By Andrew Testa
When authors provide examples or cases in point to support their claims, they employ the rhetorical strategy of exemplification.
This powerful strategy allows authors to back up what they are saying with examples, which can be persuasive to audiences. Overall, exemplification occurs in many different types of examples, such as facts, statistics, quotations, personal experiences, and interviews, all of which you have seen throughout your life. By providing these examples, authors demonstrate deductive or inductive reasoning. Furthermore, exemplification occurs in various forms of communication, whether this be an academic essay, a speech, a casual conversation, or an advertisement. In this way, exemplification is both widely prevalent and persuasive.
Exemplification occurs in many different rhetorical situations, including conversations with others in your day-to-day life. For example, when you assert that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player, you may cite his number of championships or career points-per-game. These statistics can effectively support your claim. Or, you may state that the makeup brand Ulta is a better business than Sephora because it has a higher Better Business Bureau rating. In either case, you are using exemplification—in these instances, statistics and facts—to support your claims. Thus, even in simple claims of personal preferences, you often invoke exemplification.
Additionally, you have probably used exemplification in academic essays. When you use transitional phrases such as “for example,” “for instance,” or “in one passage,” you are signaling to readers that you are going to employ exemplification. Let’s take a look at the following selection from an academic essay:
To begin, Selingo presents an important argument about early adulthood. More specifically, he states that “in the journey to adulthood, there are either Sprinters, Wanderers or Stragglers” (17). Here, Selingo argues that these are the three different journeys that each type of person takes to get into their respective careers.
In this excerpt, the author states that Selingo has an important argument, provides a direct quote of it from the text, and rephrases the argument in their own words. The example—in this case, the direct quote—persuades the audience by letting them “see” the argument in its original form. Thus, the excerpt is well-supported in part because the author employs exemplification. In this way, the rhetorical strategy of exemplification can strengthen academic writing through supporting claims with evidence, similar to the way a lawyer presents evidence to a jury in support of claims in a case. Ultimately, exemplification is powerful in college essays because it clarifies and supports what you are trying to assert. Similar to the selection above, you make consistent use of exemplification in body paragraphs by quoting and providing textual evidence.
Exemplification does not just occur in academic essays, however. It is also commonly found in advertisements. When learning about the rhetorical appeals, you may have come across this famous SPCA advertisement with Sarah McLachlan regarding donating to help prevent animal cruelty:
This advertisement begins by flashing a fact and a statistic: “Every single hour in BC, an animal is violently abused” and “3,000 animals were rescued last year.” Both of these sentences are exemplification at work. The video creators want you to donate to the SPCA by providing two reasons for why it is important that you give money to their organization. These facts and statistics about animal cruelty are extremely powerful to the audience and allow them to see exactly how their money will be used for the greater good. Overall, the rhetorical strategy of exemplification drives the beginning of the video with its appropriate, striking facts and statistics.
As you may have guessed, exemplification can also take on a visual form. In the advertisement, when you see repeated images and clips of animals, you feel more inclined to donate, both because of the rhetorical appeal of pathos and because the clips themselves function as a type of exemplification. That is, by depicting abused animals, the authors provide visual examples supporting why it is important to donate to humanitarian campaigns and how these donations may truly help. Exemplification, then, is a key persuasive strategy for the creators of the video, both textually and visually.
Ultimately, exemplification is a powerful rhetorical strategy that you have seen and used throughout your life. By viewing communication in terms of this strategy, you can become a better critical thinker, analyzing exactly why you marshal the evidence that you do and how what you say is persuasive through the examples you provide your audience. Whether you are arguing a point in a paper, discussing personal preferences with friends, or being sold an item in an advertisement, you can witness and wield the persuasive power of exemplification almost anywhere.
- Search on YouTube for advertisements of products that you use. Can you find the rhetorical strategy of exemplification in the video? Consider how exemplification persuaded the audience and supported the author’s claims.
- Look at a past academic essay that you have written, either in high school or in college. Make a note of each time you quoted in the essay and contemplate why you did it. Consider how exemplification persuaded the audience and supported the author’s claims.
- With a highlighter, analyze an academic essay you are currently writing by highlighting the claims in the paper. Then, search for the evidence in support of those claims and highlight it with a different color. Consider how exemplification supports your claims.
Salmina, Madison. “‘Three Routes; One Destination’: A Rhetorical Analysis of Selingo’s Article.” 1 Oct. 2018. Rhetoric and Writing Studies 200, San Diego State University, student paper.
Sarah McLachlan Animal Cruelty Video. YouTube, uploaded by ragefc, 3 Oct. 2006, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gspElv1yvc.
Selingo, Jeffrey J. “Will You Sprint, Stroll or Stumble Into a Career?” The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/education/edlife/will-youSprint-stroll-or-stumble-into-a-career.html.