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Think Rhetorically

"Think Rhetorically" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

Write more effective documents and save time by considering the audience, purpose, context, and media for a document. Adjust your voice, tone, and persona to accommodate your communication situation.

For every writing project, you can best determine what you want to say and how you want to say it by analyzing the components of your rhetorical situation (which is sometimes called your communication situation). Learning to think rhetorically is one of the most important benefits of an education. Successful leaders and decision makers are capable of making good decisions because they have learned to examine problems from a rhetorical perspective.

Writers must have a clear sense of to whom they are writing (the audience) and what the audience's values and/or opinions related to the topic are.

Imagine a history professor who opens her lecture on the Victorian era by asking her undergraduate students, "Did you see the Victorian-era furniture on Antiques Roadshow last night?" Can you imagine how many in the class would raise his/her hand? Can you hear the confused silence?

Most of the students in the audience are under the age of thirty, with the majority falling between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. They do not own property and probably have little interest in antiques. The target audience of Antiques Roadshow, though, reflects middle-aged and older middle class folks who, most likely, own propery and, perhaps, antiques of their own. How effective of an opener was this professor's question given her audience? Not very.

Determine your audience and adjust your writing accordingly.

Ensure that your documents meet the needs and expectations of your readers.

"An audience is never wrong. An individual of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles in the dark - that is critical genius." -Billy Wilder

To be an effective writer, you must use language that is audience-centered, not writer-centered. In other words, transcend your own perspective and consider the needs and interests of your readers. Ask yourself: What do my readers know about the topic? Are my readers likely to have an emotional response to my work?What do I want my readers to do, think, or feel?

"Consider Your Purpose" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

Identifying the primary reason for writing provides you with the focus you need to write an effective document in less time.

Like an onion that is peeled, revealing multiple layers, a writing document may have multiple purposes. A persuasive essay, for example, may have paragraphs that inform, paragraphs that persuade, paragraphs tha threaten, and paragraphs that request information. However, on a more global level, each document must have one primary purpose.

"Consider Your Context" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

Identify the circumstances surrounding the writing project. What is going on in the world at large that relates to how you develop and present your project?

Context refers to the occasion, or situation, that informs the reader about why a document was written and how it was written. The way writers shape their texts is dramatically influenced by their context. Writers decide how to shape their sentences by considering their contexts.

"Consider Your Media" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

Learn how to be more creative about the effective use of media.

Media can refer to how meaning is conveyed. For example, people speak of TV and radio as a kind of media--the mass media. They refer to printed documents distributed by newspapers, magazines, and books as print media. Texts such as databases or multimedia published on the Internet are called online media.

Enhance the likelihood that readers will respond favorably to your document by projecting an effective voice, tone, and persona.Voice, Tone, and Persona are slippery terms/concepts. In some instances, these terms can be used interchangeably, yet important differences do exist.