RWU Writing Program Glossary


Audience, loosely defined, is the recipient for the communication. In most rhetorical situations, there are multiple audiences. There are the audience addressed, the audience invoked, a hostile audience, a supportive audience, an unintended audience, etc. The key to understanding audience is that it is never everyone. You must, as author, make choices and in making choices you shape your message to the audience you believe most likely to achieve your purpose.


Coherence is the logical connection that readers or listeners perceive in a written or oral text. Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.

Discourse Community

A discourse community is a group whose shared language practices work toward a shared goal or goals.  An introductory course in biology, a family, a group of Red Sox fans, New Historicist critics of Shakespeare—each of these social networks can be considered a discourse community.   The discourse community’s shared goals influence the genres it typically uses, its specialized terminology, and its expectations for effective communication.


Epistemology, a branch of philosophy, is the study of how we acquire knowledge and justified belief. In studying rhetoric as social-epistemic (acquiring and constructing knowledge in communities), we come to see knowledge and justification as situated in complex contexts and relationships. As readers, writers, and thinkers, we must unpack the complex situations and acknowledge our own limited access to knowledge and our own situated-ness in building justifications. We must also understand that no knowledge is free from the ideologies that produce it.


Exigence, or exigency, is the need to write or speak—the need to fill a gap, to communicate what the (rhetorical) situation demands. The perspective of the author (as she defines the rhetorical situation) will frame how the need is interpreted and met—one author, for example might see a crisis while another sees an opportunity.


A frame is a way of shaping or packaging a perspective on an issue or subject that leads to a (presumably) preferred reading. A disparate series of events may be framed differently to condense or hide significant differences for the purposes of shaping the audiences response to those events. Sustainability, for example, could be framed as a moral crisis or an economic opportunity.


A genre is a kind or type of text.  Lab reports, business plans, lesson plans, literature reviews, research proposals, annotated bibliographies—each of these genres, and many more—are taught across the university.   Being aware of a genre’s purpose, structure, content, and style can help one generate a text that responds to the rhetorical situation and advances discourse community aims.


An ideology is a set of beliefs, shared by members of a group or collective movement, organized into a doctrine that guides thinking and behavior. An ideology circumscribes thinking and entails commitment; hence an adherent will usually find it difficult to escape its grip. Our own ideologies are often “invisible” while the ideologies of others are blatantly obvious.

Inquiry-based Teaching and Learning

Inquiry-based teaching is predicated on the idea that projects begun with questions, curiosities, or puzzlements, rather than with a focus or thesis statement, encourage learner investment and encourage them to go beyond what they already know, making it more likely they will explore and learn something new.


Kairos is the right or opportune moment. Kairos in rhetoric is the ability to recognize and seize the opportunity to drive home an argument. Rhetoricians are taught to read and respond to changing circumstances and conditions and to employ the necessary and available means of persuasion in order to make use of these moments.


Literally thinking about thinking, metacognition is our ability to assess our own skills, knowledge, and learning.


Reading is the active decoding of any text in a way that reveals or produces meaning.  When the text being encountered is particularly complex (or new), active and sustained practice at fully decoding it—rereading—is necessary.

Recursive Writing Process

Recursive writing means “to write again:” when we talk about a “recursive process,” we are acknowledging the necessity of revisiting what has already been drafted in order to move to the next, better articulation of the idea being expressed. The recursive process always takes place over time, sometimes in collaboration, sometimes individually or in conference with the instructor.

Revision and Editing

Revision is a process of drafting and re-drafting in order to develop and refine ideas. Extended over time, revision enables students to participate in sustained critical reflection and synthesis.  Editing and proofreading are ideally final steps in this extended process, taking place only after the text has achieved adequate unity and development of the main idea.

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical appeals, or persuasive strategies, are used in arguments to support claims and respond to opposing arguments. A good argument will generally use a combination of all three appeals to make its case. Logos or the appeal to reason relies on logic or reasons supported by appropriate evidence. Logos often depends on the use of inductive or deductive reasoning. Ethos or the ethical appeal is based on the character, credibility, or reliability of the writer. Pathos, or emotional appeal, appeals to an audience's needs, values, and emotional sensibilities.

Rhetorical Purpose

Rhetorical purpose refers to the primary intent or goal of a text.  The most commonly cited rhetorical goals are to explore, to inform, to analyze, to synthesize, and to persuade.  A student text that includes multiple sources pulled together to solve a problem or prove a point is a synthesis; a student text that reports on the procedures and results of an experiment is informative.

Rhetorical Situation

The rhetorical situation involves the interplay between the speaker or writer’s purpose, her text, her audience, and the social context within which the communication occurs.

Sources/Standards of Evidence

Acceptable sources and standards of evidence vary depending on criteria of the relevant discourse community, including, more specifically, disciplinary and genre conventions.  Personal examples have no currency in most formal academic papers, but they can be highly valued in blogs.  Numeric evidence is seldom appropriate to literary analysis; citing patterns of metaphors is equally rare in lab reports written for chemistry.


Stance is your attitude toward your topic. The way you express that stance—your tone—affects the way you come across as a writer and a person.

Visual Rhetoric

Visual Rhetoric is the study and practice of using images or visual elements (including photographs, illustrations, charts, graphs, and typography) on their own and/or in collaboration with written texts to create an argument designed to move a particular audience.


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Introduction to Professional and Public Writing Copyright © 2020 by RWU Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.