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Persuade an audience with rhetorical devices
september 20, 2022
After teaching the ingredients found in persuasive text, students need to learn how to craft their own persuasive messages. Move beyond teaching students what to say in a persuasive or argumentative piece. Provide additional instruction on how to say it. These craft lessons will focus on rhetorical devices—or different ways to impress opinions and express ideas to a reader.
There are dozens of rhetorical devices, but three of the most commonly used are tone, language, and repetition.
Rhetorical device: Tone
Tone is the writer’s attitude about the topic; it also falls under the trait of voice. Although this is an obvious element of persuasive writing, tone goes beyond telling students to be passionate.
The tone has to be appropriate for the audience. Appropriateness is deemed by the reader-writer relationship. If the audience is unknown (as many arguments are), then a more formal tone using third-person is best. But even if the audience is known, a writer should always maintain a respectful voice.
A strong writer also knows whom he is trying to convince and considers what attitude would appeal to his audience. It may be to arouse fear around the topic, or disgust, or sympathy, or motivation. Voice is a choice—and choosing an appropriate tone is important.
Rhetorical device: Language
The tone conveyed often comes down to the words the writer uses—or his language. In all types of argumentative writing, the choice of words is vital.
Review with students that synonyms are NOT words that mean the same thing. Rather, they are shades of words with similar meanings. A writer can tweak the tone of his message by simply substituting synonyms. For example:
pollution versus poison
trade versus bribe
genocide versus murder
Each pair of synonyms clearly has a different connotation—and consequently delivers a different vibe. A student must question each adjective, noun, verb, and phrase in his persuasive writing, considering if the words fit the tone he is attempting to convey.
Notice the language used in these two sentences that both describe a gun:
- A gun is a sleek, silver piece of sophisticated weaponry.
- A gun is a cold hunk of metal—dark, barbaric, and ready to kill.
These demonstrate that tone and language clearly have a close relationship.
Rhetorical device: Repetition
For this third rhetorical device, imagine a snowball rolling down a hill. It’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger with every rotation. This is the same effect that repetition can create in writing. Every time the phrase or sentence repeats—its power escalates.
The most important aspect of the repetition technique is to identify something about the topic that is worth saying over and over. Writers should only repeat a fact or sentence that has a big impact. This might be a witty one-liner, a critical fact, or a severe statement.
After identifying what information to repeat, craft it into a short statement. Powerful messages tend to fizzle in long sentences. Consequently, repeat information that is packaged in a short, punchy sentence.
When integrating the repeating line, look for 3-4 opportunities throughout the writing. But don’t overuse it! What started as a great technique can quickly become monotonous for the reader. It may even be helpful to rephrase the sentence slightly to show how it’s relevant to every facet of the argument.
The starting point of an argument is always the traits of ideas and organization—to determine the claim, order the reasons, and reveal the evidence. But, additional lessons on rhetorical devices like tone, language, and repetition will polish a student’s writing skills in the traits of voice, word choice, and sentence fluency.