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“Becoming Rhetorical” in a Changing World

As the University of Idaho’s director of composition for three years, Jodie Nicotra saw the field of composition was changing.

“I began to notice that I was using the prescribed composition textbooks less and less,” she said. “In the digital and social media era, ‘composition’ means more than just writing. It also means creating visual and multimodal compositions like podcasts, infographics and videos.  I wanted a book that taught people to analyze as well as compose in a lot of different mediums.”

Nicotra, associate professor of the Department of English, decided to address the issue of learning how to be sensitive to the needs of different audiences and communication situations in today’s rapidly changing media community in her new textbook, “Becoming Rhetorical: Analyzing and Composing in a Multimedia World.”

“Becoming Rhetorical” helps teachers and students learn how to use rhetoric – the art of effective writing or speaking, specifically with the use of compositional tools — using different mediums like videos, podcasts, academic essays, tweets and social media posts.

 Jodie Nicotra
Jodie Nicotra

Nicotra shared three main takeaways from her book: 

  1. Composition is much bigger than just writing alone. “Composition, especially in today’s rapidly changing environment, can involve any different number of mediums,” she said. “As such, students should know how to be rhetorical using these different mediums.” According to Nicotra, “being rhetorical” means “both understanding the forces of persuasion at work in any given communication situation and also learning to use those forces effectively by paying close attention to and responding to the needs, knowledge and desires of an audience in any situation that requires communication.”
  2. Rhetoric is something people inherently understand; however, it is something that needs to be practiced frequently. “This book provides students countless opportunities to practice rhetoric and to get better at using it,” Nicotra said. “Learning and understanding how to be rhetorical is crucial in human understanding.”
  3. Rhetoric improves interpersonal communication. “People are constantly exposed to hundreds of different messages all the time. It is important that they have the tools necessary to help them understand those messages,” she said. “Understanding rhetoric helps people to move from a self-centered mindset into a more open and understanding set of ideals. It provides us with the opportunity to learn how to communicate more gracefully with one another by knowing how to frame arguments in a positive way and how to communicate most effectively with different people.”

More information on “Becoming Rhetorical,” including purchasing information, is available at the CENGAGE publisher page.

Article by Madison Perdue ’18, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences
Published in April 2019

Students use Becoming Rhetorical in their English class at U of I.

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