The Rhetoric of Everyday Texts — Online Course Rotating Header Image

How do you read an everyday text?

Reading Social & Everyday Texts:
Some Frequently Asked Questions

During this class we will be responding to a wide range of “social texts­” — those typically encountered in certain academic spaces as well as those found in a variety of “everyday” spaces. While we will be asking the following questions of the texts we begin examining the first week of class, please hang onto this list as it will come in handy as you consider all the texts you encounter and produce throughout the quarter.

This list of questions is far from complete. Feel free to add to your list and to share your questions with others. Also, I’d encourage you to post any interesting, confusing, and “suspect” social texts you come across during our course.

  • What is the text? How would you classify and/or describe it? in other words, what aspects about the text help you identify it as a certain type of text? If there is any variation between “like” texts, what does each text have to have in common for us to group it as a “type”?
  • On issues of materiality, what is the text made out of? If the words appear on the text, are they handwritten, printed, stitched, embossed, etched, and so on? Does the text have visuals? If so, what are they made of? What difference does it make if a text is just words versus a combination of words, colors, visuals, and so on? Could the text be other than it is? In other words, could it be made out of other materials and have the same impact?
  • What “work” does the text do? What needs does the text fulfill? How is the text tumblr_nhkidzapQl1u0c6vuo1_1280“supposed” to be (or “normally”) used? Considering design.
  • Does the text come with direction for specific uses? Does it have multiple uses? What other things could one do with the text (for example, to doodle on, to tape things to, to annotate, to hold open doors or windows, to use as a calendar, and so on)?
  • Who, specifically, might have access to the text? What does one have to have, own, or use to even come in contact with the text?
  • Is the text necessary, or can we live without it? How would life be different if the text did not exist? If the text is not necessary, what needs/wants does it capitalize on to create a space for itself?
  • How does one read the text? Out loud? With emphasis? Silently or to oneself? Does one read the text left to right and top-down, or does one read it in another manner?
  • Is the text credited with having an author? Why or why not? What difference does that make? What does it say about the relationship of words/texts to authors?
  • Related to the previous question, who produces the text? Does it have coauthors or coproducers? How many people might be involved in the production, distribution, and reception of the text?
  • Is the text pretty much the whole thing, or does it, instead, introduce or otherwise illustrate the use of the object it is affixed to?
  • Does the text expect a response from readers? If so, how would you classify that response: emotional, intellectual, behavioral, other? Does one write on the text, save/collect the text? Pay extra for the text? Is the text socially valued? Seen as a nuisance? Saved or disposed of?
  • What does the existence of the text say about the values of the culture that produces it? What are the conditions (economic, historical, cultural, technological) that make this text possible? Is the text expressly associated with the United States? With this moment in history? Would people living in other places or at other times have had use for such a text?