Rhetorical Modes


The act of capturing people, places, events, objects, and feelings in words so that a reader can visualize and respond to them.  The subject or topic of the writing is “suspended in time,” and the writer uses the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, sound) to place the reader in the “environment” of the essay.  The writing can be objective (simply discussing the situation) or subjective (attempting to persuade the reader by the impact of the described situation).


The act of telling a story, usually based on personal experience.  It must have some purpose, as it usually incorporates descriptive elements--senses, metaphors, and similes.  Narration is used to get the reader to "identify" with the writer on some level, and thereby ultimately agree with the writer.


Provides concrete and/or specific details to support abstract ideas or generalizations.  Good examples help the writer "show" rather than "tell," and strong essays use good examples as support for the thesis to convince or persuade the reader.


The process of explaining a word, object, or idea in such a way that the reader knows precisely what the writer means.  A good definition focuses on the special qualities of a word or phrase that set it apart.  It gives the reader and writer a mutual starting point.

Process Analysis

This mode involves writing about a "process," following a series of steps or stages, and then taking apart the subject and explaining those parts.  This is used to explain an action, a mechanism, or an event from beginning to end.  It can be directive (giving directions step by step) or informative (giving information about how or why something happened).


Division takes a general concept or topic and creates smaller subcategories.  Classification takes individual examples and groups them based on common traits.  Division is important because it breaks a complex subject into parts that are easy for a reader to grasp.  Classification is important because it organizes a large amount of material for the reader.


Comparison discovers likenesses between two things, and Contrast discovers differences between two things.  They work hand-in-hand, allowing the reader and writer to understand one subject by putting it next to another.  The skill of finding similarities and differences is important because it enhances a writer's ability to create accurate descriptions, cite proper examples, or classify and label subjects.


This mode looks for connections between different elements and analyzes the reasons for those connections.  In working with Causes, the writer searches for any circumstances from the past that may have caused a single event.  In looking for Effects, the writer seeks occurrences that took place after a particular event and resulted from that event.  This mode requires the ability to analyze.


* Information for this handout was taken largely from The Prose Reader, 5th ed., by Kim Flachmann and Michael Flachmann, (c) 1999.