Rhetorical analysis can transform information literacy instruction. A familiar concept in the study of rhetoric, it illustrates that all messages are deliberate, social acts, constructed by authors to achieve specific purposes and speak to specific audiences. To be effective, authors must make rhetorical choices that suit both the purpose and audience they are addressing.
Under the current paradigm of source evaluation, librarians largely ignore the rhetorical nature of messages, focusing instead on the identification of surface features that indicate high-quality information. This can lead to the impression that messages are inert objects, rather than dynamic, social acts. Forms of communication, from personal blogs to television news stories to journal articles, are different in content and style because they allow writers to address different rhetorical situations. By examining the relationships between author, purpose, audience, and context—a process called rhetorical analysis--students can describe and evaluate the actions performed by each message. This forces them to think deeply about why certain features are included or excluded.
In this workshop, I will model an interactive lesson that takes a rhetorical approach to evaluation. Attendees will deconstruct a source by conducting a detailed analysis of its intended purpose, intended audience, and author. They will then be asked to examine how a broader context (e.g., academic, political, cultural, economic, etc.) influences the use of — and provides meaning to — credibility cues that signal bias, authority, and accuracy. Once the analysis is complete, attendees will use their understanding to evaluate the source’s rhetorical effectiveness and credibility.
Burkholder, Joel, "Beyond the Checklist: Using Rhetorical Analysis to Evaluate Sources as Social Acts" (2014). LOEX Conference Proceedings 2012. 37.