The Rhetorical Situation
The rhetorical situation consists of the five different elements that the
writer must consider when planning and writing an effective argument.
The reader must consider his or her place within the rhetorical situation
as they critically read a work in order to better understand the work's
When you critical read using the rhetorical situation as your guide
you must ask yourself a series of questions:
Text. What kind of text is it? What are the special
qualities and features of this genre? What is the text about?
What is its topic?
Reader or Audience. Who is the targeted audience? What
is the nature of this group? Can they be convinced? What are the
anticipated outcomes? How do you as a reader compare with the targeted
audience? What are your constraints? How much common ground
do you share with the author? What is your initial position?
Are you motivated to change your mind or the situation? How?
Author. Who is the author? Consider background, experience,
education, affiliations, and value. What is motivating the author
Constraints. What special constraining circumstances will
influence the author's or the audience's responses to the subject?
What beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, habits, events, circumstances, or
traditions are already in place that will limit or constrain their perceptions?
These questions will help you analyze the rhetorical situation and gain
a better understanding of the argument's main parts.
Exigence. What happened to cause this argument? Why
is it perceived as a defect or problem? Is it new or recurring?
Adapted from Wood, Nancy V. Perspectives on Argument.
Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,