What is Perspective?
Perspective & Writing/Composing
Perspective, in writing studies, functions on two major levels:
- Perspective refers to a writer’s unique worldview, mirroring their individual experiences, beliefs, and values
- Perspective functions as an interpretive lens through which a text is evaluated, critiqued, and understood.
This dual role of perspective—that of the writer and the interpreter—is vital to the writing process. As Berthoff (1981) elucidates, “Composing is a method of inquiry, a way of ordering and making sense of experience…” (p. 8). Through the act of writing, the writer constructs their perspective, converting their unique experiences into text. Similarly, the reader, in their interaction with the text, constructs their own interpretation, thereby bringing forth their perspective. This interplay between the writer and the reader—each drawing on their experiences, beliefs, and contexts—generates the rich multiplicity of meaning that characterizes discourse.
Persona & Perspective
The concept of persona ties closely to perspective. Persona, in writing, is the character or role the writer assumes. This crafted identity influences the tone, style, and overall rhetorical approach of the piece. It shapes the writer’s perspective and, consequently, the reader’s interpretation of the text. As Berthoff posits, “By forming we discover” (1981, p. 47). The formation of a persona allows the writer to explore and express different facets of their perspective, thereby discovering new dimensions of their understanding and worldview.
Point of View & Perspective
Perspective is also closely linked to point of view, the position from which the writer presents their ideas. This concept extends beyond the mere selection of the first, second, or third person narrative mode. It encompasses the attitudes, experiences, and values the writer brings to their work, thereby shaping the presentation and reception of their ideas. Berthoff (1981) illuminates this, stating, “In composing we must work inductively, making something before we understand it” (p. 96). Crafting a point of view, then, becomes an iterative, introspective process, enabling the writer to shape and refine their perspective.
Rhetorical Reasoning & Perspective
Writers engage in rhetorical reasoning to determine the best way to respond to an exigency, a call for discourse. They sort through different rhetorical moves, and then deciding on a course of action, a rhetorical stance.
Rhetorical reasoning is fundamentally about understanding and manipulating the elements of a persuasive argument. As such, it involves considering the perspective of your audience—what they know, what they believe, and how they are likely to respond to different kinds of arguments. Successful rhetorical reasoning requires you to step outside your own perspective and imagine how your audience will interpret and react to your message.
Take, for example, the rhetorical concept of kairos, which refers to the opportune time and place to make a particular argument. Discerning the right kairos requires a deep understanding of your audience’s perspective, which required empathy and strong information literacy competencies. If your audience is currently preoccupied with a particular issue or event, then that issue or event represents a kairotic moment — a window of opportunity for you to make a related argument.
Rhetorical Stance & Perspective
Developing your rhetorical stance, meanwhile, involves defining your relationship to your audience and your subject matter. This involves questions of perspective as well. How do you, as a speaker or writer, view your audience? Are they colleagues, adversaries, students, or something else? Your rhetorical analysis of your audience will determine how you approach them—whether you seek to instruct, challenge, entertain, or provoke.
Your rhetorical stance also involves your perspective on your subject. Are you an expert, passionately advocating for a particular view? Are you a neutral observer, presenting all sides of a debate? Or are you a skeptical inquirer, questioning commonly held beliefs? Each of these stances represents a different perspective on your subject and will lead to a different approach to your argument.
In sum, rhetorical reasoning and the development of a rhetorical stance both involve and shape perspective. They require a writer or speaker to consider multiple perspectives—their own, their audience’s, and potentially others—and to craft an approach that takes these perspectives into account. They remind us that effective communication is not just about what we want to say, but also about how our message will be received and interpreted by others.