Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis: Week 1

“Rhetoric,” wikipedia

The article defines rhetoric as discourse, i.e. a conversation, meant to inform an audience and improve the capabilities of the writers or speakers. Wikipedia as a platform is a kind of digital conversation between various contributors, editors, readers etc. It’s flawed certainly, but it is also an incredible constantly evolving and expanding source of knowledge that could not exist without collaboration. The central figure in Western rhetoric is Aristotle, who defined rhetoric as, “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”

The five cannons of Western rhetoric are invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. They are the basis of teaching rhetoric and oration. As the article states, they are a guide for creating a persuasive argument. Invention is the beginning of the process in which the author decides what they would like to say. Arrangement and style are concerned with how the author presents their ideas and what tools they use to do so. Memory and delivery are concerned with the actual presentation of the information.

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric is broad, and purposefully so. The ability to make observations and present a convincing argument using those observations is an essential skill in all fields. Scientists do it on a regular basis. Graduate students and doctoral candidates applying for research grants do it regardless of their area of study. The ability to make a point clearly and to use the information at your disposal in order to do so is the most basic and necessary tool of communication.


Laura Bolin Carroll’s “Backpacks vs Briefcases: Steps toward Rhetorical Analysis”

Bolin defines rhetoric as the way we use language and images in order to persuade. From what I understand of Carroll’s discussion of Bitzer’s article, a “rhetorical situation” is when rhetorical analysis is applied to media in order to solve or respond to some sort of problem. The three components of a rhetorical situation are exigence, audience and constraints. Exigence is the recognition of a problem to be solved using rhetoric. Audience is the intended recipient of the rhetorical message. Constraints refer to the limitations of the rhetorical situation that effect the exigence. It is important to understand the three components of a “rhetorical situation” in digital composing because rhetorical situations are all around us, especially in the form of advertisements. It is essential to understand the messages we create and their effects as well as the effects digital rhetoric has on our daily lives. We need to be able to be critical about source, audience and the consequences of digital compositions.

Aristotle’s “rhetorical triangle” consists of writer, reader and purpose. Writer is the source of the rhetoric and asking questions about the writer helps the reader, or the audience of the rhetoric, determine whether the source is credible. The purpose of the rhetoric helps the reader understand what the rhetoric is intended to achieve. The rhetorical triangle is similar to Bitzer’s components of a rhetorical situation because it encourages the analyst to question the source of rhetoric as well as its intended audience in order to come to a conclusion about its intended message. As Carroll points out, rhetorical analysis is about determining credibility and that is an essential life skill in general.

Since I began my path to an IMS minor I have found myself asking questions about media in casual contexts. When I watch television I analyze the visual elements of commercials—the lighting, the subject and how it is displayed, the colors and the camera angles— as well as the music and other audio elements, the network on which it is aired and the sponsor. From there I find myself making conclusions about the intended audience or the angle the writers and composers of the media were attempting to manipulate in order to sell an idea to a viewer. I have come to realize that advertising is less about the sale of a product or the promotion of a cause then a sales pitch to people in their living rooms about an idea. The sale of what the cause or product represents (or rather what the seller wants it to represent) is more important even than the product itself.


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