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Rhetorical Strategies

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Rhetorical Strategies

Have you ever felt moved by a speech or an essay? Did you feel inspired, angry, or sorrowful? The writer intended for you to feel this way. They chose specific text structures and organized their language to achieve this effect. In a rhetorical analysis essay, your goal is to figure out how the author uses language and text structure, or the way information is organized, to convey their purpose. This strategic use of language refers to rhetorical strategies.

Rhetorical Strategy Definition

Rhetorical strategies are the writing techniques that authors use to convince the audience of their purpose. Good writers figure out their purpose for writing and determine which rhetorical strategies will help them fulfill it.

To understand how writers use rhetorical strategies, think of a painter and their canvas. Knowing the image they want to paint, they combine different techniques like color, perspective, shapes, and brush strokes to create their painting. Like an artist selecting tools, writers select a variety of techniques to make their writing more impactful.

Rhetorical strategy, Artist paper with paint canvas, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Writers' use of rhetorical strategies is similar to painters' use of their canvas and paints.

Rhetorical Strategy Example

To see how authors use rhetorical strategies, read through the first paragraph of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream."1

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

King uses several rhetorical strategies in this opening to support his purpose of describing the history of slavery and racial inequality. For example, he alludes, or refers, to the opening of President Lincoln's "The Emancipation Proclamation" when he states, "Five score years ago...." He refers to Lincoln's speech to emphasize the promise of racial equality. He also incorporates analogies, or comparisons, when he compares slavery to "the flames of withering injustice" and "the long night of their captivity." This language reinforces the brutality and horrors of slavery.

Types of Rhetorical Strategies

In general, there are three types of rhetorical strategies: rhetorical devices, rhetorical modes, and rhetorical appeals.

Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are different ways of using word choice and style to impact the audience. Rhetorical devices include specific word choices, poetic language, references to other works, or stylistic choices. Writers make intentional choices about words and the organization of their sentences when writing to create meaning and support their purpose. The allusion and analogy that King used above are examples of rhetorical devices.

Rhetorical Modes

Rhetorical modes are the different patterns or structures for organizing writing. Rhetorical devices focus on word- and sentence-level techniques, while rhetorical modes describe the structure of either the entire essay or portions of the essay. Rhetorical modes are important because you can determine the authors' purpose from the structure they chose, such as explaining an idea or arguing for a particular policy. Common rhetorical modes include descriptive, expository, narrative, and argumentative writing.

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical appeals are the different methods for persuading your audience. These appeals are unique to argumentative writing. Writers combine appeals to logic, values, and emotions to make persuasive arguments. There are four rhetorical appeals: ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos.

Rhetorical Strategies List

Authors implement many rhetorical devices, modes, and appeals in their writing. While more rhetorical devices and modes exist, this list will introduce the most common rhetorical strategies authors use in their writing.

Rhetorical Devices

There are many rhetorical devices an author can choose to use when writing, which can be roughly grouped into these categories: allusions, diction, syntax, and literary techniques.

Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a person, place, or thing of cultural significance. Writers incorporate allusions into their texts for several reasons. First, the references contextualize their writing within the ideas or traditions they are referencing. Second, these references emphasize the importance of the referenced ideas within the work. An example of an allusion is Martin Luther King Jr. referencing the Lincoln Memorial at the beginning of "I Have a Dream."1 The memorial symbolizes Lincoln's actions in addressing racial equality, and King references and expands on these ideas later on in his speech.

Diction

Diction is the writer's word choice to convey a message or establish a particular writing style. Writers carefully select words or phrases in essays or literature to establish their tone, or attitude, toward the topic. In rhetorical analysis, you will want to analyze how the author's word choice creates the text's tone. You will support this analysis by examining whether the author uses words with strong connotations (emotions), formal or informal words, and concrete/specific words. For example, consider the diction of this sentence near the beginning of King's speech about "The Emancipation Proclamation."1

"This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice."

King uses words with strong positive connotations ("momentous," "great," "beacon," and "hope") to describe the promise of racial equality found within the document in contrast with words with strong negative connotations ("seared," "flames," and "withering") to describe slavery. Using these words creates an impassioned tone. King wants to connect with the audience's emotions to emphasize the promise of racial equality while highlighting slavery's brutality.

Syntax

Syntax is the structure of a sentence. Writers create varied and impactful sentences to convey meaning. One way they create interesting sentences is through sentence length. In rhetorical analysis, examine the length of the author's sentences to determine if they intentionally use different sentence lengths. The sentence's length often supports an author's main idea or purpose.

Writers use short sentences (often 6 words or fewer) if they want to emphasize an idea in the sentence. They can also write longer sentences, such as using a compound-complex structure, to develop an idea.

Writers can also employ stylistic choices when writing. Style choices are about the structure of the sentence. In rhetorical analysis, you will determine if the author uses stylistic choices to support their purpose.

Parallelism is a common stylistic choice where an author repeats a phrase or grammatical structure in successive sentences. This repetition emphasizes and reinforces the main ideas found within the sentences. You can find a famous example in the opening of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. The repeating structure (It was the ____ of _____) and contrasts reveal the extreme optimism and horror of the French Revolution.2

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair..."

Try to create your own parallel sentences! Pick an idea to write about. Then come up with a phrase with the same grammatical structure to repeat in several sentences about the idea. How does the parallel structure help emphasize the overall point?

Literary Techniques

Writers incorporate literary techniques into their writing, even in non-fiction texts. When conducting a rhetorical analysis, you will want to examine the author's use of these techniques and determine how they support the author's purpose. The most common literary technique you will encounter is an analogy.

Analogy: comparison between two objects.

Two common types of analogies include similes and metaphors. Similes are comparisons using like or as, while metaphors are comparisons of two unlike objects. Writers use these comparisons to make their ideas more vivid to readers. King often uses these literary techniques in his speech "I Have a Dream." In the passage, King uses both a simile and a metaphor in this sentence. He uses a simile to compare the end of slavery as promised in the "Emancipation Proclamation" to daybreak while using a metaphor to compare slavery to a long night.

"It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity."

Rhetorical strategy, Martin Luther King Jr., StudySmarterFig. 2 - Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech uses many rhetorical devices.

Rhetorical modes

Rhetorical modes refer to structures used within an essay or a portion of an essay. Writers may use several of these modes within one essay.

Description

Description is a mode that provides the sensory details of a person, place, or thing. Writers include these sensory details to make the topic interesting and engaging. They will use vivid nouns, verbs, and adjectives in their description. In a rhetorical analysis, you will examine how writers incorporate descriptions to make abstract ideas more concrete or to include crucial details. For example, if they were writing about an advertisement, they would include a description for it to make sense to the reader. Further, descriptions can support an argument or exposition. In an essay persuading the audience to limit the environmental impacts of 2-day shipping, a writer could vividly describe the waste and pollution found at a large shipping warehouse.

Exposition

Exposition provides information about a subject. Expository writing aims to explain or inform a reader about the topic. Types of expository writing include providing background information, explaining a process, comparing and contrasting ideas, and outlining the causes and effects of a problem. In a rhetorical analysis essay, you would explore whether exposition is an effective strategy for providing needed information and supporting the author's purpose. For example, in an essay about limiting the environmental impacts of 2-day shipping, a writer may explain the current process of quickly shipping items to highlight their negative environmental effects. You would analyze how the explanation of this process is effective in supporting the author's purpose.

Narration

Narration describes the telling of fictional or factual stories or series of events. Narratives in an essay follow the patterns of storytelling. There are characters and events, and writers structure the plot of the story to have a beginning, middle, and end. Narratives are common in essays. Writers often tell short narratives called anecdotes. Authors can also write narratives for an entire essay to recall their or another's personal experiences. In rhetorical analysis, you are examining the purpose of including these narratives within the author's essay. Often, narratives are effective because they personalize the topic for the reader since they can empathize with the author's purpose. In the example essay about the environmental impacts of 2-day shipping, a writer may highlight the environmental effects of a large shipping warehouse by telling stories of individuals negatively impacted by the company.

Argumentation

Argumentation attempts to persuade a reader of the writer's main ideas. Argumentation is a standard mode of writing: most writing you encounter in schools will be argumentative. Arguments have claims, or main ideas, that are supported by reasons or evidence. In analyzing an argument, you will explain whether the author writes a convincing argument with valid claims and strong supporting reasons. You will decide whether their reasons, such as whether they use logical appeals or emotional appeals, are effective for the author's intended purpose and audience. In the example essay about the environmental impacts of 2-day shipping, a writer may use logical appeals based on data and emotional appeals by using stories from impacted individuals to support their argument about limiting its environmental impact.

Rhetorical Strategies, Picture of shipping warehouse, StudySmarterFig. 3 - A writer focusing on the environmental impact of two-day shipping can implement a variety of rhetorical modes in their essay.

Rhetorical Appeals

In argumentative writing, authors support their arguments by using four main rhetorical appeals: ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos

Ethos is the appeal to ethics, or the speaker's credibility or values. Writers want to appear knowledgeable about their subject, so they will highlight their expertise while writing to let the audience know that they are credible. Further, writers will appeal to moral values or principles. For example, politicians often refer to the values found in America's founding documents in their speeches. To assess a writer's use of ethos, you will determine whether the writer appears credible and whether the values they appeal to successfully match their audience's values.

Kairos

Kairos is the timeliness of the argument. A writer determines whether they want their argument to only address the concerns of the current moment by including modern references. They can also decide to address more universal arguments to make their argument timeless. When analyzing an argument, you will determine whether the writer attempted to make their idea current or timeless.

Logos

Logos is the use of logical arguments. Writers form claims with logical reasoning and support their reasoning with facts, statistics, and expert testimony. To analyze logical arguments in an essay, you will determine whether the argument is logically sound by finding errors in thinking or reasoning. You will also assess whether the writer accurately uses facts and statistics within their essay.

Pathos

Pathos is the appeal to the audience's emotions. Appealing to emotions is effective because the audience can relate their feelings to the argument. Writers attempt to appeal to emotions by telling anecdotes and using evocative language. To analyze pathos within an essay, you will explore what emotions the writer tried to evoke and whether appealing to these feelings successfully support the author's purpose.

Rhetorical Strategies in Writing

When composing a rhetorical analysis essay, you will examine each of these different rhetorical strategies to determine how they work together to support the author's purpose. The steps and questions below will guide you in your analysis of these rhetorical strategies.

  • Determine the text's overall rhetorical mode. In other words, what is its main purpose? Is it trying to describe, explain, narrate, or persuade?

  • Find other rhetorical modes within the essay. Writers will often incorporate more than one mode. What other modes are present? Why did the author include these modes? How do they support their purpose?

  • If there is an argument, analyze the rhetorical appeals. How is the author attempting to persuade the audience? Are they relying on ethical, logical, or emotional arguments? Are their arguments timeless or rooted in their current moment? Are these appeals effective?

  • Analyze the author's use of rhetorical devices. Does the author allude to other literary or cultural works? Does the author use strong diction to support their purpose? Do they include interesting style choices, such as short sentences or parallelism, to emphasize the main point? Are they incorporating literary techniques to highlight the main idea?

In your own rhetorical analysis essay, you can incorporate rhetorical strategies to make your writing more effective. Which rhetorical devices would help you craft a more engaging essay? What mode are you primarily writing in for your rhetorical analysis?

Rhetorical Strategies - Key Takeaways

  • Rhetorical strategies are the writing techniques that authors use to help convince the audience of their purpose.
  • There are three categories of rhetorical strategies: rhetorical devices, rhetorical modes, and rhetorical appeals.
  • Rhetorical devices are the use of language and style to support an author's purpose. These devices include allusions, diction, syntax, and literary techniques.
  • Rhetorical modes are the different patterns or structures for organizing an essay or a portion of an essay. These modes include description, exposition, narration, and argumentation.
  • Rhetorical appeals are the different methods of persuading your audience when arguing. These appeals include ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos.
  • In a rhetorical analysis essay, you analyze how an author employs these different strategies to support their purpose.

1. Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream," 1963.

2. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Strategies

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

To analyze rhetorical strategies, you will want to determine the text's rhetorical mode and if the author uses any other modes within the essay. You will then figure out the purpose of their writing based on the rhetorical mode. If the author is writing an argument, you will analyze how they support their argument by examining the various rhetorical appeals. You will also examine their writing style by analyzing the references, word choice, and sentence structure to see if the author employed different rhetorical devices to support their purpose.

Rhetorical strategies are also sometimes called rhetorical modes. The rhetorical modes include description, exposition, narration, and persuasion/argumentation. More broadly, rhetorical strategies also include rhetorical devices and rhetorical appeals. There are four rhetorical appeals: ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos. 

To identify rhetorical strategies, you will first look at the rhetorical mode of the essay. Based on the rhetorical modes, you can determine the author's purpose for writing the essay. After finding this purpose, you will identify the rhetorical devices, such as word choice and unique sentence structure, they use to support their purpose. If they are writing an argument, you will analyze the rhetorical appeals used to find how the author supported their argument. 

To write a rhetorical analysis essay, you will first determine the text's rhetorical mode and if the author uses any other modes within the essay. You will then figure out the purpose of their writing based on the rhetorical mode. If the author is writing an argument, you will analyze how they support it by examining the various rhetorical appeals and their effectiveness. You will also investigate their writing style by exploring the text's references, word choice, and sentence structure to see if the author employed different rhetorical devices to support their purpose. Based on these strategies, you will then write your essay where you will explain how the rhetorical mode, appeals, and devices support the author's purpose. 

Final Rhetorical Strategies Quiz

Question

What are rhetorical strategies? 

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Answer

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

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Question

Which one is NOT a rhetorical strategy?

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Answer

Rhetorical language

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a rhetorical mode?

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Answer

Organization

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Question

Which of the following is NOT a rhetorical appeal?

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Answer

Bathos

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Question

"Getting through the school day felt like surviving the Hunger Games."


What type of rhetorical device is used in this sentence? 

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Answer

Allusion

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Question

Why might an author use short sentences (6 words or fewer) when writing?

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Answer

Short sentences emphasize a main point. 

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Question

"Getting through the school day felt like surviving the Hunger Games."


What is the purpose of the simile in this sentence? 

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Answer

To highlight the difficulty of completing the school day.

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Question

"The student was titanium—nothing broke her spirit."


What rhetorical device is used in this sentence?

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Answer

Metaphor

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"The student was titanium—nothing broke her spirit."


What is the purpose of the metaphor in this sentence?

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Answer

To reveal her strong determination. 

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Question

In an essay on immigration, an author recounts the personal experience of a refugee claiming asylum in the United States. What rhetorical mode is the author using in this example? 

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Answer

Narration

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Question

If an author includes extended details about a neighborhood in an essay on gentrification, what mode of writing are they using?

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Answer

Description

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Question

In an essay on carbon capture technologies, the writer explains the process of how the technology works to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Which rhetorical mode is the author using in this example?  

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Answer

Exposition

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Question

"I support abolishing daylight saving's time because research shows it will decrease the number of accidents."


 What type of rhetorical appeal is found in this sentence?

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Answer

Logical appeal

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Question

"I do not support government regulation of business time because it violates free-market principles."


What type of rhetorical appeal is found in this sentence?

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Answer

Ethical appeal

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Question

What are the four rhetorical appeals?


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Answer

Ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos 


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Question

Rhetorical modes are important because you can determine the author’s _ from the structure they chose. 


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Answer

purpose


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What is allusion?


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Answer

A reference to a person, place, or thing of cultural significance. 


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What is diction?


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Word choice

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What is syntax?


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Answer

Syntax is the structure of a sentence 


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Question

True or false. Parallelism is a common stylistic choice where an author repeats a phrase in successive sentences. 


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Answer

True 

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