Rhetorical Modes for Paragraphs & Essays

Rhetorical modes are ways of using language that are particularly suited to particular purposes or audiences. Rhetorical modes (also known as modes of discourse) describe the variety, conventions, and purposes of the major kinds of language-based communication, particularly writing and speaking. Nine rhetorical modes are commonly employed in composition: narration, description, definition, classification, process analysis, illustration/examples, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, and persuasion.

Classification (“to group”) – separates items into categories and usually involves some sort of organization. It can be as simple as organizing a list of items by category. The purpose of classification is to make things easier to understand or remember.

Example: There are four types of students in every high school: the jocks, the nerds, the popular kids, and the outcasts.

Cause and Effect (“to show”) – examines causes and effects and is often used to analyze historical events.

Example: The Great Depression was caused by a number of factors, including the failure of the stock market, bank failures, and overproduction.

Description (“to describe”) – describes people, places, things, or events. It can be objective (detailed and factual) or subjective (opinionated).

Example: The new car smells like a freshly peeled orange.

Comparison and Contrast (“to compare”) – compares two or more things, usually on the basis of their similarities and differences.

Example: Although apples and oranges are both fruits, they have different taste, texture, and nutritional value.

Definition (“to define”) – defines something by listing its attributes or giving examples.

Example: The word “irony” is often misused. It does not mean “funny.” Rather, it refers to a situation that is the opposite of what is expected.

Narration (“to tell a story”) – tells a story or recounts an event.

Example: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, there was a loud crash of thunder.

Process Analysis (“to show how”) – explains how something happens or how to do something.

Example: How to make a perfect chocolate chip cookie: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes.

Illustration/Examples (“to illustrate”) – uses concrete examples to explain an abstract concept or make an argument.

Example: Although there are many reasons to go to college, the most important reason is to get a good education so that you can get a good job and have a successful career.

Persuasion (“to convince”) – uses reasons and evidence to persuade the reader or listener to do or believe something.

Example: You should vote for me because I am the best candidate and I will make sure that your needs are represented.

Wrapping up

Rhetorical modes are tools that help you achieve your purpose for writing. Whether you’re trying to explain something, describe something, or convince someone, understanding and using rhetorical modes will help you do it better. So the next time you sit down to write, think about what you want to achieve, and then choose the rhetorical mode or modes that will help you do it.

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