Thursday, March 12, 2015

Official Style of Bruffee

“To the extent that thought is internalized conversation, then, any effort to understand how we think requires us to understand the nature of conversation; and any effort to understand conversation requires us to understand the nature of community life that generates and maintains conversation. Furthermore, any effort to understand and cultivate in ourselves the kind of thought we value most requires us to understand and cultivate the kinds of community life that establish and maintain conversation that is the origin of that kind of thought. To think well as individuals we must learn to think well collectively—that is, we must learn to converse well. The first steps to learning to think better, therefore, are learning to converse better and learning to establish and maintain the sorts of social context, the sorts of community life, that foster the sorts of conversation members of the community value” (Kenneth A. Bruffee 88). 
This paragraph comes from an academic article, Collaborative Learning and the “Conversation of Mankind”, written by Kenneth A. Bruffee, which was collected in Composition in Four Keys: Inquiring into the Field. Published in Mountain View, CA, by Mayfield Publishing Company in 1996. The reader of this article might be an English Rhetoric and Writing major student or English Scholar. This article aims to provide suggestions to scholars or students in the field about how to think and learn well. If his goal is to help students and teachers become good collaborative learners, the students and teachers reading his work need to be able to understand it. However, I don’t think he follows his ideas because he uses a difficult language to be understood by us. Thus, we wouldn’t be able to think collaboratively and work collaboratively with each other. I think that good writing is clear and concise, and the official style Bruffee uses in his writing is not clear. The way he write is not beneficial to his audience, but to himself because he uses devices intentionally to make people believe him. I would argue that Bruffee should have written this in a plainer language so that the average student or teacher would be able to understand and learn from his ideas.
This paragraph is definitely an example of official style even though there are no complex words or jargon in it. But why is it official style? First of all, when I started to read it, I found out it was hard to follow his ideas because of the long and verbose sentences. Second, these four sentences are all complex sentences, which have certain structures with numbers of ideas increasing throughout each sentence. The four sentences also contain a lot of rhetorical devices and other official style strategies. “Furthermore” and “therefore” are also used to connect ideas and sentences in order to strengthen Bruffee’s argument. Lastly, punctuation marks are increasingly used in the passage such as semicolon, commas and dash.  
These are the statistics for this paragraph from the readability calculator:

Flesch-Kincaid reading ease
Average Grade level
Characters per word
Words per sentence

  According to Flesch’s 1949 analysis of the readability of adult reading materials, this paragraph’s Flesch-Kincaid reading ease of 28.4 is at a very difficult level. The range goes from 0 to 30. This is very difficult and inaccessible for anyone in the general public to read and understand. It is not surprising that the average grade level is 18.3, as the structures are complex and the strategies and rhetorical devices are vastly used in this paragraph. This number is far above the average reading level of the general public in America, which is the seventh grade. The verbose sentences are too formal and too academic which might cause the reader to get bored and cease to be further engaged in such an official style. The words in each sentence are 36.5, which is a very high number; even though the characters per word are only 5.2.
  Further dissecting the sentences’ structure, it is obvious that this paragraph has certain structures in these four sentences. It is interesting to see the first two sentences use the same structure and the last two sentences use the same structure. For example, the main structure of the first and second sentence is “noun + to + verb”, whereas the third and the fourth use “to + verb” structure. There is an incredibly vast use of parallelism in this paragraph, almost every part of this sentence and several other sentences are expressed similarly to show that the ideas are equal in importance. For instance, Bruffee uses “any effort to understand . . . requires us to understand . . .” three times, which is one of the rhetorical devices that he uses to make his argument seem logical and reasonable to his audience, which naturally leads the audience to follow his ideas. However, this paragraph contains different lengths of sentences that would easily test people’s patience.
Once having read this passage, different people might have different reactions. Scholars or college students in the field might believe this is a B.S. strategy—a way to say the same thing over and over again. As an international student who majors in English Rhetoric and Writing, I didn’t feel it was easy to understand when I read it even though I could recognize all of the words. Therefore, I believe other International students or undergraduate students who don’t major in this field might feel it is a powerful strategy to build his argument due to the language barrier, culture differences or lack of professional knowledge. People from the general public might feel confused and frustrated and throw it away immediately.
    While looking deeply and closely at what official style strategies and rhetorical devices, there are tons of prepositional phrases and rhetorical devices being used throughout this paragraph. In addition to prepositions, the first sentence uses the coordinating conjunction “and” to give two independent clauses equal emphasis. It also uses prose style terminology--parataxis, which aims to show the audience in every sphere of human activity that the clauses are equally emphasized and the ideas are explicitly connected. Due to the different perspectives that come from spheres of human activity, contradictions or conflicts could be generated in using rhetorical devices. The first sentence of this paragraph would be an example. “To the extent that thought is internalized conversation, then”, the word “then” here can be seen as Metabasis, which is a transition from one subject to another. Metabasis refers to an idea that has already been explained or agreed on. Bruffee might use this rhetorical device on purpose since he previously argued that thought is internalized conversation. By using this transition, he can lead his audience to move on to his next argument. However, people who have other perspectives might not agree with that Metabasis, they might argue that the word “then” is Expletivehe because it seems unnecessary since it doesn’t explain anything or express anything in this sentence. The second and third sentence also uses Distincto “that is” to explain or remove or prevent ambiguity among readers, which indicates the next sentence is to simplify and explain more about the former one and. For me, this rhetorical device is a signal that what is coming next might explain more clearly the longer sentences.

By doing this research, I learned that a lot of scholars in the rhetoric writing field overuse the complex sentences in their writing. It is interesting that they can use certain structures and strategies to connect simple words or phrases into big and difficult sentences. I also found that these strategies and rhetorical devices are quite contradictory in different discourse communities. Some scholars and students in this field might disagree with the rhetoricians’ style they used because they use those powerful strategies to make small things into big so that can always confuse and fool the general public instead of helping them. Sometimes with official style, when people use complex sentences and a lot of words (verbose) and strategies, the audience will believe what they are writing is true even if they can’t understand, simply because the writer must know what they are talking about. Maybe the fact that it is “hard to understand” makes us think that the person writing it must be very intelligent and therefore believable. However, I don’t think it is a good thing to believe someone just because they “sound” smart or because they use a lot of words and rhetoric. Rather, it would be better to believe them because I could understand their ideas and notice their ideas are good ones. Bruffee is trying to tell us how to learn well, can teachers and students be collaborative learners if they can’t understand how?

-----Aijing Song

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