Markup Guide #

This page strives to guide you through the process of marking up texts, with a slight focus on the kinds of essays that you will be producing for this class. The goal is that this would aid reading speed and comprehension, but more importantly that it allows you to identify particular rhetorical strategies that you may use them in your own writing.

When we read essays for this class, it is rare that we read them solely to absorb their message. Like poems, essays use specific linguistic strategies to attract and sustain readers’ interest. These mechanisms are analogous to those of “poetics,” but are often categorized under the art of “rhetoric,” or persuasion. Being aware of these rhetorical mechanisms every time you read can help you fluently integrate those which are particularly powerful and avoid those which are less serviceable in your own writing.

Ethos + Pathos #

Rhetoric comes from the Greek word ῥήτωρ (root verb εἴρω, “I speak”), meaning speaker, orator, statesman, or judge. Aristotle identified three categories of rhetoric: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos can be thought of as the character—which includes moral beliefs and general knowledge—of the speaker. Pathos can be thought of as the emotions that the listener brings with them. In the context of the classroom, it might seem like the logos—the quality of the words and arguments themselves—is all that matters. After all, you produce written works for class, and these are designed to be read at a distance, at different times. Yet the environmental aspects of oratory don’t just disappear with the invention of writing. We might still reasonably ask: Do you trust the writer? Are you feeling relaxed and receptive as you read this? How can we, when we write, foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the (imagined) reader and the writerly voice we construct? Whether real or imagined, the relationship between reader and writer continues to activate all texts.

Thinking about ethos and pathos is thus necessary to the production of strong logos, especially in the modern age. When we engage in oral conversation, much of what we communicate is not verbal content, but what cognitive scientists call “backchanneling”—gestures like nods to show we are following, or phatic words like “mhm” or “yeah.” When you see your friend nod and smile a lot, you’re more likely to continue on your current train of thought. If they seem cold or confused, you might pause or ask for a response, and the direction of the conversation shifts. You can see how much the background attitudes of speaker and listener—roughly analogous to ethos and pathos—can alter the shape of a conversation’s “narrative arc,” “plot,” or “argument.” Now, let’s try to see how this works in essays. Here’s a battery of questions to ask:

    • What’s the role of the opening paragraph in this essay? We say it introduces, but what does it introduce? Background information, yes—but why, and in what way?
    • Does the speaker attempt to show their knowledge or their values? Does the speaker bring a particular emotion with them? Would you like to meet this person, or is the question of their identity irrelevant? If not, what is relevant to you?
    • What attitudes and affective states do you bring to the reading? Do you need a jolt of energy, or something soothing to calm you down? Does the essay itself seem to bring a certain expectation of how you might behave? Do you think it requires a learned reader? Does it speak to people of a similar “status” or an “in-group”? How would you define its audience?

Now, to markup: highlight sentences that lead you to a response to any of these questions, and jot down: ETHOS: [—]. Fill in the blank with whatever comes to mind. Here’s a sample list: “interested in the environment, learned.” Here’s another: “critical.” Here’s yet another: “absorbed, quick-witted.” You can do the same with PATHOS, but it may be even simpler to denote: “✓” and “!” and “?” and “:)” and “>:(” can designate how you react to specific highlighted moments. You can also write a separate brief description of your mood prior to the reading of the text, and of what has led you here (“assigned for class,” “found while surfing JSTOR on friday night,” “sent to me by my crush,” etc.) Do the same after reading, in an effort to reconstruct the ethos of the speaker and your updated pathos. What kinds of things is this person interested in studying and why? What values and proclivities led to their particular conclusion? How do I feel about the conclusion: interested, excited, overjoyed, bored, underwhelmed—what does that say about my own values and preferences?

Ethos + Pathos = Logos #

The above markup directives may feel pretty natural and fun, but they aren’t in themselves enough to help you learn how to write better—not without attention to the particular bits of language you chose to highlight or react to. Take a moment to look over what you’ve marked up. What kinds of language are you finding? Do you have more highlights on sentences that being with prepositions or “transition words,” or on sentences with particularly vibrant verbs, nouns, or adjectives? Can you connect specific emotional states with particular sentence structures or types of words? Some example statements below—

  • The word "moreover" is soothing to me.
  • I get a spike of energy when I see a barrage of questions.
  • The author seems pompous whenever she uses the phrase "indeed."
  • The typos on page 26 and 30 makes me feel like the author wrote this really quickly and that his editors didn't even care to read the whole thing.
  • The paper begins with a conjunction. I find this disorienting but inviting.
  • The use of lists and parataxis in this essay fits the subject matter (Whitman's poems) and increases my trust that the author really "gets" Whitman.
  • The frequent use of quotation gives me the impression that this author is very detail oriented, or that she has a prodigious memory.
  • The author keeps citing dictionary entries to explain simple terms to me, which make me feel like he thinks I'm really naïve.

By the end of this process, you should be more aware of some of the smaller details in language—from syntactic structure to the use of “transition words” and the like—which you may not be consciously aware of as you read and write, but which are just as crucial as those little “uh-huh"s and nods which facilitate conversation.

Fractal Logos #

Still, these little pieces of markup may form a random pile and do not show you how the structure of an essay is formed. How do we know it when we are reading an good argument? How do we figure out how to construct and write up a good argument? Is it all just a random walk, or can you do some overhead planning?

Good essays, like everything else in the natural world, form a fractal structure. We can approach logos—i.e., good argumentation— from the standpoint of the relations between paragraphs, the relationships between sentences, and even between words and sounds. Let’s just focus on the first two levels for now, in reverse order:

  1. Sentence-to-sentence – Identify a sentence in each paragraph that stands out to you as most important. Most paragraphs contain meaningful "cores," which may be found at the beginning or towards the end. Ask yourself what this "core" does. Does it label or sum up the paragraph's main message? Does it create a sense of intrigue and lead into the next paragraph or idea? And how does it relate to the sentences that come before or after?

    Ex: I highlighted the first sentence because all the rest seem to expand on it.

    Ex: This sentence presents a fact but the others that follow question the fact. Is is really as simple and objective as it seems?

    Ex: I highlighted the question in the center of the paragraph because it ties the fairly self-explanatory initial observation to the more complex one addressed later on.

    Ex: The last sentence here is clearly the thesis statement. It responds to the question that was put forth earlier by putting forth some ideas on how to respond, but doesn’t fully answer it, so we’re compelled to continue reading.

    Ex: I just like this sentence because it’s beautifully written, but complex. I don’t really understand it initially, but the subsequent sentences paraphrase it in different ways, so by the end of the paragraph I do feel like I “get it.”

  2. Paragraph-to-paragraph – Consider the breakpoints between each paragraph as pauses, where the speaker and listener look at one another in order to determine the present state of affairs. Shall we continue onto a new topic, or elaborate upon the current one further? Make margin notes at paragraph transitions. Highlight words and phrases that signal a particular attitude or logical relationship...

    Ex: The author expands on what he means by “triplet” here. The previous paragraph is mainly about how the author’s favorite lines, 4-6, seem to hold the central image of the poem, so its logical to delve into the form here. Furthermore, he signals the change by writing, “In order to…,” which makes it explicit that this paragraph exists ‘in service to’ the previous one.

    Ex: Both of the two previous paragraphs and the current one begin with the word “This.” It feels like he’s pontificating and has lost track of his audience.

    Ex: Both this paragraph and the previous one develop on the author’s biography. However, the previous one is about her relationship to Imagism and this one is about her later work.

    Ex: The previous paragraph begins with “First,” and this one with “Second.” I appreciate the sequential markers because otherwise I would have no idea why these two observations are related. Is she going to make a connection later on?

    Ex: The paragraph begins with a concession: “By this, I don’t mean to suggest that…” This implies that the author expects her audience to have raised an objection in the previous paragraph, where she proposes a new term. I think this is an important paragraph because it responds to my skepticism of her attempt to use the word “fiction” to describe poetry.

  3. Whole Essay – This is a kind of paragraph-to-paragraph analysis, but non-local. How does the essay begin, and how does it end? Do you nod your head in assent afterwards, after having begun with trepidation or suspicion? Do you walk away in disgust, because you are disappointed or offended by its close? Not much to mark up here, but you can produce some quick reflections:

    Ex: I liked the move from objective to inclusive language at the end—the “we"s felt very powerful, but the rich descriptions in the beginning helped me get absorbed with the material and established trust as I knew the author had a really strong command of the material.

    Ex: I expected a descriptive report of this poem’s use of line and meter but was pleasantly surprised to find the author’s interpretations of how all those details pertained to the poet’s biography. It made the piece feel more personally relevant to me as a reader.

    Ex: The parallelism between the first and last paragraphs was quite effective. She begins with a quote, and ends with the same quote. But the quote feels entirely different the second time around, and it really demonstrates how much I’ve learned after having read the essay.

    Summary #

    OK, so you’ve read through this and want a summary of how to mark up texts for rhetorical devices, so that you can submit your slack comments for class.

    Highlights – there are three major types—those pertaining to PATHOS, those pertaining to ETHOS, and those pertaining to LOGOS. Sometimes they intersect. Pathos—things you react to. Ethos—things that relate to your impression of the author. Logos—Specific sentences that you identify as “cores,” as well as pieces of language that stand out to you because of how they make you feel.

    Notes – Describe how these highlights make you feel, how they relate to adjacent sentences, or how their linguistic structures correlate with their meaning/effects. You don’t have to write notes on every highlight. Try writing notes on one highlight of each type. Then decide on what element of rhetoric you’d like to focus on. Then write notes for several if not all of the highlights you’ve made under that category.

    Zero #

    These are directives for the slack comments in #rhetoric.

    Read the article without marking it. If it’s very long, stop whenever you start to lose focus, and start annotating there, for a page or two. Then go to the beginning, and highlight/notate it more heavily for ethos/pathos. Then go to the end, and mark it for ethos/pathos. If you were able to read the whole thing, reflect on the whole-essay logos. Look over your marginal notes and highlights again, pick one that’s most interesting or helpful to you. Share a screenshot of that page on slack.

    One #

    … And this is how you apply it to your own writing.

    You may have to practice markup fairly regularly or a few times intensely before you begin to employ effective linguistic structures and rhetorical techniques in your own writing with ease. Before getting to that point, you must explicitly apply the structures you find and admire in your own writing. Mark up at least the first two paragraphs of your essay drafts going forward to check if things are going alright.

    Getting a grasp of rhetoric will also help you discuss texts more readily in class!

    Beyond #

    Try marking up texts you admire that aren’t essays, like stories, novels, journalistic writing, memoirs, tweets, product reviews, and of course, poetry. See how well the techniques generalize. Think about the differences between rhetoric and poetics. Are all good poems rhetorically successful? If not, how, and why do you think this is the case? Are all rhetorically successful arguments poetic? If not, why is this so? What are your goals as a writer, and what do you prefer to read—texts of a more rhetorical or poetic nature?

Last update: 5/22/2023
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