rhetorical triangle 4697

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rhetorical triangle 4697

The Rhetorical Triangle

When talking about the author, we do not simply want to know the name of the person who wrote the piece. We want to know who this person is and whether they are trustworthy (ethos). We also want to know what "persona" they are speaking as. For example, I might write a letter as a teacher, as a college graduate, as a friend, or as a concerned citizen. You have to think about what role the author was playing when they composed the piece.

If you are the writer, you want to consider who your audience is so you can decide how much they already know about the issue, how they feel about the issue, and what their expectations are. It is the same when considering for whom another writer was composing. For example, if one of my graduate papers was published in an educational journal and then you pick it up and read it, you must consider that my primary audience for that paper was my professor. The teachers who read the journal become a secondary audience (I may or may not have rewritten parts in order to make it publishable). You, a student, were never really considered a potential audience. I did not write the paper for you, even though you may now be reading it. You have to consider for whom the piece was originally intended.


When you consider the text, start by considering subject matter. Is this a subject worth writing about? What does the audience know about the subject? What claim does the text make? What support does it offer? What genre was chosen and why? For example, I could address the issue of rising taxes by writing a letter to the editor, writing a speech to make before the city council, or writing an e-mail to my local representative.

Another word for intention is purpose. Why was this piece written? To entertain? To inform? To persuade?

No one writes in a vacuum. There is always a context that must be considered. A writer (or reader) must think about the situation that prompted the piece of writing; historical background pertinent to the topic; attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of author and audience; and the cultural context the author was writing in. For example, when Upton Sinclair wrote his book, "The Jungle," he was responding to larger conversations about immigration and the effects of industrialization that were going on in America at the turn of the 20th century. Sinclair's book was his critique of capitalism and industrialization, even though his audience largely missed his main point. They read it as part of the discussion on food safety. Capitalism was already ingrained in the culture, but food safety was a current and important topic that affected them more personally.

A helpful link (check out the PowerPoint, too.)


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