Commonplaces (Topoi)

Commonplaces (Topoi) are

  • “a store of common understandings, a set of shared cultural resources, by means of which rhetoricians could construct arguments . . . ” (Lindquist 2020 )
  • an iterative, socio-historical-cultural process
  • a rhetorical construct
  • the shared information between the writer, speaker, knowledge worker . . . and their audience
  • the whole kit and caboodle.

Related Concepts: Cultural Literacy; Intersubjectivity; Scholarship as a Conversation; Register

Commonplaces, which Aristotle and the Greeks conceptualized as Topoi, are shared understandings among people. Thus, the commonplace is a rhetorical construct: it presumes a rhetor and an audience.

For the Greeks, commonplaces included what had been said in the past about a topic and the associations the targeted audience would have with the topic. From this tradition, writers are encouraged to engage in rhetorical analysis of their rhetorical context. They engage in rhetorical reasoning to determine what sort of response, if any, is needed.

Commonplaces are the cultural threads that bound us together. As members of families, communities, cultures, you informally learn the history of subjects; information, data; ideas; practices. You learn the denotation and connotation of words by engaging in literacy practices. From anecdotal experience, textual research, strategic research, and empirical research, you come to understand the scholarly conversation on any given topic.

Commonplaces remain a robust topic of discussion among researchers and practitioners in Writing Studies. In her Call For Proposals for the 2020 Conference on College Composition, Julie Lindquist called for the Writing Studies community to reflect on commonplaces. She encourages practitioners to reflect on the discipline of Writing Studies as “a tradition of knowledge-making practices . . .[as] an architecture of commonplaces” (Lindquist, CFP 2020).

In response to CFP 2020, the staff of Writing Commons responded to this call with the following video:

insert video here

  1. Intellectual property laws protect the original insights, products, and services of authors, designers, product managers . .
  2. Citation styles help organize conversations, ensuring the right authors receive the credit for their innovations.


Lindquist, J. (2020). Call for program proposals: Considering our commonplaces. Retrieved from

Murakami, H. (1995). Dance dance dance: A novel (A. Birnbaum Trans.). Knopf Doubleday Publishing.

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