Employs a Public Voice

Analyzes how the writing employs rhetorical strategies, tone and style to contribute to civic discourse or influence action, and how it establishes a writer’s credibility. Public voice is directed beyond one’s immediate family or friends.

Writers seeking to engage the public in controversial public issues make rhetorical choices that support their civic purposes. CEWAC’s first attribute—employs a public voice—focuses on two civic purposes: encouraging civic discourse and advocating for a specific position.

This attribute shows how youth move from a private to a public voice, transforming personally held beliefs and ideas into civic engagement. It emphasizes the purposeful choices that writers make based on the intended audience(s), the context in which they are writing, and the purposes they hope to achieve.


To analyze students’ use of a public voice, the rubric focuses on rhetorical choices and the writer’s credibility. (Click image below to enlarge.)

Employs A Public Vice Rubric Snapshot

Rhetorical choices. A public voice engages the intended audience with a goal of articulating a position in a way that will be heard, considered and, hopefully, prove convincing. Effective public voices employ a range of tones depending on purpose and audience: passionate, considered, open, angry, encouraging, inquiring, strident, formal, informal.

Credibility. Writers gain the trust and confidence of an audience by demonstrating a command of the issue. Some writers also draw on personal stories to build connection and empathy. Compelling language and artfully crafted sentences enhance credibility, while errors may lead to misunderstanding and undermine credibility. Thus going public motivates youth to carefully edit their writing.

Youth Samples

Campus Sexual Assault Needs to Stop  In her Letter to the Next President, Grace N. from Minnesota employs an inclusive, open tone to engage her audience in dialogue. Two examples illustrate the writing’s open tone: “I think we need to do more” and “If these statistics are to be believed…”. In the final paragraph, the writing uses thoughtful repetition of the phrase “I do not want” to establish the urgency of the issue. The writing effectively establishes her credibility through thoughtful content choices, using carefully selected statistics and anecdotes from a widely publicized, contemporary campus sexual assault case.
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Urban Poverty In his spoken word poem, also a Letter to the Next President, Anthony R. informs a broad audience about the impact of poverty, gun violence, and racism on youth in Philadelphia. He effectively establishes a credible public voice, referring to personal experience and observations to make connections to the politics of each candidate, and by the effective rhetorical strategy of repeating key words, “freeze” and “start.”  While informal, using spoken word extends the audience for this work beyond the two presidential candidates and is potentially savvy in that it is more shareable and spreadable in online contexts—something which public figures are increasingly looking for in their own messaging and in the content they respond to online on Twitter and elsewhere.
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“The public voice of individuals, aggregated and in dialogue with the voices of other individuals, is the fundamental particle of ‘public opinion.'”

Howard Rheingold. (2008). “Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement.” In W. Lance Bennett (Editor). Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 97-118.


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