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Drafting in Discussion Board


The first sequence in the freshman comp curriculum is rhetorical analysis. Not only did this sequence begin the semester, it was scheduled to be completed in 4-5 weeks. Based on past experience, I had two major concerns: first, that students would resist revision and their final draft would nearly mirror their first; second, that students’ first drafts would be extended summary “beefed up” (as students often say) with clichés and personal opinion. I understood their resistance to deleting and rewriting content due to their concerns with reaching the minimum page count. Therefore, I decided to begin the drafting process in discussion board, hoping they would be more open to substantive revision through the tool’s edit feature in Blackboard.

In the first post, students were asked to select the text they wanted to analyze from the five available options. They were also asked to choose a lens as the focus of their analysis – I did this to avoid “this is an example of ethos / pathos / logos” and the 5-paragraph essay trap. They were asked to begin with the following sentence:

              I am interested in how ___________ works rhetorically.

They were to fill in the blank with one of the following lenses: time, gender, race, narrative, authority (based on readings from Jimmie Killingsworth’s “Appeals in Modern Rhetoric . . .” and previous class discussions).

They were asked to use this sentence to begin their first paragraph. They were also instructed to avoid mentioning the text they were going to analyze in this paragraph – instead they had to introduce their initial understanding regarding how this lens functions as a rhetorical appeal. This was intended to avoid their tendency toward extended summary or opinion based on the topic of the text as opposed to analysis.

In the second paragraph, I asked them to analyze word choice and present a sub-claim that supported the thesis in their first paragraph regarding the rhetorical lens they were interested in analyzing. They were instructed to formally introduce the text and author, then use a direct quote of a single word from the text as an example to prove their point. Following this quote, they were asked to explain how a single word works rhetorically and appeals through the lens expounded upon in the first paragraph. Following this analysis, they were instructed to reveal the rhetorical effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) in this particular example as generalizable.

In the third paragraph, I asked them to draw conclusions based on their short analysis in the second paragraph, not only connecting to but expanding their thesis and revealing the purpose of rhetorical analysis.

The fourth paragraph was reflective. They were asked to reveal the rhetorical situation and the significance of their research steps in contextualizing the argument of the sample text. They were also asked to consider why this information is important for their reader to understand the analysis and to consider what they should include and where should it appear (before or after the analysis paragraph).

In the following class, students were grouped according to common text chosen for analysis. Following a demonstration, they worked together to create a list of rhetorical techniques and examples based on a small section of the text and a starter list of devices (metaphor, antithesis, parallelism, etc.). I worked with each group individually. The discussion that followed was surprisingly dynamic! At the end of class, I presented the next discussion board assignment and demonstrated how to use the editing features.

The prompt was changed for the second discussion board assignment.

  • First, students were asked to compose a paragraph formally introducing the text for analysis, identifying the author and providing a brief summary.
  • Second, students were asked to revise the paragraph discussing the rhetorical lens for their analysis, explaining its relevance to the text they are analyzing and presenting their thesis.
  • Third, students were asked to compose a paragraph analyzing the rhetorical situation and to provide a road map of the analytical discussion to follow.
  • Fourth, students were asked to add five more paragraphs of analysis (in addition to their analysis of word choice from the first post).

I did not ask them to revise their conclusions. Instead, in the following class we discussed what was lacking in the conclusions. We worked together on an example that I provided, focusing on style, organization, and transitions. Then they worked with a partner, revising their posts in real time.

Their homework was to continue the process then cut/paste it into a word document, doing their best to format according to MLA 8th edition. From this point we focused on formatting and quote framing. Students much less resistant to deleting content that was not working, adding or changing the rest, in the discussion board and ended up with a full first draft that met or exceeded the minimum page count. They were also excited about how easily their first major paper came together and experienced writing as a process in a direct and purposeful way.