The mission of the University Writing Center is to cultivate purpose-driven writers, communicators, and influencers. In our increasingly digital and multimodal culture, communicating clearly and persuasively will be one of the most important skills to have. In order to develop flexible habits and strategies, writers will need to combine foundational theories and effective practices.
The theoretical framework underlying the mission of the University Writing Center is the study of rhetoric, which for 2,500 years was one of the most important subjects to cultivate influential thinkers, makers, and leaders. It’s what we will use to train our tutors and to equip our students. Applying classical principles of rhetoric to practical and vocational goals can produce persuasive writers and influential communicators.
For more information about rhetoric, visit Resources.
vir bonus dicendi peritus
The ultimate ideal for studying rhetoric is not to be just an intellectual or critic or manipulator. It is to become a “good person speaking well,” which combines moral virtue and technical skill.
docere, delectare, movere
The three duties of rhetoric are to teach (docere), to delight (delectare), and to move (movere). Often, communicators need to use a combination of all three in order to persuade an audience.
forensic, epideictic, deliberative
The three occasions to use rhetoric correspond to three different time periods. Forensic or judicial rhetoric has to do with persuading people of something in the past. Epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric persuades people about something in the present. Deliberative or political rhetoric focuses on persuading people of what should be done in the future.
inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, pronuntiatio
There are five parts to preparing for a rhetorical performance, all of which may or may not be necessary depending on the purpose.
1. Invention (inventio)
Invention, in a rhetorical context, does not mean creating something that doesn’t exist. It’s about figuring out what there is to say about a given subject and occasion. It’s the brainstorming and research stage that thinks through the following questions: What are the appropriate expectations of my audience (decorum)? What kind of credibility will I need to establish (ethos)? What will my message be (logos)? How will I control the mood or tone so my message can be heard (pathos)?
2. Arrangement (dispositio)
Arrangement is about organizing everything into an effective plan. What makes an arrangement effective depends on its genre. A political speech might be organized one way, while a product advertisement should be arranged a very different way. And that is also true of different kinds of speeches or advertisements that might have their own conventions. You don’t have to follow them slavishly, but if you depart too far from them, your audience may not understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
3. Style (elocutio)
Style has to do with designing how the message is created. From a rhetorical perspective, how you say something is just as important as what you say. It includes the tropes, arguments, and narratives that can be adjusted to high, middle, or low styles depending on what is appropriate in a given situation.
4. Memory (memoria)
Memory is about practicing how to store and access knowledge, experience, and scripts. From practicing useful mnemonic devices to developing good metacognitive habits, a strong memory is necessary for both prepared and spontaneous performances.
5. Delivery (pronuntiatio)
Delivery focuses on how the message reaches the audience, which is called the medium. In a live speech, the medium includes voice and body language. In a produced video, it may include visual and sound effects. Like style, how the message is delivered can make or break your purpose.