Share Course Ware
Social Studies > Writing and Humanistic Studies > Rhetoric
 Rhetoric  posted by  duggu   on 12/26/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
Further Reading
More Options

Strang, Steven, 21W.747-1 Rhetoric, Fall 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Statue of Socrates sitting, clear blue sky in background.

A statue of Socrates in Athens, Greece. (Image courtesy of Duncan Hull [dullhunk].)

Course Highlights

This course features detailed descriptions of its assignments and an extensive list of readings. Links to other rhetoric Web sites are also available in related resources.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to the history, the theory, the practice, and the implications (both social and ethical) of rhetoric, the art and craft of persuasion. This semester, many of your skills will be deepened by practice, including your analytical skills, your critical thinking skills, your persuasive writing skills, and your oral presentation skills. In this course you will act as both a rhetor (a person who uses rhetoric) and a rhetorician (one who studies the art of rhetoric).

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.



Course Overview

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the art and craft of discourse; it is the study and creation of effective communication and persuasion. Studying rhetoric teaches us not only how to write persuasively but also how to understand the rhetorical efforts of others. Understanding rhetoric gives us the means of judging whose opinion about issues is the most accurate, useful, or valid, because such knowledge allows us to see beyond the persuasive techniques to the essence of the opinions. Further, understanding rhetoric is the best way of understanding the assumptions of and the points made by those who disagree with our positions. Further still, understanding rhetoric is the best way for us to deepen and refine our own positions and beliefs by exploring our own assumptions and our cultural contexts. In short, rhetoric teaches us how to find the limits of our own positions, how to argue effectively against others' positions, and how to create powerful and persuasive arguments for our own beliefs.

At its best, rhetoric is used ethically by people of good will who wish to present their ideas forcibly but fairly to their communities. At its worst, however, rhetoric is used unethically by people to manipulate us instead of enlightening us, to spread propaganda instead of seeking truth, to make palatable those ideas and products whose adoption actually runs counter to our best interests. Understanding rhetoric, then, is our best defense against its abusers - e.g., political "spin doctors," advertisers, demagogues, apologists for immoral business practices, and hate mongers. Using rhetoric in an ethical manner is our best method for becoming agents for positive change in our society.

Required Texts

Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of RHETORIC: The Quest for Effective Communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. ISBN: 1405112379. (Henceforth abbreviated as RHETORIC.)

Jacobus, Lee A. A World of Ideas: Essential Reading for College Writers. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin's, 2006. ISBN: 0312434448. (Henceforth abbreviated as IDEAS.)

Additional Texts

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. Current Issues and Enduring Questions. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin's, 2002. ISBN: 0312390130.

Crowley, Sharon, and Debra Hawhee. Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Pearson/Longman, 2004. ISBN: 0321172760.

Foss, Karen. Readings in Contemporary Rhetoric. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 2002. ISBN: 1577662067.

Strike, Kenneth A., and Pamela A. Moss. Ethics and College Student Life: A Case Study Approach. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003. ISBN: 0130931012.


This course is an introduction to the history, the theory, the practice, and the implications (both social and ethical) of rhetoric, the art and craft of persuasion. This semester, many of your skills will be deepened by practice, including your analytical skills, your critical thinking skills, your persuasive writing skills, and your oral presentation skills. In this course you will act as both a rhetor (a person who uses rhetoric) and a rhetorician (one who studies the art of rhetoric).

"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him (sic); another comes to your defense; another aligns himself (sic) against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress." - Kenneth Burke. (Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 3rd ed. revised. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973, pp. 110-111. ISBN: 0520024834.)

"I imagine good teaching as a circle of earnest people sitting down to ask each other meaningful questions. I don't see it as the handing down of answers." - Alice Walker (Walker, Alice. Meridian. Fort Washington, PA: Harvest Books, 2003, p. 206. ISBN: 0156028344.)


  • Written work must be emailed to me before the class meeting when it is due. Email it to me as a Microsoft® Word attachment (no other format) plus copy-and-paste it into the email itself. Work not emailed to me before class will receive a late penalty.
  • During class, cell phones must be turned off and laptops must remain closed.
  • You should contribute at least one entry to the online class forum each week.
  • Assignments are explained in detail, available in assignments.


This course requires your attendance, participation, and on-time production. I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused cuts: if you are not in class, you are not contributing.

  • There are 3 penalty-free cuts; save these for illness, religious reasons, job interviews, etc.
  • The 4th cut lowers your final course grade by 10 points; the 5th cut lowers it by an additional 20 points (i.e., a total of 30). The 6th cut means automatic failure for the course, regardless of your average or the reason for the absences - No Exceptions.
  • You must be on time for class. Class starts at 12:30 p.m. and ends at 2:00 p.m. Being more than 10 minutes late or having to leave class early will count as a cut.

Written Work

Forum Entries

Just about every class session leaves some ideas unspoken, some questions unasked, some concerns unaddressed. The forum on the class Web site is the place for speaking those ideas, asking those questions, and expressing those concerns. Everyone should post at least one meaningful entry each week (14 entries will earn you 5 points; no entries will earn you 0 points). These postings might be responses to questions or comments made by other students or by me, or they might raise a new topic. Rhetoric is everywhere around us, so some of your entries might point to articles in current newspapers, journals, the Tech, etc. that use particular rhetoric strategies and devices or that raise issues related to the texts that are assigned for class.


As the writer, bring a written list of specific questions about your content and organization. As a reader, give specific advice about how to deepen and clarify ideas, organization, etc.

Critical Reflections (CR)

Everyone writes the 1st Critical Reflection (CR). After that, you must write 2 additional CRs during the semester. Since students will have different interests as well as different schedules of exams, presentations etc. in other classes, I will leave it up to you to decide which 2 CRs you write. It is probably not a good idea to wait until the last 2 possibilities to write your 2 CRs. You must use the CR topics listed for each reading in the syllabus above.

  • No CR will be accepted after the text has been discussed in class - No Exceptions.
  • Any CR may be revised once as an Optional Revision (follow the instructions for Optional Revision for Major Essays - visit the MIT Writing Center, 250 additional words in boldface.

Major Essays (ME)

The topics for your 2nd and 3rd Major Essays must be taken from the "Connections" questions that follow each essay (at the end of the "Suggestions for Writing").

Versions: Each ME must have 2 versions, and you have the option of writing a third:

  • Complete Workshop Draft: Only your peer's comment on this version.

  • Mandatory Revision: Decide how many (if any) of the suggestions made by your workshop group to incorporate; then fine-tune and tweak the essay. I grade each Mandatory Revision.

  • Optional Revision: If you wish, you may revise any Mandatory Revision once as an Optional Revision, but if and only if you consult with the Writing Center before the due date for the Optional Revision (and give me the yellow form from the Center) - I count the higher grade.
    • An Optional Revision must have a minimum of 250 additional words that are boldfaced and that develop your existing ideas more fully and/or add new ideas.
    • At least 14 days before the due date for the Optional Revision, go online and schedule an appointment at the MIT Writing Center
    • I will not correct any Optional Revision unless you have consulted the Writing Center. No exceptions (including "I couldn't find an appointment"). It is your responsibility to make an appointment early or to keep checking the online scheduler for cancellations.

Expectations for Critical Reflections and Major Essays

Each CR and ME should be a well-written, coherent essay that takes a position and defends it by using close analysis of the author's text, quotations from the text, and examples and personal experience drawn from your own knowledge. There is no need for research unless a particular question requests it. CRs and MEs are intended to give you training in thinking and writing the way ancient rhetors thought and wrote-emphasizing logical demonstration and arguing from principles while putting very little emphasis on expert testimony or statistics.

Ways of Developing a Critical Reflection or Major Essay

The "Suggestions for Writing" are phrased as prompts rather than as outlines for a complete answer. In other words, simply answering each part of the question is not enough. You need to give examples (quotations from the essay, explanations of your own personal experiences when appropriate). It's a good idea to consult "Writing About Ideas" (IDEAS, 833-852) if you feel stuck. After each assertion that you make, ask yourself

  • "How do I know that?" and write an answer to your question - your answer will become part of your essay.
  • "What are the implications of my assertion?" Add them and explain them in your essay.
  • "Is there a point beyond which I would not support my own idea?" If yes, you need to explain what those limitations are and why you impose them.
  • "What assumption(s) am I making here?" and write an answer to that question.
    • Then ask yourself, "Is this an assumption that my readers will accept without question?" (i.e., is your assumption a "commonplace" or is it an idea that you will have to explain and perhaps defend?)
    • What principle(s) am I appealing to here - Ethical? Legal? Etc. Make those principles explicit in your essay
  • "What kind(s) of appeal am I making-to logos and/or ethos and/or pathos? And should I add more?"


All out-of-class written work must be typed (no credit if handwritten). All out-of-class written work (Critical Reflections, Major Essays, Final Speech) must be emailed to me before the beginning of class on the day they are due; an automatic penalty if it is not.

  • All CRs and MEs must have page numbers and must have meaningful titles (this is also true for the emailed versions)
  • The top of the first page of each written assignment must follow this format (this is also true for the emailed versions) (PDF)

Criteria for Evaluating Your Essays

Your CRs and MEs will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Ideas, arguments, and analyses are interesting, insightful, and relevant
  • Complexity of the issue is acknowledged and explored
  • Assumptions (explicit or implicit, theirs and yours) are explicitly explained
  • You actively engage with ideas and with opposition's counter-arguments
  • Key concepts are defined and explained
  • Audience is accommodated
  • Essay and paragraphs are coherent
  • Evidence is varied, effective, and appropriate
  • Rhetoric (strategies, techniques, style) and ethics are used effectively and accurately
  • Thesis is clear and explicit, and paragraphs have explicit topic sentences
  • Instructions for the assignment are fulfilled
  • Prose is varied, clear, accurate, concise, essentially error free
  • MLA Format is used - in-text citations and a Works Cited page

Your Readers

For CRs and MEs, assume that you are writing to a mixed audience - before reading your essay, some readers are skeptical about your thesis, some readers are undecided about it, others are hostile to your thesis, some are indifferent to it, and some agree with it. Your readers include students from other comparable universities, so you cannot simply allude to our class discussions.

For speeches, your listeners are the people actually in the room with you - namely, your fellow students and me.


I correct the way technical editors do - namely, I correct the first occurrence of an error and explain how to fix it, then I leave it up to you to go through the rest of your essay and make similar corrections.

There are no penalty-free extensions. Please do not ask. If you have to pass something in late, then you have to pass it in late. There will be a 10% penalty for each class meeting that the assignment is late (so an assignment that is worth 10 points would lose 1 point; an assignment that is worth 30 points would lose 3 points).

I use an easy-to-figure system: Each task is worth a certain number of points which, when all added together, equal 200 points. So your total number of points is equal to the following to determine your course grade:

180-200 A
160-179 B
140-159 C
120-139 D
75 F
Not Turned In 0

Here are the values of each activity:

1st Major Essay (Sophist) 35
2nd Major Essay ("Connection") 35
3rd Major Essay ("Connection") 40
Critical Reflection 1 20
Critical Reflection 2 20
Critical Reflection 3 20
Final Persuasive Speech (Oral + Written) 20
Class Forum Entries, Class Participation, etc. 10
Total 200

I do not round averages up-so, if your final point total is 179.9 points, your grade is still a B+.

Extra Credit Possibilities


Write an additional Critical Reflection (i.e., a 4th one or a 5th one - no more than 2 extra credit CRs)

  • You can not write 2 Critical Reflections on the same essay.
  • As with all written work, the extra credit CR must be emailed to me before the class on which it is due. No exceptions.
  • An extra credit CR will add a "half value" to your total points (if the extra credit CR earns a C or better): i.e., if the extra credit CR earns an A (normally worth 19 pts), I will add 9.5 points to your final point total; if a B, 8.5 points; if a C, 7.5.


If you have no cuts for the whole semester, I will add 5 points to your point total. Only 1 cut for the whole semester, I will add 3 points to your point total.


In all academic writing, then, you must give citations each time you use

  • Someone else's ideas
  • Someone else's words
  • Someone else's phrasing
  • Someone else's unusual information

Further, you show appropriate respect for other writers and thinkers by giving them credit for their ideas, their structures, their phrasings, and their information. In Western culture, not giving credit is an insult as well as an act of dishonesty.

In other words, never take credit for someone else's words, ideas, or style (this prohibition includes material found on the Web). Although the material on the Web is free, you did not create it; someone else thought it, researched it, wrote it-and that someone must be given credit.

There are 4 guidelines for using sources in your academic writing:

  • Unless a professor explicitly requests a paraphrase or unless you are translating a sophisticated technical source into language for the layperson, there is never a good reason to paraphrase a source - either summarize it in your own words or quote it exactly.
  • When you quote, quote exactly, use quotation marks, and cite the source.
  • When you use information that might not be considered common knowledge, cite the source.
  • When in doubt, always give a citation. Citing sources enhances your ethos with your readers.

In sum, your essays should always be your own work (but you are encouraged to seek writing advice from the Writing Center and from workshops). Your essays should always be your new work created specifically for this course. Using work written for other courses will result in an unchangeable zero.



Below is a list of topics covered in the course with their associated class sessions. Key dates are also listed; they correspond to the writing assignments due on those particular days.

(Note: Students were required to turn in a total of three critical reflections only. Only the first critical reflection was mandatory; the second and third ones were turned in depending on which critical reflections each student chose.)

Please see readings and assignments for more detailed information about the course calendar.

Introduction to the Course
1 Introduction to Course  
Introductions to Each Other and Plato
2 Speeches of Introduction  
3 Discussion: Plato, Sophists, and Rhetoric  
4 Discussion 1st Critical Reflection due
5 Discussion (cont.)  
6 Discussion (cont.)  
7 No Class, but Reading Assigned  
8 Workshop Major Essay 1 due
Rhetoric and Ethics
9 Discussion Mandatory Revision of Major Essay 1 due
Rhetoric and Government
10 Discussion Critical Reflection due
11 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
12 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
13 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
Rhetoric and Justice
14 Workshop Major Essay 2 due
15 Discussion Critical Reflection due
16 Discussion (cont.) Mandatory Revision of Major Essay 2 due
17 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
Rhetoric and Ethics (cont.)
18 Discussion Critical Reflection due
19 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
20 Workshop Major Essay 3 due
21 Discussion (cont.)  
22 Discussion (cont.) Mandatory Revision of Major Essay 3 due
23 Discussion (cont.) Critical Reflection due
Rhetoric and Oral Presentations
24 Speeches Begin Last day to turn in Optional Revision of Major Essay 2
25 Speeches (cont.) Typed version of Final Persuasive Speech due
26 Speeches (cont.)  

Speeches End

Wrap-up Activities

Last day to turn in Optional Revision of Major Essay 3   Tell A Friend