Rhetorical Moves Metaphor Simile Analogy


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Rhetorical Moves Metaphor Simile Analogy

  1. 1. Using Metaphor, Simile, and Analogies in Technical Writing 1 Huh, these are literary terms aren’t they? Yes, but technical writers also use them. 2013 © Karen L. Thompson, University of Idaho
  2. 2. Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies  Help readers understand something unfamiliar to them by comparing it to 2 something that is more familiar.  Metaphors state that one thing IS another thing. A metaphor makes an explicit comparison.  Example: The heart is a pump.  Similes state that one thing is LIKE another thing. A simile more openly acknowledges that A is only LIKE B.  Example: The heart is like a pump.
  3. 3. Analogies  Are constructing a logical argument when comparing the unfamiliar to the 3 familiar.  Analogies argue that the relationship between A and B is so close you can get a pretty good idea of how A works or what A is like by understanding something more familiar (i.e. B).  Using metaphors, similes, and analogies may help you extend the technical definition and develop the technical description.
  4. 4. As Roald Hoffman explains:  If I want to explain the uncertainty implicit in measuring simultaneously 4 the position and velocity of a moving electron using photons, I resort to a thought experiment that measures the same observables for a baseball, with, say, tennis balls thrown at it.  As I think about how to explain the vibrational-translational energy transfer necessary for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, molecules of which have absorbed infrared radiation, to heat the rest of the atmosphere (predominantly oxygen, nitrogen and argon), I envision the bending and unbending CO2 molecule as a gym rat exercising, once in a while kicking an O2 dumbbell that comes near.  The Metaphor, Unchained. American Scientist, October 2006
  5. 5. Example 1: Analogy  If the nation were a farm, the Fed would be the agency in charge of water 5 and irrigation. Its job is to keep water (money) flowing enough to maximize crops (strong job creation), but not pump in so much water as to cause flooding (inflation). is like
  6. 6. To understand the shell theory of the nucleus, imagine a roomful of couples waltzing in circles, each circle enclosed inside another. These couples represent pairs of neutrons and protons. As the couples orbit the room, they also spin like tops, some clockwise and some counterclockwise. In a waltz, it is easier to spin in one direction than in the other direction. Thus the couples spinning in the easier direction will need slightly less energy than the couples spinning in the more difficult direction. The same is true for neutron-proton pairs in the nucleus. Maria Goeppert Mayer (physicist) Example 2: Analogy
  7. 7. Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies are also Generative  This means they also drive creative thinking about problems in science, engineering, and technology. 7
  8. 8. Descartes’ theory about light being contained in a medium led to thinking about light as a wave. 8
  9. 9. Newton’s experiments with light and prisms led to thinking about light as a particle. 9
  10. 10. Today, technical communicators use metaphors about light depending on application. 10 Fiber Optic Cable: industry uses wave and particle metaphors to communicate to lay audiences. Wave metaphor is used to communicate how fiber optic cables work. Particle metaphor is used to communicate how images appear on a screen via the internet.
  11. 11. Metaphors, however, are also generative.  This means they also drive how scientists and engineers think about the work they do.  Metaphors can drive how this thinking changes.  Example: John Smeaton’s Eddystone Lighthouse. 11
  12. 12. John Smeaton’s Lighthouse and Eddystone Reef 12 The Eddystone Reef is a group of rocks fourteen miles out at sea in the English Channel. This group of rocks was a graveyard for vessels traversing the English Channel. John Smeaton was a British engineer often noted as the “father of civil engineering” --- note the metaphor. A lighthouse was needed on Eddystone, so Smeaton built one, but he faced a problem.
  13. 13. John Smeaton’s Lighthouse and Eddystone Reef 13 Traditionally, lighthouses were built like Roman watchtowers --- as wide at the top as at the bottom, and they didn’t last more than a few years. Smeaton wanted to fix that.
  14. 14. Smeaton’s journals reveal how  He first thought of re-structuring the lighthouse: 14 Like a ship. Then like a cradle These metaphors generated creative thinking leading him to yet another metaphor and finally to a new design.
  15. 15. Smeaton’s final metaphor was a tree trunk: wider at the bottom than the top. 15 His lighthouse design was built on Eddystone Reef and withstood storms for 200 years. It was finally moved only when the rock around it had eroded.
  16. 16. Smeaton’s lighthouse today. A testament to the power of a metaphor. 16 Try generating a metaphor next time you are struck on a problem you are trying to solve.
  17. 17. Problem with metaphors, similes, and analogies.  Although they extend familiar relationships to unfamiliar contexts, and help writers communicate new ideas to others. This connection is problematic because the scientific, engineering, or other technical contexts that originate the relationship are not static. The interpretation of specific terms may change as new information and evidence emerges while the understanding of these remains stuck in an outdated comparison.  Therefore, metaphors, similes, and analogies can constrain our thinking as easily as they facilitate it, particularly, if their use establishes a paradigm that prevents us from understanding something from any other frame of reference. 17