At Amazon, the genre of product reviews has been taken to a new level. People often write lengthy reviews of the products they love, knowing that there is a good chance someone will actually read what they write.
Amazon’s popularity and its built-in organizational tricks make it the perfect place to see rhetoric in action. Users can browse straight to the most helpful favorable review or the most helpful critical review, guiding them to the reviews that will help them most. That means that clever review-writers can make choices that will make their review more or less likely to be seen as helpful by other shoppers. (Skim through Jared M. Spool’s “The Magic behind Amazon’s 2.7 Billion Dollar Question” for more on how Amazon reviews work and how to navigate them well.)
This assignment asks you to choose a review on Amazon and write a rhetorical analysis of it. To understand what I mean by “rhetorical analysis,” be sure to check out my post “What is a rhetorical analysis?“
- Choose a single product on Amazon that has at least ten reviews.
- Choose one review of that product to analyze in your essay.
- In a typed document, take notes on your Amazon review. (You’ll have to turn this in, but it can be messy.) List anything that strikes you as interesting about the rhetorical choices the author of the review uses and what you think the effects of those choices might be on audiences. Then, using EoA p. 303 as a guide, write something briefly something about each of the 5 TRACE elements.
- Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical choices made by the author of the Amazon review. Specifically, use the language of a TRACE analysis, following the guidelines in EoA chapter two and p. 303. You must mention something about each of the five TRACE elements, but you may discuss them in whatever order makes most sense to you, and you may include analysis of the review that doesn’t seem to fit into the TRACE model.
I imagine this essay being between two and three pages of text (when your document is set up to follow MLA or APA guidelines), but that page limit is not exact. Follow your instincts and the advice from your peers about where to expand or cut.
As Rhetoric 102 students, I assume that you have some practice writing college essays. Even though different professors and subjects and genres call for different things, there are a few things you should be familiar with by now: how to focus a paragraph on a single topic, how to write transitions that help readers understand when you are switching topics, how to write an introduction paragraph that convinces your reader that you have something interesting to say, and how to write a conclusion paragraph that suggests the deeper significance of your topic.
Tuesday, January 28Wednesday, January 29: Bring your typed notes on your Amazon review to class, following Step 3 above. (Please bring a printout to get full credit; I’ll guide you through an exercise that involves writing on the printed paper.) Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday (Jan 29, 30, or 31): Bring a draft of your essay to a one-on-one conference in my office (Scarborough 117). You may schedule your conference at your convenience using a wiki I’ve set up in Moodle. (Scroll down to Week 2 in Moodle and click “Conference Sign Up Wiki.”) When you come to the conference, Bring printouts of your Amazon review, your prewriting document, and a complete draft of the essay.
- Tuesday, February 4: Bring a printout of your most recent draft to class for peer review.
- Friday, February 7: Final draft of essay uploaded to the appropriate dropbox in Moodle (under Week 3).
Submission and Assessment
Save your essay as a .docx, .doc, or .rtf file. Be sure that your document is formatted strictly to follow MLA or APA style, including the heading, headers, margin, and spacing. Use Times New Roman 12-point font.
Your essay will be assessed in five areas: ideas, organization, evidence, style, and format, following the guidelines of my standard rubric (which we’ll discuss in class).
- Don’t pick short reviews to write about. There’s no minimum word requirement or anything, but you’ll find that you don’t have much to say if you choose short reviews.
- If you’re not sure which review to choose, you may find it helpful to analyze the most helpful favorable review or the most helpful critical review. Sometimes when a review has been voted as “helpful” by lots of people, it’s more likely to be interesting and full of details you could analyze. And Amazon makes this easy by setting up a screen that looks like this when there have been a number of reviews:
To find that view on Amazon, follow these steps: 1) from any product page, scroll down until you get to the bottom of the product reviews; 2) click the button saying, “See all [number] customer reviews (newest first).”
- While your product must have at least ten reviews, you may find it easier to write this assignment for products that have even more reviews. The more people who visit a product’s page, the more likely it is that reviews will have been voted as helpful or not. (However, when I’ve assigned this essay in the past, I was inundated with essays about reviews for phones and e-readers. I’d love to be surprised by something I didn’t expect–that’s part of your rhetorical situation.)
- If you’re not familiar with setting up a document strictly following MLA’s guidelines, I suggest this page, which walks you through the details of what exactly to click in Microsoft Word.