Be inspired by what you read
Building on Success
Earlier in this chapter we considered what it takes to become a better writer - read a lot, write a lot, and get quality feedback on what you write. Part of learning from what you read is looking for what makes that writing so persuasive. What is it about the writing that you find so powerful and engaging?
To become a better writer in your discipline it helps to look wider and deeper than your degree course. If you only read bite-sized news items on social media, and then focus on the technical material for your degree, you are missing out on a wealth of inspiring writing from which you can learn - consciously and unconsciously. If you read high-quality writing beyond your discipline, you will be enriching your vocabulary and finding forms of expression that can enliven your writing within the discipline. There are numerous sources of fine writing, and reading them can become a truly life-enhancing habit. Many newspapers and news and features magazines - The Economist, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, i, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Prospect, The Spectator, New Scientist, Scientific American, The Times Literary Supplement - will have articles that will be of interest, many of which will be available online. And websites have recently emerged that have articles that are both scholarly and engaging - among them Aeon (https://aeon.co/) and The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/uk). Whether within your discipline, or beyond, one of the elements you can look for in the writing you read is the use of techniques of persuasion.
Rhetoric: the art of persuasion
Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing in a form that’s intended to persuade the listener or reader. In classical Greek times orators used three approaches to rhetoric to persuade listeners to their point of view: ethos, logos and pathos. These approaches still have great relevance today. Ethos refers to the ethical standing of the orator. How do you know that this person has authority? That they are a person to be trusted? Some of that originates from their position in the community. But it also comes from the language they use and how they use it. Translated to modern academic writing, what is it about the writing that convinces you that the writer knows what they’re doing? That they carry authority? Logos refers to logic. The use of logic - including using evidence and reasoning to draw conclusions - is, of course, prevalent in academic writing. The third approach, pathos, concerns
evoking emotional responses and feelings from the reader or listener. Although the use of pathos is seemingly frowned upon in many branches of academia, it is nevertheless quite common.
Recently, I was running a workshop with a group of academic writing specialists and we were examining the title and introduction of a scientific paper (Lavers and Bond, 2017) for signs of rhetoric. The title of the paper included the phrase ’pristine islands’ and the introduction contained the verb ’littered’ (Lavers and Bond, 2017, p. 6052). Among several of the 16 people in the group, those words were enough to cause emotional responses as they pictured pristine beaches becoming littered with debris. Whenever you use statistics to convey how many people are affected by illness or misfortune, or you are encouraging your reader to picture a scene of devastation, or you are inspiring them to appreciate the beauty in a painting or the design of a building, you are likely to be using pathos.
As you will see in Activity 12.3, one of the ways of learning what is acceptable in writing in your discipline is to examine how rhetoric is used. There are disciplinary differences. What can you be doing to show ethos, logos and pathos wisely in your writing in the chosen discipline?
The use of rhetoric in your discipline
Find a research article or essay written by an author in your discipline that you admire. Read the first 500-600 words at the beginning of the item. To what extent does the author use the different strands of rhetoric - ethos, logos and pathos - in their account? Would it be appropriate for you to do so in a similar manner in an assignment you are writing?
Notice yourself improving
In being self-critical, it is easy to focus on what you are doing wrong (or could do better) to the exclusion of what you are doing right. In terms of academic writing, it is helpful to reflect on what you are doing now that you could not do a few weeks or months ago. Noticing the progress you have made so far should reassure you about making progress in the future.