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Authority And American Usage, By David Foster Wallace

1942 words - 8 pages

David Foster Wallace, author of the essay “Authority and American Usage*,” praises and advocates for “good” writers who have a strong rhetorical ability, which he defines as “the persuasive use of language to influence the thoughts and actions of an audience” (Wallace 628). To have a strong rhetorical ability, an author needs to be aware of whom their audience is, in order to present their information in a way that will be influential on their audience. Wallace recognizes that an author who applies a strong rhetorical ability will be able to connect with the audience so that they respond “not just to [their] utterance but also to [them]” (Wallace 641). An author needs to take into consideration not just content, syntax and grammatical structure (their “utterance”) but also how their character will be perceived by their audience. A positive tone will make the author seem more pleasant and relatable, whereas a negative tone connotes arrogance and pretentiousness. That is why it is crucial for an author to recognize that an audience will respond to “them” and not just their “utterance,” as an author’s appearance to their readers can also shape how impactful their writing is.

The impact and effectiveness of using proper rhetoric was a strategy of “good” writing that I was not aware of until my senior year of high school. While taking AP Language and Composition my junior year, my fellow students and I believed that we had survived countless essay workshop activities and writing assignments with emphasis on word choices, grammatical structure, syntax, punctuation and spelling. By the time we had entered AP Literature our senior year, we felt we could achieve success; we already knew how to write in the correct format and structure- we just had to master analyzing literature. It was only natural that I was taken by surprise when I received my first graded essay back. There, glaring up at me in bold, red ink against the crisp white paper was a C- . Comparing my grades to those of my classmates, it was revealed that they too had received these grades. What had we done wrong?

Our teacher, Mrs. Hetrick, provided the answer to our question: “These essays could have easily been generated by a computer program. They tell me nothing about yourselves; why in the world you are telling me all of this? You need to make me care about the message you are conveying, otherwise, your writing is useless.” She then told us that while we were all communicating in the proper format, we had failed to take into consideration whom our audience was. In order to truly persuade and influence our audience, we had to do more than place complicated ideas into a grammatically immaculate sentences; we need to show the audience why they should care about our writing; otherwise, they will just lose interest. I realize now that this experience provided a stable foundation for what I consider to be an example of passionate rhetorical ability, which helps me reflect on what...

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