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Exigency

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English

Every rhetorical situation begins with an exigency, a motivating need. Exigency, also known as exigence, means the things required to address an issue, problem, or situation. When you think of exigency, you think of why a text exists. Exigency motivates writers to write. For example, you might ask yourself, "why am I writing this essay?" You probably have at least one or two exigencies motivating your writing. Identifying your exigencies can help you write with a clearer purpose.

Exigency: Definition

Exigency: what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency refers to the things needed in order to address an issue, problem, or situation.

Exigency is sometimes known as exigence. Exigence stems from the Latin word for "demand." Rhetorician Lloyd Bitzer made this term popular. Exigency originally referred to the needs that arise from this demand. However, the terms exigency and needs are used as synonyms in modern English. Bitzer explains exigence, or exigency, as the reason for writing:

In every rhetorical situation, there will be at least one controlling exigence which functions as the organizing principle: it specifies the audience to be addressed and the change to be affected.1

In other words, there is always at least one reason (exigency) to write. That reason influences the decisions you make, such as who your audience is and what your purpose is.

Exigency, Audience, Purpose Exigency, StudySmarterExigency, Audience, Purpose - Elizabeth Brownlow, StudySmarter Originals.

Rhetorical Exigency vs. Non-Rhetorical Exigency

Rhetorical Exigency refers to the needs that drive a rhetorical situation. Rhetorical exigencies can be addressed with rhetoric.

Rhetoric: the practice of speaking or writing effectively to influence people.

Rhetoric can be used to effect change, opinion, or feeling. When a problem or issue can be fixed or changed through rhetoric, this is rhetorical exigency.

You need to prove your understanding of a subject to your teacher.

In this case, the need to prove your understanding of a subject is the exigency. The essay that will address the need to prove your understanding of a subject is the rhetorical situation.

Non-Rhetorical Exigency refers to urgent needs outside of rhetorical situations. Non-rhetorical exigencies cannot be addressed with rhetoric.

You need to drive your child to school because they missed their bus.

The need to drive your child because they missed the bus is the exigency. However, it cannot be addressed with an essay, speech, or any other rhetorical situation.

Rhetorical exigency can be dealt with through rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.

Difference Between Exigency and Emergency

Although exigency and emergency sound like the same thing, they are not.

An emergency is an urgent, potentially dangerous situation that needs to be addressed immediately, whereas exigencies are the needs that arise from a situation. Therefore, while exigency is about what is needed in a situation, an emergency is about the situation itself.

Rhetorical exigency focuses on needs that can be addressed with rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency focuses on needs that cannot be addressed with rhetoric.

How does Exigency Affect my Writing?

Exigency determines the subject, audience, and purpose of your writing. Let's go back to Lloyd Bitzer's definition of exigency. He said that every rhetorical situation has at least one reason that motivates it. That reason influences who we write to (the audience). It also influences the effect we want to have on our audience (the purpose). What he did not mention is that it also influences what we write about: the subject.

Exigency, Exigency's Influence on Writing Exigency, StudySmarterExigency's Influence on Writing - Elizabeth Brownlow, StudySmarter Originals.

Your teacher asks you to write an essay about a major historical figure. You need to demonstrate your understanding of this person to your teacher. This need is an example of exigency.

But you still have to decide:

  • Which historical figure to write about.
  • Who the intended audience is.
  • The purpose of your essay.

Exigency influences these choices.

For instance, you might like Eleanor Roosevelt. Your desire to study Eleanor Roosevelt is another exigency. It influences your subject.

You want to educate people about Eleanor Roosevelt and her legacy (another exigency). This influences your choice of audience: people who do not know much about Eleanor Roosevelt.

You want your audience to understand how great Eleanor Roosevelt is (another exigency). This influences your purpose or the effect you intend your work to have on the audience.

The Importance of Identifying Exigency

What we write is determined by exigencies. Understanding the exigencies that influence your writing can help you in the writing process. Let's look at some of the ways identifying exigency can help you write:

Deciding What to Write about

To meet your needs, you have to understand what they are. Consider the above example. You needed to research a historical figure. You also needed to satisfy your interest in Eleanor Roosevelt. So, you made Eleanor Roosevelt the subject of your research essay.

When you're stuck choosing an essay subject, consider what is needed. Choose a subject that meets those needs.

Identifying Your Audience

You should also consider the needs of your audience. Ask yourself:

  • "Who needs to know about this subject?"
  • "What do they need to know about it?"

Think about your audience's needs as you write. This will help you select information to include in the essay.

Understanding Your Purpose

Your purpose is also determined by your needs. Think about your needs and the needs of your audience. For instance, in the above example, you needed to educate the public about Eleanor Roosevelt. Your audience needed to understand how great she was. Your purpose was to educate the public on the positive aspects of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Consider how your needs connect with the audience's needs. Think about all of these needs to decide what effect you want your essay to have.

Examples of Exigency

You can find examples of exigency all around you! Celebrities, novels, and your own essays offer excellent examples. Let's take a look at a few examples below. What other examples can you think of?

Examples of Exigency in Everyday Life

  • A YouTube creator issues an apology to followers for their offensive remarks. They need to improve their image.

  • A celebrity posts a Tweet addressing rumors of their recent breakup. They need to set the record straight.

  • A politician gives a speech full of promises to voters. They need to gain voter trust.

  • Your mother lectures you after staying out late. She needs to make sure it won't happen again.

Examples of Exigency in Texts

  • A novelist writes a political satire. They believe readers need to understand the political hypocrisies of their time.

  • A journalist reports on a recent crisis to inform the public. They believe readers need to know what is happening.

  • Your teacher creates an essay prompt. They believe you need to understand the assignment requirements.

  • A poet writes a sonnet to express their love for someone. They need to express themselves. They also believe that person needs to know how they feel.

Examples of Exigency in Your Writing

  • You write an essay about your passion for robotics to get into college. You need to demonstrate why you would be a good fit for that college.
  • You compose a letter to the school principal to petition for healthier lunch options. You believe the principal needs to make a change.
  • You type an email to your teacher requesting an extension on an assignment. You need more time to work on it.
  • You create a presentation for your biology class to demonstrate how atoms work. You need to demonstrate your understanding of the subject to pass the course.

How do I Identify Exigencies for My Essay?

You can identify the exigencies of an essay by thinking about your motivations. Consider the different reasons you have for writing. Think about the needs of your needs and your audience's needs. Let those needs guide you as you write.

Identifying Exigencies to Write your Essay

Identifying exigencies can help you to decide on the subject, audience, and purpose of your essay. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:

Identifying Exigencies to Decide on a Subject

  • What does the essay prompt ask me to do?
  • What skills or knowledge do I need to demonstrate?
  • What interests me about this essay?
  • Is there a specific problem or issue I can address with this essay?

Identifying Exigencies to Determine Audience

  • Who does not know enough about this subject?
  • Who is probably interested in this subject?
  • Who needs to be aware of the problem or issue I address in my essay?
  • Who can fix the problem or need I address in my essay?

Identifying Exigencies to Find Purpose

  • What do I need my audience to know about this subject?
  • What do I want my audience to care about regarding this subject?
  • What would my audience want to know about this subject?
  • How do I want my audience to feel about this subject?

Quick tip! You can ask yourself these questions before you start writing AND while you write. Return to these questions whenever you're stuck.

Exigency - Key takeaways

  • Exigency is what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency is what is required to address an issue, problem, or situation. In modern English, exigence and exigency are synonyms.
  • There is always at least one reason to write. That reason influences your subject, choice of audience, and purpose.
  • Rhetorical exigency can be dealt with through rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.
  • Exigency and Emergency are not the same. Exigency focuses on the needs of a situation. Emergency focuses on a potentially dangerous situation.

  • You can identify exigencies for your essay by thinking about your motivations and asking yourself important questions.


1 Lloyd Bitzer. "The Rhetorical Situation." Philosophy & Rhetoric. 1968.

Exigency

Exigence is a synonym for exigency, or what motivates a rhetorical situation. 

Exigency is what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency is what is required to address an issue, problem, or situation. 

An example of exigency is a celebrity posting a Tweet to address rumors of their recent breakup. They need to set the record straight. They use rhetoric to do so.

A synonym of exigency is needs.

The difference between rhetorical exigency and non-rhetorical exigency is whether the situation can be addressed with rhetoric. Rhetorical exigency can be dealt with in a rhetorical situation. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.

Final Exigency Quiz

Question

What is exigency?

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Answer

Exigency is what a situation requires. In rhetoric, exigency is what is required to address an issue, problem, or situation. 

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Question

What is the key difference between rhetorical exigency and non-rhetorical exigency?

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Answer

Rhetorical Exigency can be addressed with rhetoric. Non-rhetorical exigency cannot.

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Question

Is exigency the same as emergency?

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Answer

No. Emergency is focused on a dangerous situation. Exigency is focused on the needs that arise from a problem or situation.

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Question

Exigency stems from the Latin word for "______".

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Answer

Demand

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Question

What does exigency influence in the writing process?

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Answer

Purpose

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Question

What can identifying exigencies help writers do?

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Answer

Decide what to write about

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Question

A student writes a letter to their school principal because they believe the principal needs to fix a problem. Is this an example of exigency?

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Answer

Yes, this is an example of exigency! The need to fix the problem is an example of exigency. As well, the student's belief that the principal needs to fix the problem is an example of exigency.

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Question

A writer can identify exigencies in their writing by thinking about what?

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Answer

Their motivations

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Question

Whose needs should one think of when writing an essay?

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Answer

Their own needs

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Question

Can an essay prompt give clues to identify exigencies for writing?

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Answer

Yes! The essay prompt can explain at least one thing the writer needs to do.

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Question

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and decide on the subject of an essay?

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Answer

What does the essay prompt ask me to do? 

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Question

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and determine the audience for an essay?

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Answer

Who does not know enough about this subject?

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Question

What questions can a writer ask themselves to identify exigencies and find the purpose of their essay?

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Answer

What do I need my audience to know about this subject?

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Question

True or False: A writer can ask themselves questions to identify exigencies before they start writing AND while they write.

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Answer

True! Identifying exigencies can be helpful at any stage of the writing process.

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Question

A person breaks their leg and needs urgent medical attention. What is this an example of?

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Answer

Emergency

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