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Public Texts

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Chapter header

Learning Outcomes

Learn the Genres

This chapter will focus on public texts--the different genres you might be asked to write in your future career. We will cover everything from how to write inter-office communication to persuasive online writing. Genre is the key. Make sure you understand the constraints of the genre before you put fingers to keyboard.  
 

Memo

A memo is a weird thing. It lives in the space between an old-school letter and an email. The great thing about a memo is that it forces us to get to the meat of our message quickly. And, being that it is slightly more formal than an email, it immediately tells our audience that this information is important. 
 
So when do we send a memo? 

Conventions of the Genre

Memos look a lot like email--if the email was written out in a Word doc. Follow these things to create a memo (you can also use a template from Word or Google to begin with):
 
“Memorandum” as the title (flushed left)
 
To: (readers' names and job titles)
From: (your name and job title)
Date: (complete and current date)
Subject: (what the memo is about, highlighted in some way)
Make sure that you get to the main point of your memo quickly. That means that the first sentence is your purpose statement. The content should be short and to-the-point and provide the context or background information briefly. The last sentence should be a clear action request. 
The following discussion is a long assignment. An assignment that will help you create goals in 315 to help you acquire the skills for your dream job. 
Interview Memo

You will interview a professional working in the field (hopefully the job) that you want to work in. Your goal is two-fold: (1) to learn about the types and amounts of communication the job requires, and (2) to network with a potential mentor. You should ask questions about collaboration, communication requirements, communication skills, etc. After the interview, you will write up a memo where in you will give a summary and comment on what you will do in English 315 to prepare for such work. In particular, write about how the assignments in this class will or will not apply to your profession.

Email

An email is a bit more informal than a memo, but we still need to adhere to its conventions. 
 
Be clear, correct, concise, and to-the-point. Just like the memo, we should get to the meat of the email quickly. But an email allows for a bit of “shooting the breeze.”
 
Be polite and considerate and always be a bit more formal if you are writing to your superior. It’s smart to err on the side of being too formal. Begin with an appropriate salutation. Find out how your professor/boss/peer would like to be addressed. If they live in academia-land, stick with Professor or Dr. If they live in the real world, use Mr. for men and always call a woman Ms. Even after you learn her marital status, you should find out if she prefers Ms. or Mrs. Never call a woman Miss. 
 
Don’t do the following things: 
With all of these things, Think: what does this question or situation imply to your superior?
 
Now, I can hear some of you saying “My boss uses emojis!” That’s cool. Your boss can use emojis, and you can too as long as you let your boss make the first move to informality. The same thing goes with salutations. Always use the proper format, but let them drop the salutations before you do. Let your boss sign their first name before you address them as such. Let your boss use slang or emojis before you do. 
 
Remember, you’d rather be slightly overdressed to a party than under dressed. Same thing goes for workplace writing. We’d rather be slightly over-formal than sloppy and ill-mannered. 
What's wrong with this email #1?

Hey, I lost my syllabus because someone stole my notebook so I’m not sure what’s do tomorrow. Can you tell me what we need to do for class? Thnxs!!! ☺ Hildegard <3 Sent at 11:59pm

What's wrong with this email #2?

Hey Teacher. To be honest I hate these kinds of assignments. They are hard for my conscience because I don’t know exactly how much I’ve done but I try to assess it as honestly as I can. I’ll give myself a 1.5 out of 2 because I did all of the responses you had us do, and I wrote 15 minutes a day about 3-4 times a week. Have an awesome Sunday, here’s a scripture I like that I wanted to share. Hey Georege! I hope you’re having a fantastic sunny Sunday! I wanted to share a scripture that I love and that took on a lot of meaning on my mission.Proverbs 3:13-14 13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.” Have a great sabbath.

A few additional notes on email

Social Media

Just because you were born during a certain time frame (Hello iGen'ers!) you *might* be asked to write the social media content for the company you work for. Now, you might be very familiar with how to navigate and use social media to promote your own image and purposes, but how can you do this on behalf of a company or group? Let's do what we've been taught to do when we are tasked with something new and analyze the genre. 
 

GENRE ANALYSIS

Let's use a single company to analyze the social media genres you might be writing. Let's "just do it" and use Nike.  Spend a bit of time scrolling through Nike's website, Instagram, and Twitter feed.
 
 
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Genre Analysis 1

What are the differences between the three genres? Create a table to organize your findings. Look at both the visual aspects as well as the writing.

Genre Analysis 2

What are the similarities between the three genres? And how does Nike keep their branding similar across the three genres?

Images

Sprout Social [https://edtechbooks.org/-UUm] found that 58% of consumers prefer "visual-first content, with graphics, images and produced video taking the lead." Or, as my students say, the images hook and then the words inform. Look at the images found on the various platforms. Notice that the images are cohesive and visually appealing. It might seem superficial, but many of our readers will make snap judgement just by looking. Our goal is to present a professional product and we need to do that through both the visual and compositional element. If you need a refresher on visual rhetoric, see chapter 5.2 [https://edtechbooks.org/-wTBh]
 

Hashtags

Be strategic with your use of hashtags. (They act almost like the keywords found in your literature review.) You want to attract potential customers or users by using appropriate hashtags that describe your product or company or enhance the narrative you are trying to tell. Avoid cultural appropriation. And avoid hashtag overkill.
 

Takeaways

Online Writing

 
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It is highly likely that you will be asked to write a blog post or online article for the future company you work for. Often, these pieces are persuasive and informative. They ask the reader to reconsider previously held ideas or to take action. Like all of the other genres we've discussed in this textbook, an understanding of audience is extremely important. One of the worst things you can do when writing is to write in a manner inconsistent with your target medium. Just as you adopt a different tone in letters asking Mom for money than you would in a letter asking for a loan, you also must know the conventions of the place where your writing will be read.The writer's tone must be balanced and consistent, and his or her voice unique--humorous or cynical, angry or sorrowful, objective or contemplative, but definitely the voice of the writer. If you are writing for your job remember that you are not writing as a private individual, but as an employee. You are an extension of the company and must write as such.
 
As you are writing, follow these steps. First, state the issue at hand. Good pieces evolve from current issues concerning and intrigue the intended readers. Next, state a position on the question or issue. The best and most effective pieces then go on to state the opposite position's best argument, which is then knocked down by the  writer's better argument. Back your position with evidence, data and stories. Last, provide a call to action or restate the issue you want your audience to reconsider. 
 
Open strong--Start with an attention-grabbing opening line that cuts to the heart of your key message and encourages people to read further. Online articles are meant to be read quick. If an article is not interesting, readers generally will not bother finishing it. Therefore, it is crucial that you begin with a good lead, an opening sentence or story that "hooks" readers immediately and makes them want to read on. A good lead tantalizes, informs, and sets the tone for the piece. It can even be creative. For instance, an editorial on gambling in the Wall Street Journal  [https://edtechbooks.org/-mHP]began with a paraphrase of Dr. Seuss: "I do like gambling, Sam-I-Am, I really like it, and I can. For I can do it in a plane, on a boat, at the track, and in the rain. I can do it in a casino, with the lottery, or with Keno."  It “must” evoke an emotion or an element of curiosity. Readers make decisions on whether or not to read an article by how they respond to the headline and the first sentence. The first line is the display-window for all the goodies you have inside.  Remember, you should waste no time in getting to your point.
 
Use active and conversational voice--Emphasize active verbs. Forget adjectives and adverbs, which only weaken writing. Write to the level of your audience. 
 
Keep paragraphs short but variable--In general, paragraphs should be no more than three sentences. Keep sentences short. If a sentence is overly long your audience will get lost (and bored). If you want to deliver a really punchy point, remember--single sentence paragraphs rock! In general, no more than two or three sentences make up a typical paragraph. The reason is "gray space," the way a long block of text tends to turn gray upon glancing. The most important consideration about shorter paragraphs is that they are easier for readers to read. Long unbroken blocks of text are daunting to most readers. Frequent paragraphs promise a sort of "rest stop" to readers. Don't feel you need to keep your paragraphs wholly unified and long. 
 
Find the story--We all love dazzling our friends with great data and facts, but to really make an impact with your piece wrap your data in a story. Refer to real world events or personal experiences that you and your audience have likely encountered. Don’t try just to teach your readers, touch them emotionally. 
 
 
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Include images--Images are often the first things that hook the reader. Make sure that your images promote your message and are there for a purpose. Make sure that the images you use create a cohesive aesthetic for the article, post, or overall blog. Just like your words tell a story about the content and the writer, so do your images.  A word of caution--provide proper attribution for each image you include. 

Infographics and Data Visualization

In this section, we will be looking at and creating different types of argument using more than words. We call this a multi-modal argument. You will discover how image, video, color, font choices can forward the argument you are making with your words. In fact, the various modes should be an argument by themselves. When you create a multi-modal argument, you will bring all modes together into one cohesive, unified, effective ensemble.
 

Creating Infographics

 
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What is an infographic?: An information graphic is a document that uniquely displays information and data in a compelling way. The use of graphics, images, and symbols allows readers to download information much more quickly than text alone. You have probably seen them used for advertising or public service ads. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints even has a collection of infographics in their Newsroom [https://edtechbooks.org/-qvuh] which communicate complex or controversial topics in an easy to read format.
Infographic Assignment

You will create an infographic document about your semester topic. Use images, graphs, tables, charts and hyperlinks. Post an early draft here.

 
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Why do we create infographics?: As rhetorical masters you are ready to go beyond writing documents; now you can design them. You will be using the rhetorical principles we have discussed throughout this textbook, and now you get to use them in an even more engaging way. There are many different modes of rhetoric—remember, everything is rhetoric‚—but each mode has its own rhetorical strengths and weaknesses. 
 
Who are infographics written for?: Your audience will be anyone who is interested in the information you are presenting in your infographic. You need to create a document that will engage and inform them quickly, and inspire them to seek out further knowledge. Because of its easy access and shareability, your infographic will pull in a much larger secondary audience. So, be sure to create a document that less-informed audience members will understand and appreciate. 
 
What does an infographic look like?: Formatting is entirely up to you. A good rule of thumb is to use around 250 words of text in your document and at least two different modes, if not more. Just remember: your visual rhetoric should make your argument as effectively as your written rhetoric does
 
Beware of including information that comes from only one source, since this can unfairly drive the facts towards a particular conclusion. In the social sciences, this is called single-source bias. Look at your infographic the same way that you would a research paper or a university essay. The more sources you have, and the more building blocks you have to tell an interesting story, and the more credible that story is.
 
How do I create an infographic?In addition to Photoshop, InDesign, and Powerpoint, there are many online infographic generators to choose from. Check out the following generators and find one the suits your needs. 

Opinion Editorials

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A good opinion piece offers a perspective on a current item of interest to the readers of a specific publication. Hence, an understanding of audience is extremely important.
 
The writer’s tone is balanced and consistent, and his or her voice unique–humorous or cynical, angry or sorrowful, objective or contemplative, but definitely the voice of the writer. Opinion pieces are the product of an individual, not a committee.
 
Also, while it may seem obvious, it bears repeating: the best opinion pieces are lively, informative, and good pieces of writing.
 
One of the worst things you can do when writing is to write in a manner inconsistent with your target medium. Just as you adopt a different tone in letters asking Mom for money than you would in a letter asking for a loan, you also must know the conventions of the place where your writing will be read.
 
In this case, you are “publishing” in a magazine, so you should be aware that magazine articles have very short paragraphs. In general, no more than two or three sentences make up a typical paragraph.
 
The reason is “gray space,” the way a long block of text tends to turn gray upon glancing. Also, because newspapers are printed in columns, paragraphs seem longer than they would in a book because the lines are shorter.
 
The most important consideration about shorter paragraphs is that they are easier for readers to read. Long unbroken blocks of text are daunting to most readers. Frequent paragraphs promise a sort of “rest stop” to readers.
 
Don’t feel you need to keep your paragraphs wholly unified and long. In opinion writing it is perfectly legitimate to begin new paragraphs often, even if it means continuing a thought begun in an earlier paragraph. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ll notice that I have been doing just that throughout this article.
 
Another consideration about Magazine writing is that you must grab the reader’s attention quickly. Magazine articles are meant to be read quickly, and rarely are they ever read again. And if an article is not interesting, readers generally will not bother finishing it.
 
For that reason, it is crucial that you begin with a good lead, an opening sentence or story that “hooks” readers immediately and makes them want to read on. A good lead tantalizes, informs, and sets the tone for the piece. It can even be creative. For instance, an editorial on gambling in the Wall Street Journal began with a paraphrase of Dr. Seuss: “I do like gambling, Sam-I-Am, I really like it, and I can. For I can do it in a plane, on a boat, at the track, and in the rain. I can do it in a casino, with the lottery, or with Keno.”
 
A final consideration for op-ed pieces is that it must be short and concise. Although lengths of op-ed pieces in real newspapers vary–those in the New York Times may be longer than those in smaller papers, for example–you should waste no time in getting to your point.
 
 
 
 
 
 
What aspect of your research topic would make a good opinion piece?

Choose something you discovered from your research, and that you have a strong opinion about and record it here:

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References

The 2018 Sprout Social Index: realign and redefine. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/-UUm
 
Mindful Writing
 

Suggested Citation

& (2019). Public Texts. In , Writing in the Social Sciences. EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/writing/public_texts

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