What is a Rhetorical Situation?

Published 31 Mar 2017

A rhetorical situation pertains to the circumstances of a rhetorical act, such as writing or speaking (Norquist 2008). It refers to the interplay of a rhetor (the speaker/writer), audience and purpose of the writing. Kunka adds three more elements- topic, context, culture (2006).

Several factors affect how a writer projects in his writing- age, experience, gender, location, political beliefs, parents, peers and education (Kunka 2006). These can influence the ‘voice’ of the words be it formal or informal. It provides an impression on the humanity of the writer and how he can connect with his readers/ audience.

The audience makes the second piece of the rhetorical situation. Knowing the target audience can affect the style and content of the text. The same factors affecting how a writer writes, such as age, experience, gender, et al. can also influence how the audience will react. For example, if one is writing for the Wall St. Journal, the angle will be more on the business side. The writing style will then be objective.

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But it is not enough to know the writer and the audience. It is also important to decipher the purpose or the objective of the writing. This objective will define how the text will flow, whether it will be expressive, objective or persuasive.

The writer, audience, purpose elements of a rhetorical situation is not complete without understanding the topic (the subject), and context (situation) and culture (background).

It is important to know this for the genre of writing hinges on the relationships of these elements. Thus is it important to know the different genres/ categories in writing, such as fiction, autobiographical, criticism (Kunka 2006), It will come handy in helping the writer adapt his writing style on the purpose, context, culture and his intended audience and be able to communicate appropriately.

Works Cited:

  • Kunka, J. “The Rhetorical Situations.” OWL Materials.
  • Norquist, R. “Rhetorical Situation.” About.com: Grammar and Composition. 2008.
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