Rhetoric and Composition

Writing is a complicated and often mysterious process. Although we may think of it as little
more than arranging letters and words on a page, a few moments’ reflection reveals that it
is much more than that. On the one hand, writing is an art–we don’t say Shakespeare’s
language is “correct” but rather that it is beautiful. On the other hand, writing is a science–
we want the instructions that came with our Blu-Ray player to be accurate, precise, and
easy to understand.

Then there is the matter of what makes writing “good writing.” Although we might say
that both an instruction manual and a play are “well written,” we appreciate them for
different reasons. A play written in the clear, unambiguous language of an instruction
manual would not be a hit on Broadway. In other words, writing must be judged according
to its context–what is its purpose and audience? Finally, even readers with a great deal in
common may not agree about the quality of any particular text, just as people’s opinions
differ about which bands are really great. We really don’t know why people have such
preferences and can’t make accurate predictions about what they will like or dislike. Simply
put, writing isn’t simple.

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