Rhetoric and Group Projects – A Reflection

Guest post by Liz Van Hise ’16

Throughout college, it is inevitable that you will have at least one class per semester that has a group project that contributes to a significant part of your grade. Group projects are notorious in college and often seem to bring up repressed memories. Our minds start to swirl with questions – do we have to choose our partners? Do I trust anyone in this class enough to contribute to my grade? Will I have to take all of the work upon myself?

I just finished a semester-long group project for my senior seminar and, as it turns out, it was one of the most successful group projects that I have ever been a part of. We started the class by learning about project management skills, and the importance of communication between all parties involved quickly became evident.

My particular project was an ethnographic study of people associated with the Haw River and its watershed. We interviewed people with high and low association to the Haw River and researched extensively into the history and background of the river itself. Having this knowledge of the river and of the people living around it before performing the interviews helped us to develop our ethos with the community members. This, along with the information gathered and analyzed from the interviews, helped to increase our ethos among our class members – we became the experts in our field.

We utilized logos in our final paper and presentation, including statistics and information from other primary and secondary sources that we gathered. This helped us to score a higher grade on our project. We established pathos with our audience during our final presentation and in our final paper by including quotes from the people that we interviewed. These quotes were able to show the importance of the Haw River from first-hand experiences and personal accounts.

My group, and group projects in general, have a certain structure and flow to them, especially if they are to be done in an effective manner. This flow follows the five rhetorical canons rather closely.

Invention. The first canon, invention, was a group process. We were given very few guidelines for our project, and it was very much up to us to decide what our process for gathering information and final product would be. We met with many parties involved, including our professors and community partners.

Arrangement. Once we decided the details of our project and gathered the necessary information, we arranged our information in a cohesive structure. It had the structure of a typical research paper, with sections for introduction, methods and materials, results, discussion and conclusion.

Style. Since this was a group project, we had to decide on one style in which we were going to write and convey the necessary information. This had to appeal to both the community partners, our environmental science professors, and classmates.

Memory and Delivery. The last two canons came into play when it came time to give the presentation. We practiced our presentation many times so that we could explain our project, process, and results to our audience in an effective and informative way. We worked together to perfect our delivery and were rewarded by our practice and hard work throughout the semester.

Group projects, when approached correctly, can yield very rewarding results. It is important to consider the rhetorical canons and concepts mentioned in the paragraphs above to make your group project as successful as it can be.

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