Have you ever been so angry with someone or a particular situation that you were able to draft a very well-written, passionate response to what angered you in the first place? Did you notice that it came easily and the words flowed effortlessly? I think this is something that we have all experienced at least once in our lives. For me, I have noticed that when I write about something I am passionate about, the piece that I’m writing seems almost effortless because I am personally invested and I have my own experiences and knowledge that I bring to the subject.
Typically, when you are passionate about something, you are knowledgeable about the subject matter. The passion you feel for the subject has led to years of experience and learning all you can about that particular subject. For me, one topic that really gets my inner fires burning is the subject of animal welfare. My love for animals throughout my entire life has moved me to become an advocate for their well-being and to prevent animal cruelty. Since I was born, I grew up in a house with cats, dogs, and other animals including fish, birds, frogs, and lizards. As a child, I couldn’t imagine anyone being cruel to these loyal and loving creatures. As I got older, and I learned of all the terrible things that people can do to animals, I took it upon myself to educate myself about issues relating to animal welfare. Through the years, I have gained an extensive knowledge which enables me to write well about the subject, establish credibility, and effectively support my arguments. I know way more than I ever cared to know about the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills and the horrible conditions they live in. I know the staggering number of homeless animals being euthanized every year and it’s sickening; four to five million animals whose only crime is that their owners turned them over to shelters or threw them in the streets. The knowledge we gain for the things that we are passionate about may be difficult to take in but it is necessary to know in order to effectively write or speak up about the topic.
Without a clear understanding of the rhetorical situation or the genre for which we are appealing to, we cannot begin to identify the underlying problem and we certainly cannot propose solutions to improve the situation. The research needs to be done prior to our commentary because we are not the first to communicate about our subjects and we must have an understanding of what others before us have said. Professor and author of Generalizing About Genre: New Conception of an Old Concept, Dr. Amy Devitt, states,
The fact that others have responded to similar situations in the past in similar ways – the fact that genres exist – enables us to respond more easily and more appropriately ourselves. Knowing the genre, therefore, means knowing such things of appropriate subject matter, level of detail, tone, and approach as well as the usual layout and organization. Knowing the genre means knowing not only, or even most of all, how to conform to generic conventions but also how to respond appropriately to a given situation.
As Devitt states, we cannot effectively respond to the rhetorical situation without knowing the genre. Once we learn the genre, we are then able to respond in a way that is appropriate to the subject.
Another benefit to understanding our intended genre is that of being able to improve our understanding of writing, which can in turn, improve our readers’ understanding of what we are writing and even call them to action. As professor and author of The Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre: Strategies for Stability and Change explains, “As people develop understanding of the communicative world, their literate practices may change to fit their deepened vision of what writing accomplishes and how. These changed practices may then influence others to perceive and act in the communicative world in new ways”. The more we learn about the ways in which our subject has been discussed by others, the better we can become as writers. By drawing on other’s perspectives, we can better understand the art of writing and how we can get the best results in our own writing. Simply speaking, our main goal is to effectively communicate our message. We can learn how to effectively communicate our message by reviewing the ways that others have effectively communicated their messages, especially in regards to our subject matter.
In addition, just knowing your genre isn’t enough. You must also know your audience. If you only know your genre but not your audience, you could be doing something to get the opposite outcome of what you are hoping for. Your approach needs to be appropriate for conveying your message and motivating the audience to make a change. For example, in the case of animal welfare, if I was writing a proposal to stop the use of puppy mills and my audience were the people that profited from the puppy mill industry, my approach would be much different than if I was writing a proposal to the local and federal government to ensure stricter guidelines for enforcing the banning of animal cruelty in puppy mills. My proposal to the government would focus much more on the emotional and physical effects of inhumane treatment of animals and providing solutions from an enforcement perspective to make a change, whereas my proposal to those who profit from the industry would be more educational regarding inhumane treatment of animals and the detrimental genetic effects of inbreeding and overpopulation of the animals, which in turn could affect their profit. The genre for both pieces is the same, but the audience and the approach are very different.
One element that would greatly help a piece such as this would be to create a multimodal communication. For example, this particular topic can be emotional to many, myself included, and by introducing images and graphs or tables with statistics on inhumane treatment, animal deaths, and complications caused by puppy mill breeding, my argument would be better received and I would establish more credibility by including those elements. Images can go a long way provided they are balanced well with the text. Including images, videos, audio, etc. to our communication pieces is easier than ever before with the invention of the internet and social media. We can easily and quickly improve our pieces by adding other modes to complement our text and make a bigger impact. Gunther Kress, author of Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World states, “In that new communicational world there are now choices about how what is to be represented should be represented: in what mode, in what genre, in what ensembles of modes and genres, and on what occasions.” A plethora of choices is at the touch of our fingertips and it is within our power to make the choices that will make our message more effective.