English 101 | Unit 1

Rhetoric and Genre

Unit 1 | Rhetoric and Genre

Unit 1 | Overview: Rhetoric, Genre, and Research Topics

Welcome to Unit 1!

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Overview of Concepts

In Unit 1, we’re focusing on two key concepts in English: rhetoric and genre. In this unit, we’ll have discussion of what these terms mean and some examples to help you understand them better. Here the two key takeaways to remember by the end:

  • Rhetoric is the study of how people communicate ideas with others.

  • Genres are the formats of communication, such as text messages versus billboards versus books.

Here are the complete terms to learn by the end of this unit:

  • Rhetorical Triangle: Author, Purpose, Audience

  • Rhetorical Modes: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

  • Genre: Audience Expectations and Genre Conventions

Unit Objectives

By the end of this unit, you’ll complete the following:

  • For the Application Discussion, post a response with your thoughts on writing, particularly any writing or other media that you enjoy.

  • For the Project Discussion, you’ll share the topics that you’d like to write about for Project 1. You’ll then provide feedback for three of your classmates, offering suggestions on directions they might take their research or questions you have about their topics.

Unit 1 | Lecture: Rhetoric and Genre

Rhetoric: What and How We Communicate

As human beings, we communicate. With every word, every handshake, and every tweet, we are communicating ideas to others around us. Rhetoric is the study of how we do this — rhetoric examines what we say, why we say it, and who we’re saying it to.

Rhetoric often causes confusion for students because of the limited way it’s used in public discourse. We most often hear rhetoric in politics, such as when one politician accuses another of using “empty rhetoric,” which is meant to say “my opponent’s words are only words that have no meaning in the real world.” When rhetoric is used this way, what’s often missing is the realization that everyone is using rhetoric all the time, and that rhetoric — the things that people say — can actually change our perceptions of reality.

Example of Rhetoric: Buying a Car

Let’s take a quick example. Say, for example, that you want to buy a new car. If you visit a car dealership, you know what’s gonna happen: the salesperson is gonna race up, greet you, ask you what kind of car you want, and then try talking you into buying an even better one. That, obviously, is rhetoric — a car salesman will offer lots of offers and explanations to persuade you to purchase a new car.

In this example, we have a rhetorical triangle:

    • Author: The car dealer is offering $0 down! And a low monthly payment!

    • Purpose: The salesperson gets a bonus for every car sold . . . and you might buy a car.

    • Audience: You! Afraid that you’ll be pressured into borrowing $20,000 for a new car you don’t need . . . except you do kinda want that one . . . and maybe an extra $5,000 for the model with heated seats is a good idea . . .

However, something often forgotten is that communication goes in two directions. Further, communication isn’t necessarily spoken or written. For example, it’s often recommended that you should “walk away” from whatever offer a car dealer gives you initially. Even if the offer sounds good, it’s often said that the dealer will come up with something even better if you literally stand up and get ready to leave the lot. Thus, another rhetorical triangle emerges from the same interaction:

    • Author: You! Standing up! Moving toward the door! And you didn’t even say anything. Just rolled your eyes, stood, and started walking.

    • Purpose: Cars are expensive . . . and it would be nice if the dealer could drop another $1,000 off the MSRP.

    • Audience: The car dealer. And trust me, the salesperson hears your silence. And they will call you. Unless you didn’t give them your phone number. In which case they’ll google your name and address, and then mail you a postcard. Because technology.

The Rhetorical Modes

In rhetoric, there are three rhetorical modes that address how we persuade others. Often, when we think of rhetoric, there’s a focus on persuasion, and these are the three main modes of classical rhetoric:

  • ethos: appeal to authority

  • pathos: appeal to emotion

  • logos: appeal to logic or facts

Let’s return to our car buying experience. Imagine there’s a car advertisement. Like this one for the 2020 Ford Explorer:


You know it’s filled with pathos because Ford wants you to feel the need to own a new automobile. The deep, manly voice says “you need the right vehicle” so you can “explore” — and then they show a guy in a spaceflight pressure suit picking up his kids from school.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at my bank account. On the other hand, no. It whispers to me, saying things like “you already have a car . . .”

Just kidding — my bank account doesn’t speak. But whenever my parents ask “when will you get a real car?” I use direct facts to say “nope.” Something like “I have ____ in my bank account,” I tell them, or “I earn ____ from teaching,” and they accept the fact that no, I won’t be replacing my base-model Kia Soul anytime soon. That’s logos, when you use information and logic to persuade others. Do I need a bigger car? “Nope — I usually just need room for a car seat, a growing child, and the eighteen dinosaurs my son insists on bringing with us everywhere we go. And if things get really out of hand, the dinos can always ride on the roof.”

Now, am I an expert on cars? No. I’ve only owned two in my entire life. I’ve never changed the oil. However, my neighbor is a mechanic. He also worked for a tow truck company for a few years. I’ve seen him with his pickup mounted on jacks so he could change his own brake calipers. He knows something about cars. If he said something like “I’ve been towing cars for five years, and ____ cars break down all the time,” that’s an example of ethos, where he’s using his own authority as an expert to support his opinion.

Genre: The Types of Communication

When we talk about genre, what we mean is the categories of communication. Like rhetoric, genre is often misunderstood because it’s often used in public in ways that differ from how we use it in English courses. You usually hear about genres in relation to movies or books. We have the genres of “horror” and “romantic comedies” and “action flicks.” We even have subgenres like “vampire movies” and “teen supernatural romance.”

So, first, let’s talk about what we mean by those movie genres, since those are the genres you’re most likely already familiar with. From there, we’ll talk about the broader meaning of genre that we’ll use here in English 101. Here’s a video on film theory and genre:

Video: Dapper Mr Tom, “What is Genre? Let’s Talk Theory”

From that video, a couple important facts I hope you’ve noted:

  • Genres have patterns. A horror movie is usually frightening, and a good comedy should have you laughing a lot.

  • Audiences expect these patterns. If you take your child to a Disney movie, and then it turns out that entire planets are getting blown up and people are dying, you’re like “Oh, I was thinking Snow White . . . I guess I forgot that Disney now owns Star Wars . . . ”

For English 101, these two aspects of genre are crucial. The major difference between genres in films and genres as used in English 101 simply comes down to the scope. For us, all forms of communication fall into different genres. Genres represent how we categorize the types of rhetorical communication. Or as this video from Oregon State University explains:

Video: Oregon State University, “What is a Genre?”

Unit 1 | Past Experiences with Writing and Communication

Purpose: This discussion will help you see how the concepts of genre and rhetoric apply to your own habits of communication.

Task: Initial Post (150 words) with your own experiences, then Three Responses (50 words each) to your classmates.

Criteria for Success: You've shown that you understand the ideas of rhetoric and genre, and you're able to apply them to your own habits.


In our second discussion, we'll focus on your past experiences with communication. Although this is a writing course, all forms of communication provide important lessons for how we reach out to audiences — here, I'd like each of you to consider how your past experiences may relate to the key course concepts. And please, bear in mind that we're in the introductory stages of the course — you don't need to fully understand the concepts yet. It's more important that you share your thoughts and questions. Fundamentally, this activity will help you recall the kinds of interactions you have every day, and then you'll examine how your experiences compare to the concepts of rhetoric, genre, and multimodality.

Part 1: Your Initial Post (150 words)

In your initial post, describe a form of communication that you find yourself doing a lot. If possible, write about something you really enjoy doing — a form of communication that has personal meaning for you. It's better to use lots of details for a single form or communication than to write down a bunch of different things you do. For your chosen communication form, please address rhetoric and genre:

  • Rhetorical Triangle: Who is the audience you're communicating with? What's your purpose in communicating them? What's your role as an author? Example: I write Facebook updates for my friends and family to let them know how my son is doing. As an an author, I'm a single dad — I share silly photos to give everyone a laugh. My audience would be my parents, aunts and uncles, and friends from school.

  • Genre: What the the "rules" or expectations or format you must use? Example: When I write on Facebook, more people see my post if I include a photo of my son. People are more likely to hit "like," and the more likes the post gets, the more people Facebook will share it with. Also, short Facebook posts do better, since most of my friends won't read long posts, but sometimes I write like five or six paragraphs. I might get five likes on the longer posts, whereas a funny picture of my son will get 30 or 40 likes.

Here are a few ideas to get you started — please only choose ones that you yourself engage in:

  • Communication with Friends and Family: Do you write status updates on social media? Call up your best friend for long talks on the phone? Write letters to grandma?

  • Online Writing: Are you a blogger? Do you maintain a Twitter feed? Run a YouTube channel? If you regularly share material online, then that's definitely communication.

  • Creative Writing: Do you write stories? Poetry?

  • Academic and Professional Communication: Have you done much writing for classes or your job yet? For example, you might write essays for class, or fill out math worksheets, or write up lab reports. Nurses fill out patient charts, farmers track grain yields, and restaurant servers text coworkers to schedule carpooling.

Part 2: Respond to 3 Classmates (50 words each)

When you reply to your classmates, give your honest responses. Do you have similar experiences? Are you surprised by anything your classmate said? Do you see another interpretation for rhetoric and genre for the situation they describe?

Three Key Elements of a Good Response:

  1. You relate you classmate's experience to your own thoughts on communication.

  2. You indicate how you see some aspect of genre and rhetoric in relation to your classmate's post. Example: I bet your 5-paragraph Facebook posts break the genre!

  3. You provide questions to generate thought and continue the conversation. Example: How many of your Facebook friends are also English professors? As an audience, do they like the longer Facebook posts you write?

Additional Ideas:

  • Similarities in Experience: I also use Facebook a lot, but I don't normally talk to friends or family. My parents are on there, so I can't really post anything important without them reading it. So I use Snapchat instead. And that's where my cousin shares pics of her new baby!

  • Different Experience: I don't use Facebook for anything with friends or family, but my friends and I started a fan page for our favorite band. It's this group of local musicians out in Peoria who just kind of bum around different bars and restaurants. They joked that they were too lazy to start a fan page, so we started one for them, and now their drummer added pictures of her kids to the profile pic.

  • Questions: Do you get nervous, sharing pictures of your son online? What kind of privacy settings do you use?

Please DON'T do the following:

  • Don't judge your classmates. Everyone uses communication differently. If I had a dollar for every time my mom freaked out about something I posted on Facebook, I would have $7. And those are just the times I know about. Because she called me up on the phone to urge me to take something down. "It won't look good with your boss," she'll tell me. "Um...Mom..." I usually replied, "Half my coworkers are saying the same thing...and I just talked with my boss about this topic last week. Trust me — my boss is totally cool with what I wrote." Still — every time I post to Facebook, I've got my mom's voice nagging at the back of my mind. So no need to add judgements to your classmates. Trust me — we've all been judged.

  • Don't feel obligated to share private information. In this exercise, you can certainly change or omit details to protect your privacy. For example, I haven't shared my son's name here, even though I'm using Facebook posts about him as my example. And I would never share a picture of the apartment where I live, not even for my friends on Facebook.

  • Don't break the classroom norms of respect. Trust is a key part of learning. Part of why I share personal vignettes from my own life is so you can see that topics like "genre" and "rhetoric" are real tools — they aren't just some random thing I teach because it's required. My hope is you'll learn to apply them to your own lives, too. But this only works if we can all be honest with each other, and that can't happen if we treat others like dirt.

Unit 1 | Discussion: What You've Heard about "I Have a Dream"

Application discussions require at least one post of 100 words per person, but you can always write as much as you like. In your post, please use concepts from the lecture and direct response to points made by at least two of your classmates. If you are the first two people to post, you’re lucky — you can focus on the lectures!

One of the most interesting things about rhetoric is that it changes how we see the world. Everything you’ve heard, everything you’ve read, everything that’s shouted across the news and social media, it affects what you believe about the world. In this course, your goal as a researcher should be to dig deep — you want to find information that others maybe haven’t considered. At the same time, you want to ensure that you’re being responsible in your uses of information. You want to ensure that you choose sources that are both reliable and relevant.

Sometimes, however, you won’t find the sources you need. Or you might not know where to look. Or — and this is very common — you will find sources that disagree with each other. Just consider “hot button” issues like global warming, vaccination, abortion, taxation, immigration, health care — and also coronavirus. All of these issues have individuals who are vehemently convinced that the other side is wrong. Just flat out wrong!!!! And why is this? It’s because can’t agree on what counts as “true.” People don’t agree on what counts as “factual.” And why is this? Rhetoric. Depending on who you talk to and which news you listen to and what books you like to read, you will develop certain perspectives on reality. This is true for all of us — every single person has biases and preconceptions.

Now, this is where English 101 comes in: my job as a teacher is to help you look beyond your prior knowledge, find information that you were previously unaware of, and then draw conclusions based on what you have found. And then write about it. Convince others that you have a good idea, or that you have a solid grasp of the facts that matter.

As the semester continues, we will regularly have application discussion, where we talk about how to apply the rhetorical concepts to real-world communication. Many of these will be tied to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” Dr. King’s speech is an interesting one to study because everyone has heard about, and therefore almost everyone thinks they fully understand it. In reality, public perceptions of the speech have shifted over time. We talk about it differently today than people talked about it in the 1960s, Dr. King delivered it.

In your post here, please talk about your thoughts on Dr. King’s speech, and then talk about where you learned what you know. For example, I remember learning about Martin Luther King in elementary school, and I remember the line “I have a dream that all men are created equal!” But my memory of that line from school differs from what Dr. King actually says.

Again, application discussions require at least one post of 100 words per person, but you can always write as much as you like. In your post, please use concepts from the lecture and direct response to points made by at least two of your classmates. If you are the first two people to post, you’re lucky — you can focus on the lectures!

Unit 1 | Writing Minute: Clauses

Clauses Are Noun/Verb Combos

A sentence clause a key unit of the sentence. It represents the noun/verb combinations that differentiate complete from incomplete sentences. To write clearly, we must create "clean" sentences — each clause must clearly communicate an idea to the reader. Doing this, however, can be complicated, especially in academic writing. In this discussion, we'll look at how to construct effective sentences. The goal is not to "longer" or "shorter" sentences — the goal is to know how to choose the right length of sentence to communicate your current point to the reader. Sometimes, a short sentence drives a point home. Other times, it's useful to use a longer, more thoughtful sentence that blends together two or three major ideas to help illustrate the relationships between concepts. Regardless of sentence length, however, you must ensure that your sentences are complete and grammatically correct — in this, it helps to examine the clauses.

Clauses vs. Phrases

Note the a clause always has a noun or a verb. A phrase is not quite a clause — it's simply a group words that fills in as a single part of speech.

If you already feel comfortable with the concept of clauses, you may be ready for the page on Writing Complex Sentences.

Video: Phrases and Clauses from Khan Academy

Independent Clauses Are Complete Sentences

An independent clause is basically the "adult" of sentences clauses — it can live on its own. It always has a subject and verb, and they can stand alone.

An Independent Clause is a Verb Clause — it fulfills the function of the predicate in a sentence.

Examples of Independent Clauses

  • Spot runs.

  • The cat scratches Spot.

  • Spot cries.

  • The cat laughs.

  • Cats are evil.

More Complicated Examples of Independent Clauses

Note that the prior examples are very simple — they are easily expanded. You can shift meaning by changing the tense, adding modifiers, and (in our next section) dependent clauses:

  • Some dog ran through our front gate.

  • My calico cat Petunia scratched that dog in our garden.

  • The pathetic dog cried.

  • Petunia cackled like a witch.

  • Petunia is one evil cat.

Video: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses by Richard Jackson

Dependent Clauses Mooch Off the Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses cause confusion because they also have a noun and a verb. But they aren't independent. Instead, they modify meanings in the independent clause. Noun Clauses can function as nouns, Adjectival Clauses can modify nouns, and Adverbial Clauses modify the verb.

Typically, the adverbial clauses are the ones you most need to worry about. Because they modify the verb, they often modify the entire sentence. Some adverbial clauses are so long, in fact, that they are easily mistaken for independent clauses.

Examples of Dependent Clauses

The dependent clauses are in italics:

  • Adverbial: When I was gardening, Spot ran through the begonias.

  • Adjectival: Petunia, whom I love with all my heart, scratched Spot in the face.

  • Noun Clause: That pathetic animal who digs holes in my garden cried.

  • Adverbial: After seeing the dog cry, Petunia laughed.

  • Adjectival: Petunia is one evil cat who loves tormenting any animal who treads upon my garden. (note that there are two dependent clauses: one that modifies cat, and other than modifies animal.)

Additional Resources: Types of Dependent Clauses

Need more details? Here are helpful descriptions from K12 Reader:

Unit 1 | Discussion: Project 1 Ideas

This is a Project Discussion. In Project Discussions, you each person needs at least One Initial Post of 100 words, and 3 Response Posts of 50 words each. You can use your Initial Post as a “rough draft” or “notes” for the project assignment due at the end of the unit. I recommend writing your initial post first, then writing responses to your classmates, and then coming back to finish your Project Assignment after you’ve received some feedback. Just note: if you post your initial post late, then your classmates might not have time to post responses.

Also, please feel free to post a recording or video for either your initial or response posts. Sometimes it's easier to explain through talking rather than writing.

For this first unit, our focus is on choosing topics. Here, I’d like you to consider your personal interests. What are the things you like to do? What movies do you like watching? Do you play sports, video games, or cards? Do you love your future career?

Based on your interests, think about something you’d like to write about. There’s no need to pick a single topic just yet — for this discussion, simply write about what you’re thinking about researching. Let your classmates share their thoughts, too, get a sense of what others are interested in hearing. And in case your classmates don’t understand your topic, that’s perfectly all right, too! That gives you room to share more information with them down the line.

And here's a quick pep talk to encourage you forward! At this stage, nothing is carved in stone — this is more a place for brainstorming so that you have a starting point for your research in Unit 2:

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Unit 1 | Assignment: Research Plan for Project 1

Planning Is the Key to Success!

For college research papers, having a good plan is the best way to make sure you find the sources you need to support your ideas. To start off on the right foot, this first Project Assignment is your plan for how to begin.

Here's the video that gives the project overview and this unit's assignment. If you prefer, the video transcript is below!

Video for Project Planning Assignment

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Transcript from Video

For Project 1, you’ll be writing four articles about a specific topic of your choice. To get the most out of this project, all four of your main articles should be closely related — this way, you can use sources from the shorter, earlier articles in your later articles, which will be longer. After you've written the four main articles, you're arrange these articles together, write an introduction to show what they tell us about the world, and then write a reflection about how the writing went.

For this unit's assignment (200 words), I’d like you to make a plan of research. Based on your interests, what do you want to write about? How will you start your research? Which days or times will you set aside to complete your project assignments?

There’s no specific formatting requirement for your research plan — bullet points are fine, or you can even write out notes on paper and then upload a photo. Some students find it easier to upload a video, too, and that’s also fine.