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RobGoodman421 karma

Are rhetorical questions not an extremely important figure of speech?

RobGoodman184 karma

Read my book! (JK)

The most important piece of advice I got from a former White House speechwriter was that you should always remember speeches are written for the "ear," not the "eye." The audience is listening, which means you have to break down arguments into smaller bites, use rhythm and repetition to promote memorability, and recap throughout. Lots of eloquent essays wouldn't work as speeches, and lots of famous speeches seem a little dull on the page--so really keep in mind that these are different media and should be approached as such.

RobGoodman169 karma

To be honest, that was one of the more anxiety-producing aspects of working on this book. As we put it in our Acknowledgments section at the end, we're biographers, not mathematicians or engineers--and while I think biography is a skill in itself, it doesn't make you an expert in the field of the subject whose biography you're writing.

So writing this book was a learning process: we said that we set out to write something that we'd also like to read. In other words, we wanted to write for people who were fascinated by tech and its history, and who loved the stories surrounding it, but didn't necessarily have a hard-science background. The good news is that we didn't have to worry about going over anyone's head--if we "got" it, that was a pretty good guarantee that our readers would, too.

But, as you point out, that also brought with it a huge challenge: as we researched Shannon's life story and spoke with his surviving family, friends, colleagues, and students, we also had to make sure we got the science right and did justice to him. So we made sure to both speak with a number of real experts during the drafting of the book, and to ask them to review drafts as we worked toward a final version. You'll find a more complete list in the Acknowledgments and bibliography, but some of our most helpful consultants were Sergio Verdu of Princeton, Bob Gallager and Henry Pollak (former Shannon colleagues), information theorist Dave Forney, and Alex Magoun of the IEEE. Of course, any and all mistakes in the book are ours, not theirs. But from the feedback we've gotten, it's gratifying to see that, at least from a layperson's perspective, we've given an accurate overview of Shannon's achievements.

RobGoodman157 karma

I second this post. In my case, it was a bit of an odd route--I applied to a job at a private speechwriting company. After a few rounds of interviews, they turned out not to have the budget to hire me, but they were kind enough to pass my info on to Sen. Dodd's office when he had an opening. So there was a lot of luck involved. But as the post above says, it helps to have interned on the Hill, which I did and probably gave me some credibility in the eyes of Dodd's office.

On that last point, that's why it's so important to pay interns a living wage. If not, then the main route to jobs like speechwriter, press secretary, legislative assistant, etc.--and further on down the line, chief of staff, communications director, etc.--is closed off to a lot of people who would otherwise excel at those jobs.

RobGoodman111 karma

Yep, I think that sound-bite-ification has a big impact on rhetoric, mainly because you can't develop a real argument over the course of a snippet. I certainly remember being encouraged to develop memorable "pull quotes" when writing speeches, and these would then be emphasized in press releases promoting the speeches.

From the historical perspective, I should note that what we'd call "soundbites" have always been a part of rhetoric. One famous bite from Cicero (which he got in trouble for because of its political implications) was "Cedant arma togae," or "Let arms yield to the toga [of peace]," which made a splash but also controversially sounded as if he were claiming that eloquence was more important than military glory. So rhetorical audiences have always singled out lines that struck them as interesting--the big difference, I think, is that attention spans are shorter. For comparison, look at a speech like "On the Crown" by Demosthenes, or one of Cicero's forensic speeches, and keep in mind that these were hours-long performances addressed to popular, not elite, audiences.