Connors, Robert. “The Rise and Fall of the Modes of Discourse.” On Research Writing: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999.
Connors historicizes the ascent and decline of the modes of discourse as a
widely favored, pervasive scheme for organizing FY composition from the early 1800’s until the late 1960’s when
modified approaches and the process movement, bound up with phenomenological underpinnings
in many cases, threw off the charm of modal curricula. The modes of discourse commonly included Narration, Description, Exposition and Argument, although variations included Didactic in place of Expository (Newman), Pathetic (Parker) and Speculation (Quackenbos). Connors’ essay offers a fairly clear chronology of the modes, their brief reign, and the forces that brought about their gradual (and yet ongoing) unraveling: single-mode text books, especially ones centered on exposition, and what Connors calls “thesis texts”–texts purporting a central, masterful method for engaging students to write powerfully, effectively. He details the causal relationships from a classical belletristic set of modes, to Newman’s
A Practical System of Rhetoric in 1827, to Winterowd’s condemnation in 1965, “that the modal classification, ‘though interesting, isn’t awfully helpful.'”