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Rhetoric in our Lives. Definition of Rhetoric: the art humans use to process messages sent and received. Rhetoric=Language is not accidental Use experiences to make rhetorical choices Unconscious, conscious, individual, universal, continuous use

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Rhetoric in our Lives

Definition of Rhetoric: the art humans use to process messages sent and received

  • Rhetoric=Language is not accidental

  • Use experiences to make rhetorical choices

  • Unconscious, conscious, individual, universal, continuous use

  • Negative assumptions: just used by professional speakers to manipulate message and coerce audience, lack of sincerity, deliberate falseness, unclear communication, ethically questionable

Rhetor: writer, speaker, reader, listener

  • “a good person speaking well” Quintilian, Roman rhetorician

  • Art of analyzing all language choices in any given situation, so text has meaning, purpose, effect

  • Features of texts that give meaning, purpose, effect in a situation

Skill at rhetoric means

  • Making good speeches, writing good papers, having a discerning eye and ear for others’ works

  • Reading beyond the meaning to analyze rhetor’s decisions to accomplish a purpose for an audience

  • Planning and writing good compositions

  • Determining what has already been said, what is yet to be resolved, and what might persuade audience to take action

  • Using full menu of choices judiciously to select most effective option

Rhetorical Triangle

Speaker or writer



Rhetorical triangle explanation: (Aristotelian triad from fourth century BCE)

A person creating or analyzing a text needs to consider:

  • Speaker or writer, personal character or persona (mask or character he wants to portray)

  • Subject and kinds of evidence used to develop it

  • Audience: their knowledge, attitudes, ideas, and beliefs and decides to be persuaded

Understanding Persona

  • Ethos: rhetor can get the audience to perceive him as distinct, considerate, educated, trustworthy, and well-intentioned.

  • Inferences: rhetor can make inferences about another writer/speaker’s character

  • Voice: rhetor’s tone/attitude affects audience’s beliefs through diction (word choice), syntax (word arrangement), choice of ideas and details

Understanding Appeals(Aristotelian)

Rhetor makes three appeals to audience:

  • Logos: clear, reasonable central idea (thesis/argument), developing it with reasoning, examples, details

  • Ethos: credibility of sender (author or narrator), ethical knowledgeable, believable

  • Pathos: emotions and interests of audience creates sympathy for rhetor’s idea (appeals to self interest)

  • Often simultaneous

Purpose vs. Exigence

  • Exigence: Why is the author writing this? Think context. (What gets the author's goat/upsets him?)

  • Audience: To whom is the author writing?

  • Purpose: What does the author want his audience to do? (The author obviously wants the audience to share his exigence, but what else does the author want the audience to do?)

Aristotle said rhetoric is useful because “things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposite.”

Web of Rhetorical Analysis







Organization/Whole Text Structure


Figurative Language



*A reader can enter a text at any point/level to get to another point/level.

Understanding Subject Matter

  • Topic: must be open to interpretation, analysis, argument

  • KWL: give more info to satisfy curiosity

  • Thesis: claims and support

  • Invention: rhetor responsible for providing ample support

Modified Rhetorical Triangle

Speaker or writer

Context and genre

Intention, aim,




Outside of Triangle

  • Context: time, place, people, events, motivation, outside influence that help audience understand material

  • Purpose/intention: Every rhetorical transaction needs to have it.

  • Genre: chosen by rhetor to accomplish purpose

Understanding context

  • Immediate situation/current events  immediate boundaries

  • Historical background  distant boundaries

  • Persona/identity of rhetor

  • Knowledge/beliefs of audience

  • Rhetor knows context to use to help audience understand his position and to connect positively with his argument

Understanding Intention

  • What rhetor wants to happen

  • What rhetor wants audience to believe or do

  • Begin with intention: find evidence and present it fairly

  • Begin with topic: discover intention through research and writing

  • Reader draws on context, personal experience to discover rhetor’s intention and the success of the piece.

Understanding Genre

  • Context + Intention  Genre

  • What in the context calling for?

  • Who needs to know my intention?

  • What is the best genre?

  • 5 paragraph essay not always appropriate

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