Write a brief response ( not formal) of how this chapter helps you to understand rhetoric and your assignment. If there are specific portions or examples in this chapter that helped you most, please identify them.


Chapter 2 Understanding Rhetoric

Goal: To recognize essential components of rhetoric and understand why and how

a text works.

2.1: Understand what rhetoric really is 2.2: Understand five key components of rhetoric 2.3: Understand the rhetorical situation Chapter 2 Project: Write an essay evaluating how well a text responds to a rhetorical situation

If you instructor has assigned them, you can watch the videos for this chapter,

complete the Reflect and Apply activities, and work on the Chapter Project in Achieve.


2.1: Understand what rhetoric really is

Even if you’ve encountered the word rhetoric, it’s probably not a word you use regularly. These days, it

often gets mentioned when people are unhappy about the words someone has spoken. For example,

when a politician talks about something he or she will accomplish, a political opponent might say,

“That’s just empty rhetoric!” In this sense, rhetoric has a bad reputation. Too often, rhetoric is

associated with someone using language to unjustly elevate their own position or to make their

opposition look bad.

In truth, rhetoric is by itself neither innocent nor powerful. What matters is how people use it.

Rhetoric is the practice of conveying an effective message to an audience. Sounds simple, right? Well, it

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is and it isn’t. Rhetoric is what allows people to express themselves clearly, understand one another, and

find solutions to common problems.

Examining the inspirational power of rhetoric Why do you need to know what rhetoric is and why it can be powerful? Because conveying messages is

what we all do every day of our lives. Even if you don’t consider yourself a rhetor—someone who uses

rhetoric—you are. You write emails, texts, social media posts, game chats, papers for school, and

countless other pieces at home, at work, and at play. When you use rhetoric in each of these situations,

you try to reach an audience and achieve a purpose. Maybe that purpose is to convince a friend that one

approach to solving a problem is better than another. Maybe you’re just trying to understand a different

perspective on a social issue. Or maybe you’re just trying to create a connection with someone.

Transferring these communication skills that you already have to college reading and writing adds

another strategy to help you make meaning in the world around you.

We’ve said that rhetoric is the practice of conveying an effective message to an audience. To

consider just how meaningful that is and to see how people create connections with rhetoric, let’s check

out some examples of rhetoric in action.


Neil Gaiman gives a powerful commencement speech. Speaking to the graduating class of 2012 at the

University of the Arts, writer Neil Gaiman encourages these aspiring artists to “make good art”

regardless of what life throws at them. He specifically connects to his audience—budding artists—by

elevating and valuing the work they want to pursue after graduation. With a good balance of humor and

seriousness, he says,

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Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa

constrictor? Make good art . . . Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil

or it’s all been done before? . . . Do what only you can do best. Make good art.

Watch the video of this part of his speech and listen to how well his remarks were received by his



VIDEO: https://bit.ly/2TNhWig


Hannah Brencher writes uplifting letters to strangers. After graduating from college, Hannah Brencher

fell into a depression. To try to heal herself, she began writing letters to strangers who she believed also

needed support—even if that support came from a stranger. She’d leave the letters all over town—on

park benches and subway trains—hoping that people would find them and their day would be brighter.

Eventually, she started a nonprofit organization called The World Needs More Love Letters

(www.moreloveletters.com) that sends bundles of handwritten letters to people nominated by their

friends and family. You can find videos of Brencher talking about the project and videos of people

receiving their letter bundles on YouTube.

Read the following excerpt from Brencher’s book If You Find This Letter to see how her mother’s

letter writing habit taught Hannah about the power of receiving a supportive love letter.

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As we waited for the train, I watched my mother wedge something into the belly of my

suitcase, with the hope I wasn’t looking. I tried to force myself to forget it was there. I fidgeted

and folded my ticket, waiting to leave. I knew it was a letter. It was always a letter.

My mother is a nostalgic creature. There are three things you should know about my

mother: The first is that she is always, somehow, the life of every party. The second is that any

person my mother has ever loved could tell you the exact way a kazoo sounds when it’s left in a

voice mail on your birthday. It’s nailed tight to my memories of growing up—watching her flip

through the pages of her address book and find the name of whoever it was she’d marked on

her calendar. I remember hearing the dialing of the cordless phone. My mother would wait. And

then the sound of a kazoo being played to the tune of “Happy Birthday” would stream

throughout the house.

The third thing to know about my mother is that she’s a nostalgic creature and I have to

believe she made me into one too. She’s hidden love letters for me to find all my life. There was

a note tucked on top of a piece of chocolate cake when heartbreak visited my freshman dorm

room for the first time. There was a card left on my dashboard the day after Whitney Houston

died. Confetti fell out from the inside. Musical notes skittered across the front. She wrote six

words to me in red Sharpie: And I will always love you. I am the product of my mother’s bread

crumb trails of love letters.

Every coming and going we’ve ever shared has been built up with letters, notes, trinkets,

and the like, as if tiny wedges of paper and confetti could keep a person always coming back.

She’d trailed tiny clues four years earlier as we moved me into my first dorm room. I found

letters tucked in plastic Tupperware bins and notes within books I hadn’t even opened yet.

Pieces of my mother would pop up and appear throughout the semester. In random classes. At

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staff meetings. On retreats. My mother is an expert at leaving evidence she was here in the lives

of everyone around her.

One of the notes she mailed to me in my first week of college included a long quote

she’d copied from O, The Oprah Magazine while sitting in a waiting room of a doctor’s office.

The quote was about a mother and a daughter. The final point of release. The girl was leaving,

marching into adulthood without her mother’s steady hand to hold. The girl turned at the door

and the mother went to reach out, wanting to tell her daughter one last thing, but she pulled

back instead. It was that moment when the mother finally had to say, “I’ve given everything I

can and I have to trust it is enough. She must go out there and see and feel and understand the

rest on her own.”

The breath fell out of me when I read that quote for the first time. I kept reading it out

loud. I felt bare and exposed through my mother’s scratchy handwriting whenever I read it. The

card with the quote inside of it somehow got lost and my mother couldn’t remember what issue

of O she found it within. I spent the next summer going through every O magazine at the town

library, looking for any last evidence the paragraph ever existed, but I never found it. I’m still


The letters from my mother kept coming throughout college. I was one of the only

students who had a reason to go to their PO box at the end of the day, and that was mainly

because my mother didn’t have a cell phone or text messaging or any kind of social network to

check into. I’d told her a bunch of times she should get a cell phone but she only ever said the

same thing back to me: “I’ve gone over fifty years without anyone needing to find me. Why start




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President Obama connects with Vietnamese female rapper. When world leaders make diplomatic trips

overseas, they typically meet with officials and host public appearances that include public speeches.

When President Barack Obama traveled to Vietnam in 2016, he hosted a town hall for the country’s

youth. In the crowd, a twenty-six year old female rapper named Suboi asked a pointed question about

women producing hip hop music that criticized certain parts of Vietnamese society. Their exchange

included Suboi asking a question about free speech and rap music in a country with strict free speech

laws. President Obama answered her with, “Before I answer your question, why don’t you give me a

little rap? Let’s see what you got.” This communication exchange conveyed a message from President

Obama that free speech was important and conveyed a message from Suboi that she was a voice for

that free speech. Take a look at that exchange in the following video.


VIDEO: https://bit.ly/2URJlzy






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Look for rhetoric in your everyday communication Now that you’ve seen that rhetoric exists all around us, think about the many ways you communicate in

your everyday life. When speaking face-to-face, we use non-verbal expressions and physical gestures

that give clues about the message we are trying to convey. When we text, abbreviations and emojis can

be a shared language. Even updating your status on Facebook or other social media sites is practicing


Write a paragraph explaining the variety of ways you communicate in a typical day. How

effective are those communications? How do you know?





Experience the power of rhetoric

Videos are multimodal forms of communication that can help us demonstrate how powerful rhetoric can

be. In September 2014, the rapper Prince Ea posted a video he created called “Can We Auto-Correct

Humanity?” on YouTube. Within three and a half years, it had over twenty million views. And as

TechTimes.com reported, “it garnered more than 150,000 shares within hours of its posting.”

The video is Prince Ea’s commentary on what he calls “media overstimulation.” In the video, he

laments that “touchscreens can make us lose touch” and suggests that Facebook ought to be called an

“anti-social network” because it sometimes prevents people from having true human connection.

Many who shared the video commented that it was an optimistic, uplifting message. It didn’t

motivate them to unplug from technology completely, but they claimed that it made them re-consider

their relationship to technology.

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As you watch the video yourself, think about what makes its message so attractive to some



VIDEO: https://bit.ly/1qRcEuZ



Plan a rhetorically effective message

Now it’s your turn to put your understanding of rhetoric into practice. If you wanted to communicate

your thoughts about the “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity” video Prince Ea produced, you would have to

think through a number of decisions:

1. What message would you want to convey? Would it be completely supportive, completely

unsupportive, or a mixed bag of response?

2. You’d need to think about the audience you’d want to reach. Who needs to hear your message?

Why that person or group?

3. What kinds of words and tone would you use?

4. You’d need to consider the form you’d want your message to take and how you would communicate

your message. If you’re trying to communicate with Prince Ea directly, is adding a comment to the

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thousands of comments already on the YouTube site the best way to reach him? Should you tweet

him? Should you research his management to get a mailing address and write a formal letter to him?

Write a paragraph or more explaining the message you would convey, the audience you’d hope to reach,

and the medium or form you’d use to reach that audience. Then, explain your rationale for those



2.2: Understand Five Key Components of Rhetoric Practicing rhetoric means you create texts in a particular way. You’re now composing not only with an

eye to what the text says, but also to focus on how the text works. How would a magazine article you

write engage its readers? If you owned a small business, how would you want to think about creating a

winning ad campaign? How would an award winning blogger decide what to write about for a specific

blog post? How does an activist raise awareness of a social cause? Writers use many strategies to create

and polish their messages, but to be effective, all writers must work with five key components of

rhetoric: purpose, audience, tone, genre, and context.


Considering Purpose, Audience, Tone, Genre, and Context

The five components of rhetoric work like individual pieces of a puzzle. Alone, they’re not very useful.

But when they are assembled well, they work together to create rhetoric.

● Purpose refers to the reason for creating a text and the goal the writer means to achieve. People

create texts for a wide array of purposes, including to make an argument, to offer social

commentary, to entertain, to reflect on an experience, and to conduct business.

● Audience refers to the intended or anticipated recipient(s) of the text or message. Audience and

purpose go hand-in-hand because the purpose can be achieved only if the message gets to the

appropriate audience.

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● Tone refers to the attitude the text conveys: grateful, hostile, condescending, playful,

indifferent. Effective texts have tones that suit their purpose and audience.

● Genre refers to the form the text takes. Formal letters, blogs, magazine articles, emails, text

conversations, and even tweets are all examples of genres. For your writing to be rhetorically

effective, it should appear in a genre that will appeal to the targeted audience and allow the text

to achieve its purpose.

● Context refers to all the situations and backstories swirling around the text, including recent

events and previous exchanges between the author and this audience.


Using the five components of rhetoric to understand a text

Rhetorically approaching a text—and by “text,” we mean any kind of written communication—involves

asking a lot of questions about it. It’s a bit like seeing an illusionist pull off a mind-blowing trick, then

spending the rest of the evening asking your friends who were also at the show how he did it.

When you encounter a text and are trying to figure out its message, you have to consider all five

components of effective rhetoric and start asking questions. Answering these questions will help you

not only engage with a text but to understand its rhetorical effectiveness in conveying a message. Then,

when you compose a message, you will be able to ensure it is rhetorical.

● What’s the text’s purpose? What is this text trying to achieve? Why does it exist? What’s it

trying to accomplish? What does it want the audience to do or think after engaging with it? How

can I tell? What about the text clues me in to its purpose? What can I learn about the purpose

from the title or subheadings? What can I learn about the purpose from the content of the text


● Who is the text’s audience? How can understanding the purpose give me clues about who the

specific audience might be? Who is this text appealing to? How can I tell? Is the probable

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audience hostile, friendly, or indifferent? What in the text gives me clues? Does anything in the

text—such as “My fellow Americans” or “Hi Facebook peeps!”—identify specific audience


● What is the text’s tone? Given the purpose and audience you’ve identified, what kind of tone

would be appropriate? Formal? Casual? Hostile? Friendly? Considering those expectations can

help you look deeper into the tone to see if it matches your expectations. How does word choice

or formatting help set the tone? Do some words have a strong emotional resonance? If so, what

emotions do they evoke? Does the text include visual elements that contribute to the tone such

as written words in ALL CAPS or images that reinforce the text’s message?

● What is the text’s genre? Remember that genre is the form the message takes, like a meme, a

text message, web page, academic essay, or newspaper article. What’s the genre of the text

you’re encountering? What are some features of that genre? How do written words generally

appear? How are the words formatted? How are visuals typically used? What kinds of visuals are

typically used?

● What’s the context surrounding the text? What’s going on in the world or in the community

that may have prompted the writer to write? To what is the writer responding? What larger

conversation is going on that this text might contribute to?








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Think about the five components of rhetoric

We’ve encouraged you to think about rhetoric as having five key components: purpose, audience, tone,

genre, and context. We’ve suggested that you approach a text by asking questions to understand how

these five components function together in a text. But we don’t expect that this all comes easily.

What component of rhetoric seems most difficult to grasp at this point? Reflect on this

component and write a short response about your concerns. What about it is confusing or makes you

wonder how you’d incorporate it in your own writing?



See how the five components of rhetoric work together in a text

Now let’s take a look at how we can study a text to determine its purpose, audience, tone, genre, and

context. Later, you can use those skills to compose your own rhetorically effective writing. We’ve

annotated the following article to show you how it contains all five of the key components of rhetoric. As

you read, think about which parts of rhetoric you don’t yet deeply understand, and look to see how the

author uses them.


Foster School of Business, University of Washington

Growing Social Movements Through Reason, Not Disruption

The following article was published in 2015 on the Faculty Research page of the website of the

Foster School of Business, University of Washington. The purpose of the site is to promote the school and

to share news of faculty research with the university community and the general public. This article

focuses on research by assistant professor Abhinav Gupta, who had recently published a study on social

activism in a scholarly journal.

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When campaigning for social change, disruptive protests may win a few battles, but

efforts to educate are more likely to win the war. (Audience: The writer states the main point of

Gupta’s research up front, in language that will be understood by the general public)

This according to new research by Abhinav Gupta, an assistant professor of strategic

management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. (Purpose: This paragraph

hints at the article’s purpose: to explain Gupta’s research to people interested in the topic.)

Gupta’s study of the effectiveness of activist efforts indicates that disruptive tactics such

as protests and sit-ins can yield some immediate, localized success, but they do little to expand

the objectives of a cause more broadly.

Evidence-backed education efforts, on the other hand, prove more potent at persuading

even leaders of organizations not targeted by activists. By appealing to their rational decision-

making processes, activists can generate a spillover effect in their campaign for change.

This “contagion” can multiply their impact and grow a movement exponentially.

“Disruption plays a role in terms of raising attention and bringing awareness to an

issue,” says Gupta. “But if it’s used exclusively, it can turn off a lot of people and be very limited

in its effectiveness. We find that evidence-based education proves more effective at achieving a

campaign’s larger goals.”(Genre: The writer follows typical conventions of news articles, stating the

most important information in the opening paragraphs and using short paragraphs with interesting


Act locally, think globally

Racial equality. Environmental protection. Same-sex marriage. Gender pay equity. A living wage.

The list of causes that inspire people to organize for change is long and unending. (Context: The

writer acknowledges the larger social context that makes Gupta’s research relevant and timely.)

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But the resulting campaigns for social change—often described as “grassroots” efforts—

typically have far fewer resources and capabilities than the organizations they endeavor to


So activists are forever calculating the way to maximally multiply their impact. Gupta

says that they often target a few influential organizations—universities, corporations,

government agencies—that are likely to set the standard for peer institutions.

A textbook example of this strategy is the “Rein in Russell” campaign engineered by a

group called United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in 2009.

To make progress toward its ultimate goal of improving working conditions in

developing countries, the group went after the apparel manufacturer Russell Athletic which had

recently closed a manufacturing facility in Honduras after efforts to unionize its 1,300 workers.

To pressure Russell to reopen a fully unionized plant, USAS targeted the company’s biggest

organizational customers: universities. Not all of them, but a select group of influencers.

Rein in Russell achieved success quickly. Within a year, the campaign reached critical

mass. More than 75 major universities pledged to cut ties with Russell if it didn’t reopen the

unionized factory. And the company gave in to growing financial pressure. (Tone: The writer

remains neutral and objective while describing events, as is appropriate for a news article.)

Hearts and minds

Gupta’s interest in Rein in Russell began while he was in graduate school at Pennsylvania State

University, where the campaign was born.

What he found most intriguing was that so many of the universities that got on board

came to this decision without even being targeted by activists.

How did they do it? What tactic triggered this spillover effect, this contagion to change


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To find out, Gupta and co-authors Forrest Briscoe and Mark Anner analyzed the strategy

and tactics of the campaign, and interviewed activists and university administrators—from both

targeted and untargeted schools.

They learned that the USAS activists deployed two very different tactics to rein in

Russell: disruption and evidence-based education. They first tried disruption, acting on what

Gupta calls a longstanding intuition that localized protests expand impact by prompting

organizations to surrender pre-emptively.

So the students fomented protests and sit-ins, which persuaded a few of the targeted

universities to drop Russell. But they found that disruption and the threat of disruption did not

lead to anything like the domino effect they desired.

“We found that those tactics didn’t have a positive spillover effect,” Gupta says. “They

were effective where they were deployed. But peer universities that weren’t protested did not

join the cause. Their administrators would say that other universities did not make their decision

rationally, that they caved in to intimidation.”

What did get the ball rolling across the nation’s major universities was a change in

tactics. USAS organizers brought workers from Russell’s shuttered factory on a limited campus

tour to share their stories of abuse.

This new approach, Gupta says, was “purely intended to change minds and values.”

And it was hugely effective.

Know your target

Why did it work?

Gupta says the evidence-based tactics appealed to the sense of reason that drives

organizational decision making.

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“Instead of justifying decisions in terms of right versus wrong, which is a question of

values and morality, organizational decision makers—university administrators and corporate

executives—work by the principle of rationality,” he says. “This is to say that there should be a

reason that you can justify for its service to organizational goals.”

Those goals may be maximizing profits or galvanizing reputation or recruiting the best


Gupta believes that knowing how to speak to these organizational goals is the key for

would-be agents of social change to multiply their local actions into global results.

He adds that organizations, for their part, can avoid some of the bad publicity and lost

productivity that are byproducts of disruptive demonstrations by proactively giving audience to

activist groups, hearing their concerns and communicating the reasoning behind organizational

policies and behaviors.

The place for protest

Though the study finds that education is one of the most effective social activist tactics in the

long term, Gupta says it also reveals that disruptive tactics have a role to play as well.

First, disruption can apply enough pressure to be locally effective. Beyond that, protests

and other disruptions can serve as a precursor for more broadly effective demonstrations of

education and reasoning. By drawing attention and raising awareness to the cause (if not

universal sympathy), they can pave the way for more rational messages to convince

organizational decision makers to change their policies.

“There is a place for disruption,” Gupta says. “Evidence-based tactics and disruption-

based tactics have a kind of good cop/bad cop dynamic. Disruption gets attention. Evidence …

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