This presentation provides an overview of the rhetorical situation. After viewing it, you should be able to describe the main elements of the rhetorical situation, and discuss why writers need to consider those elements.
The rhetorical situation is often represented by a triangle, the three parts of which are the writer, the audience, and the text. All writing situations contain these elements, and all good writers consider them when determining how to most effectively convey a particular message. In this graphic, the triangle is in a circle to represent the idea that all rhetorical situations have a context. That is, there is generally a reason one puts pen to paper. Your reason for writing might be to chat with a friend, to convey your interests and talents to a potential employer, or to note the items you need to pick up at the grocery store. In each case, you will create a specific type of text and choose the words most appropriate for the occasion.
To better understand the part the writer plays in the rhetorical situation, it’s helpful to consider the writer’s purpose for writing. Is the point of the communication to entertain or to inform? To educate, to call to action, or to persuade? Some argue that the goal of all texts is to persuade, and it’s not unusual at all to find a text with multiple purposes.
For example, if you look at the description of Freedom of Expression , by Kembrew McCleod, you’ll find language suggesting that the writer has all of these purposes in mind.
Another important element to consider is the target audience of the message. The target audience will determine things like how formal the language is, which in turn will determine sentence length and word choice. For example, would you use the word “cool,” as in “that’s so cool” when communicating with a potential employer, or do you reserve that type of language for family and friends? This points to the notion that, when writing, you need to consider the needs of the particular audience. Can you use jargon or do you need to define terms? Do audience members have requisite background knowledge or do you need to spell that out as well?
Finally, thinking about the rhetorical situation helps you determine the type of text you need to create. If your purpose is to tell a friend your whereabouts, you might send a quick e-mail or text message. If your purpose is to persuade your classmates and other relevant constituents that your way of thinking about an important issue is the way to think about it, you might write a persuasive research essay or position paper. If you want to impress upon a potential employer that you are the candidate to hire, you might, after an interview, write a letter that restates your qualifications and conveys your pleasure at having learned about the company and position. If you want to share with the world your particular viewpoint on certain issues and events, you might post to a blog. Thinking about the rhetorical situation can help you deliver just the right text for the audience and message.
Let’s look at a few examples. A journalist who reports on sports will write a sports article for sports fans. The writer’s purpose in this situation is to inform. The tone of such an article is generally up-beat.
A travel writer will write a travel brochure for someone who wants to take a trip. The writer’s purpose in this situation is to inform, but also perhaps to educate, and definitely to persuade the traveler to choose the destination described. In this situation, a writer will often assume an excited tone.
A student might write a persuasive essay for an instructor, as well as for peers. The writer’s purpose in this situation is to argue a position, but also to convince the instructor that relevant concepts have been learned. The tone is generally formal and objective.
A daughter or son away at college might write an e-mail to a parent. Let’s say the purpose is to ask for money for books. What tone of voice might this type of correspondence require?
To understand what strategies to use to persuade or connect with an audience, you must understand the rhetorical situation--the relationship between the writer, the audience, and the text. Once you understand the rhetorical situation of a particular writing task, you can make decisions about how formal the language should be, and what voice to assume as a writer.
I hope you have found this presentation helpful. Happy writing. :)
The Rhetorical Situation
The rhetorical situation Karyn Pallay [email_address]
What is the writer’s purpose? To entertain To call to action To persuade To inform To educate text audience writer
What is the writer’s purpose? To entertain To call to action To persuade To inform To educate “ [McLeod’s] examination of intellectual property law is clear, concise, and funny.” —Wired Magazine
Who is the target audience? Family & Friends Colleagues Employer Teacher Other writer text audience
What type of text is required? Correspondence Brochure Article Essay Book writer text audience
What relationship? journalist sports fan newspaper article
What relationship? travel writer traveler travel brochure
What relationship? student instructor & peers persuasive essay
What relationship? daughter or son parent e-mail
The rhetorical situation: a recap… writer text To understand what strategies to use to persuade or connect with an audience, you must understand the rhetorical situation--the relationship between the writer, the audience, and the text. audience
The rhetorical situation Karyn Pallay [email_address]