Spring 2024 - ENGL 475W D100

Seminar in Rhetoric (4)

Class Number: 5047

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Wed, Fri, 2:30–4:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Sean Zwagerman
    Office: 6141 AQ
    Office Hours: Mondays, 2:00-3:30 Wednesdays, 12:00-1:30
  • Prerequisites:

    45 units. Strongly recommended: ENGL 214 or 375. Reserved for English honours, major, joint major and minor students.



Advanced seminar in a particular topic, approach, or author in the field of rhetoric and writing. The course may be repeated for credit if a different topic is taught. Students with credit for ENGL 475 may not take this course for further credit. Students who obtained credit for ENGL 475W prior to Summer 2015 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


The Art of Listening
Aristotle writes, “Something is persuasive because there is an audience whom it persuades.” This seems pretty obvious, not something we needed Aristotle to tell us. But the implications for the theory and practice of rhetoric—and for everyday communication—are significant: no matter how good I am (or think I am) at writing or speaking persuasively, it’s the reader or listener who decides in the end if I've been successful, and if they’ve been persuaded. If it were really up to me as the speaker, I could just say, “I hereby persuade you.” But I can’t. Instead I have to try, and I may or may not succeed. Though this course will focus mainly on the listener side of the speaker-listener relationship, the two roles are interdependent, and participants in discourse often take turns; the speaker needs the audience to pay attention—to listen—and the audience will want to feel as though the speaker has likewise listened to them when they were speaking.

Questions we will discuss include:
  • What does the act of listening consist of beyond the simple “uptake” of understanding the speaker’s words?
  • What does it mean to be a “good listener”—or for that matter, a bad listener? What are the ethical commitments in regard to listening?
  • Under what conditions, or about what topics, are we unwilling to listen?
  • To what extent do the ways and the ethics of listening apply to reading?

Against the common belief that persuasion involves trying to change someone else who is resisting it, persuasion is, ideally, collaborative: if they’re open to change and willing to listen, everyone participating in a rhetorical encounter may find their beliefs and opinions changed by the experience. If all goes well, something like that may happen in this course.

Course readings will include classical and contemporary writings in the field of rhetoric, as well as works from psychology and the philosophy of language.


  • A richer understanding of the act of communicating something important, the act of listening, and strategies for both
  • Improved skills in academic writing and reading


  • attendance and participation 15%
  • 4 easy in-class reading quizzes 20%
  • a shortish paper or presentation 25%
  • a longer paper or project 40%



All readings will be available online or through Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html