Understanding the Rhetorical Situation
Chapter 2 of The Call to Write introduces the abstract concept of a rhetorical situation and some other rhetorical terms that are probably new to you. In order to help you understand these unfamiliar concepts, it might be helpful to first define the term rhetoric. Although rhetoric is a word often used to suggest empty talk, flowery speech, or even dubious communication, the oldest definition of the term means something entirely different. Most simply, rhetoric refers to the purposeful use of language and images. It is communication that is purposeful because it is shaped by a writer (or speaker or artist) who has a purpose in mind, observes the rhetorical situation at hand, considers the available means of communicating to an audience, and produces some sort of text in light of these factors.
As you read chapter 2, you will find a definition of a rhetorical situation, or the situation that serves as a call to write. A writer who composes with purpose should interpret this rhetorical situation, choose a fitting genre for response, and develop a rhetorical stance that will help the writer communicate effectively. Any response—whether a letter, a poster, an essay, a poem, or something entirely different—reflects a writer’s stance, or reliance on ethos, pathos, or logos. Because facts alone are often not enough to convince readers to believe or act in a certain way, writers tend to use a combination of these three types of appeal in their compositions.
- Ethos refers to the sense of trustworthiness or credibility that the text or writer evokes.
- Pathos refers to an emotional appeal through words, images, or other parts of a composition that stir emotions in an audience.
- Logos refers to a writer’s use of logic, reason, and well-supported evidence in the message.
In sum, a writer makes rhetorical choices when crafting writing to respond to the unique rhetorical situation.
Analyzing the Rhetorical Situation
The second major assignment in this course asks you to produce a rhetorical analysis of a text of your choosing. You might be asking yourself how to get started with this task, but there are tips for choosing a text for analysis later in this lesson. Chapter 2 provides a road map for what sorts of reading and thinking you should do in order to analyze your text rhetorically.
When responding to any text, you will first want to read the text closely, underlining passages that draw your attention and jotting down questions or thoughts as they arise. This activity is called close reading. Close reading allows you to actively interact with a text, noticing not only what is being communicated, but how the writer has chosen to shape the communication.
Pages 42–43 of The Call to Write model description as a crucial element in rhetorical analysis. Note, however, that description is only one part of an overall analysis. The most essential part of analysis is identifying and reflecting upon a writer’s choices given the rhetorical situation being responded to. On pages 53–60 in The Call to Write, you will find additional guidance on how to conduct a rhetorical analysis and an example of a rhetorical analysis essay.