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  • Writer's pictureMary Finch

Rhetoric for Writers: Intro

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Rhetoric is one of those things that seems intimidating until you unpack it, because once you unpack it you'll realize you already use rhetoric in your writing. Learning rhetorical terms is just about learning the language to describe and recognize the patterns of logic you are already using.

Why does learning the terms matter?

Did you know that in the development of languages, ancient cultures didn't have a word for the color blue. That's why in ancient Greek poems the ocean is "wine colored" and the sky is "copper" -- the ancient poets didn't have a word for blue.

This brings up the question: did these ancient cultures see the color blue. Some research with undisturbed indigenous cultures makes it seem like maybe they didn't, that we can't see or identify something if we don't have the language to talk about it.

So even though epanorthesis and anthimeria might already exist in your writing, without the language for it, you won't be able to identify it and use those rhetorical tools to their full potential.

What is rhetoric?

As I mentioned, rhetoric is patterns of logic. There is good rhetoric and bad rhetoric; effective and ineffective. But rhetoric exists everywhere: in poems, news briefings, song lyrics, stories of all genres, advertisements, political campaigns, and so much more! Sometimes it is used intentionally, and other times it is used accidentally. Anytime there is repetition, omission, addition, and use of direction/order, that is rhetoric.

One of my favorite illustrations when teaching writing and talking about rhetoric is to ask students to describe an advertisement or slogan that they remember or they felt was persuasive. And no matter how simple it is, we can spend the rest of the class period dissecting the persuasive patterns, dissecting the rhetoric.

Rhetoric can be found in any unit of logic: the ideas, the sentence structure, the words, or the phonemes (sound units within words). For example:

  • IDEAS: types of rhetoric that deal with ideas are similes, euphemisms, and allegory.

  • SENTENCE STRUCTURE: rhetoric in sentence structure can most commonly come from the repetition of parallel structure or by subverting the expectations of typical sentence structure, such as repeating conjunctions (polysyndeton) or removing conjunctions (asyndeton).

  • WORDS: word choice can reflect rhetoric through repetition, puns (paronomasia), and playing with parts of speech (anthimeria).

  • PHONEMES: the sound units within words can be used rhetorically most obviously through rhyme, assonance, and consonance.

I am sure you recognized some of those terms or ideas from literature or writing classes at some point. But these aren't just vocabulary words you need to memorize to pass a test. I think of them as cheat sheets. These are the tools that great authors use to create phrases, sentences, and stories that stay with their readers.

Editing for rhetoric

As your editor, when I am providing Content Edits, I am thinking about the rhetoric on all of the levels, checking to see if you have have used the patterns in your writing in the most effective manner.

These sorts of edits can clarify and enliven your writing, polishing what was already a stunning work of art.

If you want me to give your piece a look over and help you polish the rhetoric, just hit the contact button below.

And stay tuned! I'll be writing more about how to effectively use rhetoric on all levels of writing.

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