Rhetorically Clever or Weakening? — Yancey’s Rhetorical Decisions in Formatting

As a significant portion of Yancey’s text is concerned with developing students’ awareness of effective delivery and media for rhetorical situations, particularly audiences, I wonder how her own rhetorical decisions (particularly those in format and visuals) fit into this. She uses quite a few images, lengthy marginal comments, and pull quotes to frame her argument. I think it is fair to say that this is intentional and aligns with her own arguments about how writing and rhetoric should be taught. If this is true, what are the functions of these formal features? Does Yancey use “the best medium and the best delivery for such a communication might be” (311)? Of course, this is highly subjective, but it is possible to consider how they function.

For example, do readers stop to examine the images or read the marginal comments? I admit that it was very difficult for me to do this because, I suppose, I am conditioned not to, as this is not a typical genre pattern in academic writing. I am used to reading paragraphs, headings, and perhaps a block quote and/or a chart here and there, but never the extensive amount of images that Yancey employs. I think that breaking these conventions raises powerful questions about why readers are not accustomed to them or why readers value certain rhetorical patterns. I suppose that raising these questions supports her own argument, which would, thus, make the formal choices rhetorically effective. However, can they be rhetorically effective if readers simply pass over them? Isn’t that perhaps the opposite of rhetorical effectiveness? Of course, maybe it was just me who passed over them — perhaps I have a poor attention span or poor reading skills, but I am inclined to think that readers are not so likely to break away from reading a paragraph to read a side though or analyze a picture, particularly without being prompted within a text. This is similar to Adam’s comment on Tuesday about Wysocki and Eilola’s choice not to specfically reference the significance of the pictures until the end — is this really rhetorical effectiveness?

Which leads me into my questions:

1.) What is rhetorically gained/lost in Yancey’s decision to include images, marginal comments, and pull quotes? How do these gains/losses balance out?

2.) How does this format inform your reflection on genre pedagogy?

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3 thoughts on “Rhetorically Clever or Weakening? — Yancey’s Rhetorical Decisions in Formatting

  1. These are insightful questions and I do believe that such formats disturb the flow of the reading but I would refer to my own blog post again here because I think “adapt” is all we have to do. The format of Yancey’s article is quite like that of a (print) magazine article and those that we come across online. So as she assumes that our readers/writers are already becoming familiar with these formats, there is a need that the traditional genres also adapt to the new trends that they do not appear out of date at a certain point in future. Besides, genres are never fixed or straight jacketed so this at the moment might appear to be a liberty taken with the genre but soon it will become a norm.
    Her format is also a sample of what she wants student/writers to do–play with the genres.

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  2. I agree with Neelam that her format disturbs the flow of the essay, but also encourages writers/student to play with genre. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but become distracted by her comments and marginal pull quotes. Maybe this is because I have become so comfortable with standard “essay” we as students are required to adapt within our classes. In this case, Yancy has proved her point on getting students to play with genre and think about formats within genre.

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  3. I really enjoyed the format. I liked that the quotes were not directly from the essay. I felt respected as a reader to make the connections between the “pull quotes” and the essay. I once heard a TED talk about telling stories well and it said that the best stories never say “4”, but always 2+2. Readers/listeners like the challenge of putting the puzzle pieces together. How can writers challenge readers? I think Yancey did that to a certain extent with her format.

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