By now, you should have recognized in our readings that each author has a slightly different perspective of rhetoric.

By now, you should have recognized in our readings that each author has a slightly different perspective of rhetoric. They each agree with each other about some primary ideas, but they definitely disagree about many things, too. This does not mean that rhetoric can be anything. It’s definitely not. If rhetoric were everything, it wouldn’t be a very helpful knowledge to develop. But what those disagreements do mean, is that the smartest researchers in my field are still arguing about the details. This should not be surprising at all! Physicists have differing views of how quantum physics work. Biologists are reclassifying species as the ecology changes. Scholars at universities revise their ideas as better evidence becomes available to understand their field.

And now it’s time for you to become a rhetorician, which means you need to decide how you’re planning to think about rhetoric for the remainder of the semester. You need to do this because for the remainder of the course you will be continually asking “How is rhetoric working in this particular form of professional communication?” Without a definition that you can easily recall, you’ll have a difficult time analyzing professional communication. Consider this: if you’re not sure if you’re wielding a hammer or a wrench, it’s incredibly difficult to even know what to do! Do you need to swing the hammer? Turn the wrench? Is your aim a nail or a bolt? Without some understanding of the core concepts of rhetoric, it’s impossible to study professional communication with it. You need to know what your skill is before you can use it correctly.


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For this assignment, you’ll write a 1500-word definition of rhetoric. You don’t need to agree with everyone in class, but you do need a well-reasoned summary of how you will think of rhetoric for the semester. For example, if you have decided that you are defining rhetoric as “identifying the available means of persuasion” like Aristotle you might look at professional communication like email messages very differently than if you had identified rhetoric as “adjusting language for an audience,” like Law Professor Philip Johnson does. If you drew from Aristotle’s definition, you might focus more on how the CC and attachment functions could be used to potentially persuade audiences. If you were more inclined to the Johnson’s definition, you would be more likely to look extensively at how you might adjust an idea for a particular audience of an email. And if you were interested in the view of rhetoric offered by Dickinson and Ott you’d probably be very interested in the spatial design of professional communication places!

As you write your definition, you should reference all of the course readings on rhetoric in order to define it. You don’t need to agree with them, but you do need to provide a well-reasoned argument for your perspective that references the insights of those incredibly researched articles. I selected those readings because they are some of the most cutting-edge theory on rhetoric available, and they provide you strong evidence to produce a definition that works for you (and is accurate). As part of your written definition, you should also discuss at least one example of professional communication (as you understand it from Unit 1) and describe how your perspective of rhetoric helps you to better understand it. For instance, perhaps you want to make sense of a a business setting by asking how one kind of professional communication in that business (presentations, meetings, email, etc.) functions as a piece of rhetoric. Be as specific as possible.


  1. You define rhetoric succinctly and straightforwardly.
  2. You reference all readings from the class so far, including page numbers (MLA citation style, please).
  3. Your references to the readings really consider what the authors wanted you to get out of their article.
  4. You provide reasons for why your definition of rhetoric helps to understand professional communication.
  5. Your definition is at least 1500 words in length.
  6. You provide at least one specific example that shows how your definition of rhetoric helps to make sense of professional communication.
  7. Your specific example illuminates your definition of rhetoric so that someone from class could understand it.

An additional .5 points will be awarded if your essay contains no typographical errors, is written in paragraphs, and adheres to MLA style.

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