The Shape of Reason

John Gage’s The Shape of Reason is at the center of the University of Oregon’s composition program. Here are some key concepts from this text. Page numbers are from The Shape of Reason 4th Edition.

  • Discourse Community is a community in which the members attempt to achieve cooperation and assert their individuality through language. The university and the classroom itself are examples of such communities.
  • Inquiry is the active search for questions and answers to questions.
  • Critical Reading is the conscious act of adjusting the degree of one’s agreement with any idea to the quality of the reasons that support that idea. (Questions for critical reading: 28-30.)
  • thesis is an idea, stated as an assertion, that represents a reasoned response to a question at issue and that can serve as the central idea of a composition. (Kinds of question: 58-60. Testing a thesis: 77.)
  • reason is an idea that functions to support another idea. It is the answer to an implicit question, Why? (Kinds of appeal: 88-9.)
  • Argumentative writing is a process of reasonable inquiry into the best grounds for agreement between a writer and an audience who have a mutual concern to answer a question at issue. Writing in an academic community is largely a process of finding and structuring reasons that can provide these grounds.
  • The thesis statement asserted as an enthymeme will have the following open form: Assertion 1 (thesis) because Assertion 2 (reason). (Questions for because clauses: 102.)
  • A well-thought-out enthymeme links the writer’s reasoning to the assumptions, beliefs and values of an audience. It also provides a way of envisioning the potential major parts of an essay and the connections among them.
  • Form is generated by reasoning. One need not rely on model forms to find the shape of one’s essay.
  • Style is like logic in that clarity and effectiveness depend not only on what is said but also on what assumptions about the reader are appealed to in the saying. Style is a matter of appropriateness.
  • Revising is rethinking.