Every act of communication—through spoken words, text, sounds, gestures, or images—is shaped by a number of factors. In writing, when we analyze a text we look closely at its rhetorical situation, the various elements that together form the text. We’ve discussed in class the importance of analyzing these various elements in writing (e.g., writer, reader, text, and context). To fully understand a text, we should know about the writer’s background, purpose, and attitude toward her subject; we should also consider the reader’s background, purpose, and attitude toward the subject he or she is reading about. Paying attention to the text—the vehicle for communication—also helps us make informed opinions about its purpose and effectiveness.
What about context? By “context,” we mean the circumstances that bring about the text, or the environment in which the text is published. For this first essay, your assignment is to analyze (or examine closely) a reading that explores science in some manner. Your two readings—Melanie Thernstrom’s “My Pain, My Brain” and Susan Dominus’ “Could Conjoined Twins Share A Mind?”—both ask questions about brain research, consciousness, and identity. As you think about your essay, consider the circumstances that might have brought about these essays, or what they are responding to in society at large. Both writers are addressing an educated general public (New York Times readers). What do you think this public’s perception of science is? What do scientists think of the public? On what do you base your opinion? How might that perception shape the way these writers approached their subjects? What are some specific and general concerns of science writers as they think about how to communicate science to a general public? This interview with Dominus might help answer that question. Just some questions to keep in mind as you draft.