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Rhetorical Situation

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Rhetorical Situation

Have you ever had difficulty reading a text for school? Perhaps you weren't sure about the text's purpose, what the author was trying to say, or the historical context around the text. While you may consider texts to be simply words on the page, a text's broader context affects how you read it. These contexts include you as a reader, the writer, and the context of the text's publication. These different contexts refer to a text's rhetorical situation.

Rhetorical Situation Definition

A rhetorical situation refers to the elements which make a text understandable to a reader. While a text's meaning comes from the different rhetorical strategies an author uses, it also comes from its immediate context and its reader.

Rhetorical strategies: the writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose.

You may have encountered a text you found challenging because you did not have enough context to comprehend it or its intended purpose. The rhetorical situation contains several elements which work together to create meaning. If there is a problem in one of these areas a reader may have trouble comprehending a text.

Rhetorical Situation Elements

There are interconnected elements to consider when you think about a text's rhetorical situation, whether it is one you are reading or an essay you want to write. These elements include the writer, exigence, purpose, audience, context, and message. You will read about these elements and see how they apply to two different scenarios: a bride writing thank-you letters and an environmentalist writing an op-ed to his local newspaper.

Writer

The writer is an individual who aims to share their unique voice and beliefs. Everyone has stories and information they intend to share, and writing is a powerful tool people use to communicate this information. When you write, you will need to think critically about the information you hope to share and how you will share it. You will also think critically about your goals and beliefs in writing and how they align with others' beliefs and goals. In the examples, the two writers are the bride and the environmentalist.

Rhetorical situation, Rhetorical situation definition, writer, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Each writer has a unique, distinct voice and purpose.

Exigence

Exigence refers to the problem the essay addresses. Think of exigence as a cause-and-effect relationship. The exigence is the "spark" (as illustrated by the graphic above) that causes you to write about the problem. The "spark" that leads you to write can come from a variety of causes.

  • A bride writes thank-you notes for her guests. The exigence is her receiving gifts at her wedding.

  • Poor regulations on methane emissions are the exigence for an environmentalist to write an op-ed in his local paper calling for stricter regulations of methane emissions.

Purpose

Your purpose is the goal you want to achieve with your essay. If exigence refers to the concern which sparks your writing, the purpose is how you would like to resolve this issue. Included in resolving this issue is determining how you will present information to your audience. You may want to inform, entertain, or persuade readers, and you will need to select strategies to achieve this purpose.

Determining your essay's purpose relies on analyzing several interconnected elements. Looking at the graphic above, you will see that your unique writing voice, your audience, and your message influence how you present your purpose. For example, examine the purpose of the two examples from above:

  • A bride’s purpose is to express her gratitude toward her guests for the gifts.

  • The environmentalist’s goal is to persuade readers to support new methane regulations.

Audience

Your audience is the individual or group that will receive the message of your essay. Knowing your audience is crucial for shaping your essay's purpose. Your audience will vary, and you will need to figure out how to communicate with them. Your audience may include an individual, a group with similar values, or a diverse group with many beliefs. How you communicate with your audience may change depending on this group.

Writing can change depending on the audience. Say you want to write about a controversial dress code change in your school. You could compose a letter to your principal targeting his or her specific values, write to a group against this policy appealing to the beliefs you share, or write a newspaper op-ed using broader values shared by the community.

Consider how the bride and the environmentalist would begin to think about their audience.

  • The bride’s audience is the guests who bought gifts.

  • The environmentalist’s audience is members of the local community.

Context

Context refers to the time, place, and occasion of your essay's publication. There are also different contexts for your writing: the immediate context and the broader context. The immediate context is your goals and purpose for writing. The broader context is the larger conversation occurring around your topic.

Think of context as the when, where, and what of your writing. In other words, ask yourself these questions about your topic to figure out the immediate context: When will your writing be published? Where will it be published? What is the topic you are writing about?

To figure out the broader context, answer these questions:

  • When has this topic been addressed recently and historically?

  • Where have individuals discussed this topic?

  • What have others said about this topic?

In the previous examples, the bride’s immediate context is after the wedding ceremony. Her audience will receive these notes in the mail in the weeks following the ceremony. The broader context is the expectation that brides will write formal thank-you notes to guests who brought gifts. The environmentalist’s immediate context is a local newspaper's op-ed page that will be published on a random day. The broader context is that environmentalist groups have debated the effects of methane emissions.

Message

The message of your essay is your main idea. Your audience and the context of your writing influence your message. The ideas you include in your speech will need to be persuasive to your audience. Facts or values that you find persuasive may not convince your audience. Awareness of your topic's broader context will help you find multiple ways of viewing your topic. For example, if you were writing a paper supporting veganism, you should know the arguments used to support it, such as the health benefits, environmental benefits, and the improvement of animal rights. By knowing these different arguments, you can select the ideas which will appeal to your specific audience.

  • The bride’s message is to formally thank her guests for their gifts.

  • The environmentalist’s message is to implement stronger methane regulations based on her local community's strong commitment to environmental preservation.

Rhetorical Situation Example

Using the example of a speech at a school board meeting about banning a book from the curriculum, let's break down how you would think about this rhetorical situation to compose your speech.

Writer

As the writer, you are a teenager at your high school. You will need to consider your values and beliefs about the topic. After some preliminary reading about the topic, you decide restricting books in the curriculum goes against your values, and you decide to write a speech against the topic.

Exigence

The exigence (or "spark") for this speech is a potential book ban from your local school board. Some community members find the book inappropriate and argue the school board should ban it from the curriculum.

Purpose

The purpose of your speech is to convince the local school to not ban the book. To be successful in achieving your purpose, you will need to consider which strategies will persuade your audience based on their beliefs.

It's easy to confuse your exigence, purpose, and message. The exigence is the cause or problem your writing will address. Your purpose is your preferred outcome or goal you are trying to achieve while writing. The message is the ideas you will use in your essay to lead your audience to support your purpose.

Audience

The audience for your speech is the local school board, who will be a variety of adults. Based on this audience, you know your speech will have to be formal. You will also need to research their beliefs to identify their positions about potential book bans. Let's say most members appear sympathetic to the complaints about the book being inappropriate. You will need to address these concerns and argue why the book is appropriate for students.

Context

You must think about the time, place, and occasion of your speech, considering both the immediate and broader contexts.

Immediate ContextBroader Context
WhenA period when the local school board is debating and voting on banning a book from the school's curriculum.A period of increased debates surrounding what instructional materials are age-appropriate.
WhereLocal school board meeting. Increased advocacy about what materials teachers should include in their curriculum, with passionate debates erupting at school board meetings.
WhatSpeech to convince school board members to vote against a potential book ban. Writers have considered the arguments for and against the restricting of materials that address controversial topics.

Message

After considering your purpose, audience, and context, you can decide on your message. Your purpose is to convince your audience (your school board members) to vote against a book ban they may initially support. By understanding the broader context, you know there is a passionate and increasing debate about removing offensive materials from schools' curriculums, including a variety of arguments about age-appropriate materials, first amendment rights, and social inequality. Knowing the immediate context, you understand the school board's concern is whether the book contains appropriate material. You can craft an effective message by addressing their concerns and arguing why the book is age-appropriate for teenagers.

Rhetorical situation example microphone for giving a speech StudySmarterFig. 2 - An easy example to remember the different categories of the rhetorical situation is a speech.

The Rhetorical Situation in Writing

Understanding the rhetorical situation can strengthen your writing. This knowledge will lead to you crafting an appealing message by helping you identify your purpose for writing, understand your audience's beliefs, and contextualize your topic. The tips below will help you consider the rhetorical situation as you write.

Analyze the Rhetorical Situation Early in the Writing Process

Don't wait until you are editing to think about the rhetorical situation! Incorporate your analysis of the rhetorical situation early in the writing process when you are brainstorming and outlining your essay. This analysis will lead you to a clearer understanding of your essay's purpose and ideas. It will also help you as you write drafts of your essay since you have a clearer idea about what you intend to write.

Clearly Understand Your Exigence

The exigence is the reason you are writing an essay. Whether you are writing for school, work, or recreation, you will need to fully understand why you are writing. For example, if you are writing an essay for school or an exam, you will need to understand the writing prompt. By knowing why you are writing, you will better understand your purpose and topic.

Think Critically About Your Purpose and Audience

Remember that the rhetorical situation connects your purpose and audience. Your purpose is the goal you hope to achieve with writing, and your audience is who will receive this message. Whether your purpose is to persuade or entertain, you will need to know your audience's beliefs and values to ensure you can achieve your purpose. For essays for school, you will want to imagine your audience is an informed reader who has to know about the topic, and knowledge of the prompt--whether you are writing an argumentative or informational essay--will help you determine your purpose.

Research your Topic's Broader Context

To help you craft an effective message, you will want to know the topic's broader context. For school essays, you should research the current discussions on your topic to better understand it. You will want to do more research than you think and identify multiple sources and perspectives on your topic. While you may not incorporate all of these perspectives in your final essay, knowing this context will help you craft an effective message because you can choose the one most appealing to your audience. On timed exams, you will not have time to research the topic for a writing prompt. You should instead brainstorm the prior knowledge you have about the topic to help you find relevant ideas and arguments related to the prompt.

Use the Knowledge of your Purpose, your Audience, and the Context to Outline Your Message

Once you know the context in which you are writing, you can compose a message specific to your purpose and audience. Your message should address your audience's beliefs and values in the hopes of achieving your purpose. That means your message should target your audience's interests and not yours. Your message may not be the one you find most interesting or persuasive. You are writing to achieve your purpose, and understanding the context will help you find a message that will resonate with your audience.

Rhetorical Situation - Key Takeaways

  • The rhetorical situation refers to the elements which create the text's meaning for the reader.
  • The elements of the rhetorical situation include the writer, exigence, purpose, audience, context, and message.
  • These interconnected elements create meaning in a text. If a writer does not carefully consider these areas, they will not achieve their intended purposes in writing the text.
  • Good writers think about the relationship between these different elements by understanding the exigence for writing, analyzing the relationship between their purpose and their audience, researching the context, and crafting a message related to their audience's values.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Situation

Rhetorical situation refers to the elements which make a text understandable to a reader.

The rhetorical situation refers to several elements, and the type of rhetorical situation will depend on these elements. These elements include the writer, their audience, the exigence, their purpose, their context, and their message. 

The purpose of the rhetorical situation is for writers to analyze their purpose, audience, context, and messages when they write. 

Broadly, there are three parts to the rhetorical situation: the writer, the audience, and the message. 

An example of a rhetorical situation would be writing a speech arguing against the local school board voting on a controversial policy. The exigence would be the school board's vote. Your audience is the school board, and your purpose is to persuade them to not vote for the policy.  The context would be the school board meeting and the broader debates about the policy. The message would be the specific arguments you would choose to persuade your audience. 

Final Rhetorical Situation Quiz

Question

What is the rhetorical situation? 

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Answer

The elements which make a text understandable to a reader

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Question

What are the components of the rhetorical situation?

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Answer

Exigence, Writer, Purpose, Audience, Context, Message

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Question

What is the exigence? 

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Answer

the problem the essay addresses

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Question

In the rhetorical situation, what is the purpose? 

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Answer

The goal you want to achieve with your essay.

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Question

In the rhetorical situation, what is the context?

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Answer

The time, place, and occasion of your essay's publication. 

Show question

Question

In the rhetorical situation, what is the message? 


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Answer

The main ideas of your essay

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Question

You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. What would be the exigence of your op-ed?

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Answer

The proposed recycling program at your school

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Question

You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. Who is the audience for your op-ed?



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Answer

Your local community

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You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. What would be the context of your op-ed?

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Answer

The history of recycling programs in your school

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You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. What would be the purpose of your op-ed?

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Answer

To persuade the community to support the recycling program

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You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. What would be the message of your op-ed?

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Answer

The arguments in support of the program

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Question

You are writing an op-ed for your local newspaper supporting a proposed recycling program at your school. Which of the following will NOT help you craft a compelling message to persuade your audience?

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Answer

Write about your personal interests in the recycling program

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Question

What is close reading?

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Answer

Close reading is the focused reading of a short passage of text, with careful attention to detail.

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Which of the following is a strategy for close reading?

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Underlining literary devices

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What is the minimum number of times a reader should read a passage during a close reading?

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Two

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What is the first step in close reading?


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Read and annotate the text

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Why is close reading important? 


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All of the above

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True or False. Readers should not annotate when close reading because it reduces focus.

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False. Annotating helps readers stay focused. 

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True or False. Active reading is the same exact thing as close reading.

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False. Although similar, active reading is done on long texts and short texts. 

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What is active reading?

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Active reading is the act of engaging with a text while reading it with a specific purpose.

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Which of the following should readers note in a close read?

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All of the above

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True or False. Readers should not bother looking up unfamiliar words during a close read, as this can get them off task. 

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False. Researching unfamiliar words while close reading enhances a reader’s understanding of the text. 

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Question

Which of these is NOT a question for the first read-through?

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How is this text structured?

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Which of these is NOT a question for the first read-through?

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Are any main ideas, words, or phrases repeated? If so, why might the author have done this?

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Which of these is a question for the first read-through?

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What is happening in this passage? Do characters exchange dialogue? Is there internal dialogue? Is there action?

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Which of these is a question for the first read-through?

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How does this passage relate to the rest of the text?

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What is the third step in close reading?

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Re-read the passage.

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Readers should _____ the passage while they read it the first time.

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Answer

Annotate

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Which of these does annotating not include?

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Circling typographic errors

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"Close reading rarely helps with vocabulary."

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False

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How many times should you close read a passage?

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At least twice

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"Gloss over key details on the first read-through."

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False

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What are rhetorical strategies?


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Answer

The writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose. 


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Which of the following is not an element of rhetorical situation?


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Writer


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What are the three elements of context that writers must consider when making a speech?


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The time, place, and occasion.


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True or false. Writers should wait until they are editing to think about rhetorical situation. 


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False


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Rhetorical situation connects your _ and _. 


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Rhetorical situation connects your purpose and audience. 

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True or false. The elements of rhetorical situation are interconnected. 


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True


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Knowing your _ shapes your essay’s purpose. 


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Audience


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There are different contexts for your writing: the _ context and the _ context. 



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immediate and broader 

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