Rhetorical Knowledge

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to apply rhetorical concepts (audience, purpose, exigence, kairos) to academic, public, and/or professional situations. 

Rhetoric is not just about what you say or write; it is also about how you say or write it. As Aristotle famously noted, rhetoric is about persuading your audience (to think in a certain way, to take a particular action). In How Writing Works, you have learned how the rhetorical appeals work when addressing your audience.  You practiced  establishing your credibility (appeal to ethos) so that your audience will trust you. You paid attention to your audience’s values and emotional attachment to those values (appeal to pathos) when choosing your evidence and tone. You have logically connected your claims and your evidence (appeal to logos) to achieve a clear purpose the audience can identify.  Also, as academic writers, you gained some experience with assessing your rhetorical situation.

Introduction to Professional and Public writing expands your knowledge of rhetoric:  you will learn more rhetorical concepts, new applications of rhetoric to your writing processes, and additional rhetorical strategies. With a greater understanding of how rhetoric works, you will effectively approach, study, and engage all sorts of problems relevant to your various fields of study.

The chapters  in this section provide new perspectives on your practice of rhetoric.

Rhetoric gives an overview of how rhetoric works and explains its relationship to writing effective texts. This chapter also defines rhetorical terms that appear throughout the book.  It sets the foundation for thinking rhetorically about problems that matter.

Writing Your Audience into Your Text presents audience as something more than a passive recipient of a message. Instead, this section encourages you to have a dynamic relationship with your audience even as you begin your reading and research and then into the construction of your text.  It introduces you to the idea of “stakeholders,” members of the community to whom a problem matters, and then outlines a process of question and answer you can have with a range of stakeholders impacted by the problem.  By imagining what your stakeholders would say as you think through your ideas,  you will create texts that stimulate response and action, rather than mere opinion, because your audience will recognize you have taken them into account as partners in the activity of problem-solving.

Rhetorical Situation, Exigence, and Kairos explains how a rhetorical situation comes into being.  In previous writing classes, your rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, text, social context) was usually given to you.  However, there is a backstory to any rhetorical situation—why the situation even exists.  This section details the ways in which exigence (the need to speak or write) gives rise to your purposes for writing a particular type of text with a particular audience in mind. The section also discusses why exigence and kairos (the right or opportune time) together are at the source of any rhetorical situation.  Knowledge of exigence and kairos are essential for writers who are engaged in inquiry and writing about complex problems:  being aware of why you need to contribute to the matter at hand and why it’s timely to do so will help you produce purposeful and well-focused, persuasive documents.

Visual Rhetoric  discusses the need for creating rhetorically sound texts through the use of  photographs, drawings, symbols, charts, maps, color, shapes, typography, and white space, among others.  Typically, we think of rhetoric in its written form. However,  more than ever, we live in a world where images  communicate meaning.  This section explains that in order to be responsive to how readers receive and interact with information, writers in professional and public settings should consider designing documents that contain culturally-aware visual messaging.

Textual Circulation illustrates why, in the digital age, being cognizant of where your documents go once you hit “send” is important.  Using the example of memes, this section discusses how your documents can take on new rhetorical meaning when they are shared, augmented, and repurposed. It also explains how you can fine-tune the problem you are investigating if you trace the sets of texts that have been circulating about the problem. This section offers guidance about textual circulation when working collaboratively in a community or organization, particularly when creating internal as well as external documents.


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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.