Earlier this week I typed some quick notes into Slack to review as guidelines when building reflective blog posts. You can review that in Slack here.
After looking at everyone’s R3 drafts, I have some longer, more thorough feedback for everyone to think about before submitting the URLs for those posts tomorrow night.
When writing writing a reflective post, please make sure to do the following:
- Define a “reflective thesis” within the first or second sentence of the post
In 300 words, you don’t have space to have an introductory paragraph. It’s like a rhetorical sprint. You get your idea out at the start and quickly get to work proving it.
One of the most difficult things to do in a reflective post is to build your own argument about the text that is not simply a summary of the text. As a reader, the thing I am looking for is a clearly identifiable thesis statement and the verb(s) that you’re using in that thesis statement. For example, if the main verb in your thesis statement is “explains” or “covers” or “describes,” more than likely, your post will probably only restate the points that the author made – that’s summary, not reflection. It’s challenging, but you have to avoid summary for summary’s sake. With only 300 words, you only have time to focus on a small section of the text and build an argument around that.
So how do you decide what argument to build? Pick a section that you feel like you understand the most and ask yourself: do I have something to contribute to this section, a new idea that either challenges or extends the point that the author is making? Can I connect a point that the author is making in two different parts of the text and make a new observation by comparing or contrasting them? Can you find a place you feel that the author is contradicting themselves or a place where their logic gets complicated and needs some explaining.
Finally, all of this is complicated by the fact that in addition to a narrow focus on the section you’re paying attention to, you also need to communicate familiarity with the whole reading so that your post doesn’t come off as just a careful reading of one paragraph.
Here’s an example . . .
In Chapter 1, I find this section:
Bogost’s contribution here is important for digital rhetoric, as he identifies an intrinsic quality of digital texts that is not easily or sufficiently addressed by classical rhetorical theory or method (and that is also not directly taken up in accounts of contemporary rhetorical theory or practice). By showing this disconnect between theory and current practice, Bogost reinforces an argument that I will be making in the following sections of this book—namely that digital texts require not just an updating of traditional theory but the development of new rhetorical theories and methods designed to specifically account for the features of digital texts, precisely as Bogost has done here.
This really sticks out for me because it seems like an important moment in Eyman’s chapter for two reasons: 1) he is showing how one of his sources (Bogost) is developing a new rhetorical theory (about computational systems and games) and 2) Eyman is identifying that what Bogost has done is what he (Eyman) also wants to do.
So, I would do some more reading and writing related to how Eyman writes about Bogost, and I might come up with these two sentences that work to 1) identify the section I want to pay attention to; 2) explain why it’s important; and 3) add my own observation on what Eyman is doing. It might look something like this:
In the first chapter of Douglas Eyman’s Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, after explaining a variety of ways that contemporary scholars have applied older rhetorical theories to new environments, Eyman explains how Ian Bogost’s work is different. Eyman ties his own work closely to Bogost’s work because he sees his own ideas as being like Bogost’s in the way that they develop new theories “to specifically account for the features of digital texts.”
This is not merely summary. The first sentence is a kind of summary and introduction. The second sentence is the thesis. In order to prove the thesis I’ll have to give examples that prove that what Eyman is doing (in any part of the chapter) is like what he says Bogost is doing.
This is what a reflective thesis does: it makes an argument – your argument – about potentially why the author is doing something that you find interesting, or strange, or complicated.
- Drafting is key to get to the right idea
It’s very difficult to get the idea and the words “right” for something like this on the first try. Whenever we start a writing project, most of us need to produce a bunch of words that we ultimately won’t need; those extra words that we write help us arrive at a good idea. We usually can’t form a clear, valuable, interesting idea without writing those extra words.
Start writing as you’re reading. Take notes. Have a dialogue with yourself about the reading. And when you’re finished, give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to just blurt out ideas on the page. It’s ok if it’s messy. You don’t have to keep those words. But they will usually help you decide what section you want to write about and what argument you want to make in your reflective thesis.
When you finish your piece, it needs to be certain of itself right from the beginning. You know you’re not there yet if you have sentences that read like a “play by play” of your thinking. You might end up with sentences that look like:
When I thought about Eyman’s chapter, I wonder why he concentrates on x idea so much. I wasn’t really sure. But then I realized that what he’s trying to do is resolve a difference between two of sources – Johnson and Brake. Once I realized that he’s suggesting a compromise between their different ways of thinking, I understood this section of the chapter better. He’s negotiating between them to find a middle ground.
This is a GREAT observation, but language like that does NOT belong in your final post. It’s too much “thinking out loud”. It is evidence that you didn’t go through the extra step of figuring out what you wanted to write about and then prioritize that idea at the top. Avoid language in your post that is like the story of you arriving at an idea. You should begin with a clear argument at the top and use your remaining words to prove that argument is true.
- Use efficient, clear language and an academic tone
Because this is a 3000 level class and because we are reading complicated texts, our ideas have to match. Avoid wordy introductory components to a sentence like “The reason why Eyman feels that he has to explain this idea is because …” Instead it should read “Eyman explain this idea in order to …” Efficient sentences save space and allow your reflection to get deeper than it can with wordy sentences that aren’t doing a lot of work. Taking your work through several revision phases will make it better. Save the editing for the end – when you have all the ideas and the organization right, and you spend time looking for misspellings, correction punctuation, diction, and sentence structure issues.