Rhetorical modes are ways of presenting a subject to others in writing or by means of speech. They are also known as modes of discourse. The term ‘rhetorical mode’ is a collective one for all such means and can refer to the type of rhetorical device used and also to the means of relaying it to others.
All modes and means are derived from rhetoric and an ancient art of portraying an opinion to others. This is seen in the great classical orators such as Cicero. Rhetoric is chiefly one-way, with no discussion, and is a platform for relaying one person’s ideas, beliefs or experiences. Great orators are influential people who are able to change the way their listeners or readers think. This can be for the betterment of humanity or for the worse, as shown by contrasting Abraham Lincoln with Adolf Hitler, both of whom were extremely influential during their time.
The rhetorical modes used by orators and writers vary in complexity. Simple rhetorical modes include simple descriptions and narratives. More complex ones seek to compare and contrast examples or to provide a detailed, if one-sided, argument about a particular topic.
Description takes a single idea, person or object and describes it/him/her. It provides a simple illustration of the subject matter without going into too much depth. Extended definition is a rhetorical mode that builds upon the description and seeks to provide additional details and analysis. After a brief introduction, the extended definition will use examples, provide history and background, and draw a conclusion.
Narration and exposition are rhetorical modes that tell a story. These can either be short or extended. Simple narrations combine linked events or a single story and are often used to make a more/philosophical/political point or to provide inspiration, explanation or warning. Narration occurs in speeches, but also in literary forms such as biography, autobiography and personal letters.
Comparing and contrasting are rhetorical modes that take two or more subjects, people, and ideas and match them against one another. The writer or orator uses comparing and contrasting to find links or differences. This mode employs more analysis and argument than simpler ones.
Argument is perhaps the most recognizable of rhetorical modes. It is employed most often by politicians like Cicero or religious leaders like the Pope to put across a single point of view with the intention of persuading people to agree. An argument can be an educated guess or it can be a manufactured attempt to persuade, but usually includes examples, narrations, statistics and analysis before drawing an inevitable conclusion.