in any way seek to change the perspective of their intended audience? Does the text in any way seek to reinforce or oppose their preexisting views?

No matter what approach you take with your digital inquiry, just remember that the goal is NOT to evaluate a text in accordance to its persuasiveness but instead its cultural significance and medium specificity. It is the combination of these two endeavors — a media specific analysis and a cultural analysis — that defines the digital inquiry essay assignment. As such, your digital inquiry essay should unfold over three primary stages:

  1. defining who produced the text and for what purpose (giving a cursory summary of its main features — no rhetorical analysis needed)
  2. establishing where the text was distributed, including its choice of medium, and who its primary audience would be (and the preexisting beliefs of that audience)
  3. identifying how the text would be consumed, explaining what cultural beliefs or ideas are being transmitted through the text and how the audience would react to that information (ideally in the form of a reinforcement or rejection of these beliefs).

The ultimate goal of such an analysis is to recreate the “moment” surrounding the text’s construction. The inclusion of cultural codes, stereotypes, or any other cultural markers in your analysis is heavily encouraged. Due to the more complex nature of this assignment, you are expected to perform some research and include some additional, secondary sources to help contextualize the primary text’s construction.

Though not required, it’s heavily suggested that the text be in some way digital in nature and that it has a large enough argument to evaluate that would fill a paper of this length. Your paper will be graded in accordance to the rubric provided: on the depth of your analysis, including a brief overview of the text for comprehension’s sake; your ability to decipher and break down cultural codes; and your adherence to the parameters denoted in Rules for Writers regarding proper grammar, syntax, and MLA documentation.

Required 1000+ word count. Due December 10 @ 11:59 pm.

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