Some Questions We Will Be Asking about the Readings

Audrey Thompson


  1. What is the main argument (or what are the main arguments) in this essay?  What is or are the author's/authors' foils?  How do you know?
  2. Who seems to be the audience for this piece?  How does the author address this implicit audience?  What does she or he apparently assume about them?  How do you know?
  3. How does the essay achieve its power?  (e.g., through appeals to logic, facts, authority, humor, or emotion;  through the forcefulness or beauty of its language;  by creating suspense;  by inviting the reader into a particular relationship?)
  4. What seem to be the values to which the author aspires?  (e.g., precise, clear, accessible, and concise definitions, vivid and evocative language, liveliness, emotional engagement, authoritativeness, entertainment, humility)  What negative values might the author seem to fear? (e.g., charges of being insufficiently objective)
  5. What is the shape of this essay?  Is it linear, architectural, archaeological?  Is it reminiscent of a quilt, a mosaic, a scientific experiment, a conversation, a dance, a fortress, a battle?  Is the author weaving a narrative, untangling a mystery, uncovering traces of the past in the present, clarifying a connection, demonstrating cause and effect?
  6. What sense do you get of the author or authors?  What is her/his/their voice?  How are they present or absent in the text?  What effect does the author's or authors' presence or erasure of presence have on the text?
  7. What does the author(s) seem to believe about knowledge?  about truth?  about power?
  8. How does the author select, address, and present evidence?  Which possible evidence or counter-evidence is ignored or suppressed, and how?  What helps render this suppression of evidence invisible?
  9. How does the author address authority?
  10. What does the author ignore, either deliberately (perhaps explicitly) or because of his or her assumptions about the material, about evidence, or about authority?
  11. What, if anything, do you think distracts from the way that the essay is supposed to be read?  For example, if it is supposed to be read as voiceless authority, does a voice nevertheless come through at times?  If it is supposed to be beautiful, does it at times become predictable, clichéd, or self-indulgent?  Conversely, are there any happy surprises?
  12. How, if at all, does the author call attention to the seams in the writing, the gaps, the question marks, the awkwardnesses?  How does the writer signal herself or himself as reliable or unreliable?
  13. How is flow achieved?  How are transitions used?  Is the organization of the piece formulaic, narrative, logical?  If it seems to flow naturally, what helps account for this feel?  What is left out, what is smoothed over, what is explicitly linked?
  14. To what genre does the piece seem to belong?
  15. What is made visible or invisible through the writing, including the writing itself?
  16. What is the significance given to the textures of language, in the writing?
  17. If there are flaws (carelessness, imprecision, self-indulgence, repetitiveness), do you see these as due primarily to the individual author, the genre, the field, or the medium?
  18. What conceptions does the author have of what it means to listen and read across difference?  To speak to multiple and diverse audiences?  How do you know?
  19. What aesthetics of gender, sexuality, race, and class seem to be at play?  For example, how does the text seem to adopt or refuse such aesthetics as "vigor," "anger," "seduction," or "appropriateness"?)

Audrey Thompson/2007