Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's All Rhetorical


If you've ever applied to grad school, or for a grant, or for an academic job then you know the burdensome weight of developing uniquely difficult and generically insane documents such as cover letters, teaching statements, and etc. One of the toughest elements of this process is getting a sense of your prospective audience.

Case in point: I've spent the last five or six months working diligently on a host of documents for an academic job search. In the early stages I was just trying to come up with my own letters and statements based on samples given to me by friends and former grad students in my department. I struggled mightily! However, after a few drafts one of the amazing members on our professionalization committee suggested I look at job adds in my field from the previous year. This strategy proved immensely helpful, and once the actual jobs started posting for this year I was in a much better position to finish writing and tailoring my documents for specific jobs.

What was the big difference? When I looked at a specific ad from the previous year I had an instant audience in mind as I drafted my letter of interest. After developing a basic idea of what I would need to say to this audience, I was able to revise, refine, and edit that letter until the new jobs started showing up in mid-September, and then I wasn't starting from scratch. Instead, I had a solid document whose every word had been composed with an audience in mind, and I was then able to take the bones of that letter and redress them (I'm still in this process) with new audiences in mind.

The bottom line: Everything's rhetorical! When it comes to any kind of academic writing, what's important is finding a healthy balance between writer, reader, and subject matter, and then being able to compose whatever you're writing in such a way as to demonstrate that rhetorical savvy.

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