Five Canons of Rhetoric

The canons of rhetoric date back to Aristotle, who discusses them in his work On Rhetoric.

Invention is what we might call the prewriting and researching part of the writing process today. This is where you analyze your audience and purpose and based on those two variables decide upon the forms of argument and evidence you want to use. This and all the other lists below make it appear as if writing is a linear process (complete step 1, then step 2, etc.), but it is really a recursive process (a back and forth between the various “steps”). For example, as you are arranging/organizing (the next step) your evidence, you might begin to rethink your audience’s needs and background knowledge on the subject. You might also begin thinking about the style you are using (word choice, vocabulary, poetic use of language, tone—academic, humorous, etc).

The organization of your ideas. The way you order your points will be dependent upon your audience and purpose. Arrangement also includes the transitions (verbal, visual, or aural) between points.

Style is related to genre. Are you writing an academic research paper? a manifesto? an editorial? a lab report? The language you will use will be determined partly by the genre. Other aspects of style such as the vocabulary level will depend partly on your audience. For example, a scientific report on the ecological health of the Poudre River will use very different vocabulary depending upon whether is it written for the state legislature who is considering whether or no tot approve a dam project or written for an audience of professional ecologists who hold PhDs.

Memory is often considered the lost canon. In Aristotle’s time, most rhetoricians were writing speeches for public performance. Today, most people are writing texts that will be read, not performed. However, you might think about memory as related to your readers and your use of arrangement. How best can you organize your text (written, visual, or audio) so that your audience will retain the information and process it in a way that leads them to your point-of-view?

With a speech, delivery refers to the performance—tone of voice, gestures, projection, the speaker’s appearance, etc. Today we expand delivery to include the medium—print, television, radio, the web—and each medium has conventions for good delivery. For example, we expect a certain level of technical quality—a crisp, clear image, sound, or print on the page; a web page that loads quickly and accurately. We also expect a visual layout that we can follow (i.e., one that follows conventions such as the CRAP principles or the conventions of section headers in an alphabetic text).

Hierarchy of Rhetorical Concerns

The Hierarchy is a modern version of the Rhetorical Canon that is often taught in college writing classes and used in Writing Center instruction. Its goal is to organize composing issues in the order that composers should address them. This doesn’t mean that conventions (grammar, spelling) aren’t important. What it means is that if you don’t know who your audience is, it doesn’t matter if your grammar is correct or not. On the flip side, you can have a well defined audience (Colorado legislature members in favor of a dam on the Poudre River) and purpose (to convince them that the dam would ruin the ecological health of the river endangering wildlife, the water supply and outdoor recreation tourism), but if your spelling is terrible and your argument poorly organized, your audience won’t trust you or your argument and therefore you won’t achieve your purpose.

  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Development (of your argument or idea—how much evidence or explanation do you need?)
  • Organization/Arrangement
  • Style
  • Conventions (grammar, punctuation, citation)

Rhetorical Appeals

Appeals refer to the ways in which you can try to persuade your audience. These appeals also come from Aristotle, which is why the terms are Greek.

Ethos (root of English word ethics)
Ethos refers to strategies for establishing your authority in your compositions

Logos (root of English word logic)
Logos is appealing to your audience’s ability and desire to engage in logical reasoning

Pathos (root of English word pathetic)
Pathos is appealing to emotion. U.S. culture often looks down on emotional appeals as cheap or manipulative, but emotion can be used ethically and effectively. For example, if your purpose is to get people to donate to a children’s cancer charity that helps family members travel to far away hospitals that offer specialized treatment, you could appeal to their sense of logic by explaining how responsible the charity is with their money and citing statistics on how having family near throughout treatment increases that child’s odds of recovery. However, you might also appeal to emotion by telling the story of one particular family who was helped by the charity and including photos of them together during and after the treatment.

Design Plan categories

taken from Compose, Design, Advocate by Anne Frances Wysocki  & Dennis A. Lynch.
For more detail, see the Design Plans page

A Design Plan Approach to Production and Analysis of texts draws on classical rhetoric, but requires us to think about composition as design and includes visual and aural texts in addition to alphabetic texts (i.e., writing).

Statement of Purpose (all of these are part of the canon of Invention)

  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Context (what does the audience already know about the topic and what are their beliefs that influence their opinions about the topic?)

Producing the Composition

  • Medium (related to Delivery)
  • Arrangement (dependent upon Style, form of Delivery, Purpose, and the needs of your Audience—i.e., the Context and thus level of Development required)
  • Strategies (ethos, logos, pathos—related to Audience and Purpose)

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