Rhetorical strategies are the efforts made by authors to persuade or inform readers. Rhetorical strategies are employed by writers and describe the different ways to persuade the reader. Before deciding which rhetorical strategy to use in any specific situation, a writer needs to consider a few questions to determine the strategy that best suits the text to be written. Such questions might include:

  • Who is the intended audience and what is the writer’s relationship with them? For example colleague-to-colleague, teacher-to-student, salesman-to-client, etc..
  • Does one want to prove an argument? If so, will you include counter arguments?
  • Do you want to simplify the issues?

In addition to these and other questions, consider also the choice of words to use. In some respects this is a part of bearing in mind the intended or target audience. However, word choice can influence the development of an argument or a position and can affect the reader’s emotions.

Process analysis strategy

This type of rhetorical strategy could be summarized as describing steps towards achieving an effect or result, for example a report of a science experiment in a laboratory, ending with a result and a conclusion. The process analysis strategy also includes works where the aim is to help the reader understand how something is made to happen or how something works. This strategy is generally called comprehension-based process analysis. Then there is a third type of strategy, less common in academic writing, but prevalent in magazines, that tells readers how to do something; such as change their behavior in order to be slimmer, fitter, less depressed, etc..

A published example of writing on process strategy is by Langley,[1] who wrote Process Thinking in Strategic Organization.

Argumentation strategy

According to Gray,[2] there are various argument strategies used in writing. He describes four of these and gives examples found within philosophical literature.

Argument from analogy

This strategy compares two different things to emphasize their relevant similarities. For instance, the actions of kicking and punching could be described as analogous – similar violent physical attacks on another person, even though one is using feet, the other fists. One example of a published philosophical analogy was by Singer[3] in The Life You Can Save, in which he argues that a professor who sees a child drowning in a pool and can save the child’s life at minimum cost is obliged to do so — and we all have a duty to give to life-saving charities at minimal cost to ourselves for the same reason — because we have obligations to do good when it is at little or no cost to ourselves. The professor who could save the child and everyone who can give to charities are in analogous situations insofar as they can all save lives at minimal cost.

Thought experiments

These are imagined situations that can be used to illustrate a point, perhaps to prove a theory to be inconsistent. An example of such a thought experiment was when Aristotle mistakenly assumed that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter ones, and thinking so, concluded that it must therefore be true. The point of this example is that it might seem logical to have that belief, but we know that it is not true.

Argument from absurdity

This strategy is used either to provide evidence to disprove a belief or argument, or to prove the truth of something when to deny it would be absurd. An example might be if someone were to argue that if all humans are mammals and all humans are animals, then all animals are mammals. Whilst the two ideas are correct, the conclusion isn’t.

Inference to the best explanation

In this strategy, all viable explanations are considered and contrasted to determine the most likely to be true. Strengths and weaknesses of each may be considered to see which is best. However, merely inferring which explanation is the best is insufficient proof, because it may be that other explanations are plausible. Nonetheless, an inference to the best explanation could be helpful even so. An example of inference to the best explanation is the view that germs cause disease. Even though in the days before germs could be seen by using microscopes, they were thought to exist and to be the cause, so doctors routinely sterilized instruments and washed their hands, going some way to proving the hypothesis.

Cause and effect strategy

Typically used in writing for the social sciences, this strategy type — sometimes called causal analysis — focuses on the ”why” of an issue and the consequent effect(s). For example, why women typically get paid less than men doing the same job, and how that affects their position in society. The writer using this strategy should take into account there may be multiple and/or more complex causes and effects for what might at first sight seem a simple issue.

Divisions strategy

This strategy may be used to deal effectively with a broad and/or complicated topic which — if divided into more manageable parts – would be easier to explain and to understand. This strategy is sometimes expanded to be called Classification/ division. Grouping ideas or topics into categories is classification; separating the subject into parts is called division. An example of division would be discussing each of the key elements of a top sports team. An example of classification would be to discuss the common denominator between (say) eggs, Swiss cheese and ice cream.

Compare and contrast strategy

Under this strategy, two basic formats are common: subject-by-subject and point-by-point. Both discuss the similarities (compare) and the differences (contrast) between the subjects being discussed. In the subject-by-subject approach (probably best for shorter essays), each subject is discussed and examined individually. So in comparing two sports teams, for example, start with an introductory paragraph covering both teams, then use the next paragraph(s) for the first of the two teams, before continuing with about the same number of paragraphs about the second team. The point-by-point approach works well for longer or more in-depth essays. With this type of structure the reader can more readily keep track of all the points raised. Staying with the example of two sports teams, you might want to discuss tactics of each team. After the introduction and your thesis statement, present each subject point-by-point, but covering both teams for each point before moving on to the next.

Narrative strategy

Narrative writing tells a story. Its principal feature is that it spans time. A narrative often (but not always) is written in chronological order. The thesis of a narrative essay is the telling of the story — usually a true story for a narrative essay, which might be for example, a case study, or a historical account. However, a narrative essay usually has an objective other than simply telling the story, perhaps using the specific account to illustrate a wider picture or series of events.

Description strategy

The description strategy entails writing essays to create an involved and vivid experience for the reader, who should find the account so real that they almost feel they could touch the object, person or place being described. Good descriptive essays achieve this by including really detailed observations and descriptions. Sometimes a descriptive essay focuses on a memory or experience, in fact descriptive writing can be about anything that you can perceive or experience.

Exemplification strategy

The strategy of writing an exemplification essay typically involves providing a number of examples to support a generalization about something (the essay thesis). The examples — which can be brief, comprehensive, or both — act as supporting material, either to explain or to clarify the general subject.


This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Rhetorical strategies, that was deleted or is being discussed for deletion, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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