Rhetoric is the use of persuasive speaking and writing which is intended to have an effect on the audience.


Uses of rhetoric

  • Argumentative writing. (Learn more about the argument section on the AP exam: Argument (AP Exam)
  • Your everyday life when talking to others.
  • Literature

Rhetorical Situation

This is the set of circumstances surrounding an act of rhetoric. These conditions are monumentally important when persuading.

  • Speaker: The speaker in the rhetorical situation is the one who is using the act of rhetoric and persuading their audience.
  • Audience: The speaker may have restraints on what they can say depending on what kind of audience they have and how they discuss the subject. For example, a teacher isn't going to discuss politics with a group of kindergarteners because they wouldn't understand or be interested.
  • Subject/Topic: The subject is the part of the rhetorical situation that the author specifically talks about.
  • Context: Literally meaning "with text," context is the circumstances surrounding a text. Its the where/when/what means of the text and the history/culture/medium of the text.
  • Constraints: Rules about what you cannot say. Your position sets harsh limits to your tone. Constraints suggest the best way to go about your argument so it is effective.
  • Purpose: The thing the speaker wants the audience to do.
  • Exigence: Urgency/cause of why the speaker is speaking.
  • Kairos: Ideal moment of delivery

When is Rhetoric Effective?

Rhetoric is effective when it achieves it's purpose.

Rhetorical Strategies

Rhetorical strategies are ultimately strategies that an author uses to persuade their audience.

How to Characterize Rhetorical Strategies

Especially in the Rhetorical Analysis section of the AP exam popular strategies to characterize are things like diction, tone, and arrangement.


An author's diction is what helps set the tone for their writing and how the audience is supposed to feel. Diction is simply just the author's words.

Characterizing Diction
  • Formal
  • Esoteric
  • Elevated
  • Grandiose
  • Pretentious
  • Didactic
  • Specialized
  • Vague
  • Abstract
  • Figurative
  • Loaded
  • Inclusive
  • Objective


Tone is the general attitude of a piece of writing and the mood it sets.

Characterizing tone
  • Disapproving
  • Empathetic
  • Frustrated
  • Compassionate
  • Humorous
  • Ironic
  • Resentful
  • Regretful


Arrangement is the organization of a speech or text in order to effectively persuade the audience.

Other Rhetorical Strategies

  • Alliteration: The repetition of the same initial consonants of words or stressed syllables in any sequence of neighboring words.
  • Allusion: An indirect or passing reference to an event, person, place, or artistic work.
  • Analogy: Comparing two things to explain a more complex idea in a simpler form.
  • Ellipsis: When one or more words are excluded from a sentence.
  • For more information on Rhetoric Devices and Strategies visit: Rhetorical Device
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