Rhetoric is the art of using language effectively and, in modern usage, tends to refer particularly to persuasive writing. The rhetorical choices that you make as a writer will determine how effectively you connect with your readers.
What, Who and Why
Before you begin to write, it is important to ask yourself these three questions. What is your topic? Who do you intend to read your essay? Why are you writing about this topic for this particular audience? These questions address the first three considerations you must undertake as a writer: subject, audience, and purpose. Your essay will develop differently depending on how you answer these questions. For example, an essay on organic farming takes a different shape if a garden club is the audience than if a potential buyer of organic seed is your audience.
Structuring Your Essay
You will construct your essay based on how you answer those first three questions. However, in general, essays have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The body of the essay is where you will make specific decisions concerning structure. For example, you might compare and contrast two ideas, outline a procedure step-by-step or describe an event from your life. The essay's structure should reflect the purpose you chose.
Most essays seek to convince their audience of something, whether to agree with a point of view, purchase a product or accept an idea or theory. Finding reliable evidence is essential to presenting a quality essay. Each point that you make that is not common knowledge to your audience should be backed up by evidence. When choosing sources to use in your essay, it is also important to consider the source. Who is the author? Why should you trust her (and, therefore, why should your readers trust you)? Is there a reason why the author might misrepresent information on the topic? Generally, if you can find a broad consensus across several varied sources, you are on your way to presenting reliable information.
Addressing Alternative Viewpoints
Addressing alternative viewpoints is an important part of essay writing. This gives you a chance to refute the arguments your opponents might make before they even have a chance to make them. Ignoring alternative viewpoints may create the impression in readers who are aware of different points of view that you are unable to negate your opponents' arguments.
Speaking to Your Audience
As you begin to write your essay, it is especially important to keep your audience in mind. What will convince them to accept your point of view? Writers use different tones of voice depending on the audience they are addressing. For example, if you are trying to preserve a section of wetland, an emotional appeal to a bird-watching club might be effective. On the other hand, if your audience is a local business that you're tying to convince to support your efforts financially, a more analytical discussion of the costs and benefits to the company is more likely to be more effective.
- "The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching"; Randall VanderMey, Verne Meyer, John Van Rys, Dave Kemper, and Pat Sebranek; 2007
- "Crossfire: An Argument Rhetoric and Reader," second edition; Gary Goshgarian and Kathleen Krueger; 1997
- Photo Credit pen image by Mikhail Olykainen from Fotolia.com
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