Rhetorical Forms & Delivery

22 Researching Rhetorical Forms and Delivery

Jennifer Clary-Lemon; Derek Mueller; and Kate L. Pantelides

Excerpt from Try This: Research Methods For Writers

Researching Rhetorical Forms and Delivery

  • your 5th grade science fair experiment
  • a viral video of high school math students rapping the quadratic formula
  • a five-minute conversation with a family friend about a summer coop position at their company based on your community service

The rhetorical events listed above are all ways that research circulates over time, in different locations, through interactions among people and things. This chapter takes into account the ways that research, oftentimes research-in-progress, circulates. Circulation is a contemporary reframing of the rhetorical canon of delivery. Delivery, in a classical Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition, was primarily concerned with speakers who, in real-time, stood before reasonably attentive audiences to speak persuasively about matters of civic concern. Over two millennia, as writing systems gained legitimacy and as digital media expanded and flourished, so too did the means of delivery multiply. In today’s mediascape, delivery remains relevant, but the mechanisms of delivery have shifted because audiences are themselves producers of recirculation and uptake. That is, someone may read an article and re-post it, watch a video and send it on. Secondary circulation is not a new phenomenon, but it has intensified with the rise of social media and the everyday documentary impulses that proliferate streams of social media. People have their mobile devices out, capturing and relaying the richness and wonder (and also ordinariness and banality) in their surroundings.

To put a finer point on this phenomenon of secondary circulation (i.e., uptake and recirculation), Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss introduced the concept of rhetorical velocity. As they explain, rhetorical velocity goes beyond delivery to offer “strategic theorizing for how a text might be recomposed (and why it might be recomposed) by third parties, and how this recomposing may be useful or not to the short- or long-term rhetorical objectives of the rhetorician.” For a researching writer, this means sharing research in such a way that encourages others to do things with it, including to recirculate it. When others take up the work and continue its circulation, rhetorical velocity increases. The reach and influence of the research stands a greater chance of making a difference in the world.

With the goal of setting research in motion, this chapter begins by acknowledging and then challenging two powerful myths connected with research writing. The first myth is that researchers should only share their work with audiences at the end of a research process. The second myth is that beginning researchers should circulate their work only in small circles, to limited audiences, such as the confines of a class and a teacher. Of course, myths emerge from the world around us. These myths in particular about research writing prevail because there are strong cases to be made for circulating research after the study is fully formed and the work completed. Furthermore, circulating research-in-progress to small, supportive, attentive audiences, such as are customarily available in association with a writing class, also makes sense. These myths prevail, in other words, because there are kernels of long-established wisdom etched into them. And yet, we seek here to open these myths with the goal of acknowledging what becomes available when we share about works-in-progress and when we engage audiences broader than the classroom.


Try This Together: Delivery and Circulation (30 minutes) 

In a small group, develop definitions of delivery and circulation. How are these terms similar? In what ways do they identify something different? What do you think they mean for researchers who are interested in sharing their work with others? Discuss how you have participated in rhetorical circulation. That is, have you ever read or viewed something, then passed it along to someone else with the purpose of asking a question, teaching them, deepening their understanding, or changing their mind?


Our aim in challenging these myths is to expand perspectives on the potential of rhetorical delivery to clarify and activate research activity as it unfolds. Toward this goal, consider our counter-principles:

You can, as a writing researcher, share about your work at any moment in the process. You can write a pre-proposal in which you sketch possible lines of inquiry. You can prepare and deliver a three-minute presentation to your class or your research group at the moment when you are beginning to gather, read, and annotate sources. You can develop for a gallery crawl a draft of a poster that displays decisions you have made about research design, including the questions that interest you most and the potential complications you foresee. With each of these (and many other) possibilities, research is kept social, and the interactions can be generative for you, for your research team if you are collaborating, and for others who are probably working through comparable research processes themselves.

Delivering the beginning stages of a work-in-progress early and often can help you refine your sense of audience and purpose. The questions you receive will help you make decisions about where to expand, what context to fill in, and what is missing or perhaps understated. It’s also possible to revisit a research project long after you believe it was finished and sent off into the world. Five and ten-year retrospectives—look backs—at a research project and asking of it freshly—Why did this work matter? What would I have done differently? How would a comparable study need to be done now, were it to be undertaken again?—these and other reflective questions help researchers focus on the longevity of a study’s significance, setting it in relationship to time as well as opening new possibilities for continuing or renewed research.

You can, as a writing researcher, share about your work widely, even while it is in-progress or otherwise unfinished, generating and circulating status updates that invite audience engagement. It may feel risky, yet writing about in-progress research can open your work to outsider feedback, lead to potential collaborations, and build confidence in how you give language to specialized concepts. This is not quite the same as saying you should share everything about the research with other people or that you should post everything about it online. But some measure of practice with delivery and circulation while a project is underway can help you see it as rhetorical work, connecting it with people who are curious about it. When this happens, research writing can become connected to other stakeholders.

We also want to stress the careful consideration that must go into sharing in-progress work. Ethical delivery of in-progress research may be focused and invitational, such as by selecting a narrow issue in a study and inviting perspective. It may also proceed with a goal of keeping your work public facing, or aimed toward an external audience, and accountable to people who are not researchers but whose lives may be improved by the questions you are asking and what you are learning about those questions. Ethical delivery of in-progress research seeks to emphasize the value of audiences who can participate in the work. We would caution you against disclosures of frustration or complaint about your research process or findings, though missteps, failures, and complications certainly do happen in research and warrant acknowledgement when we are sharing about our work. Finally, a leading goal for wide delivery of in-progress research is to refresh perspective on the classroom as a temporary scene. Research activity often exceeds the length of a semester or quarter.


Try This Together: Brainstorming Delivery (15 minutes) 

With a partner and using your research topic, question, data collected, or project thus far, generate a list of five to ten ways that you might share in-progress work. Be sure to consider different kinds of stakeholders—not just your campus community, but your neighborhood, city, hometown, government, workplace, educational, and community groups. Who is affected by your research, and who might want to know a bit more about it? Who would you like to have in an audience that would help you think differently about your research? Then, consider what forms sharing such in-progress work might take. What are some flexible delivery options that an in-progress project might have that a fully finished project does not?




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

The Ask: A More Beautiful Question Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Clary-Lemon; Derek Mueller; and Kate L. Pantelides is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book