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1.1: Introduction

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    Take a moment to think about your understanding of the word “rhetoric.” Many of you have likely heard this term used by politicians and, depending upon the context for using the term rhetoric, you may think of the term through negative connotations. Rhetoric, however, is a much more neutral term. Rhetoric, most simply defined,refers to finding the best means of communication for the given situation.

    To create an effective use of rhetoric, one only needs to look at the rhetorical situation. Writing professionals use the term rhetorical situationto describe any situation where at least one individual is using some form of communication to modify the perspective of another person. Because of the emphasis on modifying the perspective of another, some will describe rhetoric as a means of using “trickery,” but rhetoric is just meant to accomplish effective communication within a given situation where someone wants to persuade, inform, or appeal to emotion. In other words, using rhetoric effectively serves as a means of persuasion.. If you want to send a message to your friend about where you are meeting up, you may send a text message. It’s a quick, easy, and accessible way to let your friend know where you are meeting. You also know enough about your friend to realize that person would have their phone with them. Understanding that the text message was the best way to alert your friend about where you are all meeting is an example of understanding rhetoric within that specific situation.

    To better break down the rhetorical concept, one only needs to look at the rhetorical situation. In every communication situation, we deal with a number of identifiers. In essence, you can think of this almost like a math equation or blanks to be filled. In order to analyze any act of communication, you need to answer the following questions:

    • What are the goals of the writer? Why is the writer writing about the subject? What is the writer seeking from the audience?
    • Who is the audience,meaning who are you speaking or writing to?
    • What is the context for the communication? In other words, where is this communicative act occurring?
    • What is the purposefor the communication? Why is it that you are communicating?
    • What is the best way to share this communication or to engage in this communication?Genrerefers to how is this communication presented to the audience? For example, do you think you need to meet in person? Is sending an email appropriate? When you identify the best way to communicate, you are choosing a genre. A genre refers to a type of social action one takes when communicating, or more specifically refers to a type of document you create or engage in for the act of communication. An example of a written genre may be an email, letter, or text message. We identify these objects as genres because each writing artifact has its own characteristics. For example, an email always includes information about who the email is to, from, and a subject line. Emails are also typically short messages whereas letters tend to be longer. With these characteristics, one can learn to identify what an email looks like and how it differs from a letter.

    The next sections will take a look at all the above components in the rhetorical situation more closely to help you understand what questions to ask for each component. These questions will help you to analyze a specific communication act and apply that understanding to a sample scenario located at the end of this chapter. See figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Rhetorical Situation for a visual representation of these concepts.

    Rhetorical Situation
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Rhetorical Situation
    Source: “Rhetorical Situation” Open English @ SLCC. n.d. CC-BY-SA 2.0


    Writer refers to the person, or occasionally people, that are communicating. It is important to note that any time you communicate in a professional setting, you are not only communicating as an individual, but also on behalf of your company or organization. When considering the writer’s perspective, both purpose (which will be described more fully below) and exigence matter. Exigence refers to why the writer is writing about the subject. Remember when someone communicates, they bring their own knowledge and values into that communication, even if those values and experiences are not clearly stated. This means it is even more important for a writer, in a professional setting, to carefully edit their work not only for errors, but also for tone. Tone is often expressed through syntax, point of view, and word choice as it represents the attitudes the writer holds. Through tone, you can easily tell if a communication is meant to be read as a problem that needs to be resolved now, or simply something that states a fact. When writing professionally, it is important to pay attention to tone. Often you want to write in less complex sentences, use clear language and avoid colloquialisms or clichés that may be misunderstood, and keep a consistent point of view.


    Audience refers to the person or people you are communicating with. An audience could be anyone, from someone you know personally to a client you have never met and only communicate with through phone calls and email. To communicate well, knowing your audience is of great importance. To learn what you need about your audience, there are certain considerations you need to make. For example, what do you know about the person you will be communicating with? Do you know anything about what they value? Sometimes the location of where the person lives can build a sense of connection with that audience. Other times you rely on the culture of the company that person is employed at. Either way, when considering a communicative act, you need to have an understanding of whom you are communicating with. For example, you would not want to use jargon from your specific field of expertise with someone who may just be an administrative specialist at a company as that person would likely not understand some of your terminology. Knowing your audience helps you know how to speak with that individual or group of people.


    For many, context can be the most difficult part of the rhetorical situation to understand. What is context? You may have heard someone say, “you have taken that out of context.” What they mean is that you have taken something someone did, said, or felt and applied it to a situation where that comment or action did not apply or was not relevant. This means that you took something out of context. Context simply refers to where a communication takes place, but may also refer to how language can help determine meaning. For example, you would not write a cover letter in the same way you would write a text message to a friend. You likely may use more colloquial or shortened phrases in a text message whereas in the cover letter you will use more formal language. Context also refers to what factors influence a particular communication.


    Purpose is the reason for the communication that is occurring. The purpose of a piece of writing could be to inform, persuade, or share an emotional appeal. In professional communication, the purpose of a piece of writing is often clearly stated in the first sentence or in the first paragraph of a document. The subject of the writing is closely linked to the purpose. For example, the subject could be to share information on an increase in the price of a monthly subscription to a customer. The purpose would be to inform that customer of the change, but also persuade them that the change in price benefits the customer in some way.


    Genre refers to the type of text that is produced within a particular communication and how that text is presented to the audience. Genre can be simplified to mean the type of document that is produced. For example, an email is a genre because when we see it we immediately recognize it is an email in how it is sent electronically, is typically seen as a short communication, and includes a subject line. When you normally think of the term genre, you may think of music or movies. However, this term exists in many different areas, and within writing studies, genre refers to a type of document that is produced by a writer for an audience.

    1.1: Introduction is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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