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Rhetorical modes – list

You have been practicing these patterns of thinking since you were a baby. The difference between what you’ve always done and what you are expected to do in an essay is the degree of formality.

— a formal, stylized but essential thinking process —

generic paragraph structure (see essay structures)


topic statement an assertion answering a reader question
support evidence – facts, statistics, expertsexamples – stories about people, things, and eventsillustrations – images, tables, charts
explanation what it means, what reader is supposed to get out of it, how it contributes to the answer
transitions how each piece of support relates to the other pieces of suppor

Other rhetorical forms you can use

In addition to the four you’re most likely to use in college and on the job: Definition, Compare/Contract, Process, Cause/Effect


In this kind of paragraph, you are describing something. It could be as small as a stem cell or as large as a beach in Ecuador or even a whole region of the world such as the Middle East.

You can also characterize the description.

organizing principle


The four “objective” attributes that describe almost anything, especially objects: shape, size, colors, and position in relation to other things. With a little adaptation, these general terms can apply to dynamic (constantly changing) things like stem cells, beaches, the family violence situation in a country such as Pakistan.

We read from top left to bottom right, so that is a familiar organizing principle. Depending on what you are describing, you could go from a bird’s eye view to a closer view. Or you could go from inside to outside or the reverse.

Adding “subjective” characteristics can be difficult to do well, so be careful.


below that, to the right of this


What is __?

What is a stem cell? Describe it from outside to inside, starting with the cell walls and then the inside parts.

What is the Middle East? What is the status of women in traditional Pakistani families?


In this kind of paragraph, you are giving examples to support a claim or assertion. If that claim is the focus of a paragraph, we call it a topic sentence.

organizing principle

rank order

In what order should you present the examples? According to what criteria? How many examples should you present?


most importantly, last but not least, next in importance


What do you mean by that? Give me some examples.


How do people treat pets in [  country ]? Example Topic sentence: People in China treat their pets _______. For example, …

What do you need to know if you want to take your pet to South Korea to visit or live? exemp, process, division/class

What animals are not allowed in other countries and why? cause-effect

How are animals we see as pets treated? description

How do people view animals in general in other countries? division/classification

What animal rights groups or activists are prominent in other countries? exemp, definition, div/class


In this kind of paragraph, you are making sense of a lot of information by setting up a classification system and then applying it to the information. This Rhetorical Modes section of this course web is an example of using division and classification (types of paragraphs) to help you develop your writing skills.

Old: the print (ink on paper) world you grew up in, that your education prepared you for, and that is disappearing.

New: the digital (bits on screen) world where you will spend the rest of your life.

In the print world, you learn to structure documents. In the digital world, you must structure information. Division and classification is known as taxonomy.

organizing principle

taxonomy – a hierarchical cascade of branches off a root

At any given level in the taxonomy, among equal parts, you will need another organizing principle such as size, importance, seniority


first type, second type, third type; largest, most important, oldest


Where do all these __ fit?

How many types of internships are there in Germany for Medaille marketing majors?

How many types of family violence are there in Pakistan?

Are all stem cells the same? If not, how many types of stem cells are there and how can you tell them apart