On Rationales

on rationales

If the project itself is where you show your creativity and overall grasp of the concepts from the course, the rationale is where you demonstrate academic rigor. Rationales should be a formal reflection on the choices you have made in composing your project and how you feel they have advanced your goals, a persuasive discussion of your project’s complexity and sound engineering. This is your opportunity to sell me on your project and overcome any objections or concerns, so be thorough.

To bolster your discussion and increase your credibility, you should explicitly draw on the readings and ideas from class—don’t forget to cite. Engagement with class readings should be explicit and sophisticated, deepening your discussion. How might X author talk about your approach? How did you deploy the ideas from Y? What about Z’s argument did you consider when making this particular choice? By the time I am done reading the rationale, I should understand not simply what you were going for but why the choices you have made are the best ones to get you there—or if you feel the project didn’t work, why not, and what might have been better. Make the case that your project is complex, ambitious, and soundly engineered to meet your goals. You will need at least 800 words to adequately address the requirements.

This is the only formal writing you will be doing in the class, and it should be treated as such—I will be looking for thoughtfulness and nuance.

The questions below are unashamedly inspired by (and in some cases outright stolen from) Jody Shipka’s article “Sound Engineering.”

  1. What are your goals for the piece? What work might it do, and for whom (that is, who is your audience, and what effect are you hoping to have)?  Consider this paragraph an opportunity to both explain the ambition and complexity of your intentions and to provide the standards by which your project should be judged.
  2. What specific rhetorical, technological, and material choices did you make in service of accomplishing the goal(s) articulated above? That is, how did you utilize the affordances of this medium to meet your goals? Why did you do things the way you did them?
  3. How did the various choices listed above allow you to accomplish things that other sets or combinations of choices would not have? What might you change given the opportunity to revise or begin again?
  4. How did composing a piece to be heard/seen/encountered/etc. differ from composing a piece to be read?

Things to avoid:

  • “Hit and run” quotations — When you engage with the readings, integrate the scholars’ ideas into your own. Show how their ideas are relevant to your project or how your project embodies their ideas. Don’t just tell me that their work relates—I should understand how. That means that each quotation should be followed by at least one sentence unpacking it in the context of your work.
  • Overly long backstory – It’s easy to get caught up in explaining the larger issue you are trying to discuss (e.g. poverty, animal abuse) or the many other project ideas you considered and then rejected. While background is useful, this should be only a small portion of your overall rationale. Think about which pieces of information are necessary and useful.
  • Obvious bullet-point answering – The questions above should be answered but they should be answered in a way that makes sense and feels cohesive rather than as though you are simply filling in the blanks.

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