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Essay 3 – Eyewitness

Unit of discourse

rhetorical part: assertion, support, explanation

analogy: pull out your gun, load, aim and shoot

An assertion is like a gun. Anyone can pull one out and start waving it around. By itself, an assertion is an opinion, all talk, lots of fervent belief, but nothing else. To make it more persuasive, all you can do it raise your voice, wag the gun more wildly.

The support is the bullets. It’s what you load your gun with. A loaded gun is a lot more threatening. It can, potentially, do a lot more damage than the gun by itself.

However, to effectively communicate, you need to pull the trigger. No matter how good your gun and your bullets, you’re never going to hit your target unless you pull the trigger. Your target is your reader. That’s a singular “reader” on purpose. You cannot shoot everyone with a gun. It’s pretty much one at a time.

Same with an essay. Don’t try to write to “everyone”. Write to one specific person, one reader. You need to explain what you want your reader to get out of the evidence. Then it’s not just your opinion against someone else’s. It’s your substantiated, explained opinion, which is more persuasive and carries more weight than the opinions of those wagging their guns at each other.


Write one short paragraph that uses this unit of discourse to explain what you saw as an eyewitness to a traffic accident.

Rhetorical situation: You are the driver of the car in the video below, which depicts a traffic accident. After what’s shown on the video, you stop your car to see if you can help, but you can’t. The police and ambulances soon arrive. The police investigators take your name and number as a possible witness and send you on your way.

The next day, they call you in to the station and ask you to make a statement. It turns out that

  • the driver was texting at the time of the accident. The final text received by the driver’s girlfriend explained that they were going to be late and that they were hurrying as fast as they could
  • four people died
  • you are, by far, the eyewitness with the best view

Several court cases, criminal and civil, are likely to develop from this accident. All of those cases are going to rely on your statement of what happened.

In real life, this accident would have happened very quickly and very unexpectedly and you would have to rely the next day on a vague memory. For purposes of this assignment, you can view the video several times.

Your audience is varied: the lawyers, the juries, the dead people’s relatives, the insurance companies. Multiple audiences can make it difficult to know whom to write to. Advice: pick one to focus on. In this case, you might address the parents of the dead driver and passengers.

They need to know what happened, how it happened, who was responsible, and who should be held accountable. Your theory of the case is very important to them, much more important than it is to you.

The topic sentence (main assertion; gun) of this paragraph is the answer to the main question — what happened? The answer is your theory of the case, stated succinctly. Even though you are addressing the parents when you write, you realize that among them and among others in the varied audience, no matter what theory you decide on, some people are going to be outraged and others will be encouraged. You will not be able to please everyone.

The rhetorical mode is process: first, this happened. Because of the first thing, the second thing happened. Because of the second thing, the third thing happened.

The evidence (bullets) are the sequence of events, what you saw. What did what to what?

The explanation (trigger pulling) comes from your explaining the cause-and-effect relationships in that sequence of events. Use the evidence to explain your theory of the case. How does what you saw added to what you know, the facts learned from the police, contribute to or support your theory of the case?

In other words, these were not random events. There was a chain of cause and effect. Getting that chain accurately described will be crucial for the courts to assign responsibility.

The nouns in your sentences are going to be pretty obvious: car, truck, road, etc. The verbs are where all the action is. Give special attention to the verbs. Try not to use these four verbs: is, are, was, were.

Remember, this is not a full-blown essay with introduction, body, and conclusion. This is a paragraph (or two), maybe 300 words maximum using the unit of discourse once: one assertion, one collection of evidence, and one cogent explanation.

Your responses