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The Rhetorical Triangle
by Aristotle
What is rhetoric?
• The art or study of using language
effectively and persuasively.
[American Heritage College Dictionary]
• “Rhetoric may be defined as the
faculty of observing in any given case
the available means of persuasion.”
Aristotle believed that from the
world around them, speakers
1. observe how communication
happens and
2. use that to develop sound and
convincing arguments.
• Aristotle said that when a rhetor
(speaker) begins to consider how to
compose a speech, he/she must take
into account 3 elements: the subject,
the audience, and the speaker.
The writer/speaker:
• evaluates what he/she knows already
and needs to know,
• investigates perspectives (researches),
• determines kinds of evidence or proofs
seem most useful (supports assertions
with appropriate evidence).
The writer/speaker:
• speculates about audience
expectations and knowledge of
subject, and
• uses own experience and observation
to help decide on how to communicate
with audience.
The writer/speaker uses:
1. who they are,
2. what they know and feel, and
3. what they’ve seen and done
to find their attitudes toward a subject
and their understanding of audience.
The writer/speaker uses different
approaches to influence the
audience’s attitude toward the
subject. These are:
1. Logos
2. Ethos
3. Pathos
The writer/speaker:
• offers clear, reasonable premises and
• develops ideas with appropriate
details, and
• makes sure readers can follow the
progression of ideas.
The writer/speaker uses it when:
• he/she demonstrates that they are
credible, good-willed, & knowledgeable
• he/she connects their thinking to the
reader’s own ethical or moral beliefs.
Audiences and speakers should assume
the best intentions and most thoughtful
search for truths.
The writer/speaker:
• draws on emotions and interests of
readers and
• highlights those emotions using
1) personal stories and observations
to provoke audience’s sympathetic
reaction and
2) figurative language to heighten
emotional connections.
“Ask not what your country can do for
you - ask what you can do for your
country.” John F. Kennedy
• calls attention to ethical qualities of
the speaker and listener (ethos)
• proposes a solution to the country’s
problems by enlisting the citizens’
help (logos)
• calls forth emotional patriotism
Context and Purpose
Context: the situation in which writing
and reading occur
Purpose: the emerging aim that
underlies many of the writer’s
Rhetorical Triangle Plus
The importance of context (the situation in
which writing and reading occur) is especially
obvious in comedy and political writing. One
reason comedy is difficult sometimes is that the
events alluded to are no longer current for
readers and the humor is missed. Students who
understand context learn how and why they
write differently in history class and English or
biology. Different contexts (such as letters to
the editor or study notes for other students)
highlights how context can alter rhetorical
choices in form and content.
Intention (or aim) is key to rhetorical
effectiveness. Words and forms carry writers’
intentions, but those aims can be
miscommunicated. Intention is sometimes
embodied in a thesis statement but is also
carried throughout a piece and often changes.
Visual rhetoric includes symbolic gestures, graphic
designs, and action shots in films.
For example:
Why does Picasso use color and action
in the way he does in Guernica?