Screens, Research and Hypertext

Powered by 🌱Roam Garden

Rhetoric 101

Good writers know the rules. Great writers break them.

The basic forms of nonfiction writing are broadly familiar. You probably remember the 5x5 essay. It was the default expectation of high school English classes and is pushed by more than a few freshman composition instructors in colleges and universities across the United States.

Five paragraphs of five sentences each.

An intro paragraph that includes a thesis statement (usually either the first or last sentence of the paragraph).

Three body paragraphs, each making one main point to support the thesis.

A concluding paragraph that restates the thesis.

As you move through university, you learn to write in a pyramid—background setting up the problem, a review of ways other people have attacked the problem, a careful marshaling of evidence and arguments all in support of your own grand solution.

For many—particularly in the social science disciplines that dominate the think tank space—the final form of the academic essay is the IMRAD report.

Journalists learn to invert the pyramid, putting the important stuff up front and the supporting details lower down in the story.

If we’re really lucky, there’s a teacher somewhere along the way who explains that it’s okay to break the rules.

But it’s very rare that breaking the rules means putting things out of order.

For more context

What do we mean by "rhetoric"?

What to read next

Rhetoric is what goes inside a book. But it's not what makes something a book.

Other items of interest

Our rhetorical practice is built around producing documents.

What is the alternative to the sorts of essays we learned to write in school?

Why does rhetoric matter for digital content?