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Rhetorical Modes

Patterns of Thinking

These are the common, time-tested patterns of organizing information. Because they are common, other people are more likely to be able to follow them. Because they are time-tested, we give them a lot of legitimacy as a way of organizing our thinking and writing. You’ve been doing this kind of thinking all your life. Now is the time to organize it in writing more self-consciously.

The first word, rhetoric, means using the basic unit of discourse in order to demonstrate for your audience the strength of your claims. If they had disagreed with you before they read the essay, perhaps you changed their minds by telling them how to think about the evidence you brought to support your claim. The second word, modes, is like having different weapons in a war or offensive formations in a football game or strategies in a marketing campaign. You change modes when the “rhetorical situation”, your audience and purpose, make one mode more efficient than another.

In Eng 110, you are going to ask questions of your research. You and I are then going to narrow that list of questions and decide which rhetorical mode would best answer each question. I strongly recommend that you not think too much about this list until you have the questions that the audience would naturally ask.

That is, let your audience’s needs determine the questions and then let the questions determine how you organize your research. That may mean that you use some of these modes more than once and others not at all. You and I will decide that together.

The organizing principle is how you decide what to do and in what order.

The transitions are the phrases within the paragraph (and between paragraphs) that connect the parts and reveal the organizing principle.

The questions section has the kinds of questions and examples of questions that your audience might ask about your research topic. They will help you decide which rhetorical mode will be most appropriate for your paragraphs.

a formal, stylized but essential thinking process

generic paragraph structure (see essay structures)


topic statement an assertion answering a reader

evidence – facts, statistics,

examples – stories about
people, things, and events

illustrations – images, tables,

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 support

What vet techs do

The Treatment Process

The Treatment Process

The four most common patterns of thinking each have their own page:

Let’s see them in action.

Someone walks in to the Summer Street vet clinic, distraught, holding a limp pet. Within a short period of time, often seconds, the vet tech behind the counter must do a lot of quick thinking. That thinking will use the same patterns that, in this course, we call rhetorical modes. Faced with that limp pet and an emotionally distraught client, the vet tech must diagnose (definition; compare/contrast), choose treatment options (compare/contrast, classification), treat the animal (process), and explain why to himself or herself, to the client, and to the vet/boss (cause/effect).

What? Diagnosis. Use definition

Which? Treatment options. Use compare/contrast

How? Treatment. Use process

Why? Explanation. Use cause/effect