Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers to inform, persuade, or motivate audiences. According to Aristotle "Rhetoric is used to contribute to the decision making of people"; yet to this writer it seems that few people understand the need for argument, and fewer still make use of rhetorical tools correctly.
There are many keys to sentence structure. When you have an important point to get across it is certainly true that your argument must be sufficient, and the words you select should be elegant, or perhaps focused. The grammar used should be both correct and supportive of the argument and the words used convincing, but the technical elements of language alone are not enough.
Many years ago I read a work by a 19th-century philosopher who was criticising another viewpoint; this work had every element of discussion, argument and rhetoric deployed within it. This work was more than 100 pages long and I later discovered that the piece being critiqued was only a 16 page pamphlet; which proves that arguing against any idea means that a writer must break down each component and discuss the merits and demerits of each. Perhaps the critique was over-officious, but it is rare to find such analyses in the modern era.
The point of argument or rhetoric is how the position is explained, through precise word selection and sentence structure, but those alone are not enough. The work needs to feel alive and relevant, not merely the words of a closed volume hidden away in a long forgotten academic archive, but something that impacts the actions that each reader needs to take.
Adding Words to Improve Meaning
Effectiveness and elegance are largely a matter of personal taste and preference and will impact each reader differently. Yet effective writing should anticipate a reader's needs and respond appropriately in this regard. When sentences convey more information they are more effective than when they convey less, indeed in many ways adding words increases the impact of our sentences and improve our writing. Each should bring ideas into clearer focus by adding explanations or further details that aid the understanding of the reader. Of course, we should avoid needless words, those words that pad without deepening understanding or adding detail, but it is necessary to respond to the situation and provide greater clarity.
Indeed elegance could be described as flowery or emotive words, yet they are not always effective in winning the argument, as the emotive element has to be combined with proof, which may be based on formula or statistics; where an elegant idea alone may flounder. It's one thing expressing an idea prettily and quite another doing it with flair and effectiveness. Emotions can move people, but the mind needs and demands something more; it needs a compelling argument.
Rhetoric focuses on motive and impact. Rhetorical argument is essentially a persuasive argument that makes use of the character and reputation of the writer/speaker, appeals to emotion, and applies reason and by logic never contains fluff. It is about ways to grab and hold the attention, while focusing on the problem at hand, of course the language used is sharp and precise in order to empower the point being made.
Elegance and effectiveness enable rhetoric through the use of emphatic and forceful language, it starts with an enthralling headline, speaks with power, uses the relevant amount of emotion and facts.
Have you ever listened to the type of politician that reinforces each point by banging the rostrum? They are attempting to use power to enforce the logic of their argument, hit the right point, and they tweak your emotions, but such tub-thumping rarely has a lasting effect. On the other hand, Richard Toye suggests "One aspect of Margaret Thatcher's legacy that deserves attention is her use of rhetoric and the way in which, to a great degree, she helped reshape the language of British politics as well as the substance of policy"
These are words that used in a particular way that aims to convey meaning and persuade:
- Allusion - reference an event, literary work, or person
- Amplification - repetition of words or expressions to add emphasis
- Understatement - make an idea less relevant than it is
- Analogy - compares different things having similar characteristics
- Metaphor - compare two things by stating one is like the other
- Antithesis - makes a connection between two things
- Metanoia - correct or qualify a statement, perhaps another person's error
- Epizeuxis - repetition of a single word for added emphasis
- Epanalepsis - repeats words from the beginning of a sentence at the end
About Peter Giblett
Peter Giblett, is a writer, editor, and moderator and is currently seeking new writing/editing engagements and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has recently created a new blog at http://sticksandstones.postach.io/ and continues to write and moderate for wikinut.
Credits: Rhetoric Tree: Peter Giblett