Journal # 5: The Familiarly Unfamiliar – Rhetoric In Writing

When I was in college, our Biochemistry lab had scheduled an inspection. Inspection in my college, was a big deal because it reflected on the college’s rating and therefore the National accreditation. For this inspection, we students had to select a Biochemistry topic and make a model to showcase in our laboratory. I was in the second-year of college, and among so many things that I learned in Biochemistry, the most fascinating to me was the Watson and Crick’s DNA Double Helix structure – the basis of all life. So I chose to make a model of this structure. Although the topic is fascinating to me, it is not novel, and making a model that is both interesting and make students/professors/inspectors/passersby stop and look at it, was a challenge. I neither had the resources nor the technology to play with, to show this model. Upon much deliberation, I came up with a double helix model that used food grains, spices, and glue. And, this was a hit! Not only my creativity was recognized, but as per my primary purpose, many viewers stopped to see/touch this not-so-unknown model. Although I didn’t know how to define this, in hindsight I used rhetoric to analyze the situation, the audience, the constraints, the purpose and delivered results on the topic.

Yes, rhetoric is so familiar in our everyday attitudes and conversations, yet so unfamiliar in writing. It is a concept that humans have defined innumerable times and have been practicing since times immemorable, yet it is so intimidating perhaps because a rhetorical perspective is so valuable and there is no one-right-way to analyze it. In this post, I am speaking to myself and also those who find the rhetorical analysis in writing difficult; I try to define and reflect on rhetoric and see how understanding the rhetoric affects my writing projects.

Rhetoric is the relationship the writer/orator has with their audience. If the writer/orator has sustained the attention of the intended audience, and the article/speech has served its intended purpose, then they have a good understanding of the rhetoric. Rhetoric is making use of one, multiple or all the multimodal resources such as blogs, social media, telephone, television, etc., at the right time, expressing one or many points, sustaining the audience’s attention and generating the anticipated response. It is both crucial for effective communication and is hard to follow. Rhetoric, in other words, is a judgment call.

A rhetorical situation is the context of the writer/orator, the audience, the constraints surrounding the exchange of information through writing or speech, and the purpose of the dialogue. For example in a text conversation with a friend, the themes of rhetorical situation include but not limited to, the purpose of the communication, the level of friendship, the geographical location, the immediate surroundings of both the friends, the phone network, the phone device itself, etc.,. Understanding the context helps in using the right words, using the correct language and delivering the message according to the circumstances.

Although it may be slightly easier to analyze a person and the situation while meeting face-to-face, examining the rhetoric while reading or writing, in my opinion, is tougher, mainly because the reader/writer has to make some assumptions about the audience; sometimes these assumptions are right and sometimes wrong. The assumptions affect the language, the tone, and mode of communication, therefore affecting the composition and its purpose. Just as how a stand-up comedian tests out a few jokes at the start of their act and performs the genre of jokes that the audience for the day responded to, it is crucial to take an informed call about the audience and represent the information accordingly.

For me, as an article/blog writer, I think the awareness about the rhetoric helps me realign the goals of my composition. Claiming the purpose and intended audience in the first couple of paragraphs not only helps the audience anticipate the flow but also helps in establishing my credibility as a writer.  Awareness about the rhetoric also helps me understand my method of the appeal; whether I should use emotional appeals, logical appeals using graphs and charts, by associating myself with credible sources, or a combination. While in all my writing/oratory projects I have followed the general norm, I think incorporating rhetorical awareness in projects might assist in identifying a better way to represent information, therefore serving its purpose.

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