Rarely Say Never: Essentialist Rhetorical Choices in College Students’ Perceptions of Persuasive Writing
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Rarely Say Never: Essentialist Rhetorical Choices in College Students’ Perceptions of Persuasive Writing

Lauren K. Salig, L. Kimberly Epting & Lizabeth A. Rand (2018)
Journal of Writing Research, 9(3), 301-331

Research on persuasive writing has investigated writing quality but has not fully considered students’ perceptions of writing and of the language used in persuasive writing. Essentialist language – including words like “always,” “every,” and “prove” – insists on one explanation, ruling out other possibilities and making for poorer-quality, one-sided arguments. In Study 1, undergraduates provided characteristics they believed were important to writing and listed rhetorical indicators of those characteristics. Analysis revealed students identified essentialist-related characteristics (e.g., one-sidedness, inclusion of other viewpoints) as related to writing persuasiveness. Study 2 investigated students’ actual reactions to essentialist language. Participants read pairs of writing samples (one with essentialist language, one non-essentialist), indicated which was better and why, and rated each sample’s persuasiveness. Results revealed no difference in how often students chose essentialist samples or non-essentialist samples as better, although different reasons were associated with essentialist and non-essentialist choices. Students who preferred non-essentialist writing rated it as more persuasive, but students with essentialist or no preference rated the persuasiveness of essentialist and non-essentialist samples similarly. These results support the notion that many undergraduates fail to consistently adjust their judgments of essentialist writing to align with a reported awareness of the essentialism-persuasiveness relationship.

PDF | doi: 10.17239/jowr-2018.09.03.03

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