WRD 103: Composition & Rhetoric I: Winter Quarter 2014 Rotating Header Image

9:40 Section Rhetorical Analysis & Conclusions

A Rhetorical Analysis of David Brooks’s “Engaged or Detached?”

Are we engaged or detached as writers? In David Brooks’s article “Engaged or Detached,” he argues that there are moral values associated with both styles of writing.  He paints an image of engaged writers as very dedicated and loyal to their causes, and paints detached writers as critical thinkers. Brooks also argues that it’s better to be detached writers but that most writers end up on the engaged end of the spectrum. Throughout the article, Brooks compares and contrasts the two ideological commitments and shows how detached writing can result in more action.

Brooks shapes his argument with a deep sense of ethics. For example, engaged writers use their works merely to justify their own arguments, where detached writers, “spark conversations about underlying concepts, underlying reality and the underlying frame of debate.” Detached writers tend to have more open minds about the arguments they’re making. For example, he shows how a detached writer inhabits truth-seeking behavior in attempt to have an explorative world view, and an engaged writer is focused on the ideology of their affiliations.

Brooks argues for a detached method of writing through writing in a detached ethos himself. He uses a teaching tone rather than an experienced tone, in order to identify with the reader. For example, he seems to treat both styles of writing as equal showing the pros and cons of each ideology. He argues that “engaged writers develop a talent for muzzle velocity, not curiosity” while the detached writer “generally understands that they are not going to succeed in telling people what to think.” He shifts from showing what it means to be each type of writer based on the action it would cause from being that type of writer.

Throughout the article, Brooks shows how one becomes a certain type of writer and therefore, a certain type of person. He shows that how you write not only reflects what kind of person you are, it shapes you as well. For example, throughout the article, Brooks teaches explicitly the differences between engaged and detached writing, and then – as though out of nowhere – he reveals his purpose in writing the article, which is ultimately to comment on the moral framework that each style shows.


Remember that a good conclusion  [1] leaves the reader with a clearer sense of “so what?” — why is this article important? why should we care? — or [2] it raises new questions and issues for the reader to consider, or [3] it provides a rhetorical “call to action”: what should the reader do with this information?

Renee: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? College is a critical experience in our development as critical thinkers. We are being thrown into self discovery: What do we think? Where do we stand? What do we believe in? Who are we? With all these questions hurtling toward us, we must also consider who we are as writers. Brooks claims your writing develops your being. He encourages detached writing as a way of not only presenting the open mindset you go into your writing with, but as a means for molding your mindset even further. Write not to dig your heels in the ground or create dividing lines, but to evoke further questions and understanding. Write to teach, even as students.

Gracie: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? It means that its okay to express uncertainty in writing and it’s okay to admit you don’t know some things. Brooks is more in favor of detached writing because it’s more honest, more genuine, and more explorative. As college students, this is a great reinforcement that it’s okay to challenge topics and question issues we see in our world. We are college students in the year 2014 and we all come from different backgrounds; different homes; different families; different lives yet we are have this opportunity to share our story. It is important we come from a place of curiosity and vulnerability as we are at the age where we aren’t sure. Brooks explains that the detached writer doesn’t always know the answer to their questions but that is okay. 

Isza: College students are at a point of figuring out where they stand on the spectrum of Engaged or Detached writing.

Robert: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? Brooks’s argument ultimately leads to the conclusion that you are what you write. In a class that is assigned to read Brooks and the New York Times, this concept can have a huge impact on our writing process as well as our overall development as writers. Before we begin our writing process, we take a stance on an issue and decide which point of view we are going to argue from. But if we keep Brooks’ concept in the back of our minds, we are forced to think about our potential audience and how our writing can shape their view of us as people while also considering the moral implications that come from what we are saying. While this concept may make some of us overly cautious about what we write, it also forces us to take ownership of what we are saying in our writing while also eliminating any incentive for writing bullshit. Because after all, you are what you write. 

AdamCollege life is the most prevalent time for open-mindedness on the continuum. Brook’s is advocating for college writers to objectively keep that in mind.

Cozette: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? We are all assigned the same papers by the same teacher; in the same classroom; same course; and same University. However, the difference between you and your classmates is your story, your perspective on life—all things that were shaped by the place you grew up, your heritage, family life, experiences and truth-seeking findings. [Cozette — wow!] We may all get the same prompt, but we do not all write the same essay. Those words you type up on that Word document are merely a form of expressing your story and perspective on life—the very thing that shapes and sets you apart from the guy sitting next to you in class. So maybe the message is, don’t ever conform to writing something that isn’t you, something you think you’re supposed to write. Write something meaningful to you, embrace your unique outlook, be curious, have an open mind, be a critical thinker—in other words, be a detached writer—and your thoughts will be powerful, with the ability to let others ‘peer into your soul’ when put into words on that Word document.

Sarah: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? Brooks’ argument shows us that writing accomplishes far more than defending a claim or expressing beliefs; our writing enables us to learn about ourselves while establishing ideological connections with our readers. Brooks claims that, our “[writing] styles end up shaping our mentalities.” Through writing our innermost thoughts, we actually gain understanding of our individual ideologies and shape personal perspectives. When we discover ourselves through such a sincere method as writing, we claim our place amidst the various ideals and values surrounding us. Similarly, as we embrace our own understanding through writing, we also reach out to our readers and shape their perspectives. In the case of both engaged and detached writing, Brooks describes how our words influence our readers, whether through direct political persuasion or open-minded questioning. As college writers, we need to be aware of this connection, for our writing is not only the expression of personal thoughts but also the bridge that connects our individual ideals, values, and questions with those of our readers.”

Eliza: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers who are assigned to read Brooks and the New York Times? That we need to be conscious of our style of writing and how we write. If all college students were detached writers we would be striving for a better understanding of the things we are writing about. Brooks noted that a detached writer will emphasize honesty, and honesty is something that could be very profound in college writing, a time when you are writing on topics that you are just exploring. As a college student we should all strive to be more detached writers.

Helena: This article shows us, not only through descriptions but also through use of the writing style itself, how being detached leads to a better more rounded argument.

Connor W.: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers who are assigned to read Brooks and the New York Times? The experience students have with writing in college will shape who they are when they leave. By studying Brooks’ truth seeking style of writing, a class of college students will learn how to be a detached writer – how to write with a purpose. In a required writing course, students jump through the hoops to get a passing grade. They write to fulfill requirements, not to learn something about themselves. College students came to learn, and by studying the New York Times they are exposed to quality, relevant writing that teaches them how to produce meaningful writing. And if writing reflects personality, a class of detached writers is a class of educated, intellectually engaged, curious students.

Connor Z.: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers? We still have the majority of our lives to live, and we can begin now deciding what type of people we want to be. Do we allow ourselves to become members of a party that we follow fervently and support without question, or do we try to exhibit a more detatched, truth seeking, attitude about the world and the information we are given? For the sake of our mental hygiene and ethical character we should try to take the world on issue by issue, think critically about all possible courses of action and choose the ones we find to be most ethical.

Emma: What can all of this mean to a class of college writers who are assigned to read Brooks and the New York Times? It could mean simply that everyone has a certain way that they perceive their opinions, and a certain way of expressing those opinions. But what this really means is that how we relay ourselves in life is usually parallel to how we attempt to relay ourselves on paper. Brooks may be comparing and contrasting the two styles of political writing, but underneath all that, its about taking the time to understand ourselves as writers and be conscious about the decisions we make when we present ourselves to others.