Prior to my freshman year at Emory, I had only thought of rhetoric in terms of the rhetorical analysis essays I had to complete in my AP Language and Composition class in high school. I was unaware of the strong relationship between rhetoric and successfully communicating with an audience. However, throughout my time at Emory, I have taken many English and Political Science courses that have allowed me to further develop my understanding of rhetoric as well as my own rhetorical skills. I have come to realize that the purpose of rhetoric is to help ensure that ideas are spread. For ideas to be spread, an audience must understand the message being conveyed. The way a message is packaged and presented to an audience depends on who they are and how to effectively reach them. Throughout my Rhetoric Writing and Information Design (RWID) classes at Emory, I have gained experience using different genres of communication targeted at various audiences, such as speeches, professional writing, blog posts focused at students, academic pieces such as book proposals and journal submissions, and even this website portfolio of all of my writing.
As someone who wants to pursue a career in political communications, I understand that speech is power. Crafting and packing my message in a very specific way, based on the identity of the audience, is crucial to making sure my ideas can be heard and consumed by a broad range of people. However, it is also important to stick to your message, and to make sure that by modifying it to meet the needs of the public you do not lose your overall meaning. If you change what you are trying to say and it becomes a completely different idea, your ideas will not be spread.
In my capstone History and Theory of Rhetoric class, I learned about the different types of audiences, and this aligns with my personal understanding of rhetorical theory. The different audiences we discussed are imagined, invoked, and actual. However, I have gone further to add a fourth audience, which is the secondary actual audience. The imagined audience is who you want to appeal to as a rhetor. The invoked audience is to whom the rhetor is directly speaking and the actual audience is who your message reaches. The secondary actual audience is to whom your message is spread. Because the purpose of rhetoric is to have your ideas be spread, I think this secondary actual audience is very important. If your message only reaches the people you are directly speaking to, it will not make much of an impact. However, if you speak in a way that makes your primary audience more likely to spread what they hear, it will reach the secondary audience. For example, if I was to give a speech to a 100-person audience, encouraging them to vote in the upcoming election, I want my message to reach this group of people, but I also want them to understand my message well enough so that they can later encourage their own audience. Then my message can circulate and therefore reach a broader audience, leading more people to vote.
An example of an assignment where I communicated through writing, with the purpose of the information being spread, was in my book proposal project in the Writing for Publication course. I created a proposal for a book called “Guide to Voting for College Students” and marketed it to be published with MIT Press. The intended audience for this book was college students, however, I also wanted it to be suited for an audience of parents and teachers who could use the book to share the information to their college-age students and help them with voting. Additionally, I wrote a cover letter that was aimed at publishers, to talk about my book and persuade them to publish it at their firm. This required me to increase my sophisticated language and have a different goal. Rather than helping them vote, which was the purpose of the book, I had to convince them to publish my book and that it would generate revenue for them. I ended up turning this book idea into a blog in my Professional Writing writing course, called Voting 101: From the Classroom to the Ballot Box. I repackaged the same information from my book proposal in a simpler and more concise way that could be easily shared and understood. It was designed as a straightforward guide to help college students with the registration and voting process. To tailor to my audience, I created separate blog posts for each topic that had very specific instructional and explanatory pieces to make sure it would be easy for the information to be consumed and spread. My goal was to make sure that this information could be spread as easily as possible so it could reach as many people as possible and help them register to vote, and eventually cast their ballot. Those who have read my blog, have been able to follow the instructions provided and help their friends do the same by sharing the information. I purposefully made it easy to send specific posts with information on an exact question.
Understanding different rhetorical contexts is key to ensuring you are communicating in a way for your message to be spread to a target audience. In my Rhetoric of Resistance course I wrote a rhetorical analysis paper discussing the rhetorical strategies that were shared among a few feminist speakers in their respective speeches. Many of the strategies that the women used were specifically targeted toward a male-dominated audience so that they would gain the attention of the men who were in power. For example, I discussed in my paper a shared strategy of those women speakers was the use of commonly shared United States ideals, such as sentences taken directly from the Declaration of Independence and used in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments.
My time spent completing the RWID minor over the last two years has deepened my understanding of what it means to be a successful communicator. I have not only strengthened my writing skills, but I have fully grasped the immense importance of being strategic when appealing to an audience from whom you want to gain something of value. My ultimate career goal is to one day become a campaign manager for a national democratic race and I know that I will use the skills I have gained while taking these classes to be successful in that role and in the jobs leading up to that.. The act of persuading is an important aspect of politics and something that I have improved on while in the RWID minor. I feel confident in my abilities to persuade an audience, whether it be to a group of voters, to the press, or to potential donors, I know I will be able to appeal to my audience in order to reach my end goal.