Types of Rhetoric and How to Identify Them

Reading Tutorial

Types of Rhetoric and How to Identify Them


Have you ever had a teacher hand you pages of reading to do, and tell you to annotate? It’s all well and good — until you stare at the words and realize that you’re not sure how to take notes that will actually be useful in discussions or on quizzes. This tutorial will help you solve that problem, and give you effective note-taking skills!

Sample Problem

Use the following information to answer the question below.

“The Death Penalty is ineffective, and quite frankly, awful to use. All it does is execute people who are most likely innocent, or take a second chance away from a criminal who could have chosen later on to repent and make up for their mistakes. In my opinion, I hate the Death Penalty because logically, it does not punish criminals.”

What is a good strategy to figure out what to take note of here?

There shouldn’t be any notes here.

Consider rhetorical strategy and state in the notes that logos is used.

Consider ethos, logos and pathos, and conclude that this is an emotional appeal.

Consider ethos, logos and pathos, and determine that the writer’s logic is not only flawed, but they do not establish enough ethos to give their opinion any credit.


So, you might be wondering: What exactly are rhetorical strategies and why do we use them?

The answer is simple. Rhetorical strategies are forms of persuasion, and we use them to sway our audience to support our side of the argument or our own opinions. Rhetoric can be found in daily life, from the news on the radio to the public speeches of politicians and even to friends and family trying to convince us to do or buy something. You might be surprised at how common rhetoric actually is, and how often we use it without even realizing it.

So then, if they’re so common, what the types of rhetoric?

There are several forms of rhetoric, but they all have one thing in common: persuasion. The type of rhetoric you use depends on your audience. For example, you might use pathos to convince a family member or friend to buy you that really cool item you really want for your birthday (or just because they love you and should totally buy it for you despite having no real reason to). Pathos is the strategy of appealing to your audience’s emotions to persuade them to agree with you, and is generally quite effective (to remember it, try thinking it as similar to ‘pathologically’, which refers to the mind, and you often think about emotions with your mind. Or ‘P’ is for pathos and personal [emotions]). Another effective, and common appeal, is logos, which sounds and is quite straightforward. Logos is the use of logic to convince someone of something (think ‘Well, if this is true, then this must be true, etc. etc.’). If pathos didn’t work to buy you that cool item, you could try giving them logical reasons that you should have it. The third common appeal, that is often grouped in with pathos and logos, is ethos. Ethos is when someone establishes why they’re allowed to speak on a subject. (Ex. scientists on global warming, doctors on cancer, authors on writing novels, etc.) If you’ve already written formal argumentative research papers, you’ll be familiar with the principle of ethos and explaining why someone can be trusted to speak on a subject. If you haven’t written such a paper yet, ethos will be one of the main rhetoric strategies you will use.

There are also many more appeals such as analogy, amplification, bandwagon, begging the question, and comparing and contrasting. Of course, these are the less common ones, but you will still encounter them from time to time.

So with all of this knowledge now acquired, how exactly can you easily identify rhetorical strategies when reading and annotating?

There are multiple ways to identify rhetoric, but we’ll be discussing one here that I have used and found to be quite effective (oh, look! Did you catch the ethos of my past experiences with this solution?) is the process of questioning. If you aren’t one of those people who can immediately spot a strategy, this is an easy skill to master and put to use. This is also a skill you can use in everyday life, such as when listening to politics and advertisements.

When you read an article or passage, there are certain questions that you should ask. The first step is beginning with anything along the lines of questions such as “What is this trying to tell me?” and “Is this trying to sway me?”. These types of questions begin to scratch away at the reading, picking apart the writing so you can understand exactly what is going on in it. By doing this, you are informing yourself.

Once you have the beginning questions answered, you can go deeper with the second step. Think about the author’s plan to sway you, and analyze it even closer, beyond simply asking what the author is saying. At this point, you know already they’re trying to sway you if rhetoric is involved. The next step is start asking deeper questions. What makes their argument so compelling? What makes it right? Why do they chose to support that side? Is this an argument that actually has a correct answer, or are the sides a matter of opinion? Is the issue controversial, or more minor? What sources does the author use and why? Questions like these, and more, will help you to think deeply about the article, and you can even note the answers to these types of questions in the margins as useful and effective annotations. Those types of notes are highly useful, and can help you memorize facts and strategies about the article.

Other helpful questions to ask yourself as you read are:
→ Why is this phrased in this way?
→ Why does the author include this particular information?
→ What is the point of this passage?
→ In which direction is this writing trying to sway me and why?
→ Why is this particular statement or claim right here, and is it backed up?

The third step is to connect your answers to rhetorical strategies. For example, if you ask why a piece of information is in an article, and your answer is that it’s because the author wants you to believe the information this person is stating credible, then it’s probably ethos. You might have asked why an author would bring up families and friends in article and cause the reader or listener to consider their own loved ones in certain positions. The author is probably using pathos there if they’re bringing the audience’s lives into their argument to make it hit close to home. Once you have the answers to the questions you asked in the first two steps, consider what strategies the answers are most likely pointing to. If you can look at both the strategy and your answer and explain why they go together, then it’s probably correct.

So now you know some of the ins and outs of rhetoric. Congratulations! Now go conquer that test, discussion, or the world (if you’re feeling up to it)!

About The Author

English Expert And History Expert
Sarah Wilson is an writer (with a memoir and a novel in progress) and tutor, although she is still in her junior year of high school. Despite this, she has a complete mastery (and love!) of the English language and history, and always loves learning as much as she can. She loves tutoring and being a...
9 Subjects
KnowRo Tutor
1 Tutorial
Black Mountain, NC
Get Tutoring Info

Suggested Tutors for Reading Help

Luke N

Bethesda, MD

SAT Instructor And Humanities, Biology

Greg L

Vienna, VA

Government And History Expert

Bridget S

Arlington, VA

Humanities, Language, And Organizational Support

Emily V

Alexandria, VA

Versatile And Flexible Tutor