The rhetorical situation consists of a few different elements that the writer must consider when planning and writing an effective essay. The reader must consider his or her place within the rhetorical situation as they critically read a work in order to better understand the work’s general argument. A rhetorical situation has four components which include audience, purpose, persona and context. The audience includes the readers who your essay is implied to, the purpose is the reason for your writing, the persona is the way the author is presenting themselves in their writing, and the context includes the factors that influence writing such as their background history. These components are what make up a rhetorical situation and without them there is no rhetorical situation.
One of the first components of the rhetorical situation includes the audience, which is who the writing is directed to. In this case, the audience would be our professor. According to the CSUS Student Writing Handbook, “Sometimes teachers will play the role of “interested reader” and read your writing just to find out what you’re thinking or to get to know you better as a writer and a thinker” (29). When our professor reads our writing it gives them a better understanding of the writer, their thoughts, and imaginations expressed in words. Every kind of writing has its own audience they imply to and therefore it is important for a writer to know who their audiences are. Knowing your audience helps you to make decisions about what information you should include, how you should arrange that information, and what kind of supporting details will be necessary for the reader to understand what you are presenting. Audience also influences the tone and structure of the document. In Craik’s article, “Memory Changes In Normal and Pathological Aging,” he states, “Declining memory abilities are reported by virtually all older adults and give rise to the greatest number of complaints about aging in older people” (343).
This shows that the audience Craik is mostly implying to would be older adults because those are the kinds of people who experience declining memory loss. As stated in the CSUS Student Writing Handbook, “Your audience will affect your purpose for writing, the persona you take on, and the way you develop and organize your text” (29). This clearly shows how important audience is and how much it affects the other components of the rhetorical situation such as purpose, persona and text. One of the second components of the rhetorical situation would be the purpose which is the writer’s reason for writing such as to inform, entertain, explain or persuade. The purpose of an article is typically included in the introduction to give the reader an accurate, concrete understanding of what the document will cover and what the audience can gain from reading it.
According to the CSUS Writing Handbook , “A writer’s purpose could include the goals the writer has for her writing, the purpose that’s set out for the writer in a teacher’s assignment, and the influence of factors like the audience the writer is addressing or the type of writing” (29). The purpose can also be described as the goals the writer is trying to accomplish in their writing for its audience to know what the article is about. It is important for readers to recognize that behind every text is a writer, and that the writer has a purpose or reason for writing and a particular point of view. For example, in the article “Memory Changes in Normal and Pathological Aging”, the purpose of this article was to inform others how memory loss occurs as one ages. A writer can have many purposes such as to inform the reader by providing them information, persuade or influence, and entertain. In this case Craik was trying to inform his audience in his article by giving factual information about memory loss and its symptoms.
Persona is another component of the rhetorical situation which is the way the writer presents there selves in the text. Many concepts such as the way the writer includes voice, tone, attitude and the words they use in a text describes the persona of an article. As stated in the CSUS Student Writing Handbook, “The persona you take on in your writing will depend on your purpose for writing, the subject you’re writing about, the audience you’re writing to, the type of text you’re writing, and the context for writing” (29).
For example, if an authors tone is very serious in their writing with many facts, information and research included, then their writing would most likely pertain to people like scientists, doctors or researchers. Therefore, this is how the persona of an article can easily shape their audience because of the kind of tone the author displays. In the article “Memory Changes in Normal and Pathological Aging”, Craik presents himself with a more serious tone and goes straight to the point. How he stated facts and statistics on memory loss creates the persona of his article.
One of the last components of the rhetorical situation would be the context. As mentioned in the CSUS Student Writing Handbook, “The context of a rhetorical situation includes all the broader social, cultural, and historical factors that can influence writing” (29). This includes such information such as the background information of the author like where they are from or their history as a writer, it can include their cultural background, information on where and when they created their writing, or the history of the rhetorical situation. In many kinds of articles the authors clearly state personal information about themselves such as where they were born or other information to give their reader a better understanding of them. According to Bazerman, “The conversational model points up the fact that writing occurs within the context of previous writing and advances the total sum of the discourse” (658).
By this quote Bazerman means that context can also include others past experiences that the writer has learned about. “Context could also be related to the type of text you’re writing—for example, in a timed essay test factors like how long you have to write and how broad or narrow the questions are will have a major effect on what you say and how you say it”, as quoted in the CSUS Student Writing Handbook (29). Therefore, not only does context include background history of an author, but context can also include instructions when you are witting a timed essay. Whenever we write, whether it’s email to a friend or a toast for a wedding, an English essay or a resume, we face some kind of a rhetorical situation. The term the “Rhetorical Situation” is used to refer to all the features of audience, purpose, persona and context. These are all important elements that we need to think about carefully because it becomes a part of our everyday lives.
Bazerman, Charles. “A Relationship between Reading and Writing: The Conversational Model.” College English 41.6 (1980), 656-661.
Craik, Fergus I. M. “ Memory Changes in Normal and Pathological Aging.”
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 53.6 (2008): 343-345
Melzer, Dan, et al, eds. Student Writing Handbook.
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento State University, 2009.