A Rhetoric Crash Course
It’s safe to say that we’ve all created a case for ourselves, attempting to persuade our mothers to go for that Grateful Dead road trip, or (please mom) just a small tattoo. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been utilizing rhetoric since the sweet moment of your language acquisition.
Rhetoric, as defined by the ever-credible Wikipedia, is “the art of discourse.” Alternatively, by Aristotle, “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” In plain language, rhetoric is the art of argument, persuasion, even manipulation, if you wanna go there. Regardless of communication platform, the mediator holds a purpose being shared with an audience in a strategic way.
Why should you care?
If not because rhetoric is awesome, because it applies to all mediated elements. This includes design, multimedia authoring, and many other aspects involved with digital literacy. Have you considered how your website, tool, product is affecting your audience and the broader digital community? Track and revise how your purpose/argument is being communicated using the three appeals of classical rhetoric: ethos, logos, and pathos.
A relationship between speaker and audience is heavily influenced by perceived intelligence. This is generally supported by your status within a community and display of knowledge on a topic. Not much to do there. Where the work comes in is proving your goodwill and virtuous nature. Don’t make a hard sell, but soft shoe into a buttery soft example of why you are all bunnies in baskets. In terms of design, this can be as simple as color choice.
Logos: Factual Consistency
Logic. Reasoning. Factual proof. This is the most commonly acknowledged means of persuasion within the science crowd. From labs to research papers, logic and supporting factual evidence are meant to be unshakable. With rhetoric, the trick is knowing when to use logos to create a sense of exigence (urgency for action). Consider the use of logos in the same way you would consider name-dropping. It can be extremely effective, but only when you are using proofs with purpose.
As much as you may deny it, you have emotions. Big, bold, beautiful emotions that are longing to be let loose. Rhetoric easily stirs up the basics—anger, happiness, sadness. Who can say with honesty that those Coca Cola polar bears haven’t moved them to a place of sheer delight? Probably few. Has a keynote speaker ever morphed you into a blubbering pile of compassion? Pretty likely. The open expression of emotion makes a message more trustworthy and relatable. Pathos can easily be utilized in a digital atmosphere with carefully chosen elements of design.
Regardless of purpose, consider these three appeals the next time you’re gearing up to craft a page, write a blog post, or convince your partner that Yoko really isn’t all that evil. Ensure that your message is clear and well communicated by taking a closer look at classical rhetoric, and the rhetoric of digital literacy.