Elements of Rhetoric: Audience, Purpose, Persona & Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetoric is a deep and wide field. It’s rich enough and complex enough that you can major in rhetorical studies in college.

The path to rhetorical analysis has to start somewhere though and it doesn’t start with highly technical terms for intonation while speaking in a public setting. It starts with a few broad categories which can define rather briefly as an introduction to rhetorical analysis.

These elements are all we need to illustrate and understand how rhetorical analysis approaches a text and what the outcomes of rhetorical analysis can be.

Considerations of Context

Arguments are made on a platform. They are performed in a specific space.

Consider the following argumentative contexts:

  • Super Bowl Television Commercials
  • Rolling Stone Magazine
  • Facebook
  • A Back-Yard Barbecue
  • Town-Hall Campaign Speeches
  • Nationally Televised Campaign Speeches
  1. What expectations do you bring to each of these contexts?
  2. How do your expectations differ for each?
  3. If you were to present the same central argument in each of these contexts, would your approach change from platform to platform?

These are all rhetorical considerations.

Elements of Context

One way to approach the context of an argument is through the elements of Purpose, Audience and Persona.


  • Consider the speaker/writer’s purpose.
  • Is the writer attempting to open a conversation on an issue?
  • Is the writer attempting to convince the reader to come to a specific conclusion?
  • Is the writer seeking to persuade his or her audience to think in a certain way or to take action?


  • Is the audience a specific group of people, like the United States Senate, a judge, or a group of fellow students?
  • What assumptions does the writer make regarding the audience and what does the writer do to communicate a sense of the audience?
    • Language choices – technical language, erudite language, “accessible” language
    • Sophisticated argument versus simple argument
    • Providing background information or presuming knowledge on the issue


  • How is the writer communicating his or her relationship to the issue/argument?
  • How does the writer communicate his relationship to the audience?
  • In what ways does the writer establish credibility? Expertise? Familiarity?
  • How does the writer indicate the gravity of her own point of view or the gravity of the issue?

Persona can be communicated overtly or implicitly.

  • Writers can use tone and devices like humor or poetic language to develop a persona.
  • Writers can directly state how they want to be seen by the reader.
  • Writers can also shape the text’s content in ways that communicate a persona.

Persona: Establishing Credibility

One of the most critical elements of argument and persuasion is establishing credibility. It’s also an issue directly connected to the concept of persona.

If a speaker wants to be persuasive and compelling, they often need to answer a fundamental question: Why should the listener respect their point of view and even be open to being convinced? The answer comes down to credibility – the capacity for being trusted.

Writers establish credibility in many ways.

  • Use good evidence
  • Incorporate research to demonstrate expertise and engagement with the subject
  • Qualify claims to show that you are thinking carefully and critically about the subject
  • Build common ground
  • Acknowledge other viewpoints
  • Refute other viewpoints

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical analysis is a diagnostic approach to analyzing a text. Once we identify the purpose of a text, we break the text down to its component parts and look at the tools the text is using to achieve its goals.

Very often, the texts we will analyze through the lens of rhetoric have a goal in common – to persuade.

There are three categories of persuasion typically discussed as the elements of persuasion. They are called “rhetorical appeals.”

Ethos – appeal to authority or credibility

Logos – appeal to reason or logic

Pathos – appeal to emotion

Pathos & “Emotional Reasoning”

Appeals to emotions are often fraught with logic problems. This is sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional.

  • These logical problems are called “fallacies” as they present false reasoning.

Rhetorical Analysis: A Diagnostic Approach to Analyzing Texts

In analyzing the rhetoric of a text, we can look at:

  • Types of evidence used
  • Structure and organization
  • Style & Stylistic Choices
  • Rhetorical devices
  • Thesis and argument
  • Specific points being made
  • Rhetorical Appeals (ethos, logos, pathos)
  • Logical fallacies

Any decisions the writer makes can be considered rhetorical decisions.

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