Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

4.1: The Rhetorical Situation

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    “The WHAT?”\(^{80}\) 

    This is a typical response from students when first introduced to the concept of the rhetorical situation. The thing is, most of us intuitively understand rhetorical situations we face every day, but we give them little thought.

    Consider this. You [the author] need to ask your parents [the audience] for money [the purpose]. It’s the third time this semester you’ve asked, and it’s right before the holidays [the context]. Should you communicate with a text, phone call, email, or Facebook message, and should it be funny, serious, or heartfelt [text]?

    This is a rhetorical situation.


    The rhetorical situation consists of:

    The Rhetorical Situation asks students to consider all of the above when they begin to write something.

    Returning to the scenario, you decide that the best way to convince your parents to send you money is through an honest email that explains why you are short on money. You choose this genre because you know that your parents will read it at home after work and prefer email to texts. You also thoughtfully write in a style that doesn’t sound demanding but provide clear reasons why you need the money. How could they say no to that?

    That’s the power of understanding and analyzing what shapes the rhetorical situation. It helps you create audience-centered communication in the genre and style best suited to achieve your purpose. 


    Often, you’ll know your purpose at the exact moment you know your audience because they’re generally a package deal: 



    \(^{80}\)Anderson, Dana. “Rhetorical Situation.” Writing Unleashed, Version 1. NDSCS; 2016.

    \(^{81}\)More information on Genres in the Genres Chapter.

    \(^{82}\)More information on Strategies in the Strategies Chapter.

    \(^{83}\)There may be more information on these items in the Nerd Chapter.

    \(^{84}\)The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

    This page titled 4.1: The Rhetorical Situation is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sybil Priebe (Independent Published) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    • Was this article helpful?