Saturday, May 11, 2013

Menu Misinterpretation?

            If you knew it would take two hours of intensive walking to burn off that dessert tempting you at dinnertime, would you still choose it?  That’s the question brought up in an article by that looks into a new study that finds that restaurant guests who look at menus that show them an estimate of how much exercise is needed to burn off calories tend to choose lower-calorie options.  Sounds like a great idea, but where is all this information really coming from, and is there enough evidence to back it up?
            The article’s general target audience seems to be individuals that dine out somewhat frequently,
“Registered dietician Leslie Beck finds the study results interesting, “I guess what this suggests is that if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis…”

I believe the motive was to make those people who dine out at restaurants frequently to believe as though they need these calories put into context, leading to them being healthier.  If the food and restaurant industry get a demand of consumers who feel as though this is going to benefit them, or even get government health officials involved, more restaurants might be willing to add that information to their menus. 
But this also brings up the conflict of an additional activity system, the restaurants. Restaurant menus are typically written with a mixture of plain and official styles, so how do they feel about journalists, who normally write in the official style, believing that they should change their menus into a plain style so they can be better understood?  And what business is going to voluntarily display anything that discourages someone from buying their product?  It’s a complication and battle between activity systems.  Is the study provided even broad enough to convince enough people that they need this information in their menus?
The article itself admits that this was just one group of people, “We can’t generalize to a population over age 30…”, and they even state that “It’s hard to say why the combination of the calorie and the exercise information made a bigger difference than simply the calorie information”.  So how can this large truth that putting calories into context will make people make better meal decisions be based on only one study, furthermore a study that still needs a lot of work? 
I believe the mixture of plain and official styles is used to try to make this article seem more scholarly and trustworthy, when really it is not very credible information.  For instance, the fact that there was a study done on this topic makes it seem legitimate and official, but then realizing that this entire article is based on that one study mentioned doesn’t make the information seem so believable.  There are other studies briefly mentioned but never in depth,  

“The researchers say that the majority of studies done of the effectiveness on displaying calories on menus show that the menus do not lead to fewer calories ordered or eaten. They say that contextualizing those calories could be an effective strategy to encourage people to eat less.”

Why aren’t any other studies discussed deeper?  This makes me as the reader wonder if there are studies that contradict the one presented in this article, and if maybe the author is trying to keep this information from the reader to prove their point that putting calories into context on menus makes people eat healthier.
Most of the article is written in very plain style, as the majority of the sentences are very short, clear, and to the point.  They appear to be easy to understand, and the main ideas are repeated throughout the article.  There is the use of exemplum,    

“Researchers at Texas Christian University recently conducted a study of 300 men and women under the age of 30. They broke them into three groups, giving each group a menu with the same food choices.  One group received a regular menu; the second received a menu that listed the calories of each food item; the third got a menu that listed the calories as well as the number of minutes of brisk walking needed to burn those calories.  The study found that the people who got the third menu not only tended to order less, they also ate less compared to those who got the menu without calorie labels.  Results of the study were presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston.”

Followed by a very large use of metabasis,   

“The researchers say putting calories into context seemed to have an effect on the people they studied.” 

"This study suggests there are benefits to displaying exercise minutes to a group of young men and women,” senior researcher Dr. Meena Shah said in a statement.

“I guess what this suggests is that if you eat out in restaurants on a regular basis, knowing and seeing that (calorie and exercise) information could help you manage your weight.”

“She says it seems that putting calorie information into a context that most people can relate to – brisk walking – helps to make people think a little harder about their food choices.” 

            Because of the fact that there is not much evidence besides the one study mentioned in the beginning of the article, yet the article keeps repeating the fact that this idea is effective, makes this article quite biased.  Even when things are in the official style, they are quite deceptive and confusing.  They don’t provide any alternative options or suggestions, and they don’t have enough evidence to really prove their point.  Also, they’re often vague as to whom they are speaking about.  For example, in the last paragraph it says, “The researchers say that the majority of studies...” but don’t explain who these “researchers” are.  
            Initially after reading this article, I thought maybe that for most people who don’t know much about plain vs. official style wouldn’t realize how flawed this information was, since there was research provided that seems to agree with their main idea, making it seem official and professional.  But, I read the reader comments, and found that many readers found this articles information to be misleading for many different reasons. 
One reader brought up the fact that putting the calorie intake “into context” was actually confusing, because if for instance the only thing you eat in a day is a 500 calorie muffin, it wouldn’t take two hours of walking to burn it off, because a person can burn around 2000 calories a day from normal activity.  It’s really the calories above and beyond that level that someone has to worry about.  Another reader pointed out that the relationship between calories and exercise is really not that simple.  “People of different weights will burn dramatically different calories doing the same activity.”  So the whole idea of contextualizing calorie information in general seems to be flawed, and many readers wondered if it was really okay to give the public misleading information.  Also, how can an article that uses plain style, infused with the official style to seemingly mislead readers, have the right to tell restaurants that they need to put their calorie information into plain style?      

By: Katie TerBeest 

More than Plugging In

It’s no secret that schools across the globe today make great use of many technological advancements that today’s society has to offer in order to enrich the lives of their students.  Technology has become a huge part of American’s everyday lives, so introducing kids to these tools at a young age is crucial.  But, there is so much more to it than plugging tech equipment into the classrooms across the country.  As my article “Technology planning in schools: An integrated research-based model” by Ruben Vanderline and Johan van Braak, published in the British Journal of Educational Technology explains, a technology plan is needed prior to obtaining technology in schools.  Within the technology plan, the article emphasizes that there is a major distinction between “technology planning”(a verb), and a “technology plan” (a noun).  Schools need to come up with a plan before they introduce technology to the classrooms to explain the school’s expectations and goals of integrating technology into education.  It describes the overall philosophy of technology use, explores how technology will improve teaching and learning.  Really, this is a pretty simple process; but the use of the official style complicates the idea to make it seem far more sophisticated and complex than it really is.    
            Making note that the article is from an educational technology journal, I assumed that this article was meant for individuals who are involved in education and integrating technology into schools.  Reading on, within the second paragraph, the writers stated exactly whom the article was written for,

“This overall model is intended for teachers and school leaders when developing their school technology plan, for researchers when investigating technology planning and for policy makers and educational developers when designing initiatives to support schools in the technology planning process.”    

Being that this article was written for teachers and those other educational leaders,  I predicted that there might be some use of technical language or concepts catered towards this group that me, not being involved in education, might not understand.  The first time I read through the article, I admit that I was very confused by the whole concept of technology planning.  Reading through a couple more times, I realized that there was only one small part in the article that spoke to educators’ background knowledge of the school system,

“ Educational technology vision development concerns the establishment of a school-based vision on technology integration and linking this vision to the schools’ vision of education. The financial technology policy concerns the management of the schools’ technology budget.  The third domain, technology policy regarding the infrastructure, concerns the practical organization of the educational technology infrastructure, ie, hardware and software issues.”    
            The phrases underlined are the only things educators reading this article would really have background knowledge on that anyone else not working in education wouldn’t know.  Besides those few small concepts, this article is really not that complicated.  This article is definitely written in the official style in order to seem professional, establish credibility/expertise, and build legitimate knowledge.  It’s very informative, has a model of a system of technology planning in school, and goes through different dimensions, explaining the steps taken.  Each step has it’s own details and instructions to follow in order to ensure a “smooth ride”.  But really, when you break the article down, it only has two main ideas that with the use of the official style have managed to be re-worded throughout the entire three and a half paged article. 
Much like a characteristic of the official style, the first sentence of this article takes awhile to get going, or doesn’t really get to the point effectively right away,

“In the quest for conditions that support the integration of educational technology into classrooms, recent attention has been paid by researches, policy makers and practitioners to the importance of technology planning.  Technology planning or information and communication technology (ICT) policy planning is commonly referred to as the process of developing, revising and implementing a school technology plan that guides teachers and the school organization in the integration of technology for teaching and learning.”  

            What?  This main concept is re-mentioned with different wording several times throughout the article.  But, it isn’t until the third paragraph that the use of plain language is used to really make sense of what technology planning truly is,

“In the TPS model, a major distinction is made between “technology planning” (a verb) and “technology plan” (a noun).  The latter refers to the official document made by schools.  It is the outcome or product of several underlying processes that are at stake in schools – referred to as “technology planning” – resulting in a technology plan.”

            Plain and simple, to the point; these three sentences basically sum up the whole article.  The point of the whole article is confusing too.  At first it seems as though the main reason for the article is to explain to educators what technology planning is.  But then it seems to somewhat delve into how to create a technology plan, but vaguely enough that this article would not be sufficient enough instruction to do so.  Their motives for writing this article is a mystery until the end, in which it’s stated,

“By visualizing all aspects that have been identified in research studies on technology planning, we hope to stimulate schools in their continuing efforts on technology plan in general, and their technology integration activities in particular.” 

            So the point seems to be promoting technology planning by explaining some of the steps it takes.  The use of the official style makes this article seem as though they’ve actually given steps, but really it’s a repetition of defining technology planning.  This is done in large part by the use of prepositional phrases, making the article shapeless.  It offers no chance to emphasize or harmonize, so it’s literally unspeakable.  Some examples of prepositional phrases include, “As such, technology planning as a source of school feedback can foster schools’ goals of improvement and quality assurance.”,  “Moreover, this dimension further refers to the use of the model by in-service trainers or school counselors.”, “In a technology plan, a school describes its expectations, goals, contents and actions concerning the integration of technology in education.”,  “In this colloquium, an integrated research-based model on technology planning in schools (TPS) is described.”, and “To put it differently, writing a technology plan is a process of going through different steps.” 
The entire article seems to reword and rephrase the definition of technology planning over and over again.  Overall, there is a large use of the official style in order to make this somewhat simple idea of technology planning seem far more complex.  The use of prepositional phrases, complex sentences, and arbitrary bureaucracy language make the article seem as though it is sophisticated and it’s doing something more than just defining technology planning, when really it’s just doing that.  So why, if all it’s doing is defining technology planning, is it in a Journal of Educational Technology, the 44th volume at that?  Wouldn’t people reading this journal already know something about technology planning?  Also, why does the article claim to give processes in which to form a technology plan when it doesn’t do so?  Are they knowingly trying to confuse the reader into believing that they now know how and are prepared to create a technology plan for their schools after reading this?  Is the use of official style in this article used to take advantage of the reader?  And finally, wouldn’t some teachers and those involved in education be able to notice that this article goes in a circle and doesn’t really explain how to form a technology plan?  

By Katie TerBeest

Friday, May 10, 2013

Is Country Music the New Rap?

Country music is known for its down-home southern pride. The music you crank up on a warm summer day while driving down the highway or maybe while sitting on your front porch sipping some sweet tea. The typical words you associate with this genre of music could be tractor, trucks, beer, or maybe even Jesus. Words that most likely won’t pop into your head would be sex, misogyny, and gender stereotypes. That’s more hip-hop and rap, right? False. County music is just as guilty for incorporating these themes into their songs. However, the context in which country music does it may just be what keeps it out of the spotlight unlink other genres such as hip hop and rap. 

I’m going to preface this essay by saying that I am a huge county music fan. You’d be hard pressed to find a Miranda Lambert, Johnny Cash, or Eric Church song I can’t sing along to. It’s what I grew up on, a genre that calls me home. I won’t lie when I say the songs I critique and pick apart contextually are the songs I listen to and love. But that’s what intrigued me and brought me upon this critique. Every morning, while getting ready, I put Spotify on and crank some country jams. However, on this particular morning, I had just read an article about misogyny in hip hop music and had that on the brain. You know when you learn something and then you just start using it in every aspect of your life? Anyways, this theme that was running through my head started picking up some of the same context clues I had just learned. “Drunk on You” by Luke Bryan had been the song playing.

The song starts out slow, setting the scene for what I picture as this big bonfire hang out in the country on a hot summer night. To paint a better picture, as stated by Matt Bjorke, a country music critic, the song is “certainly something the college-age fans will downright love and relate to as they live in the moment.” Then the chorus rolls:

“Girl, you make my speakers go boom boom 

Dancin' on the tailgate in a full moon 

That kinda thing makes a man go mmm hmmm 

You're lookin' so good in what's left of those blue jeans 

Drip of honey on the money maker gotta be 

The best buzz I'm ever gonna find 

Hey, I'm a little drunk on you 

And high on summertime” 

Let me tell you, if you’re a college age girl, you’ve seen Luke Bryan, and hear this, you’re swooning. But why? When actually listening to the lyrics of this song, they are rather explicit. Luke Bryan is downright asking for sex from this woman at the party. But the way he puts it, the rhetorical devices that he uses help to cover up the pretty explicit content in his song. For example, “girl you make my speakers go boom boom” clearly is expressing that he is turned on. But when he uses onomatopoeia it comes off as a more abstract idea and makes it more romanticized that just saying “hey girl, you turn me on.” In the chorus, although this may be a bit extreme, he turns the woman into an object of sexual desire. When asked what his lyrics such as “What’s left of those blue jeans” and “drip of honey on the money maker” mean, Rodney Clawson, a co-writer of the song replied, “Exactly what you think it does.”

Throughout the song, there are little phrases tossed in like “mhmm” and “good god almighty” which amplify this idea of wanting this woman, especially when it follows a line like “every little kiss just drivin’ me wild.” This whole song is basically amplification for being turned on by a woman. Although he uses a metaphor when explaining it, drunk on you, it’s pretty obvious that he is wanting her. The climax of the song, and maybe Luke’s literal climax to put it explicitly, continues as such:

“Let's slip on out where it's a little bit darker 

And when it gets a little bit hotter 

We'll take it off on out in the water” 

If I didn’t have you sold before on the whole sex thing, I hope I do now. I don’t know if it can be said any more explicitly than “we’ll take it off on out in the water.” Clearly the man in this song has won his woman over with his sexual lyrics and led her out to the water.

So why doesn’t country get a bad rap for having such sexual lyrics? Countless times I have heard rap and hip hop, sometimes even heavy metal, getting scolded for its lyrics. But country music gets praised and is believed to be this family friendly genre, one that you can turn on in the minivan with 3 kids in the back seat. But after listening to this song, maybe that is something we need to rethink.

According to the Billboard Country Music Summit, 42% of the population is a country music fan, which breaks down to 95 million country music fans in the US. 48 percent of those who like country music are male and 52 percent are female. Country music is a growing genre and is having to compete with larger genres such as rap, hip hop, and pop, all of which are known for having more sexual content. So is this country music’s way of keeping up with the Jones’s? In order to market their music, maybe there is pressure to keep the content hyper sexualized, like everything else in the media. I mean, if we’re being realistic, sex is everywhere, from music, movies, TV shows, and books. Every entertainment media is slowly becoming sexualized to fit our new age culture. So maybe instead of blaming a certain genre for its content, maybe we need to relook at our culture and see how we shape what we listen to. Country music may use certain rhetorical devices to make it not so language explicit, but it’s still there. No matter if its rap or country, you are going to hear sexually explicit content.

Meg S.

Cosmopolitan: The New High School Textbook

Cosmopolitan is one of the best-selling woman’s magazine, enticing its readers with beauty facts, sex tips, and celebrity gossip. Its bright colors, descriptive headlines, and celebrity focused cover draw your attention on the news stand. Just by looking at the bright pinks and headlines, you can tell the demographic trying to be reached is women. If we get more specific, according to Cosmo (2011), 58.7% of their readership is women ages 18-34 years. With the explicit content of the magazine, having articles such as “7 things “Real” Guys Want in Bed” and “How to Pull Off Friends with Benefits,” you would hope Cosmo would be directing its magazine towards this age demographic. Cosmo also prides itself in its readership of educated women readers. Over half of their readership has attended/graduated college. However, if we look at the readability statistics of Cosmo magazine, its average article comes in at a 7.8 grade level. It is this statistic that unnerves me. Is Cosmo purposely making their magazine easier to read to spread their readership to a younger demographic of women? Although their demographic age range is 18-49, Cosmo has been appealing to younger readers to purchase their magazine. 

Before even getting a chance to read the actual articles of the magazine, you are bombarded by images. The cover hosts a familiar celebrity. For the March 2013 issue, you see Miley Cyrus in a less than modest white suit, holding the suit coat open to expose her body. Miley Cyrus is well known for her Disney channel show, Hannah Montana. She acted as a role model for, now young teen, girls as they grew up watching her star in their favorite TV show. Next to her face, the headline “It’s Miley B*tches…” is predominately displayed. The fact that Cosmo chose a young actress that appeals to a younger audience says words. Looking back at Cosmo’s demographic age range, Miley is not relevant. They didn’t watch her playing a middle school preteen only a little over 2 years ago. So even before seeing the content of the magazine, young girls are attracted to who they see on the cover.

As you open the cover, celebrities, advertisements, models, and products cover each page in bright and inviting ways. You see perfectly curved women scantily dressed on the arm of a half-naked male model with rippling muscles, seductively smiling. You wouldn’t have guessed it, but these two are actually trying to sell Dolce and Gabana’s new fragrance. Because nothing says you will smell good like a picture of sex. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and after skimming through the images of Cosmo, you’ll believe it. These images, no matter if you can read or not, say enough. The explicit images paired with each sex article rival the line of pornography. Even if you don’t know what the 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood are, you will after seeing each position laid out.

Then, let’s say you actually want to read an article in Cosmo. The writing in Cosmo is not strictly plain style. It is definitely a mix between plain and creative. Some elements of creative style would be the witty banter/writer’s voice you hear in each piece, also an element of plain style. A lot of the articles include simple humor to help relate to the audience and make the topic of sex and relationships less tense and awkward. For instance, when opening up the article 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood, Jessica Knoll writes “You are a woman of many moods, and sometimes those mood are not consistent with having insane, contortionist, bend-over-backward-and-balance-on-one-hand sex.” Funny? Yes. Relatable? Very. It is these simple humored sentences that are seen throughout Cosmo. However, the writing is very plain creative. Plain to the point where the supposed age range being targeted could feel as though the writing is dumbed down. For example, when explaining explicit sex moves in this same article, the sentences are short and sweet, active voice being used throughout. “Slip into a hot bubble bath together. Sit between his legs. Put your back against his chest.” This writing is not only awkward, but a step by step guide on how to have bathtub sex. Simple enough sentence structure that, if you are under the age of 18, you can very easily not only read these sentences but follow them and understand them. As a 21 year old adult, I feel like these instructions are not only a little insulting to my intelligence but very explicitly put not for my benefit, but for the benefit of those younger than me that may need simpler sentence structure to understand the material. Notice no sex jargon has been used or descriptive words that may confuse the reader. These instructions remind me of the pamphlet I got from my Ikea bookshelf, simple and direct.

So after the 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood, the next article is titled So You’re Thinking About a Threesome… The stories shared by readers are short and simple, following the same format as the previous article. Throughout the magazine you see a parallelism with the structure. Each article is the same laid out, with small sub sections and topics, big bold quotes picked out, and simple sentence structures. Not only do you see parallelism throughout the magazine, but specifically in this article. Each new story starts with “I had a three some with…” Besides the parallelism, you see the active voice also being used throughout this article. Advice on how to have better sex, I can understand why that may be needed to explained simply, but stories about threesomes? The examples, or personal stories, used throughout this article make this article super easy to understand and relate to. It is written like a high school diary, something in which a young reader could understand and look to for advice.

The fact that plain style is so evident in this magazine makes me question who it’s real demographic is. Paired with the celebrities seen, the bright, cheap looking cover colors, and headlines that could make anyone look, Cosmo’s demographic is starting to seep down into a younger age group. And is this appropriate? Should Cosmo be read by high school girls with content such as 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood and So You’re Thinking About a Threesome…? Cosmo, if you’re actually are aiming your readership to educated 18-49 year olds, the content of your magazine should be at a higher caliber, cause as of now, it’s a little insulting. If not, take some social responsibility because do we really want teen girls to follow the Cosmo motto as Helen Gurley, the legendary editor of Cosmo once said, “If you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble.”

Meg S.

Prose Styles & Why They Matter

After an extreme winter season this year in Wisconsin, I found myself wondering what a life in sunny, hot Florida might be like. After doing some web surfing, I realized I would have to prepare for many new changes if I decided to make the move. A friend of mine mentioned that I would have to know what to do in case of a hurricane. After visiting, I noticed the plain language used because of my prose style and editing English class, in which we discuss different types of prose style, their uses, and their effects.
Plain style prose is often used to be more accessible and reach a broader audience. It is supposed to be meant to be clear, concise, and lacking ambiguity. A closer look at the ‘Before a Hurricane’ tips on the government-run website, I found that I was more confused by the time I finished reading, as indicated by the many question marks in my GoogleDoc analysis. The plain style asks the question of “who is kicking whom?” In other words, plain style language should clearly indicate who or what is completing an action. An example is the following tip from the page: “Identify levees and dams in your area and determine whether they pose a hazard to you.” ‘You,’ or in other words, the reader, is the ‘who’ aspect and the action is to ‘identify’ and ‘determine.’ It is simple language. It makes sense. The wording is not ambiguous… or so it seems.
When I started thinking about the activity systems surrounding the context, I started to wonder who exactly would be actively seeking out this information. I was looking it up because I was seriously considering moving to Florida and wanted to be as prepared as possible. Natives of Florida may already know this information because they are used to it and have lived there their whole lives. I feel that they would not be the type who would visit this website. I came to the conclusion that people who would look up this information would be possibly people like me, who are considering moving to a place with hurricanes, or recently moved individuals that need to prepare. I tried to look for ads that would be on the website that may indicate who the audience might be to no avail. Because it is government sponsored, the closest thing to an ad was a box, indicating to sign a pledge showing that you are prepared for any natural disaster.
So, if people who are unfamiliar with what to do in case of a hurricane uses this information, I felt the tips were easy to understand, but the actual implementation of these tips was anything but. The second tip, “Know your surroundings” is extremely vague. Even if you do “know” your surroundings, what action is required? There is an implied action involved that is not stated. I understand that it is good to be aware of your surroundings, but there is no direction as to what to do if you feel your surroundings are dangerous. Another tip states, “Install straps or additional clips to securely fasten your roof to the frame structure. This will reduce roof damage.” I am capable of many things, but I do not know how I would go about doing this if I lived by myself. “Install a generator” is another tip offered. How would I go about doing this myself? Would I need a professional? Who would I contact? The second-to-last tip was the one that confused me most. It says, “If in a high-rise building, be prepared to take shelter on or below the 10th floor.” It directly contradicts the fifth tip that states to “find higher ground.” It confused me because I know that in the midst of a hurricane, you are supposed to be not close to ground level to not be in danger of drowning. I think that high-rise buildings are unstable due to heavy winds, which is why it is recommended to not go up as high as you can in those types of buildings. However, I still don’t understand why you would want to stay at the tenth floor or lower. I understood the goal was to be elevated from the water as much as possible.
These questions obviously require more research, which I don’t think was originally intended when the authors created the webpage. They certainly utilized the plain style in order to reach a broad audience and intended ease for readers. When looked at more critically, it seems as unclear as an official style piece, in terms of implementing these tips. I found it strange as well that it was not offered in Spanish or any other language for that matter. If I, a native-born English speaker, am struggling with these concepts, what about others who do not speak the language? Since it is a government site, I find this very discouraging. After all, America is said to be ‘the melting pot’ of all cultures, and Florida is very diverse especially in bigger cities like Miami.
The problem I have with this website and style of writing is that it is potentially putting lives at stake. The web page provides tips about how to save lives, while disregarding other races and ethnicities, even if it is very subtle. I do not think that this was the direct intention, however, it came across as being exclusive more than it was inclusive, when looked at with a critiqued eye. There is a plethora of natural disaster information elsewhere on the website, but if I do end up moving, I think that I would be better off asking a local what exactly to do in case of a hurricane. Prose style does matter! In this case, it has the potential to save lives if well written.

Madeleine G.