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5 Taking a stance, becoming public: opinion editorials

Cristina Boccia, Grisel Salmaso, Alejandra Farías
and Mercedes Romero Day · Pedro Ángella (collaborator)

This chapter is concerned with the media genre called opinion editorial that appears in newspapers and magazines of general circulation in many cultures. We discuss its potential role in the EFL context, the way it fulfills its social function as it unfolds in stages, and several of its features that make this genre particularly relevant for intermediate and advanced literacy development. We concentrate mainly on the interpersonal functions fulfilled in opinion editorials, namely the way in which the writer – the textual voice – positions itself as it takes a stance, argues for it, tries to construe solidarity with its readers, persuades them and, very often, tries to move them to action.

5.1 Stepping into the public stage

The genre is nowadays generally called opinion editorial, op-ed for short. Op-eds are articles that appear ‘opposite the editorial page’. This was, in fact, the original meaning of op-ed (opposite editorials); they are part of the section of a newspaper that is devoted to the analysis and commentary of news. They are typically written by external contributors to a newspaper or a magazine, most often well-known journalists or experts, as well as by local citizens who voice their opinion on a significant or urgent issue. Op-eds are often written in response to a topic that appeared in a newspaper or one that is current and relevant. They are typically addressed to ordinary readers, interested in being informed and learning and not necessarily knowledgeable on the topic.

Andrew Rosenthal, op-ed writer and former Editorial Page editor of The New York Times, states that a “good editorial consists of a clear position that is strongly and persuasively argued […] based on principles but also based on facts” (Rosenthal, 2014). Viewed from an educational perspective, op-eds are a type of argumentative text that “argues a case in such a way that the audience is convinced of the truth of the viewpoint or the merits of the proposal” (Feez et al., 2008, p. 178). These authors refer to op-eds as media expositions, establishing the connection with the exposition genre in which a stance is adopted and argued for with “the purpose of persuading an audience to the writer’s point of view, the ‘thesis’” (Martin & Rose, 2007, p. 12). The op-ed, then, can be described as an exposition that has been recontextualized in the discourse of journalism, with characteristics that are very much its own. The social function of an op-ed is to influence the opinion of readers on a particular topic on which a clear position is taken up, critically analyzed and solidly substantiated and upon which action is called.

As it is a persuasive text in which the writer clearly states his/her opinion and tries to support it convincingly with factual information, it involves skills that are very highly valued in education, particularly in higher education. Yet, we have not found op-eds very frequently in series of EFL course books currently used, even for students at a relatively high level of instruction. They are a real-world, public genre that involves critical educational skills that make students position themselves as knowledgeable writers in a particular area of real experience, take a stance on a controversial or compelling topic, build an informed case, convince an audience they do not know but whose opinions they need to anticipate and attend to, persuade and, more often than not, try to move to action. All these functions involve a good number of skills both rhetorical and linguistic as students try to recreate an area of concrete experience that is related to more general or abstract ideas, to shunt between these different levels of abstraction (more concrete and particular, more abstract and generic), to express the significance of key ideas and to intensify and mitigate these expressions of attitude, to leave space for other possible opinions, to express varying degrees of certainty and to organize the information so that it engages and guides the reader.

We propose this genre as one that teachers can consider for their students which will allow them to reflect upon the world around them, to consider ways of acting upon it and to learn and make use of key literacy skills that will enable them to fulfill a real-life purpose.

We can anticipate that it will work particularly well with students who have an upper-intermediate or advanced level of instruction in EFL and are in their late teens, in their twenties or older. The rhetorical work involved to build a case calls for both a fairly good command of the language and a critical perspective toward the world around us. This, however, does not mean that students at an intermediate level of instruction cannot voice their opinion, put forth simple arguments, make an appeal and thus work with op-eds. Even our older students in state secondary schools who generally reach an intermediate level of instruction, often with difficulties, could still write a simple, yet effective op-ed on a topic that is compelling to them.[1]

For us to evaluate the importance of this genre in the literacy development of our students, we review some of the key features and language resources that are implicated in this genre. We list the functions in the left column and specify the key skills associated particularly to a function, yet not exclusively, to the right. We highlight the skills we will be taking up in the rest of the chapter.

As we can see, the number of skills implicated in the writing of an op-ed is considerable. They have been tentatively organized in terms of the concrete stages in a typical op-ed, yet several of its functions – the construal of a textual voice and the expression of attitude, for example – are fulfilled in the text as a whole. In our discussion of op-eds, we will take up the analysis of those elements that we have highlighted above. We have focused on the key interpersonal functions of the text: building strong arguments that will engage and persuade the audience, construing a textual voice that attends to other voices that the text invokes, expressing attitude toward key targets in the text and foregrounding key ideas by graduating them.

We have analyzed over twenty authentic op-eds from high-circulation newspapers in English speaking countries[2]. Having gone through editorial boards, they stand for effective samples of the genre. Our analysis has focused on texts written by experts in an attempt to distill from the texts their key contextual, semantic and lexico-grammatical features and to describe them in ways that make them an accessible teaching objective in the EFL context.

We will now move on to the description of the textual structure of an op-ed and the way this function is fulfilled in stages as the text unfolds.

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5.2 How do we organize information in op-eds?

To begin answering this question, let’s consider the following op-ed on the separation of families of immigrants in the United States, taken from The Seattle Times.[3]


Opinion

Separating families is a humanitarian and health crisis

Originally published June 15, 2018 at 11:37 am. Updated June 15, 2018 at 2:37 pm

[picture with caption that reads: A Central American immigrant holding a child looks through the border wall into the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico, in April. (Hans-Maximo Musielik / AP, file)]

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Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

In December of last year, our first child was born. I think of her family’s history and the fact that 78 years earlier, her great-grand father entered the United States seeking asylum from the Nazi regime.

At the age of 13, he boarded the last boat leaving Holland with his parents and sister, escaping the tragic fate of their murdered relatives. That courageous journey of family — parents and children — fleeing unthinkable horror made it possible for us to have a family of our own.

In my clinical practice as a local pediatrician, I see this same bravery in mothers and fathers who brought their children to our doorstep to escape incredible perils. The moral calculus of their decision is unimaginable. As the poet Warsan Shire wrote: “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land …”

Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

This, too, has echoes of a dark past. Our daughter’s family tree includes relatives who were fleeing on a ship called the Struma. After escaping Romania and reaching supposed safety, their ship in 1942 was literally towed back to sea by unsympathetic authorities concerned about their paperwork. The ship sank, and only one passenger is said to have survived.

Today, on a daily basis at our own U.S. border, children are being separated from their parents compounding the trauma of a perilous journey. In my opinion as a pediatrician, the current “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their parents places children at significant risk for adverse long-term developmental, physical and mental health outcomes. This systematic separation of families damages the attachment between child and parent, a bond that is critical for their well-being. This policy is being broadly applied to all families seeking refuge at our borders, including those lawfully seeking asylum.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes this policy of family separation, noting “separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians — protecting and promoting children’s health.” Repeated traumas (also called toxic stress) have been strongly associated with increased risk for mental illness, developmental delay, and chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Research demonstrates that parents can provide a key buffer to mitigate the effects of these traumas, and the “zero tolerance” policy eliminates this crucial buffer.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border during a crackdown on illegal entries from April 19 through May 31, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

In our own backyard, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has reported that mothers seeking asylum at the southwest U.S.-Mexico border are now being held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac after being separated from their children.

Policies that do not welcome asylum-seeking families together are harmful to children. Children need their parents, and children in families seeking refuge are especially vulnerable. We are fortunate that our extended family was welcomed together many years ago, as it should be. Let us be a nation that values families and offers a promise that all people seeking safety will find it here.

Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn

 

[Reprinted with permission of Dr. Dawson-Hahn]


As we read this sample text, we know it is an op-ed, a type of media exposition that unfolds in stages that gradually fulfill its global function. But what is exactly the structure of op-eds? What are the stages it follows? What is the function of each of those stages in relation to the general purpose of the text? Even when there is, in fact, a textual structure that is representative of how op-eds unfold, we must say that there is quite a bit of variability as we examined individual instances. This section focuses on the regularities we have observed as a way of coming to grips with a type of text that could initially seem too challenging for our students to produce, even for those at an upper-intermediate level of instruction. Op-eds fulfill a very important social function and they involve very significant rhetorical skills, so including them as part of what we explicitly teach seems very much worthwhile.

The structure of an op-ed can be represented linearly as follows:

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We will now illustrate and describe all of the stages in an op-ed. As we discuss each stage, we will begin by referring to our model text Separating families is a humanitarian and health crisis and then we will generalize on the function of each stage. After this panoramic overview of the stages, we will take up two stages that are of particular interest to us in this chapter, Establishing Significance of Issue and Building Case. Let’s review each stage in turn.This is the typical order in which the stages follow each other ─ signaled with the symbol ˄ that means ‘followed by’. This order, however, can be altered with a particular rhetorical purpose in mind. Not all of the stages are obligatory; we have included here all the stages that we have observed in the samples we analyzed, but some of them are optional (those included in parentheses). The obligatory stages, then, are defining of the genre as an op-ed and the optional ones contribute to explaining the variability we observe between different instances of the genre (Hassan, 1996).

Headline

Separating families is a humanitarian and health crisis

This Headline succinctly anticipates the central point of the op-ed: families of immigrants going into the United States are separated, a policy that is harmful to their physical and emotional welfare.

Headlines anticipate and very concisely summarize the issue and often the stance the author takes up with respect to that issue. As it is what the reader sees first, it is typically an appealing and inviting first contact. The most common lexico-grammatical expressions for the Headline are: a nominal group (Climate Change in My Backyard); a declarative statement announcing the issue (Nobody Walks to LAX); an imperative already proposing a course of action (Hey, Computer Scientists, Stop Hating on the Humanities!); or an interrogative raising the issue (How to Make A.I. That’s Good for People). These various ways of expressing the Headline show that it is always clear and succinct.

Lead

Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

This Lead expands on the meanings just made in the Headline to get the reader more involved, already specifying details of the position adopted in the text. The writer compellingly depicts the objectionable reality of the refugee situation and specifically states how families that seek asylum in the United States are not just separated but also ill-treated. Here, she makes separating families clearly a humanitarian and health crisis.

Leads expand on the most compelling meanings made in the Headline by including more precise information which foregrounds the author’s stance. Although the Lead is not an obligatory stage, it is a highly relevant one since, coupled with the Headline, it contributes toward making the reader align with the author before even reading the rest of the text. It is expressed in no more than two clauses in which some ideas included in the Headline are purposefully repeated and/or explained or specified.

Byline

By Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn

Special to The Times

Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn, M.D., is a pediatrician practicing in Seattle and a member of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Byline in this example contains the name of the author and her credentials as a recognized professional with expertise in the field. This information gives her authority and credibility on the topic of refugee families being separated.

Bylines typically provide information about the author of the text and could consist of only the name of the author. When the author is an authority in the field, the Byline usually includes the relevant credentials of the writer, as a first attempt to establish credibility. It is generally expressed in no more than two clauses.

Establishing Significance of Issue

[inserted ‘observation’] In December of last year, our first child was born. I think of her family’s history and the fact that 78 years earlier, her great-grand father entered the United States seeking asylum from the Nazi regime.

At the age of 13, he boarded the last boat leaving Holland with his parents and sister, escaping the tragic fate of their murdered relatives. That courageous journey of family —parents and children— fleeing unthinkable horror made it possible for us to have a family of our own.

This section of the sample text foregrounds the relevance of the issue by telling us a personal story (the whole section is, more precisely, an observation[4]) from the author’s past that brings the issue closer to our real-life experience. In this observation, we are told about her daughter’s great-grandfather’s entrance into the United States. The narrator reacts to the events: she positively evaluates his taking this trip as courageous, imagines the unthinkable horror he must have experienced and expresses her gratitude to him for this was the beginning of her own family. By including this personal experience, the author is presented not only as a prestigious authority in the field but also as someone who is personally related to the whole experience of immigration and has benefited from it. It is a powerful resource to highlight both the benefits and the hardships immigrants can experience.

Establishing Significance is a stage in which the writer shows that the issue the op-ed is about is significant in some way. It can be described as urgent, widespread, serious or important. These attributes are typically reflected in real events that are told or in descriptions of areas of experience. Personal stories and descriptions are very common ways of bringing in concrete experience that the reader can easily relate to. Section 5.2.1 below takes up this important stage in more detail.

Establishing Issue

In my clinical practice as a local pediatrician, I see this same bravery in mothers and fathers who brought their children to our doorstep to escape incredible perils. The moral calculus of their decision is unimaginable. As the poet Warsan Shire wrote: “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land …”

Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

[inserted narrative] This, too, has echoes of a dark past. Our daughter’s family tree includes relatives who were fleeing on a ship called the Struma. After escaping Romania and reaching supposed safety, their ship in 1942 was literally towed back to sea by unsympathetic authorities concerned about their paperwork. The ship sank, and only one passenger is said to have survived.

In the first part of the Establishing the Issue reproduced above, there is a shift from the personal information provided through her family story in the previous stage to more precise and current professional information that narrows down the discussion toward the concrete issue explored in the op-ed. The writer provides information on her first-hand experience with immigrants in her professional practice, emphasizes the bravery of immigrants who put their lives in peril and face violence, torture and persecution to be able to get asylum and a better life in the United States. Even if the author goes back to retelling more details about her own personal story ­in the last paragraph above ─ this time with a narrative ─ the story is used to exemplify the life threatening situations immigrants are currently going through in the United States.

The key function of this stage is to ground the discussion in the concrete situational context, that is, to build the area of experience related to the issue that will be explored. There is a gradual shift from the general and sometimes personal, subjective and attitudinal nature of the information provided in the stage Establishing Significance of Issue to the more specific and factual experiential context of the issue explored in the op-ed. In other words, the subject or problem to be discussed or argued is presented. Its expression is variable; it may go from one clause to one or more paragraphs.

Stating Stance

Today, on a daily basis at our own U.S. border, children are being separated from their parents compounding the trauma of a perilous journey.

The point the author wants to make about the topic she has already presented through her own personal story and the description of the current situation in the United States is explicitly announced. She states that the already traumatic experience of dangerous journeys that immigrant children go through is aggravated by the terribly hurtful conditions they endure when they are separated from their parents. So the general topic (the immigration experience for refugee families) and the particular angle taken up (separation of refugee families and its impact on children) are narrowed down to the position the author is taking (the traumatic, dangerous nature of separation for children).

Stating Stance expresses the opinion of the author, the stance that the author takes up on the topic. This is done more or less directly. It generally consists of a clause or clause complex in which abstractions typically capture the issue (separation of refugee families) and the position taken up (trauma for children of a perilous journey).

Building the Case

[Argument 1] In my opinion as a pediatrician, the current “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their parents places children at significant risk for adverse long-term developmental, physical and mental health outcomes. This systematic separation of families damages the attachment between child and parent, a bond that is critical for their well-being. This policy is being broadly applied to all families seeking refuge at our borders, including those lawfully seeking asylum.

[Argument 2] The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes this policy of family separation, noting “separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians — protecting and promoting children’s health.” Repeated traumas (also called toxic stress) have been strongly associated with increased risk for mental illness, developmental delay, and chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Research demonstrates that parents can provide a key buffer to mitigate the effects of these traumas, and the “zero tolerance” policy eliminates this crucial buffer.

After announcing what her stance is, the author builds her case presenting and supporting two arguments: her own professional opinion as a pediatrician and the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The idea she presents in the first argument shows the long-term health effects that children separated from their parents suffer, and she goes on to explain that the separation policy is being applied in the United States, even to those immigrants who seek legal asylum. She then moves on to her second argument, the strong opposition to separation voiced and justified by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Building the Case puts forth the factual, experiential information that supports the claim made, the opinion voiced. Building an argument that substantiates the position taken up relies on information that goes beyond the author’s subjectivity. As each argument is put forth, the author presents evidence to support his/her stance and usually briefly expands on it. We will devote Section 5.2.2 below to describing the ways that arguments are typically built in op-eds as this is a function fulfilled in this genre and in quite a few argumentative texts that students read and write along their school years.

Consolidating Stance

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border during a crackdown on illegal entries from April 19 through May 31, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

In our own backyard, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has reported that mothers seeking asylum at the southwest U.S.-Mexico border are now being held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac after being separated from their children.

The author consolidates her stance by providing further information, in this case, a quick succession of concrete, very recent and urgent pieces of information that also support the arguments she already provided. She gives statistics about the number of children separated from their families during very recent illegal entries (in April and May 2018), and about the places, very nearby, where Mexican mothers requesting asylum are being detained. The urgency and immediacy of the information contribute to consolidating her position.

Consolidating Stance is one of the finishing up stages in an op-ed that aims at strengthening the case made by providing additional and noteworthy information, mostly factual, that highlights or strengthens the stance. The ideas in this stage are not developed or discussed as in Building Case. They are included as an additional attempt to firmly anchor experientially the position taken up. The ideas are typically only succinctly expressed, crowded together as a final reinforcement to the discussion. The pieces of information in this stage might be comparisons with similar situations, possible consequences, additional statistics, and specific examples, all of which are very effective in invoking the author’s attitude.

Wrapping Up

Policies that do not welcome asylum-seeking families together are harmful to children. Children need their parents, and children in families seeking refuge are especially vulnerable. We are fortunate that our extended family was welcomed together many years ago, as it should be.

The author wraps up the op-ed briefly restating key ideas, both experiential and attitudinal, used to make the case: the negative effects of separation policies on children, which are, at the same time, the reasons why children should be kept with their parents. She also makes reference to the personal story she told when she initially established the significance of the issue to exemplify the positive effects of welcoming families together.

Once the case has been built and consolidated, the writer can still briefly take the time to restate the stance and the key information used to build up the case. In the Wrapping Up, the author also typically expresses attitude in an attempt to foreground the significance of the issue and reconfirm the solidarity that has been built with the reader. It is an optional stage and it is generally expressed in just one brief paragraph as op-eds are compact texts.

Appeal

Let us be a nation that values families and offers a promise that all people seeking safety will find it here.

The writer addresses her readers inviting them to uphold the values of an ethical nation, to protect these families and guarantee their safety. She assigns this responsibility to her readership.

The Appeal is a call for action, an attempt to persuade the reader to do something with respect to the issue. It outlines the possible ways in which the reader, as part of society, can contribute to making a change. Appeals can be more or less explicit and they can encourage different types of behavior: the reader or the wider citizenship can be expected to strongly consider and reflect upon the point being made (a mental reaction), to voice his/her approval or discontent (a verbal reaction) or to actually do something about the issue (a material reaction) that has been discussed in the op-ed.

Sample Text 1 is a very good example of how information is effectively organized in an op-ed to fulfill its social function. Based on this sample text, we have been able to generalize and describe the stages in op-eds, defining their local function and their contribution to the overall purpose of the genre. We will now briefly discuss two of the stages in an op-ed – Establishing Significance of Issue and Building Case – as they are of special interest to us: a good deal of the key interpersonal meanings most critically at stake in an op-ed are expressed in them.

5.2.1 Establishing the significance of the issue

This important, obligatory stage foregrounds the relevance of the issue by explicitly mentioning or by suggesting the values or attributes associated to it. This evaluation establishes why it is an issue the reader may want to read about, explore, consider. This can be done by directly describing why the issue is urgent, compelling, significant or widespread, for example; or it can be suggested by more indirectly recreating experience that clearly suggests its importance. One of the most common ways in which this is done is by telling a personal story or including a description that brings the reader closer to the issue and makes it more personal to her/him. We will now refer to the most common ways of expressing this stage.

It is frequently conveyed through personal narratives, the common stories people tell in their everyday lives. Stories are actually the preferred choice: they help the writer to present the topic more vividly and realistically, as easy to understand and relate to or sympathize with. The two essential elements in a narrative text, those elements that give a text its ‘narrative quality’, are a chronology of events, which involves characters that interact in a particular setting in time and place, and an evaluative element. This evaluative element typically refers to the narrator’s or participants’ expression of affection, desires and beliefs. These two essential elements combine in ‘narrative information structures,’ which have different communicative purposes (Salmaso 2014, 2017). As described by Systemic Functional linguists, narrative texts are grouped into five categories according to their purposes: recounts, anecdotes (already described in Chapter 2), narratives, exempla and observations. What these five narrative categories have in common is the chronology of events; the type of evaluation expressed in each can vary.

Recounts involve a series of non-disruptive events ─ i.e. events that do not alter the expected course of action ─ that are culturally significant or significant in the specific context in which they are told, and that are narrated to evaluate the events themselves or the participants involved. This is the type of text we share with our friends and family, for example, when, at the end of the day, we comment on how things went along the day. The focus is mainly on ‘what happened that day’ as we lived our lives. This is a genre that is very frequently used in our classrooms when we ask our students to go over a typical day in their lives or an ideal one (using present tense) or what they did the previous day, week or holidays (using the past tenses). Anecdotes relate a series of events with a disruption and their evaluative quality expresses the emotional reaction of a participant to that disruption and, in particular, the reasons why the participant reacted in such a way. Here, once again, we can easily relate this genre to our teaching practice: we typically ask students to write about or tell a scary, funny, moving experience they once had. In narratives there is also a series of events with a disruption and what is central in them is the attempt by the protagonist to resolve the disruption and the evaluation of the events in the disruption, and/or the resolution, and/or the participants involved in them. Personal narratives resemble the stories we typically read with our students: fairy tales, short stories, novels and movies in which there is a challenge taken up by a character usually followed by its resolution. Personal narratives are similar, usually about the life of the teller. Observations and exempla also include a record of events with a disruption, but what characterizes them is the brevity with which the events are told and the focus on the evaluative element, which is an evaluation of the quality of things, events and natural phenomena in observations, and judgment of the habits or behavior of a participant in exempla. Observations are typically followed by evaluations such as: It was a lovely/challenging time in my life; It was a great experience, one that helped me relate to nature. An exemplum, in turn, focuses on the behavior of the characters, so we could find evaluations such as: His gesture shows he was really a great fellow; She was really trying hard; she just couldn’t get things right. [5]

We have already discussed an example of a narrative that is included in Sample Text 1 to ground the discussion of immigration with a concrete, compelling experience by the author’s relatives fleeing Romania. The following is an example of an observation used in the Establishing Significance of Issue of a sample op-ed (Number 2, in the Appendix) on the need for the Los Angeles airport to make things easier and more pleasant for pedestrians:

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As we explained above, observations are used to evaluate the quality or value of things or events. This particular one is used by the author to show and negatively evaluate the conditions of the walkways to and from Los Angeles International Airport. Her observation on her own experience is very effective since her stance is that pedestrians should be able to walk to Los Angeles Airport which, in turn, makes adequate walkways necessary.

Another way of expressing the significance of the issue is by embedding a vivid description of things, which also engages the reader by including reference to concrete aspects of the world. It also facilitates the reader’s siding with the writer’s position early on in the article. The following is an example of this resource taken from Sample Text 4, on climate change.

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The author describes this alarming scenario in an attempt to make the reader side with him from the very beginning of the article. This information has a purpose that is similar to that of personal narratives because it makes the topic more real and vivid, describing the concrete, short-term effects of Trump’s environmental policies on people. This information presented in this stage proves very useful for the author to anticipate the announcement of his stance, which has to do with the long-term effects of these policies.

Some other ways of expressing the stage Establishing Significance of Issue include the use of biographical recounts or historical recounts. Biographical recounts tell a life story; they tell whole episodes in the life of a person. Historical recounts are public records of the agents and agencies that mediate their fate (Martin & Rose, 2008); in other words, they are public records of people, events and places. The following is a biographical recount that is part of the Establishing Significance of Issue stage in Sample Text 3, on the importance of free college education:

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By providing information on the life and beliefs of a president of the United States who brought stability to the country after a time of crisis and who was in favor of universally available public education, the author effectively puts the topic in historical perspective and highlights its importance.

Establishing the significance of the topic is a critical stage in an op-ed, one that is expressed, as we have seen, in a variety of ways. This stage is of particular interest as it illustrates the possibility of embedding, typically a primary genre (a narrative, an observation, a description, a biographical recount), which is brought in and recontextualized at the service of a more complex genre. This type of realization of a stage in a genre is actually quite widespread. We already discussed genre embedding in Chapter 4 on oral interpretations that typically open with a description of the issue that is the focus of the interpretation.

Next we will review how effective arguments are built in op-eds.

5.2.2 Building a case – the argument block

We will now explore in more detail how arguments are actually built in op-eds in the obligatory stage Building Case. An op-ed revolves around the attempt to build a strong case in support of the stance that has been taken up. This is the core function of the genre: based on a keen, critical look into some significant aspect of reality, a position is taken, substantiated and a call for attention or action is made, as has already been discussed. A point well-made and supported will lead naturally and effectively to the reader’s serious consideration of the case built and, possibly, to the claim that action needs to be taken. So examining how exactly a strong argument is built seems appropriate. It is the key function of op-eds and also that of most persuasive texts – journalistic, professional, academic and scientific. As teachers of writing, we may have noticed that students often have less trouble organizing the macro-structure of different genres than with the micro, more local reasoning where points are made, supported and restated. The micro-structure in which an argument is built is one such local section: the strength of the case, the logic of the reasoning and the effective use of language resources all come into play.

The typical structure of this section has been described as consisting of Claim ˄ Support/Evidence (Coffin, 2014, p. 54), Claim ˄ Grounds (Humphrey & Economou, 2015, p. 45), Grounds ˄ Conclusion (Martin & Rose, 2007, pp. 12, 262) and Claim ˄ Evidence ˄ Discussion (Boccia et al., 2018, p. 14). We will call this core section in a persuasive text the ‘argument block.’

Let’s consider the following example from Text 4, on saving the planet and Trump’s dangerous environmental policy:

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The writer argues that Trump’s policy is directly contributing to the loss of any hope in preserving the planet raised during the Paris talks. The first sentence (underlined) announces the key idea that the argument will explore: Trump’s policy as destructive of what was agreed on in Paris. The text then moves on to list the potential consequences of Trump’s policy and shows how it goes against what was agreed. The more abstract and generic everything and doing are fleshed out and specified as consequences of policies Trump is responsible for.

The argument block often also includes discussion of the evidence as in the following block:

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In this segment of the text, the writer first announces the claim being made: most people in the United States expect their location information not to become public. Evidence, based on research conducted, supports this claim. The writer then restates the concrete evidence (In other words …) and makes sure that it clearly relates back to the claim made initially. We can represent this pattern as follows:

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This is a very effective pattern for a claim made: the writer makes sure that the concrete evidence provided is connected back to the idea being supported. This is not left to the reader to do, but rather is done for him/her explicitly.

In the context of op-eds we have noticed that this full cycle (Claim ˄ Evidence ˄ Discussion) is sometimes, but not always, used. Op-eds are very compact genres so the writer has little space to consolidate the argument with a brief discussion. This pattern can be found very frequently both in academic and scientific writing that is characterized by careful persuasive, rhetorical work. As the argument block is such a powerful pattern, we discuss it even if not all op-eds we analyzed contain it in its full form.

We will now move on to examine the type of information that is usually brought in as evidence to construe an argument. As we analyzed the evidence segment in op-eds, we noticed that different types of information are brought in: ‘descriptions’ of concrete happenings, ‘reports’ on more generic phenomena, brief temporal ‘accounts of events.’ These discourse types are brought into texts in the shape of ‘primary’ genres: descriptions (of concrete, particular phenomena or situations), reports (of more generic entities or phenomena), recounts or observations (of temporally linked events). They become embedded in the argument block as evidence, at the service of the argument that is built.

To describe the type of information typically found as evidence, we will make a first broad distinction between i) evidence that is based on things as they are, that is, factual information from the world and, alternatively, ii) reference to things as they should or could be, that is, to hypothetical scenarios, both negative and positive, that suggest that action needs to be taken.

Arguments that include information on things as they are typically include descriptions of an entity or a state of affairs that is sourced from an external voice whose authority is made more or less explicit. Let’s consider the following examples.

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To argue against the policy of family separation, the writer has included a brief report on what a highly authoritative source has stated with respect to the policy.

In the argument block below, from Text 7, the author describes the relationship between college education, a degree and true learning. The author himself is the source of information and no external voice is brought in. This is common especially when the writer of the article is him/herself a specialist or an authoritative voice. We have underlined the description of the situation at Princeton that constitutes the evidence the writer brings in.

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So several interesting aspects related to building an argument are illustrated in Examples 1 and 7 above. To support a point we make, we can describe or report on information about things as they are in the world. The source of this information can be the writer him/herself or, alternatively, an expert or a more generic or impersonal entity (research[ers], data). The information, in turn, can be brought in neutrally, as with the verb note in Text 1, or say, state or, alternatively, with a verb that openly endorses the information brought in as show, demonstrate, prove. All these choices (what kind of information, what source, what credentials, what reporting verb) are strategic and critically contribute to building the case. They will be discussed further in Section 5.4 below, as they are all important functional choices that we can describe to our students. The more aware they are of these options and of the language resources they can select from, the better prepared they will be to construe their own case.

The evidence that is brought into the text in support of a claim can also be about events in the world linked temporally that take the form of a recount, either personal or historical. Let’s consider the following examples of argument blocks of two op-eds in which the evidence has been underlined:

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In Example 2, the writer tells us about her own experience as she walks out of Los Angeles International Airport. This is the evidence to support the idea that walking in or through an airport can, in fact, be a pleasant experience. A personal recount of the events with a final comment does the job. Example 3, a brief historical recount, reviews free education from the middle to the end of the 20th century. In the last sentence, an implicit evaluation of this overall picture of education is made comparing the situation in the United States with that of other countries. This final evaluation reflects the effect of the recontextualization of the recount that functions as ‘evidence’ in this argument block. The evaluation is functional in consolidating the argument that is built.

Several op-eds that we analyzed bring in hypothetical scenarios in support of a claim, as in the examples that follow: Example 2 describes things as they could favorably be and 4 describes the negative scenario that is likely to follow if Trump’s environmental policy is not stopped.

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In Example 2, a hypothetical scenario – what is not but could be – is used to argue in favor of a change that is considered beneficial, whereas in Example 4, the very negative speculative scenario that is described is used as evidence to support the devastating long-term effects of Trump’s environmental policy. So hypothetical descriptions that are loaded with the writer’s attitude are embedded as evidence in support of the claims being made.

In an attempt to visualize the types of discourse that we have observed functioning as evidence in authentic op-eds in terms of how objective, decontextualized from the here and now, and very likely, how effectively the case will be put across, we have displayed the possibilities along a tentative cline.

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The cline displays the type of information usually used as evidence and characterizes it in terms of objectivity, potential effectiveness and typical embedded genre. The voice that the writer adopts (from ordinary citizen to expert in the field) also potentially affects the strength of the arguments built. An ordinary citizen can expect his bare personal opinion to be less solid as evidence than the opinion of an expert whose research is reported and brought in as evidence. These differences, clear and sensible to an experienced critical reader or writer, can be explicitly discussed with our students.

We have reviewed the structure of the core component of a persuasive text, the argument block, and have specified the key ways in which its central component, the evidence, is construed. The more we can specify to students how arguments are built within the micro-structure ‘Claim ˄ Argument ˄ Discussion’, the easier it will be for them to visualize what exactly happens within this core section of op-eds. This, in turn, will help teachers and students to discuss the vocabulary and the structures that are implicated to express these more delicate functions. We do not have space in this chapter to specify these concrete language resources. We will, however, include a final section with what we call ‘strategic structures’ that are used to express these very important meanings made in op-eds.

Our account of the structure of an op-ed, although not exhaustive, already reveals that op-eds range from very complex texts that can include all the stages we have reviewed with all the rhetorical work they involve, to simpler ones that unfold through fewer stages, the obligatory ones. They also range from articles that make a specialized, sometimes almost technical treatment of the topic to others that explore the issue in more commonsense terms. This wide range is interesting in terms of our teaching practice as we can plan for our students to experiment with this genre that has a very important role in the public and civic sphere of our daily lives with students of varying levels of instruction in English. What is essential in terms of textual structure for the text to fulfill its purpose ─ establishing the significance of the issue, establishing the issue itself, stating the stance that is taken up, building a case and consolidating the case ─ can be achieved in relation to simple issues that can be treated in commonsense terms, still with the purpose of persuading readers to side with a position and to take action. Op-eds can be very powerful for literacy development to help students express their opinion on an issue in a reasonable, organized and solid discussion. Students will also need to resort to other primary genres they will already be familiar with, such as personal narratives, descriptions and historical or biographical recounts, as well as use language resources they may have acquired when learning to write other genres.

We will now move on to briefly discuss the realms of experience a typical op-ed shunts between.

5.3 Two realms of experience: the concrete and the abstract in op-eds

As we anticipated, our main focus in this chapter is the interpersonal functions fulfilled in an op-ed, yet we will first include a brief review of a very important characteristic of this type of text – the representation of reality at two different levels: concrete experience that more or less directly relates to the readers’ knowledge of the world and the higher order, more abstract ideas this concrete experience stands for symbolically. Actually, even when we are talking about two realms of experience – the concrete and the more abstract – that are typically at play in an op-ed, we are also, tangentially, dealing with the interpersonal. We can confidently say that this interplay between the realm of personal experience and the ideas it stands for is at the service of engaging the audience with the subject matter of an op-ed, showing that it is a topic that concerns the reader more or less directly and, critically, a way of aligning the reader with the ideas, values, stances that the op-ed is about.

As we have said, an op-ed is a genre that typically opens with here-and-now, contextualized meanings concerning concrete actions associated to participants and circumstances, moves toward higher order ideas, and eventually to the appeal. As this happens, the exploration of abstract issues is critical; but central as well, is the fact that these ideas are triggered or anchored in real-world events that, in the writer’s view, need to be changed. We can say there is a symbolic relationship between the concrete experiences and the ideas or issues they stand for and a consequential relationship between these and the appeal to action that is made. This relationship could be represented as follows:

Let’s consider the opening section of the op-ed Separating families is a humanitarian and health crisis. The Lead to the article already makes reference to the concrete humanitarian crisis that immigrant families underwent in June 2018, in the United States. The actual text of the op-ed opens with the writer’s own experience as a descendant of a family of immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. Her experience provides a concrete, personal context to the issue she wishes to explore, which she announces only after the topic has been concretely grounded in the experience of families she has read about, those she has seen in her practice and on the experience of her own great grandfather. Let’s review the relationship in the text:

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The article then moves onto discuss the way that separation aggravates the trauma caused by the dangers these families face as they seek asylum. This constitutes the point the author wants to make. So she recreates (using personal narratives) the concrete experience of families that were separated during the June 2018 crisis and the experience of her own ancestors. These experiences and the consequences for the participants stand symbolically for the ideas she explores and argues about. This is the typical way the subject matter in op-eds is construed. Things as they stand are presented as undesirable or problematic in some way and associated to higher order ideas that are critically examined.

This is an important characteristic of the way experience is construed in this type of texts. It lends itself very interestingly to students’ consideration of their own experience of the world – local or more global, their establishing connections between this concrete experience, the larger issues it stands for and ways in which reality can be transformed into a more desirable one. This type of expository writing in which students not only argue that but also argue to is a most educational one in terms of their literacy development for their public and professional lives. And it is based on establishing critically significant relationships between concrete experience (things as they are), issues that they represent symbolically and experience as it could be as appeals to action or reflection are made.

The shifting between concrete and abstract experience calls for specific language resources. Their analysis and description would require another whole chapter.[6] Awareness of these realms of experience implicated in an op-ed can help students to understand what is at stake in a text as they read it or as they prepare the subject matter they will write about. As we anticipated, we have chosen to concentrate on the interpersonal functions fulfilled in op-eds. We will now move on to consider a critical one: creating a multi-voiced text.

5.4 Building a multi-voiced text

Opinion genres about current and significant issues, such as op-eds, are generally meant for a wide, public audience that the writer can, to a certain extent, anticipate in terms of opinions and beliefs. In these texts, there typically exists a dialogue between the voice of the author and other voices, whose opinions the author may endorse or not. Thus, when writing these texts, authors face the challenge of building a textual voice for themselves, that is, they speak through a voice that reflects their stance while leaving space, to a greater or lesser extent, for other possible voices or opinions on the matter. This means that texts dealing with controversial topics need to clearly establish the author’s position while skillfully weaving in alternative perspectives to be fair and reasonable and, in so doing, strengthen the position upheld in the text. Besides op-eds, other argumentative or opinion genres such as academic essays, reviews, grant proposals, research articles, require the construal of a textual voice that effectively deals with the voices invoked by its text. Therefore this is a critical and complex skill that our teenage and adult students need to manage so they can produce more complex texts in public, professional and academic contexts.

The language resources involved in intertwining diverse voices are captured in the system of Engagement which is part of Appraisal, a larger framework theorized by Martin and Rose (2005) that is concerned with evaluative semantics and also includes two other subsystems – Graduation and Attitude. For our analysis of Engagement we have drawn upon the work by Macken-Horarik and Martin (2003), Martin and White (2005) and Martin and Rose (2007). Engagement organizes “meanings which in various ways construe for the text a heteroglossic backdrop of prior utterances, alternative viewpoints and anticipated responses” (Martin & White, 2005, p. 97). In other words, this system organizes options that allow the textual voice to engage in a dialogue with other voices and what has been said before about the topic. These meanings can either open up the dialogic space to accommodate other views or close it to restrict the scope of alternative positions (Martin & White, 2005).

In the excerpt below, from Sample 5, Your phone knows where you’ve been, and the government wants to know too, we can clearly see these two processes at work. We have underlined different resources to open up dialogic space with a dotted line and those to close it with a double line:

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In this section of their op-ed, the writers do a great job of presenting the topic they explore alternating between opening up and closing dialogic space to include and exclude different opinions and perspectives. To indicate that the position being presented, whether it is their own or somebody else’s, is just a possibility among others (opening dialogic space), they can use words and phrases such as must, may, might, could, seem, perhaps, apparently, definitely, probably, in my view, I think/believe, adverbs of frequency and some rhetorical questions which might have more than one answer and thus open space to different voices.

For example, in the sentence Anyone could have spotted you entering or leaving the doctor’s office or support group, the possibility of something happening is expressed through the modal could. By introducing a possibility, the dialogic space is expanded and alternatives, even if they are not explicitly mentioned, are brought into the text.

They can also deploy certain verbs of saying (reporting verbs) to explicitly acknowledge external sources. The reporting verb, in turn, can distance what is said from the author’s opinion (as with claim, for example) or present it neutrally, just acknowledging the information that is included (as with say, state, for example).

In the statement In other words, people are not knowingly turning their location histories over to their cellphone providers and voluntarily relinquishing their privacy, as some have argued, somebody else’s opinion, different from that of the textual voice, is incorporated to open up dialogic space. This dialogic backdrop is overtly marked by the scare quotes, which include what has been said verbatim, and by the inclusion of an external source through the reporting verb argued. Both resources show that the textual voice includes the proposition and distances itself from it.

To close dialogic space, authors can either introduce an alternative proposition which is then rejected, using negatives (no, not, never, nothing, negative prefixes) or counter-expectation expressions (yet, although, but, however, even, only, just, still, amazingly, surprisingly). Both sets of resources indirectly bring into the readers’ minds the positive or expected alternative and make it possible for the writer to address the expectations of the readers.

For example, in The data show that most Americans don’t even know their location information is being collected, the affirmative most Americans know their location information is being collected is brought into the text only to be cancelled by the negative dont even. It would, in fact, be expected that Americans be aware of this, but the opposite is true. The writer “makes assumptions about what readers might expect to follow as the text unfolds and steers them down an alternative path” (Martin & White, 2007, p. 280). This is achieved through the use of negative polarity and intensified by the equally counter-expectational even.

Another possibility to contract dialogic space is to resolutely put forth a particular position as correct in contrast to other possibilities. To do this, authors can explicitly concur with a proposition presented as widely held by using adjuncts (naturally, of course, obviously, certainly, admittedly, sure) or rhetorical questions which assume an obvious or shared answer. Writers can also endorse an external source as undeniable, siding with it and excluding other views with more assertive reporting verbs (demonstrate, show, prove that). Alternatively, authors can intervene explicitly “to assert or insist upon the warrantability of the proposition” (Martin & White, 2005, p. 128) by means of expressions such as I contend, the truth/fact of the matter is, indeed, really.

For example, the rhetorical question Hardly private, right? assumes that the audience’s answer will coincide with the author’s, and therefore closes dialogic space. It presupposes that the text’s interlocutors share an opinion, that is, that they concur. Also, in the sentence The data show that most Americans don’t even know their location information is being collected, the verb show demonstrates that the textual voice agrees with the external primary source, as it compellingly presents the data as correct, right and acceptable. This explicit expression of support of the solidity of the data contracts dialogic space for other positions.

Though op-eds are overwhelmingly multi-voiced in nature, there are sections that are not dialogic, but rather incorporate a single, seemingly objective voice. Naturally, though, this distinct voice does have a subjective source (the writer) that provides information not as an opinion but as an undeniable fact, taken for granted, without room for doubt, alternatives or discussion. These claims presuppose an authority that needs to have been solidly built before: resorting to unquestionable propositions too early can lead to unsubstantiated generalizations that weaken a text, but introducing them as the result of a well-thought-out, serious discussion will surely strengthen it.

For example, let’s consider these sentences from Sample 1, on the plight of refugee families:

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The last sentence is a strong evaluative proposition that leaves no room for other voices. The writer has chosen either to ignore other possible positions (that do not relate what is happening today to other past horrors, for example) or is assuming there will be no resistance. She could have attended to other voices by opening up dialogic space, as in “This, too, seems to have echoes of a dark past,” or by closing it, as in “The experience of refugee families today cannot but be compared to that of European immigrants after the war” or “I contend we are witnessing history repeat itself,” explicitly pronouncing her own, subjective position. Thus, opting for the original monologic assertion is already a subjective choice, which entails not opening up dialogic space.

Now that we have reviewed some of the resources deployed to construe a multi-voiced text, we can move on to explore these choices in terms of their typical distribution along an op-ed. After an overview of the whole text, we will focus on the stage Building Case.

5.4.1 Engaging with other voices in op-eds

The resources reviewed above from the system of Engagement are broadly used and immensely useful to clearly establish the position of the author in an op-ed with respect to other potential stances. The number of resources deployed depends on the audience: if the author anticipates his/her readers will mostly agree with the position forwarded, there will be less rhetorical effort involved and fewer resources aimed at convincing the audience; conversely, the more problematic in terms of solidarity the target audience is, the more resources are marshalled to do the rhetorical work that is needed.

In the analysis of our sample texts, we found patterns of engagement resources that are worth discussing. In general terms, the most commonly used resources are those to entertain other possible voices, mainly via modal verbs (e.g. may, could). These resources do not occur in a specific stage of the text, but throughout – what varies according to each stage is the purpose for using them. Additionally, the crucial strategy of invoking a contrary position to prove it wrong is extremely frequent, using language choices that deny or counter propositions (e.g. not, yet, but). These choices juxtapose what the current situation is like and what we would expect, wish, need it to be, or what it should be. Other resources are certainly used effectively as well, but to a lesser extent. These include reporting verbs that are brought in mainly in the stage Building Case to support the stance with the opinion, arguments and facts sourced from other voices (e.g. show, demonstrate), although there are cases where other people’s ideas are not endorsed but resisted instead (e.g. argue, claim). Resources that explicitly present the author’s opinion as the only correct possibility (e.g. I contend, the truth of the matter is) are not very common either; instead, the author’s position is typically expressed as a factual, solid and non-negotiable truth.

As a typical op-ed unfolds, the textual voice alternates between opening and closing dialogic space to clearly establish the author’s position as it engages with everything that has been said on the topic and with prospective voices that the propositions in the text might invoke. The degree of explicitness and forcefulness with which the author’s view is expressed varies along the text, but as the op-ed advances and the author consolidates his/her case, dialogic space is contracted.

Initially, in the Establishing Significance of Issue and Establishing Issue stages, dialogic space is opened to allow for a variety of possibilities or positions on a topic, to show that there can be numerous alternatives among which the author’s is but one. Even though opening up dialogic space is crucial at the beginning of the text, space is sometimes also contracted early on through the expression of counter-expectation that presents some aspect of reality as questionable or problematic, at odds with what it should or could be like.

When the writer expresses his/her position in the Stating Stance stage, dialogic space is clearly narrowed down, that is, alternatives are restricted to the one that is adopted by the writer as true or legitimate. It is here that the author starts to build up the case to support the stance in the Building Case stage. To do so, authors typically open up dialogic space by bringing in other positions, at times including external voices strategically. Afterwards, some authors proceed to challenge and refute those alternatives, while others assert their own viewpoint by insisting on the warrantability of what they say. In both cases, writers end up closing the space once again to support the case they are building. Finally, in the Wrapping Up and/or Appeal stages, authors recapitulate their main ideas and may either entertain possible outcomes or solutions, or compellingly restate their view as indisputable.

The graphic below visually represents the typical dialogic unfolding of op-eds:

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Figure 5.1: The flow of Engagement in op-eds.

The main, horizontal arrow, which represents the development of the case that is built in an op-ed, progresses from a relatively general consideration of an issue or idea toward an increasingly narrower area of experience and a more defined and compelling view, opinion or stance, as represented by the narrowing width of the arrow. At the same time, the stance becomes more solid and the textual voice more assertive, as represented by the saturation of color. All along the text, the author’s voice engages in conversation with alternative views and external voices. Some of these voices are incorporated into the text to support and strengthen the point being made, as represented by the black arrows, and others are only acknowledged to be rebutted, as indicated by the white arrows. What this graphic attempts to show is that an op-ed is a multi-voiced text in which the textual voice is the one that gradually positions itself as the dominant one – the one that voices a stance that the audience is expected to affiliate with. Other voices come constantly into play to support the case being built, to be countered or cancelled. Even though our students may believe that adding external voices might weaken their own position – especially when these external voices go against their own – they need to see that the result is precisely the opposite. In fact, effective op-eds depend on a very dynamic interplay of voices that need to be strategically managed by the writer. Opening up a text to diverse – even to opposing – voices is much more persuasive than closing it down to a single voice. This is, of course, a crucial rhetorical skill our students need if we are to empower them to build strong cases and to move others to action or reflection.

Now, we will focus on the Building Case stage.

As the case is built and arguments are put forth, the dynamics of alternating between expanding and contracting dialogic space come strongly into play. The rhetorical strategy of expanding dialogic space before it is contracted is central to building a solid case as each argument is advanced. This pattern can occur in two ways:

  1. by conceding to ideas that the author can anticipate a resistant audience may hold (opening) only to counter them and show they are not enough or they are downright wrong (closing), and/or
  2. by bringing in voices other than the writer’s to show alternative viewpoints (opening), and then proclaiming the author’s own position (closing).

In an excerpt from Sample 4 below on Trump’s policies on carbon usage, the expanding and contracting pattern is clearly illustrated. A hypothetical scenario is built, in which concessions are repeatedly made, only to be countered:

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In this example, as the textual voice builds the case, it anticipates resistance and concedes that the effects of Trump’s policies will not be felt immediately. Then a hypothetical scenario is created and concessions are made (won’t mostly die […] won’t sink), yet the denials succeed each other cumulatively and gradually contract dialogic space. To do this, the writer refutes opposing voices using negatives, as well as concessive and contrastive conjunctions (not, no, yet, but). This pattern is reinforced by quantifying (more, mostly) meanings to emphasize the degree to which a possibility is true or acceptable.

The second realization of the pattern involves initially expanding dialogic space by bringing in external voices explicitly with reporting verbs and scare quotes:

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The writer acknowledges what other people have argued and even includes some of their words verbatim. This allows him to include viewpoints other than his own into the discussion. Then, the textual voice raises stakes and moves on to openly endorse a scientific study, using the assertive reporting verb show, which contracts space for other, alternative positions.

As we have seen, patterns emerge as the arguments are built: there is a combination of resources to open and close dialogic space. This rhetorical strategy, therefore, becomes central to carefully putting together a solid case that contributes to making the whole op-ed effective.

In an attempt to review the choices of opening or closing dialogic space and the wordings that can be used and to facilitate reference to them, different options, grouped according to suggested instructional level, are available in the table below.

Table 5.1 Resources to open or close dialogic space.

Writing an op-ed poses the challenge of building a textual voice that effectively deals with other possible views on the topic while positioning the author’s own stance as fair, reasonable and solid. Explicitly discussing engagement patterns with our students is very important as it raises awareness of the need to consciously adopt and carefully build a voice in texts that are negotiating views and trying to persuade readers. The ability to strategically manage voices in a text is vital for students to write effective public texts, such as reviews, essays, articles and research proposals. Even at intermediate levels of EFL instruction, we can help our students to acquire the key vocabulary and structures necessary for them to engage with multiple voices in a text. In Section 5.6, on teaching op-eds, we have added suggestions for practicing engagement at different levels of instruction.

5.5 Expressing attitude in op-eds

All along the chapter we have discussed several ways in which the writer of an op-ed attempts to effectively support the stance adopted in the text – how the text is organized globally in functional stages, how an argument is effectively built, how the textual voice opens and contracts dialogic space strategically. Taking a stance obviously also involves expressing opinions on an aspect of reality, on the issues at stake, on the people involved, as well as sharing emotional reactions to aspects of experience. Clearly, expressing attitude is a crucial meaning implicated in op-eds. Actually, the choice of types of opinions we express and the way we can express them, more or less explicitly, for example, are key skills we need our students to develop as they acquire more advanced literacy skills. We will thus briefly review this area of interpersonal meanings with op-eds more directly in mind, but also in an attempt to introduce a topic that has a more general applicability especially in intermediate and advanced literacy as students develop a more public, professional and/or academic voice that can be, in fact, very attitudinal, but yet needs to be construed as reasonable, solid and apparently objective. The types of attitude we express and the strategies we use to express it become critical.

We have examined the expression of attitude in the sample op-eds we analyzed in the light of Appraisal, the same general framework we used for the analysis of Engagement resources, in Section 5.4. Attitude is one of the three subsystems of Appraisal together with Graduation and Engagement. For our analysis of Attitude in op-eds we have especially drawn upon Martin and White (2005), Martin and Hood (2005), Bednarek (2008) and Thompson (2014).

Attitude accounts for the evaluative meanings we express and organizes them in a framework that helps us to examine what kinds of evaluative meanings are expressed in a text and, equally importantly, how evaluative meanings are expressed. Very briefly, Attitude is concerned with the expression of emotion, the evaluation of things, processes, phenomena (both concrete and abstract) and the evaluation of people’s behavior. Based on these targets of evaluation as the major criteria for classification, Attitude is sub-classified into: affect, the emotions we feel; appreciation, evaluation of objects or phenomena; and judgement, the evaluation of people’s behavior. Hand in hand with the expression of attitude, we consider its intensification or mitigation that we will refer to as graduation.

Let’s examine the following example from Text 1, on separating refugee families in the United States[7]:

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The Headline to the article already clearly includes an expression of negative attitude by the textual voice: the issue described in the text is a crisis. The events themselves are evaluated in very negative terms: crisis explicitly expresses negative appreciation of the events. The process of separating families already invokes or suggests, in itself, a decision or behavior that we would resist or judge negatively as ethically improper. Several interesting things can be said already about the type of attitude expressed:

  • It is expressed in an initial, dominant position in the article that affects prospectively everything else that will be said;
  • It is expressed explicitly, so there is no doubt about the writer’s position;
  • It has infused intensification (graduation) already incorporated into a word: it is not only a serious situation, it is a crisis;
  • It includes pre-modification of crisis with two descriptors: humanitarian and health;
  • It expresses negative attitude which is also part of the meanings already made in the attitude expressed (crisis negatively evaluates a ‘situation’).

These are choices made by the writer that are strategic and influence the effectiveness with which she builds her case.

The Lead that follows moves on to specify that families are fleeing violence, torture and persecution. These words are charged with negative attitude on the behavior of those that are responsible. The evaluated behavior is nominalized – expressed as a noun (violence instead of violent, for example) – in order not to openly identify the agents, but the negative judgement of improper, unethical behavior is clear. Actually, it is reinforced in the next sentence when the risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger is mentioned. Clearly, the author chooses to strongly and negatively evaluate the impropriety of the behavior of those involved in this crisis. Clearly as well, the risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger does not only evaluate the behavior of the victimizers but also strongly invokes, that is, suggests, the negative emotions of fear and insecurity felt by the victims, the families seeking protection. Even though this seems to be the case, the author has chosen to explicitly word judgment –a strategy we will call inscribe in the rest of this section– and only to invoke affect.

The Lead also refers to the victims having to face these risks all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception. Here again there is strong evaluation of the behavior of those who would receive the refugees. Their behavior is counter-expectant, non-sympathetic – again, a judgement of negative propriety or unkindness that is nominalized as reception, in an attempt to make the article about issues or states of affair in the world that are very negatively evaluated and not just about the open judgment of the people involved.

So already in the first opening lines of this op-ed, we can get a taste of the critical work done by attitudinal meanings in establishing very early on the urgency and significance of the issue that will be discussed in the op-ed. The three types of attitude we generally express, affect, appreciation and judgment, are implicated in the explicit and invoked expressions of evaluation as the text opens: the people bringing about the crisis are strongly judged, the feelings of the victims are effectively invoked and the situation is evaluated as a crisis.

The following examples illustrate the key ways in which attitude can be expressed, following Martin and White (2005, p. 67):

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The first sentence includes two examples of explicit expression of attitude (bravery; incredible perils); the second sentence has two metaphoric expressions that strongly suggest or provoke attitude (clawing back time; breaking the back of our climate system); the third and fourth sentences clearly invite us to consider the presence of attitudinal meanings by quantifying experience (not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums) and by expressing counter-expectation (The species […] won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die), and the last two simply tell us about experience, yet other meanings made in the text and/or our own knowledge of the world make the information suggest attitudinal meanings, even if more indirectly.

These different strategies are all equally effective and our choice will be determined by the rhetorical effects we need to achieve. Expressing attitude directly, explicitly, can be very effective if we can afford to express it that way. The advantage is that the value we wish to put across will be clearly, straightforwardly expressed in the text, as in I see this same bravery in mothers and fathers, in which the evaluation of tenacity and strong will in bravery is explicitly expressed in the text. Yet, in some texts we may need to avoid direct expressions of attitude, so we may choose to use lexical metaphor, we may wish to quantify experience or express counter-expectation or simply reflect experience and let it speak for itself. Clearly, as we become more implicit, we leave more space for the reader to assign attitudinal values based on other meanings made in the text and influenced by his/her own world view and values. This can be a tricky area in which the textual voice leaves space for this to happen and needs to carefully include other clues in the text that will help the reader to assign the intended attitudinal meanings. This risk often needs to be taken. We cannot always afford to say exactly what we mean so we need to include factual information that will speak for itself to show, for example, that a situation is critical, or that more research is needed, or that families are suffering. Our explicit teaching of how attitude is expressed is as important as what attitude can be expressed.

Going beyond this very brief introduction to the types of attitudinal meanings we can express and to their strategic use is more than we can afford to do in this section of the chapter[8]. We will now move on to show the role of attitudinal meanings in the fulfillment of the social function of an op-ed. With a view to facilitating the description of generalizable patterns of attitude in a typical op-ed, we have regrouped the stages we have been working with into three ‘attitudinal moments’ in a typical op-ed: the opening (in which significance is established), the middle section (in which the stance is built and supported) and the closing (in which the stance in consolidated).

5.5.1 Attitude in the Headline, the Lead and Establishing Significance of Issue

As we reviewed the functionality of the Headline, the Lead and the Establishing Significance stages earlier in the chapter, we stressed the effort that writers make early on to engage the audience they are addressing, trying to establish that the issue that will be explored is relevant, significant and worth the reader’s attention. These three initial stages share this functionality so we will discuss the attitudinal meanings typically at play together.

An op-ed usually opens with reference to concrete experience: what concrete events are affecting real people in current circumstances. This experiential information (often in the form of brief personal narratives or descriptions) is evaluated both explicitly by the writer and, very importantly, it is rendered in a way that has the strong potential to invoke attitude, particularly the emotions of those involved. Let’s read the opening section in Sample 1.

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The Lead in this particular sample picks up a section of the text (actually, part of Contextualizing Issue) and moves it up to the Lead. Attitude that is explicitly expressed (violence, torture, sexual assault and hunger) strongly expresses negative judgment of unethical behavior of those responsible for the reception of the asylum seeking families. Interestingly, the judgment is nominalized: violence, torture, persecution, sexual assault, hunger. One of the effects of referring to these actions as nouns is not explicitly mentioning or evaluating the agents responsible for the violence, the torture, for example. In this way, the discussion is oriented toward a state of affairs that is strongly reacted to in negative terms, more than to the judgement of those implicated. All the information in the paragraph also strongly suggests or invokes the emotions of the refugees, as several attitudinal meanings are expressed in a well-crafted example of a family narrative which shows the issue has been and still is a social scourge. Feelings of insecurity are invoked by the actions the refugees are involved in (seeking asylum, fleeing the horrors). This establishes early on the emotional load of the events. The direct expression of attitude related to events, state of affairs and experiences that, in turn, strongly suggest the emotions and well-being of those involved is the most common evaluative pattern with which op-eds typically open. The writer is attempting to get the reader to feel with and hopefully side with the perspective on the issue that is taken up in the op-ed. In turn, the appreciations of states of affairs or the judgments of the behavior of people involved typically have a strong social, communal nature and the effect on the victims is typically far-reaching.

In general terms, as we analyzed the first stages in our sample texts, we observed variation in the type of attitude that is expressed. The issue itself, the problem or a given situation are clearly the most common target of evaluation. So appreciation is the most frequent type of attitude observed, often expressed explicitly. Additionally or alternatively, the evaluation of people’s behavior becomes an attitudinal target, in which case judgement is expressed. What seems constant and quite important is that in this first interpersonal peak of the text, affect is intimated more or less strongly by the events, issues, problems or behaviors described. This initial, strong expression of emotions makes a lot of sense as op-eds attempt to establish that the issue that will be explored concerns values or ideas that matter to us, make us react with concern, anger, surprise, hope, relief. An initial attitudinal common ground is a very effective first step before announcing the position that the writer wishes to support.

5.5.2 Attitude in Establishing Issue and Stating Stance

As the op-ed moves on to describe the general issue or realm of experience it is about, the information included becomes, naturally, more experientially motivated. The writer attempts to construe that part of reality that the text is about. This does not mean, of course, that no attitude is expressed. Attitude continues to be expressed both explicitly and implicitly. Key evaluative meanings are picked up again and again as the text unfolds. This is a characteristic of attitudinal meaning in text: it spreads through the text, appears once and again, sometimes to confirm itself, sometimes to establish contrasts, always to show that whatever shows up repeatedly is central to the point being made. In Text 1, for example, the writer has included events of her own past that resonate with the experience of immigrant families today and then moves on to refer to her professional practice to establish what the issue is:

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The experiential information included in the first paragraph is grounded in the here-and-now of the writer’s professional practice. This information is important in experiential terms as the general context of the issue to be discussed is built. Yet, as we can see, attitude is also expressed. In fact, the attitudinal markers resonate with those expressed in the previous sections and continue to establish what will constitute the evaluative pattern of the whole op-ed: a crisis that affects the physical and emotional well-being of families is evaluated as is the behavior of those responsible for the policies enforced. There is explicit positive judgment of the victims who are portrayed as moral and brave and their behavior – seeking asylum – also reflects their strong disposition. The overall feeling of unhappiness for the victims and strong dissatisfaction with the official policies (incredible and unimaginable) is firmly naturalized in the text. So a position is adopted with respect to a very political, public issue and it is examined in terms of the very personal impact it may have.

Once the context has been established, the writer states her stance:

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In this section of the text, meanings are more and more experientially driven, yet strongly evocative of attitude, and they lead to the statement of the writer’s position, in the last sentence of the second paragraph above.

5.5.3 Attitude in Building Case

In this section of the text, the writer moves on to build the case by including evidence that supports the claim made or else by describing the solution to the problem that has been identified. Not surprisingly, it is a stage in which the writer typically includes factual information drawn from his/her own knowledge of the field or from that of other expert sources to support the stance s/he took up. The experiential motivation of the stage does not mean, yet again, that evaluation is not expressed. Evaluative meanings are, in fact, present, but they are fewer and they are mainly encoded through invocation. This is a stage in which experiential information does most of the job. We include it in our analysis of attitude because it is a good example of how evaluative meanings are, in fact, construed in a text, less obviously yet very effectively.

Let’s go back to Text 1 and examine the two argument blocks that the writer includes:

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As we can see, the writer is supporting her stance first based on her own specialized experience and then resorting to an institutional authority that gives additional strength to her case. The information included in both argument blocks is very effective in invoking the critical nature of the issue, both when she gives her own view in the first paragraph and when she quotes the position of the Academy of Pediatrics, in the second one. The factual experiential information is evaluated by some explicit appreciation (adverse; damages; critical; risk; crucial), very frequent quantification of experience (broadly; all; including; repeated; increased; such as) and some intensification (strongly; demonstrates). The strategy of turning up the volume via intensification and quantification is a crucial rhetorical strategy in this text and in other professional and academic texts, argumentative in nature. These texts are typically objective, so it is the factual information itself that is quantified or denied or expressed as counter-expectational. These are all resources aimed at construing a reasonable and solid textual voice that goes beyond its own subjective positioning.

5.5.4 Attitude in Consolidating Stance, Wrapping up and Appeal

The final interpersonal moment of a typical op-ed that includes the stages Consolidating Stance, Wrapping up and Appeal usually resumes interpersonal strength. Once the arguments have been provided, our sample text on refugee families moves on to provide a compact but very effective report on factual, immediately relevant news to consolidate the position supported in the argument blocks. The attitudinal strategy is very similar: invocation via the experiential information itself and quantification (on Friday; nearly 2,000 children; from April 19 through May 31; in our own backyard; now), which all point at the immediacy both in time and place of the events told, do all the work:

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The writer continues to raise her stakes and restates with conviction her position in the light of the arguments already built. This is how the text prepares to come to a close:

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The text is now clearly getting ready to close and the writer intensifies attitude, just before the final Appeal. Appreciation of the practice of separating children from their families is expressed explicitly (harmful); so is the children’s emotional state (need, vulnerable, and the contrasting fortunate). Judgment of those responsible for the harmful policies of not welcoming families together is very strongly invoked as well. Their unkind, unethical impropriety is right there for the reader to judge (the administration’s policy is unethical; it is harming families and, particularly, their children). This distinct interpersonal peak as the texts wraps up effectively foregrounds the type of attitude that the whole discussion is most critically about: the physical and emotional well-being of the children that are prey to the policy on refugee families. Affect is explicitly expressed and it precedes the final appeal that invokes a very positive ethical judgment of a nation that can reverse the current policies. The text closes with a direct appeal to live up to national ethics. The judgment of propriety is implicit but the behavior of exactly what this ethics implicates is specified (valuing families, offering a promise, guaranteeing safety).

We described the typical attitudinal patterns that can be established as an op-ed unfolds. Although there is a good amount of variability, we distilled what we have come to see as the most common and most effective attitudinal patterns as a wave, with its crest and trough, in the table below:

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Table 5.2 Attitudinal patterns in an unfolding op-ed.

All along this section, we have tried to illustrate how Attitude, a very rich and complex area of semantics, contributes to the fulfillment of the social purpose of an op-ed. It is a genre with a very strong interpersonal load in which the writer aims not only at building a case and persuading its readership but also at establishing, even in the opening stages of the text, a community of shared values with the reader. The skillful management of attitudinal meanings is critical to get the reader to accept these values and to consider the discussion that follows from a position of initial solidarity. Once the case is built, with a lot of the work done by factual information that invokes attitude, the interpersonal drive in the text resumes and the text becomes strongly attitudinal in its final stages. The evaluation of the issue, of those responsible for problems related to it, and the emotions involved are all foregrounded. The grounds have been prepared for the final appeal. The sample text that we examined in this section illustrates that managing attitude is an important and challenging task that involves both what attitude can be expressed and how it can be expressed most effectively. We hope this discussion has resonated with the ways in which attitudinal meanings are functional to the fulfillment of the communicative goals of other texts. In Chapter 2, for example, the expression of emotions was described in the context of anecdotes, an elemental genre in which the reaction to events is crucial to its role in the culture. In Chapter 4, we discussed students’ typical inclination to express their feelings as they round off an interpretation of a source text and the general advisability of shifting the target of their attitudinal meanings from feelings to the appreciation of ideas or issues. In the case of genres that are typically more public, associated to higher education and professional life – such as filing complaints, applying for jobs, reviewing books or movies, writing academic expositions or arguments, research proposals or scientific articles – managing attitudinal meanings to persuade people about ideas that matter to us or to persuade others to take action is critical to create a community of values with our audience and effectively make our point.

This final chapter has described op-eds and several of the key features that make them a valuable genre for literacy development. Students who are taught op-eds have a very good chance of becoming critical readers of a genre that plays a central role in the media as a powerful opinion shaper on public and civic issues. Students who are better able to understand what an op-ed does as a social activity in newspapers, magazines or in special segments of TV news programs have a much better chance to adopt a critical and informed attitude toward opinions given, substantiated and discussed. Additionally, an explicit understanding of how an op-ed is put together to fulfill its function gives our students a powerful tool to write an op-ed and to position themselves as potential shapers of opinion and promotors of actions that need to be taken. As we have seen, writing an op-ed includes making keen observations on reality, conducting informed and responsible studies of things as they stand in the world, building a strong case that is substantiated and solidly communicated by a textual voice that strategically engages with multiple voices, and expressing opinions effectively. Finally, as persuasion is at the heart of so many social activities in which oral and written language is used in our everyday, public, professional and academic lives, understanding how it works and the language resources implicated should have an impact on their experience with other persuasive texts as well. Op-eds are powerful contexts to encourage our students to examine the world around them, observe things as they are and as they could or need to be, and convincingly propose ways to improve them. This is a hugely educational experience in which language plays a central, enabling role.

We will now include some suggestions for classroom work with op-eds.

5.6 Teaching op-eds

After the description of several aspects of an op-ed that we included in the chapter, we may still wonder how exactly we can go about guiding our students to prepare, write and edit an op-ed. It may seem too daunting a task for our tight schedules and packed classrooms. We will present some key ideas that can get us started, particularly oriented to deconstructing both the overall textual structure and the strategic structures that express key meanings in an op-ed.

We can first briefly consider what the ideal age and level of instruction of our students would be for them to write an op-ed. A very suitable group to work with would be an intermediate or upper-intermediate adolescent and adult group, in which students already manage language resources that will allow them to venture more easily into more creative and socially-driven genres. As we anticipated at the beginning of the chapter, we can confidently say that teenagers who are halfway through their high school education at an intermediate level of instruction or close can already write a simple op-ed that fulfills its social purpose.

At what point in the curriculum or course plan to include op-eds can depend upon i) the content area we are working on, that is, the subject matter of the units or lessons and, ii) the lexico-grammar that students can use effectively or are learning and practicing.

So if we are working on a unit on the environment, on transportation or recreational problems in the community, on the challenges of teenage years, on social relations, or our relationship with animals it may be a good point in the course to consider singling out a significant issue, building subject matter and working toward our students’ writing an op-ed. The topic on which they write can be close to their own experience: a sports field teens in their neighborhood need badly; dog and cat adoption from shelter homes; changes in the school sports requirements; the need for open-access, public Wi-Fi service, etc. With young adults, the range of topics is much wider and it can be more removed from their own immediate experience. Building the field (or subject matter) they will write about is, in itself, already a very educational experience as students need to look critically beyond themselves to community life and evaluate things as they are, how they could or need to be and what can be done and by whom. Very often, as we discuss the appeal they will make and who they will urge to take action, we can guide them to consider their own civic responsibility and refrain from only calling on authorities to intervene. As we guide them to construe the field they will be working with to organize their ideas, we can use guides as the following ones to help them to get organized.

Table 5.3 Organizing subject matter.

We can also use labels and questions such as:

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Clearly, we have included labels and questions that directly address field and others that also involve the role relations that the writer establishes with the reader. The lower the level of instruction and the age of our students, the more we will restrict the op-ed to the very basic aspects of field and building role relations with the readership (which we have highlighted in bold above). For example, making the text multi-voiced (bringing resistant and/or solidary voices) is a skill that some students might find too hard. So their op-ed will be more about their own immediate experience and opinion, the case will be built with arguments that draw upon their own knowledge, and very likely still not managing dialogic space strategically. But, as we know, students can always surprise us and ask questions such as ‘do you think all your friends / your parents / your teachers / your neighbors will agree with you?’ can make them consider other voices that could be resistant.

Besides the field or subject matter and the stages, we need to consider whether students can effectively use the concrete wordings they will need to express functions in an op-ed. The following ones require structures that are basic in an op-ed:

  • narrate events in the present and in the past;
  • discuss ideas or events in the present and in the future;
  • refer to time, place, manner;
  • source other voices using reporting verbs;
  • connect ideas logically in terms of time, contrast (but), concession (however), consequence (so), condition (if);
  • express attitude and intensify it;
  • express modality (possibility and frequency) and modulation (obligation and inclination);
  • make a command.

So quite a few basic lexico-grammatical resources that are typically taught in the EFL classroom can be used in the context of a socially relevant text as is an op-ed. It can integrate narrating and discussing past and present events, using reporting verbs, establishing logical connections both implicitly and explicitly, expressing and graduating attitude, making commands both directly and indirectly.

We will now move on to reviewing some of the more delicate functions fulfilled in an op-ed and the wordings that can be used. This section is, of course, related to the type of work we would be doing with our students as we deconstruct a sample text and prepare them to write their own. We have found that explicitly reviewing meanings and structures included in effective texts is very useful. Drawing our students’ attention to these structures will encourage them to include them in their own texts. At first they may overdo their efforts! But it is a way to encourage them to experiment with language and to move past the more basic, often uninteresting resources they can get stuck with.

We include a list of structures that we call strategic as they are very productive in expressing meanings or functions that are very important in fulfilling the local (at stage or phase level) or more global meanings in the text. We relate the structures to the meanings that they are associated with so we can explicitly talk about both – meanings and structures – in functional terms, as resources at our disposal to fulfill the purposes of the text. The structures range in their rank from clause complexes, to simple clauses, to groups and phrases.

As we discussed in Chapter 1 and others along the way, we make three type of meanings simultaneously – experiential, interpersonal and textual. So we have organized the strategic structures displayed below under these three kinds of meanings. Though one or another type of meaning can be foregrounded at different moments in a text or in a text as a whole, we do make all these meanings simultaneously. In Tables 5.4 to 5.6 below, in the column to the right, we have included examples taken from published op-eds or samples written by teenagers and included in the New York Times Learning Network (listed in the Appendix as [a] or [b]).

5.6.1 Experiential meanings: representing experience

An important function of op-eds is to recreate a portion of experience that the reader will identify, relate to and, ideally, evaluate as significant. This needs to be done in a very limited space and to maximum effect, so awareness of the language resources that can be drawn upon is an essential part of teaching to write an op-ed. Basic language resources that help us to talk about participants engaged in activities under certain circumstances will take us a long way. We can do a lot by exploiting the potential of nominal groups, verbal groups, adverbial groups, and prepositional phrases. We just need to make sure we are using them effectively. The nominal group, for example, is one of the most powerful ranks in the grammar: pre- and post-modification can incorporate a lot of experiential (and interpersonal) information. Some of the experiential functions we will try to get students to fulfill include the following:

  • taking our time to expand on meanings, becoming more specific, giving examples, restating ideas in different words that will create an effective representation of the part of experience we are dealing with;
  • expressing cause, consequence, reason, for example, to connect ideas logically;
  • recreating experience in detail, with vividness;
  • distilling ideas and extracting the key meanings, often abstract in nature, that we want to make.

In the table below, we present the functions that writers fulfill as they represent experience in op-eds and the typical structures they use to fulfill them.

Table 5.4 Strategic structures: representing experience.

We can go over examples as the following one with our students, highlighting the effectiveness of the representation of experience and, if we think it is necessary, provide a simplified version that is closer to what our students can produce yet still experientially effective.

If you’re one of the nearly 225 million Americans who owns a smartphone, you know that it is a window into your entire life – your friends, your financial information, your pastimes and, most relevant to the Supreme Court this year, your comings and goings. [5]

We can point at the effectiveness of opening up important ideas as your entire life, specifying what it means exactly and, in so doing, effectively contributing to the point that the text wants to make: the exposure we are subjected to and how vulnerable it makes us. We can rewrite this idea jointly with the class using wordings our students feel more comfortable with, something like the following:

If you own a cell phone and are active in social media, you know that it reveals a lot about your life – your friends, how you spend your money, what you do in your free time and what you do every day. [5]

This is a simple enough yet effective rendering of the idea the original text makes.

5.6.2 Interpersonal meaning: getting readers to affiliate

One of the key functions of an op-ed is to get its readership to accept early on that the general issue the text is about is, in some way, significant and worth the read. Additionally, the reader is expected to examine this issue from the position or angle adopted by the writer, listen to the arguments put forth in the article and, finally, side with or affiliate with this position. As all this process occurs, the reader is engaged with a textual voice that is construed step by step as the article unfolds, one that expresses opinions more or less explicitly, that is more or less intensified and that allows for more or less space for alternative positions. All this rhetorical work is interpersonal and it is critical given the purpose of an op-ed. We can summarize these functions as follows:

  • showing that our topic is compelling and important in some way;
  • making our readers actively think about the topic, feel part of the exploration of the topic;
  • expressing our opinion sometimes in a very direct way, others not so;
  • showing that we are aware that other people (experts, ordinary readers) can have different opinions.

[9]

Table 5.5 Strategic structures: getting readers to affiliate.

Interpersonal meanings are at the heart of what taking a stance and supporting it entails. One of the key decisions writers need to make as they prepare their op-ed is what exactly the target of the case they are building is: are they evaluating a policy, a state of affairs, a process? Are they judging people’s behavior? Or do they want to foreground the emotional impact of one or both of the preceding targets? This is an important decision for the focus of the op-ed to remain clear and its impact effective. In article [b], America First, by Safa Saleh, age 17, a moving case is built against Trump’s executive order banning citizens from certain countries to enter the United States for a period of time. This is, of course, the clear target of the op-ed, straightforwardly announced in the last sentence of the first paragraph, its thesis: President Trump’s executive order on immigration is not merely illegal and unconstitutional, but also heartless and discriminatory. Yet very closely related to this strong evaluation of the policy (via appreciation) is the judgement of unethical behavior of the administration and the evaluation of the emotional impact on refugees (their affect). These targets are evaluated more or less explicitly: the policy and the impact on refugees, very straightforwardly; Trump’s ethics, indirectly. It is, in fact, his executive order, general immigration policy and ideology that are under keen scrutiny, yet a negative evaluation of the ethical propriety of those involved is very strongly suggested.

As we discussed in Section 5.5 on attitude, evaluation is as much about the target we appraise as it is about the way in which we express attitude. It is a very good exercise to make students aware of these aspects of evaluation. We can work with a segment of a text, like Sample [b] and ask students to focus on the attitude expressed, marking with different colors or types of underlining the targets of evaluation, the way attitude is expressed and its source, if this were relevant. We will annotate the segment below using the same annotation as in Section 5.5, above (appreciation; affect, judgment, invoked attitude and graduation). Colors may be more fun and revealing in class. After we share their observations, we can discuss how the deployment of evaluation resources is instrumental in fulfilling the purpose of the text.

But let’s take a step back from the politics of it all. Children may die, families will be separated. These are the world’s most vulnerable that we are turning our backs on. What about the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free? A few weeks ago when returning to the United States from Dubai, my family was selected for a “random security check.” This one was more thorough than ever. I had to hold back tears as everyone in line passed while they were dissecting my bag like I was some sort of criminal. My crime? The American passport that I carry says that I was born in Iraq. My father asked the man why the security check was taking so much longer than usual. The man replied simply with “America first,” but how do you put America first when you are destroying the very values it was founded upon? [b]

There is obviously quite a bit of attitude expressed all along the passage, a good deal of it is intensified (as in huddled; more thorough) and experience is quantified frequently as well (as in A few weeks ago). There is a strong presence of the affect of the refugees as this paragraph leaves aside ‘the politics’ and concentrates on the children and their families. Their emotions are expressed explicitly with the textual voice as the source – or evaluator – (most vulnerable; tired, poor and huddled) and also invoked by the events themselves (My father asked the man why the security check was taking so much longer than usual) that clearly invoke emotions of anxiety and insecurity. This combination of strategies is very effective as the reader considers both what the textual voice evaluates directly and the attitude that events themselves reflect. So, just as the first topic sentence of the paragraph anticipates, this section is very much about the emotional well-being of immigrants. Yet in the last sentence, there is an effective indirect reference to the administration’s ideology (America first) and a strong invocation of the nation’s unethical impropriety. This is, of course, the main concern of the whole text.

Going over segments of texts such as this one with students is very effective: it makes visible to students the importance of attitude in persuasive texts and how evaluative meanings are deployed in a text.

5.6.3 Textual meaning: making the text work

Textual meanings do the less obvious, yet very important work of enabling experiential and interpersonal meanings to be conveyed effectively and of facilitating the rhetorical work done as the text unfolds. Textual meanings organize the experience being represented in the text and help the relationship between writer and readers to be created.

The first group of structures displayed in the table below functions rhetorically to emphasize parts of the message, and to bring certain information into the spotlight. The array of strategic structures concerning rhythm are also textual in nature. These structures bring musicality and rhythm to the text, positioning the information strategically and often foregrounding different phases of the text that allow ideational and interpersonal meanings to be conveyed more effectively. Two of the key textual functions fulfilled in an op-ed are:

  • emphasizing, foregrounding specific information;
  • making the text compelling to read – including variations in rhythm, sentence length, mood choices.

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Table 5.6 Strategic structures: making the text work.

To raise our students’ attention about the less obvious resources we use to organize and transmit information effectively, we can ask students to read a text, highlight the textual strategies and comment on the effect they think they have on the way information is presented. A class activity could be something like the following:

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Once students have identified these resources in a text or in a section of a text, we can discuss their effect on the meanings made. We can elicit students’ observations asking questions such as: Why is certain information positioned initially to give it prominence? (for example, a long circumstance of place, time or manner) Why is a particular syntactic structure effective? What information does it foreground? What is the effect of a very brief sentence (with or without ellipsis) after longer ones? What is the effect of enumerations, particularly when the structure used is repeated over and over?

Students can also make suggestions to improve sections in the text. So, for example, given the following proposition, we can ask them to highlight the writer’s feelings:

I had to hold back tears as everyone in line passed while they were dissecting my bag like I was some sort of criminal. I had never felt so humiliated and scared.

And it could become…

  • I had to hold back tears as everyone in line passed while they were dissecting my bag like I was some sort of criminal. Never had I felt so humiliated and scared.

or

  • As they dissected my bag like I was some sort of criminal and everyone in line passed, I had to hold back tears. Never had I felt so humiliated and scared.

This activity is also very useful when students are revising or rewriting their own texts. They can edit reconsidering expression with the resources you explicitly review with them.

A last word to emphasize the huge importance of bringing to our students’ attention the simultaneity of meanings and resources that are at play as we write persuasive texts and the fact that the more complex the rhetorical effort we are making, the more complex is the web of resources that we create as we write. Explicit awareness of the complexity of the texture of texts can help our students to experiment and write creative, vivid and effective discourse. Let’s consider the following examples which we have briefly commented, just to illustrate the type of micro-analysis we can do with our students:

  • […] or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating. [4] (contrast in initial position; pre-modification of verb; pre-modification of head in noun group; infused intensification [thwart; catastrophic]; expression of authenticity [truly])
  • The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink. No president will be able to claw back this time — crucial time, since we’re right now breaking the back of the climate system. [4] (representation of hypothetical experiential scenario with powerful work done by intensification and quantification; counter-expectation; lexical metaphor; parallelism)
  • In a movie theater, at a stop sign, at the checkout line at a supermarket and, yes, at a memorial service, reaching for a device becomes so natural that we start to forget that there is a reason, a good reason, to sit still with our thoughts […] [5](enumeration of location in time in marked initial position; certainty as dialogue with reader is established [yes]; intensification [a reason, a good reason])
  • Private vehicles take 88% of them, vans and courtesy shuttles do 11%, leaving just 1% to get there via public transportation such as LAX FlyAway buses or the LAX/Aviation stop on Metro’s Green Line. Those that walk? Too few to be counted. [2] (brief question and response after long proposition loaded with experiential information; quantification that invokes attitude [88%; 11%; 1%])
  • Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hungerall with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception. [1] (enumeration of attitudinal language infused with intensification; intensification and counter-expectation [all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception]; invocation of emotions of the victims all very important to the text)

The intensive type of work we have been proposing for students to visualize the functions that are fulfilled as an op-ed unfolds and the wordings used to fulfill them may seem too complex to undertake with EFL students. We have found it effective and generally possible to train students to observe language in use, to learn how it makes meanings and come to understand that strategic wordings are resources at their disposal to say what they wish to say with effect. The very functional perspective that informs all the work we propose makes it easier to talk about language using specific, functionally-driven metalanguage. Talking about language means learning about it. It means empowering your students as they learn to view language not as a baffling abstraction, but rather, as a complex, rich, fun array of resources that can help them to express themselves and get the things they need or want or consider right done.

We hope you try out some of our suggestions. We also hope you find them useful and are able to productively adjust them to your needs.


5.7 Appendix

Authentic samples

  1. Dawson-Hahn, E. (2018, June 15). Separating families is a humanitarian and health crisis. Seattle Times.
  2. Zoellner, T. (2018, April 8). Nobody walks to LAX. Los Angeles Times.
  3. Sanders, B. (2015, October 22). Make college free for all. The Washington Post
  4. McKibben, B. (2017, April 21). The planet can’t stand this presidency. The New York Times.
  5. Kugler, M., & Schrup, S. (2017, November 18). Your phone knows where you’ve been, and the government wants to know too. Los Angeles Times
  6. Leonhardt, D. (2018, May 6). Save Barnes & Noble! The New York Times.  
  7. Caplan, B. (2018, February 11). What students know that experts don’t: School is all about signaling, not skill-building. Los Angeles Times
  8. Jayaraman, S. (2018, October 15). Why tipping is wrong. The New York Times

Samples written by teenagers, native speakers of English

  1. Williams, A. (2018, May 24). Move over, millennials, here comes Generation Z. The New York Times
  2. Saleh, S. (2017, June 6). America first. The New York Times. 

  1. We have included suggestions for teaching op-eds to students at a lower level of instruction in the last section of the chapter, Teaching op-eds.
  2. We have included the links to eight sample texts in the Appendix. They are easily accessible on the Internet. They have been numbered to facilitate reference as they are mentioned all along the chapter.
  3. The link to this article is listed in the Appendix as Sample Text 1.
  4. Observations provide a brief, snapshot-like record of events (Rothery and Stenglin, 1997, p. 237). They are typically followed by a reaction to the experience. We will further discuss them below, in Section 5.2.1.
  5. We have included a description of these distinctions among different kinds of story genres as they are so commonly included in EFL textbooks and so productive in teaching-learning terms. They have quite a few common features, yet they are not all the same. Awareness of the differences between them can help us to highlight what the point in each one is. Given that it would take more space to describe and illustrate the differences, we suggest some further readings for a more detailed definition of categories of narratives, for instance, Rothery and Stenglin, 1997; Plum, 2004 and Martin and Rose, 2008.
  6. The moving to and fro between more generic and abstract experience and more specific and concrete experience is very usefully theorized and explained in Martin (2013) in the context of science and history texts, but it is still easily relatable to the point we are trying to make here.
  7. In this section of the chapter devoted to Attitude, we have used the following coding in the sample texts: appreciation; affect, judgment, invoked attitude and graduation.
  8. For further reading we recommend: Martin and Rose (2007) for an introductory, panoramic presentation of Appraisal; Martin and White (2005) for a more comprehensive account.
  9. We could not find an example in the sample texts we included in the Appendix that contained purely experiential information. In the op-eds in our corpus, the representation of experience is overwhelmingly at the service of the interpersonal meaning, invoking attitude in combination with quantification or representing it as counter-expectational, as in the examples taken from Samples [3] and [b], in the table above.


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