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Rhetorical Situation

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

Use Burke's Pentad to interpret human events, stories, and movies.

In A Grammar of Motives, philosopher and critic Kenneth Burke presents a model for analyzing written and spoken language to better understand and even predict human behavior. His model, the pentad, can be used to understand or interpret human behavior and to develop ideas for stories. The pentad assumes people can have ambiguous, conflicting, and complex reasons for acting. It attempts to avoid simplistic explanations.

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. 

  • Consider your audience
  • Consider your purpose
  • Consider your context
  • Consider your media
  • Consider your voice, tone, and persona