After reading this (and everything else I write for and to you) you might feel like that guy in the cartoon, and you might think that I’m angry or mean or cranky or something or all of the above. About some things, I am irritated, but in general, I’m not angry; rather, I am frustrated by some of your behavior and concerned about your understanding and performance. 

Your syllabus is clear when it comes to expectations and how much responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders and about what it means to be proactive about your own learning. Since that precedent was set, I don’t know why you think I will virtually write your paper for you by answering your questions about every sentence you write. 

First of all, I understand that you are overwhelmed because the rhetorical analysis essay accounts for a significant portion of your grade, and you are worried that you are not doing it right and that you will get a “bad grade” on it.  I get that, but I am frustrated that you are looking for any and every opportunity to blame someone or something else for the fact that you’re paper isn’t perfect and polished and finished yet. If you waited until this week to ask me questions about the text you are studying when that should have happened a few weeks ago, I hope you learned something from my potentially huffy reaction. I gave you three weeks because I knew it would take three weeks. I told you that. I warned you to start early because…what? Do you remember? What does it say?  

The fact that some of you are asking me what the author’s argument is, or if something is pathos, or if you need a title, or how to do things MLA, or if something is right, or how you should organize your paper, or if you should say this or say that tells me:

  • You are doubting everything we have done.
  • You are doubting everything you have learned (and thus, have not learned it well).
  • You are not confident in your writing.
  • You have never been held to an expectation of quality in your writing before.
  • You do not trust my judgment.
  • You think I don’t know what the writing process is like and how hard it can be.
  • You think I don’t care about you and that I’m trying to ruin your life.
  • You are desperate and whiny.
  • You want me to tell you exactly what to do, which stifles all of the creativity or actual “writing” in this assignment, which defeats the entire purpose.
  • You want me to do your work for you.
  • And most of all, that the only thing you care about is your grade, rather than your growth, which happens to be the thing that I care most about.

Don’t get all offended by this; you know that I call it like I see it and that I don’t sugarcoat. Also, I’m not saying that all of you are acting this way. Plenty of you did start early and have been working hard and have asked smart questions throughout the process, but many of you are acting this way and whether everything on that list applies or not, you are coming across this way, and, to be brutally honest, acting helpless and whiny and complaining about me behind my back to each other and to other teachers (we do talk to each other, you know) is insulting and unbecoming of someone who is nearly an adult and insists on being treated as an adult and who earlier said that he or she took this class because it offers a challenge—an opportunity for growth. Here’s your challenge. Here’s your opportunity for growth.  Please take it and learn and grow from this. What have you learned already?

When, at the beginning of the semester, I told you that not all of you would get As or even Bs. I meant that. It wasn’t a scare tactic and it’s not some unfair system designed to make you fail; it is the simple truth. It’s kind of like the economic principle of scarcity. It’s not that I withhold grades, that’s preposterous and unethical, it’s that not everybody will demonstrate excellence at everything and that’s what an A means: excellence. An A means your analysis was thorough and accurate and insightful and that you wrote with clarity, precision, finesse, and voice. It means you exhibited mastery and excellence of skill. Earning a B means that you met the requirements effectively and wrote very well. Earning a C means that you got the job done; you did what you were asked to do; you met the criteria. Less than that means that you didn’t meet the requirements. 

Rhetorical analysis: you know what this is. You have been in class for almost nine weeks. You know what good writing is. You have handout after handout and you have the assignment sheet and you have plenty of resources. I really do think what you’re missing is confidence, creativity, innovation. You don’t know how to do something without a clear, step-by-step, do-this-then-do-that guide that holds your hand and coos at you. You need to be self-starters. You need to create something of value from a basic directive. You keep trying to conform to my writing “rules” when I really don’t have any rules. You need to write well. You need to be clear. You need to be effective. Those aren’t rules so much as they are general features of good writing. You want rules and I won’t give them to you. This, I think, bugs you. You want me to tell you which paragraph goes where and what you should say in your intro. You want an outline. You want an example. You want a template for which you can fill in the blank. Wouldn’t that be easy? But I’m not going to do that. You wouldn’t learn anything if I did that. 

I didn’t become a writer by asking people to tell me exactly what to do. I became a writer by taking risks, by—the dreaded cliché–thinking outside the box, by trying and re-reading, and failing, by failing a lot, by learning how to edit my own work. I learned to scrap everything I’d written and start over at the 11th hour if that what it would take. This is what I’m trying to teach you. You might not get that yet. You will.

Practical matters: Barring epic failure, this paper is ineligible for revision for a variety of reasons: time constrains being chief among them. These typically take around three weeks to grade and that involves me sacrificing evenings and full weekends to grade them. I put in as much if not more work than you do for these papers. Why? Because this is valuable for you—or, at least it is designed to be—and because I care that you learn, and improve your writing in every way imaginable.  Rhetorical analysis is the core skill of this course and the AP exam. It’s worth the time and effort.

Because it’s worth the time and effort, I practically gave you the whole week to work in class. You’re welcome.  I didn’t give you any homework this week either. Again, you’re welcome. During Power Writing, you didn’t  have any homework either. That was so you could focus on this paper. Over MEA you only had this essay and a paltry little open blog post. That was so you could focus on this paper.

More, there was another group project scheduled for next week. This is cancelled. One more time, you’re welcome.

Next week, you have a vocab quiz on Monday and you will have some homework assignments, but will mostly use the evenings to prepare for your AP Term 1 exam, which is next Friday. There is a multiple-choice component and a writing component; more on this tomorrow and then even more next week. Do not ask me about it now.  Start to prepare this weekend by organizing and reviewing your notes. Collect your materials from your portfolio and review them.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME TIPS REGARDING YOUR FINAL WORK HOURS FOR THE RHETORICAL ANALYSIS ESSAY. (But guess, what? I’ve said them before. Lots of times. Some of you have already done these things.)

TIP #1: Re-read your assignment sheet.
Remember that yellow assignment sheet you tucked in your folder the day after I introduced this essay. Look at it. Again. That assignment sheet is the Bible for the essay, and anything you need to know is there. You see that part where it says: if your essay is boring, I will fail you—don’t forget about the information I taught you about voice and concrete details? I mean that. A huge number of you didn’t have a real introduction when we conferenced. That is boring. You are writers, and real writers are not boring. (Except for Nathaniel Hawthorne, he’s pretty boring sometimes. And Herman Melville, he’s boring all the time.)

TIP #2: You know how you’re telling me how an author is persuasive and effective because of decisions he makes as a writer? THAT WORKS ON YOUR END, TOO.
Just like your author makes conscious decisions about word choice and sentence length and structure of his essay to make a point, YOU will make conscious decisions about word choice and sentence length and structure to make your point. It’s kind of a mind-screw to think about it this way, but they are writers and you are writers. You are not a student just writing an essay for class. You are a writer completing an analysis and explaining your purposes in doing so.

TIP #3: Your audience is not just me, or your friend, or people in this class.
If it were me writing this paper (which it has been in the past), I would pretend that what I was writing now was something that would appear in the New York Times as a response to the piece you’re reading. (Many of you are reading essays/articles from NYT, so this makes sense.) Pretend you’re writing an editorial. Pretend this is going to reach a large audience and that you must keep them entertained and interested to stay on your page. Pretend you are trying to establish your voice and role in this position. You are the authority here. Or, at least you are pretending to be.

TIP#4: The small stuff matters.
That’s why I gave you the writing tools. It especially matters in establishing clarity, but it also matters in establishing voice.  Any kind of “tool” or writing advice you come across should be considered and tried. Ultimately, though, you are the author and it is your voice that carries the work you’re doing. Find that voice.

TIP #5: Re-read your essay and approach it again as a first time reader.
This is difficult to do since you’ve read it so many times, but you must go back with fresh eyes. When you had fresh eyes, the piece made the most impact on you. Think about why you chose this piece over the others. Something about it grabbed you or shook you. The author is writing to you. Go back to the CRJ you completed for your piece. What were your reactions at certain parts? Those reactions happened for a reason. When you agreed with him, something changed in the piece. Was it an alarming statistic? Was it because he threw a bunch of questions at you at once to create an overwhelming feeling? That virgin-you-to-the-piece is what will help you understand what the writer was trying to do. If you look back to something that shocked you and it’s not obvious, start picking apart the text: start looking for the subtleties of the essay. Get into the reader’s head. Anticipate how they (you) react. The author knows his reader–as he was writing, what did HE anticipate the reader would do with a particular idea, statistic, image, etc.?

TIP #6. Get over ethos, pathos, and logos already.
Sigh. I know we discussed this early on, but as I’ve said multiple times, do not organize your essay solely via the classical appeals. These now accompany everything else you have to say. In fact, you could write this essay without the words ethos pathos or logos and still be successful. You don’t have to, but you could. Think instead about all of those rhetorical devices and ideas I we’ve talked about. Remember that gold sheet? If you do use the appeals, explain how they work, how they’re created, what effect they have and why an author might use them.

Tip #7. How is the author persuasiveCannot be answered by: “because he uses ethos, pathos, or logos.”  You must explain HOW ethos, pathos, and logos is established, specifically, and what is does.

  • It’s not “just because” he uses an image. What about the image? What does the image do to the reader, force him or her to think, force him or her to compare or connect the image to? (And it’s not “just because” of the diction (word choice) of the image. What about what particular word choice? Why did the writer chose this word and not another to force a response in his audience?
  • It’s not “just because” of short or long sentences or change in syntax. How do those short or long sentences or changes in syntax cause the reader to react?
  • It’s not “just because” of specific statistics. What about those statistics are especially compelling?
  • It’s not just because he is logical or uses a particular type of reasoning. How does that structure/reasoning force the reader to look at the essay in a different way?
When you answer the above, you are analyzing. If you are not answering questions in that way, then you are not analyzing. Of course, you must explain what the author does, but more of it should be spent analyzing how and why that decision is effective (or not). You’ve heard me say this before. Like, 10,000 times. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said it in this post alone.

Quit whining and doubting yourself and get to work. Polish, proofread, look at the resources I’ve put out there for you. Look for other resources. The College Board website for AP Language and Composition might be a good place to go too (in case you’ve never been there) and for Pete’s sake, quit harassing your other teachers to edit your paper for you; that’s not their job.