- an academic field, a discipline, an epistemology, that studies how people use symbols, particularly written, spoken, and verbal language.
- a heuristic, an invention tool, a way of developing knowledge claims
- an interpretive lens, a theoretical perspective, that provides people with a critical lens to analyze rhetorical situations, genres, appeals and arguments. Rhetorical Analysis helps writers plan how to best respond to an exigency and communicate with an audience about an issue or problem in the world. the ability to identify specious reasoning, harmful appeals to emotions, and inauthentic, manipulative appeals to ethos.
In popular discourse, the term rhetoric may be used disdainfully. In everyday conversations, people may say That’s just rhetoric! or He’s being rhetorical to suggest a statement is facetious or manipulative.
Given the incessant bombardment of Breaking News by news media (CNN, Fox, Huffington, etc.), we are well schooled in ways people use rhetoric to misrepresent narratives and manipulate audiences regardless of truth. Lately, in fact, people are calling our times as the Post-Truth Era. To support this proposition, note, for example, that by his 558th day in office, President Trump had lied 4,229 times according to the Washington Post (see President Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading claims in 558 days). Certainly, to avoid being duped, people need a grounding in rhetorical principles.
Clearly, rhetoric can be a tool of deception and dishonesty. The notion that rhetors can use rhetoric for disingenuous purposes is not a new idea. In fact, Plato debated with the Sophists regarding the use of rhetoric for deceit. (For more on this, see Rhetoric, Post-Truth Politics, and Fake News at Wikipedia).
But this is only a partial view of what rhetoric is and can do; it’s important to recognize that rhetoric can also help us build persuasive arguments that make the world a better place.
Knowledge of rhetorical principles is more than an antidote to bad actors. Rhetorical Knowledge–particularly the importance of crafting discourse in response to thoughtful analysis of the rhetorical situation–is essential to successful communication. For writers, rhetoric is a foundational concern for any communication situation–whether the ultimate goal is to inform, persuade, or entertain. If knowledge of writing processes can be compared to having a road map for a journey, then Rhetoric can be compared to the having the GPS coordinates.
People who use rhetorically sophisticated communication to inform and/or persuade an audience
Rhetoricians (people who study rhetoric) are especially curious about the role of Rhetorical Situations, Rhetorical Appeals, Rhetorical Modes, and Rhetorical Stance on communication and interpretation.
Technorhetoricians focus on the effects of technologies on composing, and cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies.
Rhetoricity is the degree to which a rhetor’s written, spoken, and visual language addresses the rhetorical context and engages in rhetorical reasoning.
Rhetorical theory holds that rhetors (writers and speakers), shape their discourse in response to
- their Rhetorical Situation (especially audience, medium, occasion or exigency, and purpose).
- Rhetorical Appeals (especially ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos).
- Rhetorical Modes (such as causes & effects, classification, comparison and contrast, definition, description)
- their Rhetorical Stance (especially persona, tone, and voice).
In summary, being a rhetorician is a way of perceiving the world, a way of reasoning, a way of critical thinking. Who we are, what we believe is, and what we believe is possible is shaped by rhetoric. And being a rhetor means using a rhetorical understanding of the world to better communicate with those around us.
|Evaluate your rhetorical situation|
|Analyze your audience’s knowledge and attitudes about your topic.|
|Clarify your purpose (e.g., to inform? to persuade? to entertain?).|
|Adopt a Rhetorical Stance, Persona, and Style appropriate to your audience and purpose.|
|Ethically appeal to Logos, Pathos, Ethos, and Kairos so readers can follow your logic.|
|Be personally engaged and inspired to act on your message, and trustful of you as a reliable source.|