Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies
A rhetorical strategy is a communication tool used in written or spoken text to affect the reader or listener in an intended manner. They can be used to persuade but also to convey a particular message.
Sometimes known as rhetorical tools or devices, a rhetorical strategy is generally a phrase or arrangement of words.
The use of rhetorical strategy is not limited to literature or speeches. You may well use rhetorical strategies in your everyday conversations. For instance, using the phrase ‘feeling under the weather’ suggests that you are unwell.
The names of many rhetorical strategies will be familiar to you, such as 'metaphor' or 'oxymoron', but you may not have heard of others, like 'chiasmus' and 'anadiplosis'.
You may be surprised, however, just how many of them you use on a day-to-day basis.
If you want to know even more, our article on 10 more things you need to know about communication skills will be useful.
When and Why Are Rhetorical Strategies Used?
Rhetorical strategies are generally used to persuade the audience to consider the author’s point of view. They may do this by conveying a certain meaning or provoking a response.
How rhetorical strategies are used to persuade generally fall into the following three categories:
- Logos – Intellectual persuasion (note, pronounced like 'low-goss', which is different from logos ('low-goes') meaning images representing a company)
- Pathos – Persuading through emotions
- Ethos – Establishing authority and trust
Rhetorical strategies’ main benefit is developing and strengthening a connection with the audience, making it simpler to persuade them into sharing the author’s opinion.
This might be done by emphasis, comparison or repetition. Rhetorical strategies may also be used to establish the speaker or writer’s authority, making them appear trustworthy.
In a workplace scenario, rhetorical strategies are useful in many applications.
Interview presentation – Having passed the first round of interviews, you may be asked to make a spoken presentation to a panel to show how you would solve a workplace challenge. You could use rhetorical strategies to make a good impression.
Written report – Following a meeting with colleagues and managers, you could be asked to write a report on how you envision your role will impact a future project. The preciseness of written versus spoken communication can allow for the use of more particular rhetorical strategies, such as symploce (read on for an explanation of this).
Team presentation – With a project wrapped up, you and your team may likely have to make a spoken presentation on performance and outcomes. Using rhetorical strategies will increase how persuasively you convince your colleagues of your project’s success.
Procedures document – If you are a member of the HR department, you could be tasked with writing health and safety procedures documents, which fully explain the benefits of adhering to the safety protocols. Using rhetorical strategies in them can make them more engaging, meaning the workforce is more likely to actually read them.
Client pitch – You and a colleague could be asked to pitch the services of your company to a new client; here, you would want to pull out all the stops to be the most persuasive you can to sell your company’s services.
All of the above scenarios require an element of persuasion, whether to establish authority, build a bridge with the audience or share information in a positive light. Rhetorical strategies can help you do all those things.
25 Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies
Now that you understand how effective rhetorical strategies can be in your written and spoken communications, here is a selection of 25 rhetorical devices for you to learn about and use:
Amplification is used to embellish a statement or message by adding more information. Repetition is often used to draw further attention and urgency to the message.
The over-riding challenge we face is this: providing a perfect solution for a perfect client in an imperfect scenario.
Using and repeating the adjective ‘perfect’ is an example of amplification.
Anacoluthon generally features a break mid-statement, often diverting to a different topic.
It is an interruption in the flow of speech and generally disruptive. Such disruption can re-capture the audience’s attention because their assumptions of where the sentence was going are challenged.
You may well presume that such actions would be – perhaps presumption is the wrong path to follow. Instead...
This strategy places focus on a word by featuring it at the end of a sentence and then again at the beginning of the following sentence.
There is no denying that our yearly audit has been a success. Success, however, cannot be the only conclusion we draw from last year’s figures.
The anadiplosis has been bolded in this example.
Anaphora is the repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning of multiple successive sentences. Anaphora creates an expectation in the audience. Anaphora gives emphasis to the sentences.
This team successfully met not only their monthly targets. This team successfully met not only their yearly targets. This team successfully exceeded each and every one of their targets.
This is a phrase or sentence that puts a positive outlook on a negative situation by stating the negative first and then the positive; generally, it is used to explain a problem and its solution. It can put a positive emphasis on a negative situation.
Working with Harbour Belling as our major client may be a risk, but if we do this right it could be the turning point in our company’s evolution.
Antiphrasis is the use of a word or phrase in a way that is opposite to its true meaning for ironic or comic effect. Humour is important in engaging an audience.
I’d like to draw your attention to his short report – it’s only fifty pages long – and specifically...
This is a way to draw attention to something by either denying it or seemingly ignoring it.
I wouldn't want to talk about him being sacked from his previous job, revealing that would be unfair...
Aporia is a statement, often in the form of a question, of real or pretend doubt.
It is generally used where the speaker or writer wishes to address the audience’s questions on a matter. The author can then go on to answer the doubt and gain authority through assuaging fears.
Will this merger be good for everyone concerned? Or will it lead to a major restructuring that will incur job losses?
The use of asyndeton is to leave out conjunctions between phrases in a sentence, such as ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘if’, but maintain some level of grammatical correctness.
It is often used to create rhythm and speed.
How would our service benefit your organization? Increase your efficiency? Attract your ideal clients?
The purpose of cacophony is to create a feeling of discord and discomfort in the audience through the use of jarring words, unpleasant combinations of words and harsh sounds.
The blend of unbelievable dross and undeliverable tripe in this report is beyond belief and deserving of your disdain.
This example creates cacophony through using the five and six-syllable words ‘unbelievable’ and ‘undeliverable’, which the reader may find difficult to easily parse, and with creating and breaking consonance (repetition of consonant sounds) with ‘beyond belief’ and ‘deserving of your disdain’.
Chiasmus is the inversion of the order of words in a recent, prior phrase or sentence. This rhetorical strategy is often used to make the audience think or reassess their perspective.
Should we seek a work-life balance? Or rather, a life-work balance?
A euphemism is a way of referring to something without saying it directly; often it is used for something unpleasant or embarrassing.
I am currently between jobs, but due to my foresight and investments, I am thankfully not financially challenged.
Here, the euphemisms ‘between jobs’, referring to the speaker’s unemployment, and ‘financially challenged’, likely meaning poor.
This example also shows antanagoge, as it begins with the negative of no job but follows with explaining the speaker’s financial savvy, putting a positive spin on the sentence.
This rhetorical strategy is also known as epistrophe. It is the repetition of a phrase or word at the end of several clauses or sentences.
When paired with anaphora, mentioned above, the combination is called symploce.
The success of this project is on you. The quality of this project’s outcome is also on you. However, the lion’s share of this project’s benefits will also be on you.
Surprisingly not a spelling mistake, exclamatio is an expression of the author’s emotion in the form of an exclamation. It is used to involve the audience in that emotion.
The suddenness of the emotional expression can make it seem genuine and increase intimacy with the audience as the author apparently lets their walls down.
And, oh boy! Did it deliver!
Again, not a spelling mistake, germinatio is the repetition of a word or phrase within a sentence to build emotion and exaggerate a statement.
I want to impress upon you the importance of following the procedures, the importance of reporting every incident, and the importance of considering the reason why we have health and safety rules in place.
When using a hypallage, the order of words is reversed or presented unusually, to have the quality of one word attached to another word.
It should be used with caution, however, because it can sound archaic.
I’m sure that we all awoke today to a victorious morning.
In the above example, it is the person speaking and their audience who are victorious, not the morning itself, but the adjective is transposed to 'morning' instead.
You believe this is the right course of action, do you not?
In this example, the final three words are re-arranged. Generally, they would read 'don't you?'.
This rearrangement emphasizes the 'not' and puts the audience on the spot, making them more likely to agree because assent is easier than dissent.
Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration to give a heightened impression of a person, situation or topic.
It may be the use of a phrase, a sentence, a whole paragraph or more.
With the backing of the board, this company could truly rocket into space to take its place amongst the stars.
This example also shows metaphor, explained more below, by comparing the company to something that can fly and comparing successful others to stars.
This rhetorical strategy is made up of two parts. First, a question is asked of the audience, and then the answer is provided.
This is different from a rhetorical question (the next item in this list) because the answer is explicitly provided.
Why would you hire me over so many other talented candidates? Because I’m the best person for the job. I have...
Interrogatio also is not a spelling mistake. This is what most people think of as a ‘rhetorical question’. It needs no response because the answer is self-evident.
Does anyone want to work in an environment that is perilous to their health?
This strategy uses negative terms to make a positive statement about something; generally, it is in the form of an understatement.
The reporting on your team’s quarterly figures is not inaccurate.
A metaphor suggests a connection between two things without saying that they are the same.
The outcome of this client pitch was an absolute goal in the net.
An oxymoron is a combination of two words that are opposing, contradictory or in some other way do not naturally go together.
Whichever path we take, it’s the same difference.
‘Same difference’ is the oxymoron here.
A simile compares two things using words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is similar to a metaphor but there is more distance between the thing and its comparison.
Our two companies complement each other like pancakes and maple syrup.
This is the combination of one or more anaphora with one or more epiphora. A word or phrase is repeated at both the beginning and the end of several clauses, verses or sentences.
We have the perfect solution for you. We understand you. We are you.
A zeugma is when a single word, often a verb or adverb, is used in regards to two other parts of a sentence but relates differently to each.
I hope you will join with me in raising a glass and your voices in celebration of the merger.
Another example can be found in the song 'Be Prepared' from The Lion King:
Our teeth and ambitions are bared.
Identifying Rhetorical Strategies
Using rhetorical strategies greatly improves your written and spoken communications to make them more engaging and often more entertaining, but you must be able to identify those strategies before you can use them and so you can recognize them in others’ work.
Here is a list of tips to get you started:
Learn rhetorical strategies – There are 25 strategies given in this article but carry out your own research to find out about others or to gain a deeper understanding. Use websites like Literary Devices and Merriam-Webster. The best way to understand a strategy is to test the logic of each and create your own examples.
Understand the modes of persuasion – Earlier in this article, you were introduced to Logos, Pathos and Ethos, three different ways to persuade your audience. Research how different rhetorical strategies feed into each mode. For instance, consider which strategy will incite emotion and which will establish authority.
Read carefully for persuasiveness – Investigate the writing and speeches you encounter for how they utilize rhetorical strategies and overall persuasiveness. Consider what level of effect they have, what mode of persuasiveness they have, what rhetorical strategies they have.
Write for your audience – Think of who will read what you write or hear what you speak. Different rhetorical strategies and modes of persuasion will suit different types of audiences. For instance, an academic audience may be motivated by devices that would not work in a corporate project report.
Raise your eager fingers and the level of your rhetoric by employing these strategies when next writing.
Writing an engaging speech for your work peers or an end-of-project report that explodes your manager’s mind like a firework with your prowess is possible when you properly consider persuasive modes and rhetorical strategies.
Writing with new strategies may seem scary, but it will not hurt your audience’s impression of you and can improve your communication skills.