2 – Rhetorical Situation

Purpose

Matt McKinney; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Anonymous

A presentation, report, application, or other document may be designed to inform, demonstrate, persuade, motivate, or even entertain. Purposes may also be combined, depending on the topic and aims of the document. For example, your primary purpose may be to persuade, but the audience after lunch may want to be entertained, and your ability to adapt can make use of a little entertainment that leads to persuasion. The purpose of your document is central to its formation. Much as you would with an effective thesis statement in an essay, you should be able to state your main purpose in one sentence.

As is true of all six components of a rhetorical situation, purpose is relationally bound to the other five. For instance, a deliverer’s ethos will be tied to purpose. Again, consider the hypothetical scenario in which a company has hired a consultant to improve its hiring practices in terms of diversity. In this situation, the consultant’s purpose is likely to inform and persuade, since they want the audience to change their hiring practices and also to be enthusiastic about this change. To accomplish this, the consultant may focus on establishing an expert ethos, referencing outside experts, and/or persuading by using the ethos of someone who has benefited from similar changes.

Purpose also connects heavily to genre and form. This connection exists because all textual forms privilege some rhetorical choices over others, and genres reflect audience expectations. For example, imagine that the company’s management wants to email their employees about changes in their hiring practices. Emails are traditionally a professional form of communication, so the speaker’s purpose is likely going to be informing their audience of the changes. This purpose will also be reflected in the use of formal language, shorter paragraphs, and short, informative subject lines.

By contrast, if the company is announcing these changes to the general public on a social media platform, their purpose is likely going to be to motivate or entertain, since that form of communication is much more casual, and there is far more competition for their audience’s attention. This purpose might be reflected in the use of exclamation points or all caps, the use of emojis or hashtags, or the inclusion of memes or gifs—none of which are common in professional emails.

This text was derived from

University of Minnesota. Business Communication for Success. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2015. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by Matt McKinney; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Anonymous is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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