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Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Rhetorical Situations

Understanding and being able to analyze rhetorical situations can help contribute to strong, audience-focused, and organized writing. The PowerPoint presentation in the Media box above is suitable for any classroom and any writing task. The resource below explains in more detail how to analyze rhetorical situations.


Understanding Rhetoric

Writing instructors and many other professionals who study language use the phrase “rhetorical situation.” This term refers to any set of circumstances that involves at least one person using some sort of communication to modify the perspective of at least one other person. But many people are unfamiliar with the word “rhetoric.” For many people, “rhetoric” may imply speech that is simply persuasive. For others, “rhetoric” may imply something more negative like “trickery” or even “lying.” So to appreciate the benefits of understanding what rhetorical situations are, we must first have a more complete understanding of what rhetoric itself is.

In brief, “rhetoric” is any communication used to modify the perspectives of others. But this is a very broad definition that calls for more explanation.

The OWL’s “Introduction to Rhetoric” vidcast explains more what rhetoric is and how rhetoric relates to writing.  This vidcast defines rhetoric as “primarily an awareness of the language choices we make.” It gives a brief history of the origins of rhetoric in ancient Greece. And it briefly discusses the benefits of how understanding rhetoric can help people write more convincingly. The vidcast provides an excellent primer to some basic ideas of rhetoric.

A more in-depth primer to rhetoric can be found in the online video “In Defense of Rhetoric: No Longer Just for Liars.” This video dispels some widely held misconceptions about rhetoric and emphasizes that, “An education of rhetoric enables communicators in any facet of any field to create and assess messages effectively.” This video should be particularly helpful to anyone who is unaware of how crucial rhetoric is to effective communication.

In Defense of Rhetoric: No Longer Just for Liars” is a 14-minunte video created by graduate students in the MA in Professional Communication program at Clemson University, and you are free to copy, distribute, and transmit the video with the understanding: 1) that you will attribute the work to its authors; 2) that you will not use the work for commercial purposes; and 3) that you may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

Listening to the above podcast and watching the above video should help anyone using this resource to better understand the basics of rhetoric and rhetorical situations.

 

A Review of Rhetoric: From “Persuasion” to “Identification”

Just as the vidcast and video above imply, rhetoric can refer to just the persuasive qualities of language. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle strongly influenced how people have traditionally viewed rhetoric. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “an ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion” (Aristotle Rhetoric I.1.2, Kennedy 37). Since then, Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric has been reduced in many situations to mean simply “persuasion.” At its best, this simplification of rhetoric has led to a long tradition of people associating rhetoric with politicians, lawyers, or other occupations noted for persuasive speaking. At its worst, the simplification of rhetoric has led people to assume that rhetoric is merely something that manipulative people use to get what they want (usually regardless of moral or ethical concerns).

However, over the last century or so, the academic definition and use of “rhetoric” has evolved  to include any situation in which people consciously communicate with each other. In brief, individual people tend to perceive and understand just about everything differently from one another (this difference varies to a lesser or greater degree depending on the situation, of course). This expanded perception has led a number of more contemporary rhetorical philosophers to suggest that rhetoric deals with more than just persuasion. Instead of just persuasion, rhetoric is the set of methods people use to identify with each other—to encourage each other to understand things from one another’s perspectives (see Burke 25). From interpersonal relationships to international peace treaties, the capacity to understand or modify another’s perspective is one of the most vital abilities that humans have. Hence, understanding rhetoric in terms of “identification” helps us better communicate and evaluate all such situations.

 

Works Cited

Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. 2nd ed. Trans. George A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard and Charles Paine. Writing Today. New York: Pearson Education, 2010.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Elements of Rhetorical Situations

There is no one singular rhetorical situation that applies to all instances of communication. Rather, all human efforts to communicate occur within innumerable individual rhetorical situations that are particular to those specific moments of communication.

Also, an awareness of rhetorical situations can help in both composition and analysis. In the textbook Writing Today, Johnson-Sheehan and Paine recommend, “Before you start writing any text, you should first gain an understanding of your rhetorical situation” (12). For this reason, the rest of this resource will focus on understanding rhetorical situations more in terms of analysis. Once you know how to identify and analyze the elements of rhetorical situations, you will be better able to produce writing that meets your audience’s needs, fits the specific setting you write in, and conveys your intended message and purpose.

Each individual rhetorical situation shares five basic elements with all other rhetorical situations:

  1. A text (i.e., an actual instance or piece of communication)

  2. An author (i.e., someone who uses communication)

  3. An audience (i.e., a recipient of communication)

  4. Purposes (i.e., the varied reasons both authors and audiences communicate)

  5. A setting (i.e., the time, place, and environment surrounding a moment of communication)

These five terms are updated versions of similar terms that the ancient Greek thinker Aristotle articulated over two thousand years ago. While Aristotle’s terms may be familiar to many people, his terminology more directly applied to the specific needs and concerns of his day. This resource uses more current terminology to more accurately identify the kinds of rhetorical situations we may encounter today. But since Aristotle’s work in rhetoric has been so influential, below is a brief discussion of Aristotle’s terms and how they relate to the terms in this resource (text, author, audience, purposes, and setting).

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Aristotle's Rhetorical Situation

Rhetorical Concepts

Many people have heard of the rhetorical concepts of logos, ethos, and pathos even if they do not necessarily know what they fully mean. These three terms, along with kairos and telos, were used by Aristotle to help explain how rhetoric functions. In ancient Greece, these terms corresponded with basic components that all rhetorical situations have.


Logos

Logos is frequently translated as some variation of “logic or reasoning,” but it originally referred to the actual content of a speech and how it was organized. Today, many people may discuss the logos qualities of a text to refer to how strong the logic or reasoning of the text is. But logos more closely refers to the structure and content of the text itself. In this resource, logos means “text.”

 

Ethos

Ethos is frequently translated as some variation of “credibility or trustworthiness,” but it originally referred to the elements of a speech that reflected on the particular character of the speaker or the speech’s author. Today, many people may discuss ethos qualities of a text to refer to how well authors portray themselves. But ethos more closely refers to an author’s perspective more generally. In this resource, ethos means “author.”


Pathos

Pathos is frequently translated as some variation of “emotional appeal,” but it originally referred to the elements of a speech that appealed to any of an audience’s sensibilities. Today, many people may discuss the pathos qualities of a text to refer to how well an author appeals to an audience’s emotions. Pathos as “emotion” is often contrasted with logos as “reason.” But this is a limited understanding of both pathos and logos; pathos more closely refers to an audience’s perspective more generally. In this resource, pathos means “audience.”


Telos

Telos is a term Aristotle used to explain the particular purpose or attitude of a speech. Not many people use this term today in reference to rhetorical situations; nonetheless, it is instructive to know that early rhetorical thinkers like Aristotle actually placed much emphasis on speakers having a clear telos. But audiences can also have purposes of their own that differ from a speaker’s purpose. In this resource, telos means “purpose.”


Kairos

Kairos is a term that refers to the elements of a speech that acknowledge and draw support from the particular setting, time, and place that a speech occurs. Though not as commonly known as logos, ethos, and pathos, the term kairos has been receiving wider renewed attention among teachers of composition since the mid-1980s. Although kairos may be well known among writing instructors, the term “setting” more succinctly and clearly identifies this concept for contemporary readers. In this resource, kairos means “setting.”


Current Elements of Rhetorical Situations

All of these terms (text, author, audience, purpose, and setting) are fairly loose in their definitions and all of them affect each other. Also, all of these terms have specific qualities that affect the ways that they interact with the other terms. Below, you’ll find basic definitions of each term, a brief discussion of the qualities of each term, and then finally, a series of examples illustrating various rhetorical situations.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Text

What is a Text?

The word “text” is probably the most fluid term in a rhetorical situation. Usually, the word “text” refers to a written or typed document. In terms of a rhetorical situation, however, “text” means any form of communication that humans create. Whenever humans engage in any act of communication, a text serves as the vehicle for communication. Three basic factors affect the nature of each text: the medium of the text, the tools used to create the text, and the tools used to decipher the text.

 

Medium of a Text

Texts can appear in any kind of medium, or mechanism for communicating. The plural of medium in this sense is media. Various media affect the ways that authors and audiences communicate. Consider how these different types of media can affect how and what authors communicate to audiences in various rhetorical situations: hand-written, typed, computer-generated, audio, visual, spoken, verbal, non-verbal, graphic, pictorial, tactile, with words, or without words (there are many others, of course). Some varied specific examples of media could include a paper, a speech, a letter, an advertisement, a billboard, a presentation, a poster-board, a cartoon, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, an email, a Twitter tweet, a Facebook post, graffiti, a conversation (face-to-face, on a cell phone, via text messages) . . . this list is nearly endless.

 

Tools to Make a Text

Every text is made with tools that affect the structure and content of a text. Such tools could be physical tools that range from very basic (such as the larynx, throat, teeth, lips, and tongue necessary for verbal communication) to very complex (such as a laptop computer with graphic-manipulating software). These tools could also be more conceptual tools that range from simple (such as implementing feedback from an instructor) to more complicated (such as implementing different kinds of library and primary research). The tools of communication often determine the kinds of communication that can happen in any given rhetorical situation.

 

Tools to Decipher a Text

Likewise, audiences have varied tools for reading, viewing, hearing, or otherwise appreciating various texts. These could be actual physical tools that would likewise range from very basic (like the eyes and reading glasses necessary to read) to very complex (like a digital projector and screen to view a PowerPoint presentation). Or they could be conceptual tools that could range from simple (childhood principles learned from parents) to more complicated (a master’s degree in art). The tools that audiences have at their disposal affect the ways that they appreciate different texts.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Author and Audience

What is an Author?

“Author” is a fairly loose term used to refer to anyone who uses communication. An author could be one person or many people. An author could be someone who uses writing (like in a book), speech (like in a debate), visual elements (like in a TV commercial), audio elements (like in a radio broadcast), or even tactile elements (as is used in making Braille) to communicate. Whatever authors create, authors are human beings whose particular activities are affected by their individual backgrounds.

 

Author’s Background

Many factors affect authors’ backgrounds. These can include age, gender, geographic location, ethnicity, cultural experiences, religious experiences, social standing, personal wealth, sexuality, political beliefs, parents, peers, level of education, personal experience, and others. All of these are powerful influences on what authors assume about the world, who their audiences are, what and how they communicate, and the settings in which they communicate. Gender, ethnicity, cultural experiences, sexuality, and wealth factors are especially important in analyzing rhetorical situations today. Many professionals in education, business, government, and non-profit organizations are especially aware of these specific factors in people’s lives.

 

What is Audience?

Like the term “author,” the term “audience” is also a fairly loose term. “Audience” refers to any recipient of communication. Audiences can read, hear, see, or feel different kinds of communication through different kinds of media. Also like authors, audiences are human beings whose particular activities are also affected by their specific backgrounds.

 

Audience’s Background

The same sorts of factors that affect authors’ backgrounds also affect audiences’ individual backgrounds. Most importantly, these factors affect how audiences receive different pieces of communication; what they assume about the author; and the context in which they hear, read, or otherwise appreciate what the author communicates.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Purposes

Authors and audiences both have a wide range of purposes for communicating. The importance of purpose in rhetorical situations cannot be overstated. It is the varied purposes of a rhetorical situation that determine how an author communicates a text and how audiences receive a text. Rhetorical situations rarely have only one purpose. Authors and audiences tend to bring their own purposes (and often multiple purposes each) to a rhetorical situation, and these purposes may conflict or complement each other depending on the efforts of both authors and audiences.

Authors’ purposes

In the textbook Writing Today, Johnson-Sheehan and Paine discuss purpose more specifically in terms of the author of a text. They suggest that most texts written in college or in the workplace often fill one of two broader purposes: to be informative or to be persuasive. Under each of these two broad purposes, they identify a host of more specific purposes. The following table is not exhaustive; authors could easily have purposes that are not listed on this table.

Table: Author Purposes

Informative

Persuasive

to inform

to persuade

to describe

to convince

to define

to influence

to review

to argue

to notify

to recommend

to instruct

to change

to advise

to advocate

to announce

to urge

to explain

to defend

to demonstrate

to justify

to illustrate

to support

(Johnson-Sheehan & Paine 17)


Audiences’ purposes

Authors’ purposes tend to be almost exclusive active if only because authors conscientiously create texts for specific audiences. But audiences’ purposes may range from more passive purpose to more active purposes.

Table: Audience Purposes

More Passive Purposes

More Active Purposes

to receive notice

to examine

to feel reassured

to quantify

to feel a sense of unity

to assess

to be entertained

to make informed decisions

to receive instruction

to interpret

to enjoy

to evaluate

to hear advice

to judge

to be inspired

to resist change

to review

to criticize

to understand

to ridicule

to learn

to disprove

 

The Role of Purposes

Authors’ and audiences’ purposes in communicating determine the basic rationale behind other decisions both authors and audiences make (such as what to write or speak about, or whom to listen to, or what medium to use, or what setting to read in, among others). An author’s purpose in communicating could be to instruct, persuade, inform, entertain, educate, startle, excite, sadden, enlighten, punish, console, or many, many others. Like authors, audiences have varied purposes for reading, listening to, or otherwise appreciating pieces of communication. Audiences may seek to be instructed, persuaded, informed, entertained, educated, startled, excited, saddened, enlightened, punished, consoled, or many, many others. Authors’ and audiences’ purposes are only limited to what authors and audiences want to accomplish in their moments of communication. There are as many purposes for communicating as there are words to describe those purposes.

 

Attitude

Attitude is related to purpose and is a much-overlooked element of rhetorical situations. But attitude affects a great deal of how a rhetorical situation unfolds. Consider if an author communicates with a flippant attitude as opposed to a serious attitude, or with drama as opposed to comedy, or calmly as opposed to excitedly. Depending on authors’ purposes, audiences’ specific qualities, the nature of the context, and other factors, any of these attitudes could either help or hinder authors in their efforts to communicate depending on the other factors in any given rhetorical situation. Like authors, audiences bring diverse attitudes to how they appreciate different pieces of communication. The audience’s attitude while reading, listening, observing, or whatnot affects how they receive and process the communication they receive.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Setting

Lastly, all rhetorical situations occur in specific settings or contexts or environments. The specific constraints that affect a setting include the time of author and audience, the place of author and audience, and the community or conversation in which authors and/or audiences engage.

 

Time

“Time” in this sense refers to specific moments in history. It is fairly common knowledge that different people communicate differently depending on the time in which they live. Americans in the 1950s, overall, communicate differently than Americans in the 2000s. Not that they necessarily speak a different language, but these two groups of people have different assumptions about the world and how to communicate based on the era in which they live. Different moments in time can be closer together and still affect the ways that people communicate. Certainly, scientists discussed physics somewhat differently the year after Einstein published his theory of relativity than they did the year before Einstein published his treatise. Also, an author and audience may be located at different times in relation to one another. Today, we appreciate Shakespeare’s Hamlet a bit differently than the people who watched it when it first premiered four hundred years ago. A lot of cultural norms have changed since then.

 

Place

Similarly, the specific places of authors and their audiences affect the ways that texts are made and received. At a rally, the place may be the steps of a national monument. In an academic conference or lecture hall or court case, the place is a specific room. In other rhetorical situations, the place may be the pages of an academic journal in which different authors respond to one another in essay form. And, as mentioned about authors’ and audiences’ backgrounds, the places from which audiences and authors emerge affect the ways that different texts are made and received.

 

Community / Conversation

In various rhetorical situations, “community” or “conversation” can be used to refer to the specific kinds of social interactions among authors and audiences. Outside of speaking about rhetorical situations, “community” usually means specific groups of people united by location and proximity like a neighborhood; “conversation” usually refers to fairly intimate occasions of discussion among a small number of people. But in regard to rhetorical situations, both of these terms can have much larger meanings. In any given rhetorical situation, “community” and “conversation” can refer to the people specifically involved in the act of communication. For instance, consider Pablo Picasso who used cubism to challenge international notions of art at the time he painted. Picasso was involved in a worldwide “community” of artists, art critics, and other appreciators of art many of whom were actively engaged in an extended “conversation” with differing assumptions about what art is and ought to be. Sometimes, authors and audiences participate in the same community and conversation, but in many instances, authors may communicate in one community and conversation (again, think of Shakespeare four hundred years ago in England) while audiences may participate in a different community and conversation (think of scholars today in any other country in the world who discuss and debate the nature of Shakespeare’s plays). The specific nature of authors’ communities and conversations affect the ways that texts are made while the specific nature of audiences’ communities and conversations affect the ways that texts are received and appreciated.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Example 1

Example 1: “I Have a Dream” Speech

A lot of what was covered above may still seem abstract and complicated. To illustrate how diverse kinds of texts have their own rhetorical situations, consider the following examples.

First, consider Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Because this speech is famous, it should be very easy to identify the basic elements of its particular rhetorical situation.

 

Text

The text in question is a 17-minute speech written and delivered by Dr. King. The basic medium of the text was an oral speech that was broadcast by both loudspeakers at the event and over radio and television. Dr. King drew on years of training as a minister and public speaker to deliver the speech. He also drew on his extensive education and the tumultuous history of racial prejudices and civil rights in the US. Audiences at the time either heard his speech in person or over radio or television broadcasts. Part of the speech near the end was improvised around the repeated phrase “I have a dream.”

 

Author

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the most iconic leader of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. He was an African-American Baptist minister and prominent civil rights activist who campaigned to end segregation and racial discrimination. He gained inspiration from Howard Thurman and Mahatma Gandhi, and he drew extensively from a deep, rich cultural tradition of African-American Christian spiritualism.

 

Audience

The audiences for “I Have a Dream” are extraordinarily varied. In one sense, the audience consisted of the 200,000 or so people who listened to Dr. King in person. But Dr. King also overtly appealed to lawmakers and citizens everywhere in America at the time of his speech. There were also millions of people who heard his speech over radio and television at the time. And many more millions people since 1963 have heard recordings of the speech in video, audio, or digital form.

 

Purposes

Dr. King’s immediate purposes appear to have been to convince Americans across the country to embrace racial equality and to further strengthen the resolve of those already involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Audiences’ purposes are not as easily summarized. Some at the time may have sought to be inspired by Dr. King. Opponents to racial equality who heard his speech may have listened for the purpose of seeking to find ways to further argue against racial equality. Audiences since then may have used the speech to educate or to advocate for other social justice issues.

 

Setting

The initial setting for the speech was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963. The immediate community and conversation for the speech was the ongoing Civil Rights Movement that had gained particular momentum with the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which Dr. King helped direct. But the enduring nature of Dr. King’s speech has broadened the setting to include many countries and many people who have since read or listened to his speech. Certainly, people listening to his speech for the first time today in America are experiencing a different mix of cultural attitudes toward race than as present in America in 1963.

 

Other Analysis

Dr. King’s speech is an example of a rhetorical situation that is much bigger than its initial text and audience. Not many rhetorical situations are as far reaching in scope as Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The following example of a research paper may be more identifiable to students reading this resource.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Example 2

Example 2: Research Paper for a High School or College Class

One of the most common rhetorical situations that people reading this will face or have faced is a research paper for some sort of class. Consider the following fictional example of the rhetorical situation surrounding a research paper written by a 19-year-old female university student from China who is attending her first year of classes at Purdue University in Indiana, USA.

 

Text

The text in this example is a 12-page research paper that argues for more efficient ways of harnessing hydroelectric power. The paper uses the Xiaolangdi Dam on the Yellow River in China as an example of what could be done better. Alternately, when the student prepares her paper to present at a conference, the text at the future conference would be her actual verbal presentation and any presentation aids she chooses to use (such as a PowerPoint or a handout).

As a paper for class, the medium is a stack of twelve computer-typed white sheets of paper. As a conference presentation, the medium is the author’s spoken voice accompanied with a digital PowerPoint display.

As a paper for class, the student uses a computer with a word processing program to actually type the paper. Using a computer not only makes the paper neat and readable, but it is also required. The actual physical tool used to write the text greatly affects how the text is received. She also uses the conceptual tool of research that she’s learned in class to help her find the material she needs. As a conference presentation, the student uses a computer and a digital projector to display the necessary images at her presentation. She also uses the conceptual tools of public speaking that she learned in her first-year communication and speech course at Purdue University.

 

Author

The author for this research paper is a 19-year-old female university student from China who is attending her first year of classes at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. She struggles at times with the mechanics of written English. She is an only child. She is studying agricultural engineering. All this has affected how and what she writes.

 

Audience

There are two audiences for this paper. The primary and most immediate audience for this paper is the student’s instructor. Her instructor is a 25-year-old female PhD student from New Mexico, USA, studying in English at Purdue University. This instructor teaches the first-year writing course that the student is writing the research paper for. The student also hopes that she can eventually develop her paper into a conference presentation, so she writes her paper with both her instructor and a future conference audience in mind.

The instructor has previous experience working with students whose first language is not English. The future conference audience will have had immediate background in the other presentations at the conference.

 

Purposes

The author has a few different purposes for writing this paper. First and foremost, writing this paper is a class requirement and she must do well on it to get a good grade in the class. Secondly, she has chosen to write her paper about a hydroelectric dam near her home in China because she feels strongly about clean, hydroelectric power. Thirdly, she feels she needs continued practice writing in English (which is not her first language), so she looks forward to the feedback she’ll get from her instructor in hopes she can improve the way she writes. Her attitude is hopeful and earnest as she writes the paper. But she is also worried because she fears she may not have enough mastery of the English language to write the paper well.

The instructor wants the student to master certain writing processes and principles and will be reading the paper with these concerns in mind. The future conference audience will likely want to hear more about the impact of different energy sources on the environment. The instructor retains a helpful but expert attitude toward the student’s paper. The future conference audience fosters an interested and egalitarian attitude toward the student’s presentation. Notice how each of these attitudes can affect the way that the student’s research is received.

 

Setting

Because of the split nature of the student’s purposes, the settings for the paper are split as well.

As a research paper, the text is situated within the fifteen-week structure of a typical American university semester. Also, the student’s research about hydroelectric dams and the Xiaolangdi Dam in particular reflect the most current information she can locate. When she presents her research at a conference a year or two later, she will need to make sure her research is still up-to-date.

As a research paper, the text occurs within the confines of the curriculum of the student’s first-year writing class. As a conference presentation, the text occurs within the specific confines of a presentation room at an academic conference.

As a research paper, the student’s text is part of a small conversation between her and her instructor in the small community of a first-year writing class. As a conference presentation, the community and conversation of her text got substantially larger: the community and conversation possibly involve a worldwide community of engineering and agricultural experts, researchers, and professionals.

 

Other Analysis

Research papers are common texts for students to prepare. It is important for students to be able to see their own writing projects in their own rhetorical situations. When they do so, students will be better able to communicate within the constraints of the rhetorical situations they find themselves in. The last example of a rhetorical situation is about a very common sort of text that many people may not have considered in rhetorical terms.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Example 3

Example 3: Grocery List

Finally, consider a simple (and fictional) grocery list. Identifying the basic components of text, author, audience, purposes, and setting reveals that even a simple text like a grocery list has its own specific rhetorical situation. This list was written by an elderly retired woman who sends her husband on an errand to the grocery store.

 

Text

The text is the grocery list itself. The grocery list is a handwritten list of five items. The list reads, “1% milk, whole wheat bread, non-fat grated mozzarella cheese, cookies for the grandkids (you decide), 8 bananas.” Notice how the varying specificity reflects the author’s varying attitudes of seriousness about what her husband buys. She is specific about everything except the cookies, which she is fine with letting her husband decide.

The grocery list is written on the back of an old receipt in black ballpoint pen ink. The author writes small to get the whole list on the back of the receipt. She relies on her years with her husband to know other specifics that are otherwise omitted from the list (e.g., whether he should get a quart or gallon of milk or whether he should get one or two loaves of bread).

The husband carries along his reading glasses, but even still has difficulty reading the small handwriting on the grocery list. The husband also relies on the conceptual tools he’s developed over decades of marriage to his wife. For instance, he knows that there is no more milk in the refrigerator at home, so he should buy a whole gallon of milk.

 

Author

Let’s say that this particular list is written by an elderly retired woman who sends her husband on an errand to the grocery store. She gives him a list of things to buy. Her background includes a few decades of marriage to her husband and all the experience (from her perspective) that suggests to her that she needs to give him a list to make sure he doesn’t forget anything.

 

Audience

The audience for this grocery list is the author’s husband who is an elderly retired man. He runs errands for his wife on occasion. Similar to his wife’s background, this husband has a few decades married to his wife and all the experience (from his perspective) that tells him he doesn’t really need the list his wife wrote him.

 

Purposes

The author’s purposes in writing the list are straightforward. She wants to make sure that her husband does not forget anything that she sends him to the grocery store to buy. Her attitude while writing the list is direct and serious. She doesn’t want him to forget anything!

The man who is the audience of the grocery list wants to buy the groceries quickly. While he does not mind running errands for his wife (and wants to be the kind of man who does nice things for his wife), he wants to hurry back and watch a ball game on television. This man’s attitude is slightly annoyed because he might miss the start of his game.

 

Setting

Let’s say this grocery list was written a year or so ago. It was written in the small home of the retired couple in Seattle, Washington, USA. It was thrown away in a garbage can outside the grocery store while the husband carried the few groceries back to the car. The community and conversation is narrow and intimate including only the elderly retired woman and her husband . . . that is unless someone different finds the list and discusses it with someone else. At that point, a different community and conversation has begun discussing the text.

 

Other Analysis

As should be evident from this example, even something as simple as a grocery list has its own rhetorical situation with an author and audience trying to identify their perspectives with each other.

Contributors:Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This presentation is designed to introduce your students to a variety of factors that contribute to strong, well-organized writing. This presentation is suitable for the beginning of a composition course or the assignment of a writing project in any class.

Conclusion

The preceding examples serve to illustrate some of the range of circumstances in which rhetorical situations can be found. But, really, rhetorical situations occur whenever one person attempts to communicate with another person. We could do the same activity with a painting, a work of fiction, a political debate, a film, a Facebook status update, a squabble between lovers, a personal journal entry, or any other act of communication. Invariably, all situations involving communication involve at least one of each of the following:

  1. a text in a particular medium, made with certain tools, and deciphered with certain tools;

  2. an author with a specific background;

  3. an audience with an equally specific background;

  4. purposes of both author and audience; and

  5. a setting in a particular time and place involving a certain community and conversation.


Understanding the factors that shape rhetorical situations make authors and audiences more aware of what goes into different acts of communication. Overall, understanding these factors helps people better understand the differing perspectives of others.