About Rhetoric and Rhetorics

Rhetoric as a field can be defined as the study and practice of communication practices.  The philosopher Bertrand Russell defines rhetoric as, “How to do things with words.”  As one professor of rhetoric explains,  “Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing….  In its long and vigorous history rhetoric has enjoyed many definitions, accommodated differing purposes, and varied widely in what it included. And yet, for most of its history it has maintained its fundamental character as a discipline for training students 1) to perceive how language is at work orally and in writing, and 2) to become proficient in applying the resources of language in their own speaking and writing.” (Silva Rhetoricae, rhetoric.byu.edu)  To learn more about rhetoric, you might want to look up Artistotle’s Rhetoric or Kenneth Burke’s Rhetoric of Motives.


A rhetorical situation is any act of, or occasion for, communication.  Rhetorical situations always involve a speaker, audience, and purpose.  The rhetorical situation is commonly depicted as a triangle, which is then referred to as the “rhetorical triangle.”  


A "rhetoric," which is one component of a writing course, can be defined as a framework for understanding how writing is made and how it functions.