The mission of the University Writing Center is to cultivate purpose-driven writers, communicators, and influencers. In our increasingly digital and multimodal culture, communicating clearly and persuasively will be one of the most important skills to have. In order to develop flexible habits and strategies, writers will need to combine foundational theories and effective practices.
The theoretical framework underlying the mission of the University Writing Center is the study of rhetoric, which for 2,500 years was one of the most important subjects to cultivate influential thinkers, makers, and leaders. It’s what we will use to train our tutors and to equip our students. Applying classical principles of rhetoric to practical and vocational goals can produce persuasive writers and influential communicators.
For more information about rhetoric, visit Resources.
Click to read about the rhetorical framework that guides everything we do at the UWC.
vir bonus dicendi peritus
The ultimate ideal for studying rhetoric is not to be just an intellectual or critic or manipulator. It is to become a “good person speaking well,” which combines moral virtue and technical skill.
docere, delectare, movere
The three duties of rhetoric are to teach (docere), to delight (delectare), and to move (movere). Often, communicators need to use a combination of all three in order to persuade an audience.
forensic, epideictic, deliberative
The three occasions to use rhetoric correspond to three different time periods. Forensic or judicial rhetoric has to do with persuading people of something in the past. Epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric persuades people about something in the present. Deliberative or political rhetoric focuses on persuading people of what should be done in the future.
inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, pronuntiatio
There are five parts to preparing for a rhetorical performance, all of which may or may not be necessary depending on the purpose.
1. Invention (inventio)
Invention, in a rhetorical context, does not mean creating something that doesn’t exist. It’s about figuring out what there is to say about a given subject and occasion. It’s the brainstorming and research stage that thinks through the following questions: What are the appropriate expectations of my audience (decorum)? What kind of credibility will I need to establish (ethos)? What will my message be (logos)? How will I control the mood or tone so my message can be heard (pathos)?
2. Arrangement (dispositio)
Arrangement is about organizing everything into an effective plan. What makes an arrangement effective depends on its genre. A political speech might be organized one way, while a product advertisement should be arranged a very different way. And that is also true of different kinds of speeches or advertisements that might have their own conventions. You don’t have to follow them slavishly, but if you depart too far from them, your audience may not understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
3. Style (elocutio)
Style has to do with designing how the message is created. From a rhetorical perspective, how you say something is just as important as what you say. It includes the tropes, arguments, and narratives that can be adjusted to high, middle, or low styles depending on what is appropriate in a given situation.
4. Memory (memoria)
Memory is about practicing how to store and access knowledge, experience, and scripts. From practicing useful mnemonic devices to developing good metacognitive habits, a strong memory is necessary for both prepared and spontaneous performances.
5. Delivery (pronuntiatio)
Delivery focuses on how the message reaches the audience, which is called the medium. In a live speech, the medium includes voice and body language. In a produced video, it may include visual and sound effects. Like style, how the message is delivered can make or break your purpose.
Click to read about how the UWC is committed to racial diversity and equity.
Each one heard their own language being spoken.
The UWC believes that language is not merely an objective tool to communicate information but also a medium that conditions the possibility of meaning (e.g. identity) and constitutes structures of power (e.g. the law). Through the Word, God not only gave his commands but also created the world. This deeper understanding of language should have significant consequences for our writing pedagogy in at least two ways.
On the one hand, we have all inherited ways of speaking and writing that advantage some and not others. When grammar or accent matters more than clarity and persuasiveness, racial minorities, immigrants, and international students are excluded from access to academic opportunities, including honors societies and graduate programs. Just as scripture condemns all forms of favoritism (Lev. 19:15, Jam. 2:1), we must ensure our writing pedagogy does not result in identifiable forms of exclusion.
On the other hand, we can expand the range of what we think language is for and how it can be used. A more rhetorical approach to writing moves away from fixed grammars (which are always changing due to the historical nature of English) and begins to shift toward flexible strategies appropriate to audience and purpose. More than ever, students need to be equipped to communicate effectively in both the classroom and the diverse communities they represent and serve.
Otherwise, students may be left behind in an increasingly global world if they are trained to communicate in one static approach to language. Like the Apostle Paul, we ought to prepare our students to say, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Therefore, the UWC seeks to promote a diverse Writing Center that is biblically rooted, academically prepared, equipped to serve, and globally minded (Core Four) in the following ways:
- Helping faculty to develop writing prompts, rubrics, and samples that are equitable and inclusive.
- Hiring and training writing coaches with diverse resources and from diverse backgrounds.
- Tutoring students to examine rhetorical situations critically and to utilize different rhetorical strategies effectively.