Understand why analytical and explanatory writing is one of the most important genres of writing in school and professional careers.

Read a variety of analytical and explanatory reports, noting the diversity of audiences, purposes, contexts, media, voices, tone, and personas. Understand the defining characteristics of texts that analyze or explain concepts.

Why Write About Subjects and Concepts?

Writers within disciplines explain subjects and concepts to educate readers about what a field of study knows or assumes to know about a subject. In college, your teachers will frequently ask you to explain subjects and concepts. An important part of your training is learning core concepts and definitions. For example, your literature professor may ask you to define a term like "irony" or "plot," while your writing teacher may focus on rhetorical situation, writing as a process, revision, or plagiarism. Academic integrity, ecoterrorism, survival of the fittest, entropy, law of supply and demand, feminism, postcolonialism--these are examples of concepts that define the work of scholars and researchers within fields.

Diverse Rhetorical Situations

Writers of texts that analyze and explain subjects and concepts are practicing what specialists call "expository writing" or "explanatory writing." Process Writing is another example of expository writing. Whereas authors of process reports ask "How is this done? How can I do this?" authors of reports that explain subjects and concepts ask, "What is this? What are the distinguishing features of this subject or concept? To what class of subjects and concepts does this belong?"

When analyzing and explaining subjects and concepts, authors typically adopt an objective, detached, formal voice. Even if they have strong opinions about the matter under analysis, they hide their thoughts and feelings. They avoid the appearance that they are arguing a value or knowledge claim. They may or may not use secondary research (library or Internet research) or primary research (questionnaires, interviews, or ethnographies). They often assume the persona of expert and their goal is to educate their readers.

Purposes

Audiences

Voices

Media

  • Inform
  • Self
  • General public
  • Friends
  • Objective
  • Essays
  • Books
  • Stories
  • Blogs
  • Email
  • Web sites

Rhetorical Analysis of Online Readings

Consider the context, audience, purpose, and media invoked by the following readings. Also examine how ideas are developed in these texts. Are assertions grounded in personal experience, interviews with authorities, questionnaires, Internet and library research, or empirical research?

  1. Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Arkansas write "What Is Stress" to help teaching assistants, faculty, and staff have a greater sensitivity to the stress that students may experience in college.
  2. Scholars contribute to encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauri to introduce people to their field. See, for example, XRefer, which offers a searchable database of terms across disciplines.
  3. Educators argue about how to define "ebonics" and how "ebonics" should be addressed in public schools. Some define "ebonics" to support arguments about integrating students. Writings on the "Ebonics" issue
  4. Following September 11th, some teachers became concerned about biological weapons and their threat to America. They created a database that enables other teachers and readers to submit essays about biological weapons--and about ways to overcome future terrorist attacks.
  5. Hoping to map and digitize the human body, scientists in the Visible Human Project take varied approaches.
  6. Following the 1948 convention of the American Psychological Association, B.S. Bloom created "Bloom's Taxonomy"--a hierarchy of education objectives based on cognitive research and theory. Bloom's taxonomy defines six kinds of learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  7. To better understand "happiness," a professor creates a World Database of Happiness, which provides a database of 3400 articles on happiness, searchable by topic and author. The database includes five categories: Bibliography of happiness, Catalog of happiness queries,Catalog of happiness in nations, Catalog of happiness correlates, Directory of happiness investigators
  8. National Association for Multicultural Education, a national organization of audiences, publishes a variety of resolutions regarding multicultural education. Writers offer competing definitions of "multicultural education" depending on their communication situations. In "Multiculturalism: Understanding the Concept" by Patsy R. Dunmire, an essay for teachers published in The Pennsylvania Art Educator, Patsy Dunmire writes "Multicultural education is a dialectic between individuals and cultures involving attitudes, strategies, and content." Additionally, Writing for Probe Ministries International, Don Collson outlines some reasons for supporting multicultural education, yet he cautions "By declaring tolerance an absolute, multiculturalists are consistent with their view of reality. They see all human cultures as morally equal because of their faith in a naturalistic world view. This view argues for a godless universe, and recognizes chance as the only possible cause for what exists."
  9. The National Commission Against Drunk Driving says, "The mission of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving is to continue the efforts of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving to reduce impaired driving and its tragic consequences by uniting a broad based coalition of public and private sector organizations and other concerned individuals who share this common purpose."
  10. Rachel Fink, a professor at Mount Holyoke College, and Pat Wadsworth and Rolf Karlstrom, professors at UMass Amherst, provide movies of "In vivo cytoskeletal dynamics of living fish embryos." Hoping to sell their images for classroom uses, CellsAlive provides movies of microbiology