What Is Involved in the Study of Rhetoric?

Jackie Myers

Rhetoric is the study of speaking and writing effectively. It teaches students how language is used in oral and written communication. Rhetoric focuses on methods for communicating with others and is concerned with the effectiveness of language and its emotional impact.

Aristotle's rules of rhetoric are still used to train students.
Aristotle's rules of rhetoric are still used to train students.

Rhetorical devices are intended to affect the actions and opinions of readers. Students of rhetoric discover how writers construct arguments by using these devices. The goal of rhetoric is to persuade others to adopt a certain point of view or take a particular course of action.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined five canons of rhetoric.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined five canons of rhetoric.

Aristotle believed that the study of rhetoric has five canons or established principles. They are arrangement, invention, delivery, memory, and style. Arrangement refers to the structure of a coherent argument and encourages speakers and writers to arrange an argument just as they would structure an essay.

Invention emphasizes the importance of persuasion. The writer or speaker must consider what kind of information he needs to persuade others, and one of the goals of the study of rhetoric is to identify goals and interests surrounding the persuasive situation. Delivery is concerned with understanding how to use body language and tone of voice to create a successful persuasive argument. This principle recommends people use props and a dramatic delivery style to draw attention to key points.

Memory is another principle in the study of rhetoric. Those who wish to persuade must be able to remember enough of the argument to present it without any omissions or hesitation. According to the memory canon, the secret to delivering a compelling speech is rehearsal. The length of time spent practicing depends on how important it is. People who have problems with memorization can use various practical memory methods to remember a speech.

The style principle in the study of rhetoric describes how to go beyond basic statements of facts and logic in an argument. Good style makes the best use of language and uses argument to engage the emotions rather than the intellect alone. Eloquent words can deliver some messages better than powerful words, which may trigger fear responses. Appealing to emotion is necessary in influencing decisions, as most people reach a point of decision once they feel that argument is strong enough.

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