So I found out there’s a term for something I’ve considered in my own writing for a long time, but Ridolfo and DeVoss call it rhetorical velocity. Instead, part of my composition process has always been to ensure I include a handful of clear sentences that, if stripped of their context, could still manage to communicate key concepts of the text I’m composing. I’ve thought of it more as mile markers for my readers, or even as a rhetorical device. My writing could be characterized as generally too loquacious, but I try to include cogent and succinct statements often.
A device I’ve used often to encourage rhetorical velocity is what I call the “tweet test.” I use it most often in blogging by trying to leave sentences or two that I could visualize someone using as a direct quote. I keep it to 100 characters to allow this fictional tweeter (it’s only happened once or twice throughout all my blog posts) room for a shortened url, my user name, or any other brief thoughts they’d want to include. My thought in writing it this way is that I’m helping my reader know what I find most important, and hoping that if they agree, I’ve given them a concise, interesting tidbit to share with others. I can see how, in determining if a blog post passes the tweet test, I’ve considered a lot of what Ridolfo and Devoss place in the left column of their “Rhetorical Velocity as a Concern of Invention” model:
- I’ve assessed who might be interested;
- I’ve considered why these persons might want to share (recompose) my work;
- I’ve considered what the recomposer might produce, how it may be delivered, and have facilitated it by conforming to tweet-friendly lengths;
- By intentionally keeping to so short a format, I’ve also enabled cross-platform sharing (not that I presume anything I write is so compelling that it must be reshared on Facebook, Google +, and other blogs);
- And I obviously assume my writing’s temporal lifespan will be extremely limited, since I’m using Twitter as the standard.
Quite aside from my personal composition device, rhetorical velocity has definite potential in a computer-enabled composition course. If the course plan includes some degree of new media writing, introducing and applying the rhetorical velocity model for several weeks of writing assignments lays the groundwork for understanding the decisions of the writing process at large. The benefit here is that you can discuss and apply these concepts without using the old standard collection of composition instruction power words, but they still apply. Asking our writers to make sure they know and can show the answers to the model’s seven questions passively supports terms like audience, rhetorical situation, argument, illustration, and agency. As is so often the case, students have had previous composition experiences driven solely by these words of power, so anything to divest and reallocate rhetorical power is worth trying. Linking basic composition concepts back to this model is a game of pedagogical smoke and mirrors, I’ll concede, but it could be effective.