13 Rhetorical Context and Rhetorical Appeals


Rhetorical Context

Every time we communicate there is a context surrounding the conversation. We like to think about this as the rhetorical context. To break down the rhetorical context surrounding the conveyance of a message, we can consider what is called the rhetorical triangle.

The three sides of the rhetorical triangle are author, audience, and purpose.

The author is the person who is conveying the message. We need to know about the author in order to understand how they would likely address an issue.

The audience is the person who is receiving the message. We must know about the audience so that we can determine how they would take the message, what they will understand and relate to, etc. If you do not fully understand who your audience is, you will not be able to complete a successful rhetorical analysis.

The purpose is the why. Why is this author telling this audience this information? Do they wish to inform the audience? Do they want the audience to buy something? Knowing their purpose for writing helps you to analyze their rhetoric. Be aware that sometimes they may have a primary and secondary purpose. For example, the ASPCA may want to inform its audience about animal abuse so that they will adopt animals from humane societies.

Here are some great exercises your Instructor may ask you to complete that focus on rhetorical context.
Analyzing Audience in Advertisements 
Audience and Purpose Exercise


The Rhetorical Appeals

Aristotle determined that there were three rhetorical appeals, or different ways that an author can attempt to persuade their audience. These rhetorical appeals are , , and .

Logos is the logical appeal. This is going to be how an author supports their claim. What reasons and evidence to they give? The evidence can be the hard data support which usually takes the shape or form of numerical data, statistics…etc. It can also include personal experience or expert testimony.

Ethos is all about ethics and credibility. It refers to the credibility of your sources as well as you and the way you present the information. What makes your sources believable? Is it education, experience…etc.  Do you present the information fairly in that you consider more than just one point of view? We see appeals to ethos happening frequently in advertisements and infomercials. If you go on Instagram, for example, you will see that Kylie Jenner posts a lot of ads on her profile for different products. These ads are produced because in some way Kylie has ethos with her audience. They will purchase something because they trust her opinion.

Pathos which is the emotional aspect of reasoning. Most arguments can be associated with the emotional desires of “want” or “need.”  We must remember when we discuss pathos that we are discussing the emotions that the argument is making the audience feel. Emotion is a powerful tool but one must be careful not to overwhelm the reader with it. A great example of pathos is the first five minutes of the Disney movie, Up. In these first few minutes a backstory is told and the story evokes emotional responses within the audience that help them connect to the main character in the story.

These appeals are very important to understand because they become the basis of all arguments. Understanding what they are and more importantly, how to use them when you create your own arguments is fundamental in writing arguments. When combined and used in conjunction with the rhetorical context–its like magic. Learn them well!


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Writing and Rhetoric by Heather Hopkins Bowers; Anthony Ruggiero; and Jason Saphara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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