Posted by: The kidCourses Crew
Whenever you find yourself communicating with the intent of modifying someone’s or a group’s perspective, you are within a rhetorical situation. This unique context encompasses a topic, listeners or readers, and specific boundaries. Each time you write an essay, have a verbal discussion or listen to a debate, it happens within the invisible bubble of a rhetorical moment. This special situation comes with accessories that include a problem, and audience and constraints.
Exigence is another word for a problem or issue. A rhetorical problem must be open to change. For example, a historical incident, such as the death of Queen Victoria, is not open to change, no matter how much you discuss it. In contrast, how people view Queen Victoria’s influence on fashion trends is not a fixed event and is open to discussion.
Listeners or readers are critical to a rhetorical situation. They are the ones that you set out to persuade. Once convinced, the audience members must take action to make positive changes.
The third component of a rhetorical situation involves constraints. These include the writer or speaker, his or her purpose, the genre of the essay or speech, the characteristics of the audience, the setting, the context of the situation and the culture that surrounds it.
As the writer or speaker in a rhetorical situation, your age, experiences, education and beliefs all affect your persuasive power. For example, if you are a 14-year-old speaking to a group of parents, you generally have less authority than if you are speaking to a classroom full of kindergarteners. However, if you are an expert on butterflies with the education to back up your expertise, an audience will respect your knowledge no matter your age.
The reason behind your essay or speech affects how you deliver it as well as how the audience receives it. If you are discussing a topic like comic books simply to entertain people and interest them in reading comic books too, your language and approach will be casual and humorous. This puts your audience at ease and draws them in.
If your purpose is to shock readers into taking action to change a serious problem, your language will be powerful and your manner more intense, capturing the attention of readers from the start. Other purposes that drive a rhetorical situation include informing, educating or calling people to action.
The genre, or text, of your communication is another decisive factor. If you are writing to persuade, then you could write an essay, a piece of fiction, a criticism of a topic or a news article. The issue at hand often helps you select the best genre. For instance, when you wish to persuade your audience to contribute to a good cause, you might opt to write a news story that provides them with all of the information they will need to make a positive decision.
The age, education, experiences and expectations of your audience also have a role in the rhetorical situation. When raising money for a school band trip, for example, knowing your audience is critical to the approach you should take. If you are speaking to band parents, you can assume they understand the importance of the trip and are already sympathetic to your cause. In contrast, if you are speaking to town leaders, you are addressing people with varied backgrounds who may not have any idea about the importance of your cause. You will have to provide far more background information, examples and persuasive techniques.
The physical setting of your rhetorical situation can strengthen or weaken the power of your communication. For instance, it is easier to persuade a group of classmates to help clean up the city park if they can see firsthand how littered it has become.
This painting by James Swan shows a potlatch, a shared cultural experience of the Klallam tribe.
Culture sets the scene in any rhetorical situation. It not only encompasses the experiences you share with your audience, your common educational background and beliefs but also the shared history behind them. Culture is the common ground that links your ideas and concerns with those of your listeners.
By considering each factor that affects the rhetorical setting, you can craft your argument to be as effective as possible. You may also be able to adjust some of the factors to make the situation more receptive to your powers of persuasion.
Today’s Activity for Kids
Identify the factors that shape the following rhetorical situation:
During a student council meeting at her middle school, Jenna tells the story of a boy in her class whose family home was destroyed in a recent fire. She asks the other student representatives to agree to donate part of the money the group earned selling snacks at sports events to help the family in need.
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.
Contributors: Ethan Sproat, Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2012-04-27 10:56:23
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.