Developing a Language for Thinking and Talking about Writing
This document introduces a vocabulary for thinking and talking about writing. We will deploy this vocabulary during the Design Incubation Fellowship.
We read and write all the time. We read the newspaper and student papers. We write emails and give students written feedback on their work. But we don’t always analyze the texts that we consume and produce. Indeed, doing so can be difficult. But during the Design Incubation Fellowship, we’ll be spending a great deal of time analyzing one another’s writing. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, and most obviously, having people read and offer feedback on our writing can help us identify ways to improve it. And second, talking to other people about their writing helps us learn how to analyze texts so that we can, in turn, think more clearly about the writing we produce ourselves. In other words, we can learn how to write by practicing writing, but also by reading and discussing other people’s writing.
As readers, we often have intuitive reactions to texts—we like an article because the topic is interesting or because the argument is persuasive. Similarly, we are annoyed or we dismiss writing if we fail to understand the author’s point or simply aren’t interested in the topic. But there are often logical explanations for our intuitive reactions to texts. Typically, a clearly organized text with a straightforward and well-supported argument will be more powerful than one that is messy, confusing, and weak. This may seem obvious. But it is also instructive. Examining and understanding the mechanics of the texts we read can offer useful insight into how to structure an argument and develop thoughtful and compelling written work of our own.
The structure of writing:
Engaging writing has purpose and structure. Whether a text is intended for a group of experts or a general reader, engaging writing provides carefully organized information that allows the reader to follow and understand the author’s argument. To develop the seeds of a persuasive argument into a finished written piece, you will usually need to include the following parts.
Topic: what the author is writing about.
Claim: the central thesis of the text
Evidence: information that supports the thesis
A claim will typically depend on the presentation of multiple pieces of evidence
Warrant: the reason why the evidence is relevant to the claim
Though the relationship between evidence and claim may often seem self-evident, different readers may have different interpretations. By supplying a warrant, the author can guide the reader’s interpretation.
Counterclaim: a thesis (or multiple theses) that disputes the text’s central claim
Not every argument will incorporate a counterclaim. However, anticipating potential areas of disagreement helps an author make their argument more robust. Counterclaims show that the author has done their research and considered their argument from a variety of perspectives. Addressing counterclaims may also help an author to persuade skeptical readers of the writer’s argument.
Rebuttal: evidence that disputes the counterclaim
So What: the consequences of the claim
Though not every claim need have consequences, the best ones often do. In answering the “so what” question, a writer explains how their claim, once proven, demands that the reader think or act differently.
Even when an author includes all of these pieces, it can still be difficult to follow the argument. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly an author was saying or where an article was going, you know the importance of providing the reader with cues that explain (1) how particular sections fit into the larger purpose of the piece, and (2) what the text has done and what it will do. This is called signposting, and it helps the reader follow an argument throughout the full length of the text, especially in longer pieces of writing:
Signposting: textual clues that map the trajectory of the argument and orient the reader
Signposting can be especially useful in longer texts. They prevent the reader from losing track of the text’s central claim by reminding the reader of what the text has done, what the text is doing, and what the text will do next.
We will use this vocabulary to analyze writing during the Design Incubation Fellowship. While some of this language may be new to you, we’ll practice it as a group on the first day of the fellowship and then deploy it during our workshop breakout sessions on subsequent days.