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Complex Rhetorical Modes

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Imagine taking a placement exam, and you come to the essay portion. You aren’t familiar with the topic, so you sink a lot of time into reading and re-reading the prompt. It tells you to analyze the given author’s rhetoric and support your argument with evidence from the text. Where do you start?

Complex rhetorical modes are your best friend at this moment; they are like ready-made ways to organize arguments and essays. Once you know them well, you’ll be able to choose which is best for various essays and assignments and begin the writing process immediately.

Complex Rhetorical Mode: Meaning

Before getting into the details of complex rhetorical modes, it's important to define rhetorical modes in general.

Rhetorical modes are a way of organizing communication—whether spoken or written—so the author can impact the audience the way they intend. Rhetorical modes are also known as patterns of organization because they often happen naturally during discourse to create a natural pattern of discussion and/or argument.

Rhetorical modes help writers organize the evidence and connect facts in an orderly fashion so that a reader can make sense of the main idea or message of the text. Complex rhetorical modes are a category of the more involved rhetorical modes. These patterns of organization typically involve detail-oriented handling of the subject, as opposed to basic rhetorical modes, which can be more shallow.

Let’s consider, for example, the discussion surrounding the habit of vaping. Someone could organize the discussion into comparison and contrast—one of the basic rhetorical modes—of vaping versus smoking cigarettes. The discussion would revolve around how the two habits are similar or different.

Someone else could organize the discussion around the effects of vaping. This writer would have to conduct research and dive into an in-depth review of the facts to prove that vaping causes the effects they claim it does. Cause and effect is a complex rhetorical mode because it requires a more detailed discussion of the topic.

Types of Complex Rhetorical Modes with Examples

ComplexRhetoricalModesTypesStudySmarterYou can begin drafting your essay with the help of complex rhetorical modes, Unsplash.

As mentioned, rhetorical modes are like a ready-made approach to an essay or argument, so it’s helpful to understand how each type functions in order to use it to your benefit. You can use your knowledge of rhetorical modes as a springboard for writing essays on exams, eliminating much of the time it takes to organize your thoughts.

There are six types of complex rhetorical modes that are important to understand. Here's a breakdown of each.

Cause and Effect as a Rhetorical Mode

Cause and effect are used to connect an action or event with its consequences. It answers the question, “Why did X happen?” with “X happened because Y.” This rhetorical mode is best used when it is necessary to understand what led up to the event.

Don’t confuse a connection in time and space as true cause and effect as a rhetorical mode. For example, thunder does not make it rain; they often happen simultaneously, but one does not cause the other to happen.

The following statement demonstrates a cause-and-effect relationship: Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years because he was trying to institute democracy in South Africa during apartheid.

Why was Nelson Mandela imprisoned? Because he was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. There are no other possible reasons, and one thing (Mandela's public stance) certainly caused the other (his imprisonment), so this is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Here are a few words and phrases that link a cause to an effect:

  • Because

  • Due to

  • Since

  • Unless

  • Therefore

  • Consequently

  • In light of

Process Analysis as a Rhetorical Mode

By definition, a process is an action that moves through a series of steps toward the desired goal. This rhetorical mode uses a step-by-step explanation of how something changes.

You’ll typically want to describe the process in chronological order or the order in which the events should happen (or have already happened). It’s important to include every step in the process relevant to achieving the desired result.

Think, for example, how confusing it would be to read a recipe that didn’t include pouring the mixed batter into a pan. How does it go from the mixing bowl to the oven? You’d have no way of knowing exactly how to get the finished product.

Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter to produce fertilizer that will enrich the soil for plant growth. You need green organisms such as food scraps, brown organisms such as sticks and dead leaves, and the right combination of water and air. First, make sure your container has plenty of holes for water to flow out and air to come in. Then add your green organic matter to the container, along with the brown organic matter. The best ratio is one part green to one part brown. The food scraps supply nitrogen, while the sticks and leaves provide carbon. Next, mix the contents together to fully incorporate the ingredients. The compost pile should be damp but not dripping wet, so monitor it for dampness and add water if necessary. To incorporate oxygen, regularly turn the compost pile. Within a few weeks, your compost pile will start to decompose and produce that valuable fertilizer for your garden.

Notice the use of transition words “first,” “then,” and “next.” These indicate steps in the process and make the passage easier to follow. This process is explained in chronological order, and the basic steps are covered, so anyone should be able to come away with a basic understanding of how to compost.

When using process analysis as a rhetorical mode, incorporate transition words like first, next, and finally into your writing. These make the process stages clear so the audience can follow along easily.

Definition as a Rhetorical Mode

Definition as a rhetorical mode is more than just defining something; it is a way to share your insight or knowledge about something. Possibly the most subjective (i.e., subject to an individual’s perspective) of all rhetorical modes, the definition allows anyone to explain what something is. Every person uses their own point of view to define the world around them, so one item could be defined in several ways.

For example, consider the term insanity and how a doctor might define it in medical terms. A lawyer might use legal terms to define it, and the average person might simply say that someone is not acting as they normally do. One word considered from different perspectives takes on a whole new meaning.

You can use definition as a rhetorical mode to share your unique understanding of an event, a piece of art, or any subject under the sun.

There is a creativity crisis due to the lack of opportunity for children to feel boredom, mostly due to the constant access to digital entertainment. Creativity is the use of imagination or original thinking for play or artistic expression. Every child is born with creativity and doesn’t need to be taught how to use it. However, today children lose their creativity at earlier and earlier ages.

In this passage, we see a definition of the word creativity from the perspective of someone concerned that it is eroding in today’s youth. The term creativity could be defined in other ways, but this particular definition works with this person’s argument that digital entertainment is causing a creativity crisis.

This passage also contains the beginning of an argument using the cause and effect rhetorical mode. With some more research and perhaps some statistics to illuminate trends in children’s creative output since the advent of smartphones and video games, there could be grounds for a cause-and-effect relationship.

ComplexRhetoricalModesTypesStudySmarter

Use complex rhetorical modes to improve your writing, Unsplash.com

Description as a Rhetorical Mode

Description is a tool writers use to make their writing come alive—they do this with language that appeals to the five senses. As a rhetorical mode, it should not be confused with definition. While definition explains the meaning of something, description explains its attributes.

Descriptions can be either objective or subjective; objective is a factual account of something, while subjective is the view from a single person’s perspective.

Objective description: The kitchen table is rectangular, eighty inches long, twenty inches wide, and made of hardwood covered with nicks and dings.

Subjective description: The kitchen table is the heart of the home. We cram ourselves around its four sides to eat our meals, share our days, and dream of the future. Little imperfections from years of use are worn into the wood-like lines on the palm of a hand.

As a rhetorical mode, the description provides information about something in great detail. It is often used in storytelling to make the audience feel as though they are experiencing the words on the page.

Narration as a Rhetorical Mode

While description is an excellent tool for storytelling, narration is the vehicle that carries a story. Narration is a means of presenting events in the past, present or imagined future. The main purpose is to explain to an audience what happened and in what order.

When possible, arrange the events of a narrative in chronological order. It is also important to provide a distinct beginning, middle, and end to the story.

Another key to narration is to use details. Details give authenticity to the story and make the reader feel as though they are experiencing the story. Vibrant language and varied sentence structures also make a narrative come to life for the reader.

“In the winter she sewed night after night, endlessly, begging castoff clothing from relatives, ripping apart coats, dresses, blouses, and trousers to remake them to fit her four daughters and son. Every morning and every evening she milked cows, fed pigs and calves, cared for chickens, picked eggs, cooked meals, washed dishes, scrubbed floors, and tended and loved her children. In the spring she planted a garden once more, dragging pails of water to nourish and sustain the vegetables for the family. In 1936 she lost a baby in her sixth month.”

This passage is from Bonnie Smith Yackal’s My Mother Never Worked (2010). It is an excellent example of narration as it moves the reader through a series of events, giving them insight into the busy life of her mother.

The use of varied sentence structures creates a feeling of living in the story. The same passage would have been much duller if it read, “She sewed clothes. She fed the animals. She cleaned the house.”

Argumentation/Persuasion as a Rhetorical Mode

This refers to a type of writing or discussion that is clearly arguing in support of a particular point. The goal of argumentation, also known as persuasion, is to convince an audience of your opinion or belief about something.

You can use two lines of reasoning to persuade your audience of your stance: inductive and deductive reasoning.

Inductive reasoning uses specific examples to reach a general conclusion. For example, if a child refuses to eat carrots and potatoes at a meal, you might conclude they hate vegetables. You might be right, the child might dislike all vegetables, or perhaps they only dislike carrots and potatoes.

Deductive reasoning is the inverse of inductive; it uses generalizations to reach conclusions about a specific case. For example, imagine waking up and looking outside to see several inches of snow cover the ground. You turn on the news, saying schools in the surrounding area are closed today. You can use deductive reasoning to conclude that your particular school is closed and use that information to convince your mom to let your friend come over.

Why Are Complex Rhetorical Modes Important?

Remember the exam essay scenario from earlier? The fear of not knowing what to write is paralyzing, especially when you only have so much time to write. Complex rhetorical modes equip you with the ability to organize an argument on the spot - not just a simple argument, but one that is well thought-out and will have the most impact on your audience.

Knowledge of complex rhetorical modes will make you a better writer and speaker who can persuade your audience of (just about) anything.

Complex Rhetorical Modes - Key takeaways

  • Rhetorical modes are a way of organizing communication so that the audience is impacted the way the author intends.
  • Complex rhetorical modes are a category of the more involved rhetorical modes.
  • Complex rhetorical modes include:
  • Complex rhetorical modes are useful as blueprints for high-quality arguments and discussions, especially in essays.
  • The difference between definition and description is that description appeals to the five senses while definition shares the author's special knowledge about something.

Complex Rhetorical Modes

Complex rhetorical modes are a category of the more involved rhetorical modes. These patterns of organization typically involve detail-oriented handling of the subject, as opposed to basic rhetorical modes, which can be more shallow.

The types of complex rhetorical modes are cause and effect, process analysis, definition, description, and narration.

Yes, classification is a rhetorical strategy. It is typically categorized as a basic rhetorical strategy. 

Complex rhetorical modes are important because they are patterns after which you can organize an argument or discussion. These are useful tools for organizing and writing an essay. 

The difference between definition and description as complex rhetorical modes is that description uses vivid, descriptive language that appeals to the five senses. In contrast, definition shares the author's special knowledge or insight about something. 

Final Complex Rhetorical Modes Quiz

Question

What is an action verb?

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Answer

An action verb (also called a dynamic verb) expresses an action in a sentence.

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Question

What is the function of an action verb?

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Answer

To show what the subject is doing

Show question

Question

Sara opened the fridge.

Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?


Show answer

Answer

Transitive

Show question

Question

What is a linking verb?

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Answer

A linking verb expresses a state of being in a sentence, instead of an action.

Show question

Question

Isaac smiled.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Intransitive

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Question

Which of these sentences uses "looked" as an action verb?

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Answer

Shawna looked out the window.

Show question

Question

Are words like am, is, are, was, and were examples of linking verbs or action verbs?

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Answer

Linking verbs

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Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs? (select all that apply)

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Answer

Sean felt the cool breeze in his hair.

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs?

(select all that apply)

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Answer

Lea is a florist.

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Question

True or false: an action verb is either transitive or intransitive.

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of these sentences uses "appears" as an action verb?

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Answer

Don appears in the middle of the room.

Show question

Question

You are playing the piano.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

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Answer

Transitive

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs?

(select all that apply)

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Answer

They are growing weary

Show question

Question

I laughed loudly.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Intransitive

Show question

Question

Are words like sit, chuckle, throw, consume, and drive examples of linking verbs or action verbs?

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Answer

Action verbs

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Question

A description uses _____ to create a _____ in your mind.

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Answer

words, image

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Question

What is the purpose of a description?

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Answer

The purpose of a description is to narrow the mental distance between you and the subject described.

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Question

"An objective description is limited to how something feels."

True or false? 

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Answer

False. An objective description is limited to the subject's structure. It is factual.

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Question

What is a subjective description?

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Answer

A subjective description is one that changes depending on who you are. The resulting image will be unique to you.

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Question

What is the problem with calling objective descriptions "objective"?

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Answer

Even "objective" descriptions are often subjective. No matter how detailed a description is, the reader creates the image. 

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Question

Can feelings and concepts be described using the five senses?

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Answer

Yes. 

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Question

What are the five types of sensory images?

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Answer

Auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile, and visual.

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Question

"Defeat left a bitter flavor in his mouth" is an example of what kind of sensory imagery?

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Answer

Gustatory

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Question

"Her words felt like a file sanding me down," is an example of what kind of sensory image?

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Answer

Tactile

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Question

"An olfactory image is one concerned with the smell of something."


True or false?

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Answer

True. 

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Question

When writing a description, it is important to consider your _____.

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Answer

audience

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Question

What is an example of a written medium that will probably have few descriptions?

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Answer

An essay, a scientific paper, an email, and a data analysis are some examples.

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Question

"When using a medium with more descriptions, you probably want a reader to know something rather than feel something."


True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Should you use descriptions to add much needed length to your essay? 

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Answer

No. Every part of your essay should support your thesis. Excessive descriptions hurt rather than help.

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Question

How is a thesaurus best used?

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Answer

A thesaurus is best when it is jogging your memory, not finding you an unfamiliar word.

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Question

An objective description is the use of _____ to create an image in your mind.

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Answer

Facts

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"The purpose of objective description is to create an accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind."

True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

Objective descriptions thrive when they act as _____.

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Answer

Clarification

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Question

Describing a pea pod as bumpy is an example of what?

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Answer

A modestly objective description. 

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Question

What is the problem with describing a pea pod in a highly objective way?

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Answer

Laboriously charting out the curvature of a pea pod using math (the highly objective way) would mean nothing to most readers. Therefore, a modestly objective description is more appropriate: calling a pea pod "bumpy."

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Question

"A highly objective description creates a casually accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind."

True or false?

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Answer

False. A highly objective description creates a quantifiably accurate mental representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.

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Question

"The road is covered in leaves" is an example of _____.

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Answer

A modestly objective description.

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Question

Where lies the difference between a modestly objective description and a subjective description?

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Answer

Intent. A modestly objective description is intended to be simple. It is lightly interpretable. On the other hand, a subjective description is intended to be complex. It is interpretable.

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Question

If you are writing a scientific paper, would you rather include highly objective descriptions or modestly objective descriptions?

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Answer

Highly objective descriptions, because your paper is concerned with hard evidence.

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Question

How should you clarify a foreign concept for your reader?

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Answer

It depends on your audience. The more scientific your paper, the more objective your descriptions should be. Use subjective descriptions in creative writing.

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Question

What is a foreign concept?

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Answer

A foreign concept is a subject not well-understood by your reader. Try your best to clarify it.

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Question

Is "slowing down the exploration of your thesis" a problem with including objective descriptions?

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Answer

Yes, if you include too many. Too many descriptions of any kind can be distracting. When using objective descriptions to contextualize your argument, always consider what your audience stands to gain. 

Show question

Question

"The cat is quick."

Is this an objective description?

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Answer

Yes, it is a modestly objective description, meaning it is intended to be a simple description. 

Show question

Question

"The tree, which had lost its many pretty flowers, stands eleven feet tall."

What kinds of description does this use?

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Answer

Modestly objective description (many), subjective description (pretty), and highly objective description (eleven feet tall). 

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Question

If you are writing an essay, should you rely on highly objective descriptions?

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Answer

Use them, but don't use them so much that you slow down the exploration of your thesis.

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Question

A subjective description is the use of _____ to create an image in your mind. 

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Answer

Opinions

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Question

The purpose of subjective description is to create an _____ representation of the subject in the reader's mind.

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Answer

Emotional

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Question

Most stories you'll read include a mixture of _____ and _____ descriptions.

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Answer

Objective, Subjective

Show question

Question

To pinpoint whether a description is objective or descriptive, first _____ the descriptions.

Show answer

Answer

Isolate

Show question

Question

In an essay, are you more likely to use objective or subjective description?

Show answer

Answer

Objective.

Show question

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