Rhetoric is the study of effective speaking and writing. And the art of persuasion. And many other things . (from Silva Rhetoricae )
In the Department Rhetoric and Professional Writing (RPW), we use rhetoric as a theoretical framework for thinking about how to understand and address the problems and challenges we face.
The definition above from the web resource Silva Rhetoricae continues: "In its long and vigorous history rhetoric has enjoyed many definitions, accommodated differing purposes, and varied widely in what it included. And yet, for most of its history it has maintained its fundamental character as a discipline for training students (1) to perceive how language is at work orally and in writing, and (2) to become proficient in applying the resources of language in their own speaking and writing." Rhetoric prompts writers to ask questions that help them define the pathway to their communication goal: what challenge needs to be resolved? what is at stake? who is impacted by the challenge and its outcomes? what values do they represent? how did this challenge arise?
It is in this way that Professional and Technical Writing students learn to tackle projects. Rhetorical frameworks allow students the adaptability necessary to not only apply one skill set to one situation, but also to apply their broad communication knowledge to a variety of situations, problems, and contexts.
For example, a student working on a project might partner with people in her community to seek the means to address a common goal. Collaborating with community members, she can apply her knowledge of people, values, and social forces within that context and use rhetorically grounded strategies for writing and communicating to seek the best way to achieve that goal. Such strategies might lead her to present similar content in different forms that help her reach specific audiences—a proposal directed to funding agents, a brochure designed for members of the immediate community, or a website for a more global readership.