Sample Written Report Outline of Interpretive Article

Class: Communication Theory
Name: Jeff Sprick

1. Article Reference Information

  • Campbell, John A. (1975). The Polemical Mr. Darwin. The Quarterly Journal of
    Speech, 61/4, 375-390.

2. Institutional Affiliation and Academic Rank of author at time of Publication

  • John Angus Campbell, University of Washington, Assistant Professor of

3. Context

a. Historical Context

  • This study deals with Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution and Natural Selection.
  • Explores Darwin’s role as a rhetorician, as a storyteller of experiences. Instead of just presenting the facts, he takes us with him on board the H.M.S. Beagle and has us "discover" things right along with him.
  • Darwin faces a considerable rhetorical challenge in appeasing relatively religious and relatively agnostic audiences at the same time. In response, Darwin uses key religious/theological terms to pacify his religious audiences while simultaneously stretching their possible meanings to open up thought possibilities about science for his agnostic audiences.

b. Questions and/or problems the artifact is designed to ameliorate

  • How did Darwin navigate the tricky rhetorical waters of religious and scientific audiences to win converts from both sides to his speculative hypothesis?

  • Darwin How did Darwin adopt the style of his discourse to disarm and develop common ground with skeptical audiences.

c. Audience for/of artifact

  • This work was published during the Victorian era; they are not the most open in the world to his kind of studies.

  • They primarily understand what is created by God and do not question what he has intended for them.

d) Rationale or Justification

  • The artifact attempts to provides a rhetorical explanation for the success of The Origin. Many did not realize Darwin's real motives. The author gives us a glimpse of how Darwin concealed his true scientific motives and ideas. The article is often redundant, but it sheds light on the man behind evolution, both how he works and the language he used to play the Victorian political game.

4. Theory/Concept

  • A combination of theory and criticism was used.  Analogies and metaphors used to induce the readers to "understand" the discoveries. 
  • Polemicist – a controversial argument or person
  • Breeder-Darwin uses to help describe “Natural Selection”
  • Identification helps the reader take unknown concepts and understand
    them better

5. Analysis/Findings/Implications

  • Campbell views Darwin as a Polemical figure. That is, he is a controversial
    figure who attempts to appease his reader through colloquial expressions and
    familiar language for something foreign to his Victorian audience.
  • The author supports this claim by pointing out the limitations of
    scientific language of Darwin’s time. He emphasizes ambiguous verbosity so the
    reader could infer something out of The Origin, and look past his controversial
  • The limitations of his evidence was painfully clear. He had to use analogies for his readers to understand such new concepts. Darwin used a personal approach, like that of one friend talking to another, or as a humble guide might talk to a young apprentice. Instead of utilizing abstract thought and scientific observation, he uses experiences so that the reader will be struck by the same vision toward natural selection as Darwin was.
  • He strikes down the old belief behind the mystery of mysteries, what is behind life, and for the first time attempts to explain this by saying that only the strong survives while the weak will perish. When Mother Nature finds a way, it will improve upon its plan. This way of communication is still controversial to this day. Natural Selection is something we cannot see. Some of his statements are scientifically unclear. He supports his claims with rhetorical rather than scientific means.
  • Darwin uses a humble and sermon-like style.
  • Darwin's most significant metaphor was the comparison between a breeder and his stock. Just like the breeder picks the strongest creatures to carry the bloodline forward, so Nature selects those humans who will continue on.

6. Additional observations and lines of criticism

  • More work on analogies and style used in evolutionary theory should be done across different evolutionary scientist-rhetors.
  • The article could have been condensed and less redundant.
  • Article shows how the use of language can have a profound impact on people in an era where the ideas behind the language would have led to charges of heresy.

[Communication Theory]

Copyright 2000-2013.
Michael E. Eidenmuller.
The University of Texas at Tyler.
All rights reserved.