Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

1.4: Rhetorical Modes of Writing

  • Page ID
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Chapter three on rhetorical modes covers narration, description, exposition (classification, process, definition, comparison/contrast and cause/effect), and persuasion as strategies for developing a college essay.

    Covering all of these modes in a fifteen-week semester could be challenging. If an instructor chooses to teach writing as a process as described in chapter two of this text, three to four of the modes could be adequately covered. Ideas for incorporating writing as a process tasks are included in the sections below.

    In the section below, writing tasks that can be completed in the classroom or in the learning management system are presented. Also, instructor feedback, grading rubrics and deterring plagiarism are discussed.


    Writing assignments related to rhetorical modes in this chapter lend themselves to collaborative work in the classroom and/or in the learning management system. Collaboration among students encourages active learning where the instructor is not the only source for students to learn from. Even though some students may hesitate to work with a partner or in a small group, structuring the collaborative activity and using collaboration on a regular basis can help to ease a student’s hesitation.

    An example of a collaborative activity for a narrative essay is to get a sample narrative essay and have pairs of students analyze the essay for format and content. Students can be asked to identify the thesis statement, topic sentences and details in the body paragraphs.

    In the learning management system in the discussion tool, students can be put in to groups and asked to analyze different parts of an essay which the instructor posts. For example, one student can analyze the introduction, another student can analyze body paragraph one, another student can analyze body paragraph two, and so on. It is helpful if the instructor gives specific questions for each student to answer in his/her discussion posting.

    Other students in the discussion group can respond to one or more of their group members indicating if they agree or disagree with the analysis.

    Peer Review

    As part of teaching the process of writing, peer review activities allow students to get feedback from their fellow classmates. The key to helping students feel comfortable with providing feedback to one another is structuring the activities so that students are looking for specific elements based on criteria which the instructor provides. Towards the beginning of the semester, allowing students to choose their partners may help them feel more comfortable, but as the semester progresses, asking students to work with a student they have not worked with before can encourage the development of community in the classroom.

    Peer review activities can focus on the outline of an essay, the rough draft of an essay, or even the final draft of an essay. Structured peer review related to an outline of an essay can include questions related to format as well as content. For example, are Roman Numerals used for the major parts of the essay? Is each level of the outline indented? Does the thesis statement include the major points? Attaching points to a peer review activity helps students take this activity seriously. Those students who do not come to class with the required part of the essay to be reviewed, lose those points associated with the peer review and must proceed to the next step of the writing process without the benefit of feedback. The instructor can circulate around the classroom to ensure each pair is on task and also provide additional feedback when needed.

    Instructor Feedback

    Along with the feedback provided by classmates in the peer review, students will need feedback from the instructor. Highlighting grammar errors on a diagnostic essay at the beginning of the semester can signal to students that paying attention to grammar is a necessary part of writing a college essay. If the diagnostic essay is written during class, the instructor can get an accurate assessment of students’ writing ability within a time limit. Those students who struggle with grammar can be assigned the appropriate section(s) to work on from Chapter 5 (grammar) of this text. As a follow-up activity to highlighting errors, students can be asked to choose five of their grammar errors. On a separate piece of paper, they can be asked to type the original sentence with the error underlined. Then, they can type the sentence with the error corrected and underlined. Finally, they can type the reason the error was an error.

    After the diagnostic essay, an instructor can focus the feedback more on the content, organization and development of the essay. These elements can be addressed in a grading rubric which will be discussed next. Requiring students to submit the final draft in the learning management system makes it easy to attach the grading rubric to each essay and mark the rubric and make comments accordingly.

    Essay Grading Rubric

    Developing a grading rubric which is used on each essay provides students with the instructor’s expectations for the various elements in the essay. A grading rubric also facilitates a standard of fairness, and once the instructor has used the rubric, grading time is saved.

    The instructor should include features of the essay that the instructor feels are important. Below is a sample grading rubric. A rubric can have more detail than the one below or less detail. The points can change based on the difficulty of the essay. Fewer points can be given for essays towards the beginning of the semester while more points can be allotted for essays towards the end of the semester. The rubric below was developed in the rubric tool in iCollege.

    Essay Final Draft Scoring Rubric (Sample)

    Criteria A/B
    10 points
    7 points
    6 points
    Introduction with Thesis Good Introduction and Thesis Adequate Introduction and Thesis Inadequate introduction and/or thesis
    Body Paragraphs Good Body Paragraph Development Adequate Body Paragraph Development Inadequate Body Paragraph Development
    Conclusion Good Conclusion Adequate Conclusion Inadequate Conclusion
    Grammar and Mechanics Very few grammar errors Average number of grammar errors Numerous grammar errors
    Format No errors related to spacing and indenting Few errors related to spacing and indenting Numerous errors related to spacing and indenting
    Overall Score A/B
    45 or more
    35 or more
    30 or more

    Deterring Plagiarism

    Teaching students the principles of effective, efficient, and ethical source use will go a long way toward getting students to practice using sources well. Consider best practices for teaching suggest a few methods to help students avoid plagiarism: varying written assignments semester to semester (this can be as simple as changing a small requirement within the paper), changing the readings/course texts, and clearly distinguishing between unintentional misuse of sources and plagiarism.

    Here is the Writing Program Administrators' (WPA) Statement on best Practices for defining and avoiding plagiarism:

    It is necessary to provide students with information concerning the academic honesty policy and provide information on how to avoid plagiarism. Having strong statements related to what plagiarism is, and the consequences of it, is a good way to begin addressing this issue.

    However, statements on the syllabus are not everything and can set a tone of policing rather than teaching. So, consider a discussion activity in class or (or discussion in your LMS) where your students debate different definitions of plagiarism and source use.

    Consider doing a patchwriting opens in new window exercise where you patchwrite from a source and the students are required to find the original source (through copying and pasting phrases into a search engine), highlight the patchwritten parts, and ask them to do a better job by paraphrasing ethically. Make this a graded assignment.

    Moreover, students need to be taught how to cite any information they get from a source. This training can be started at the beginning of the semester with students being taught the basics of incorporating a quote. Later in the semester, when students work on a research project, they can be taught more comprehensively how to use outside sources.

    Plagiarism Detection Tools

    If you decide to use a plagiarism detection website or tool built into your learning management system, do so with caution. While some professors see them as useful for finding how much of a source a student might have inappropriately used without quoting, such tools can emphasize policing over teaching (because the detectors can’t distinguish between mistaken source use and purposeful plagiarism). Make sure you always manually check to see what the tool has marked as "plagiarism." Also, there are growing concerns about the profit from student data that these detectors generate.

    Here is a sample of an English department rejecting the use of plagiarism detectors, with a bibliography opens in new window, for your information.

    This page titled 1.4: Rhetorical Modes of Writing is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by .

    • Was this article helpful?