Yes, you should major in Rhetoric and Writing

by Ben Sapet

Let’s talk about one of Ball State English’s least understood, but most practical concentrations: rhetoric and writing.

You might have seen some of the writing and rhetoric buzz words like discourse, theory, and even rhetoric itself, and been left scratching your head—and you wouldn’t be alone. I spent my entire first semester and a half as a writing and rhetoric major not really knowing what I had decided to study.

What is rhetoric?

To wrap our heads around writing and rhetoric I’ll first put out my personal definition of rhetoric (though defining rhetoric has kept scholars in a tizzy since before Plato wore sandals).

Rhetoric includes more than just persuasive language. All the ways we communicate and express ourselves are rhetoric. For example, rhetoric lives in your Twitter feed, in conversations with your friends, and in the design of a book’s cover—it’s everywhere.

It’s everywhere and it’s complicated; rhetoric gets all tangled up in different contexts and the choices people make reacting to those contexts. When we study rhetoric, we try to untangle the context and choices that give our communications their meaning.

Studying writing and rhetoric means:

  •     Developing the skills to analyze other people’s communications down to the most microscopic details
  •     Reading into how specific details affect meaning   
  •     Understanding the conscious and unconscious choices you make in your writing
  •     Learning to use every detail to make your point

What you’ll study

Much like rhetoric itself, the major is quite open-ended. The bulk of the degree requirements comes from a list of directed electives—meaning my degree in writing and rhetoric might take a very different direction than one of my peers’.

In the writing and rhetoric major you’ll have the option to take courses in:

  •     Technical writing
  •     Document Design
  •     Editing and style
  •     Book arts
  •     Public communications
  •     Emerging media
  •     Communications and Pop Culture
  •     Rhetoric of marginalized voices
  •     Creative nonfiction
  •     And many others!

It’s also worth mentioning that the writing and rhetoric major can easily be combined with another major or several minors to further customize your studies.

What you’ll gain

If you’re the kind of person who sometimes spends 20 minutes trying to perfect a sentence or if you wrestle with what’s implied by the closing line of your emails, you’re familiar with the kind of rhetorical choices we work within writing and rhetoric classes.

Projects for classes in the writing and rhetoric major are a little different than traditional projects: the goal is not to show what you know, but to communicate information in a way that will best break through to a certain audience.

For example, in a project for Intro to Writing and Rhetoric, the class was asked to turn our six-week study of rhetoric in ancient Greece into a digital document to help introduce future students to the study of rhetoric.

It’s refreshing and challenging to have so much control over the work you do. It forces you to think critically about the best ways to create and convey your meaning. It’s a bit intimidating to move away from traditional rigid instructions, but not many real-world problems give you an assignment sheet leading you right to their solution.

Rhetoric and the Real World

The real world comes up a lot when we talk about studying writing and rhetoric. Most of our assignments involve the critical problem solving of wondering “how can I reach this audience?” or even “who will this reach?” and “what must I accomplish with this?”

Being able to ask and answer these questions feels like a superpower; you’re able to look straight through the things you see, watch, and read, without being a passive audience. 

Superpower, eh? Don’t believe me. Read this post by #bsuenglish alum Amory Orchard

Understanding writing and rhetoric doesn’t train you for one particular job: it gives you the skills you’ll need for any job. Writing and rhetoric trains you to be a sharp, flexible reader, writer, and person who’s ready to tackle whatever situations arise in a variety of contexts—what more could an employer want?

Interested? Sign up for ENG 210 Intro to Rhetoric and Writing  MWF at 11 AM or ENG 231 Professional Writing MWF at 1 PM, both with Dr. Laura Romano, the nicest professor you’ve ever met.

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