What Are the Different Types of Rhetorical Techniques?

Marjorie McAtee

Rhetorical techniques or rhetorical devices are generally used to make rhetoric more powerful. The purpose of most rhetoric is to change the opinions of an audience, usually by appealing to logic or emotions. Authors of rhetoric often hope to convince their audiences by appealing to emotion as a means of distracting from important issues, by leaving out certain details, or by confusing the audience with complex speech. Symbolism, imagery, repetition, exaggeration, and figurative language are some other common rhetorical techniques. Rhetorical questions, grammatical parallelism, and the use of humor, pop culture, or historical references can also be considered common rhetorical techniques.

Aristotle considered drawing on popular wisdom a useful technique.
Aristotle considered drawing on popular wisdom a useful technique.

Patterns of sound are often used to help underscore the ideas behind rhetoric. Repeating similar sounds can help draw audiences into the flow of a piece of rhetoric. Metaphors, similes, exaggeration, figurative language, and other elements of literary composition are often employed as rhetorical techniques. These devices can make the rhetoric more engaging to the audience.

Repeating similar sounds can help draw audiences into the flow of a piece of rhetoric.
Repeating similar sounds can help draw audiences into the flow of a piece of rhetoric.

Rhetorical questions, generally defined as questions that do not have a concrete answer, are often used in rhetoric to help sway an audience's thinking. The answer to a rhetorical question is usually a matter of opinion. Most authors and speakers make clear, through context, which answers they are personally espousing when they ask rhetorical questions.

Association with other groups, events, or ideas is considered another of the common rhetorical techniques. Speakers or authors often attempt to influence the thinking of their audience by drawing connections between their own ideas and things that the audience may fear, love, hate or admire. When espousing a particular set of ideals or course of action, many speakers tend to leave out key details that would detract from their cause. They will also generally leave out any details that could support the opposition's ideas. The drawing of parallels between pop culture phenomena or historical events is often used in rhetoric to help audiences identify more strongly with the ideas being espoused by a given speaker.

Techniques used in rhetoric also often include turning the audience's thoughts away from flaws in the speaker's ideology, or from strong points in the opponent's position. This is often accomplished by diverting discussion away from any important issues that may be under fire. Many politicians, for instance, resort to personal attacks against an opponent, or focusing on the opponent's past mistakes, rather than discussing relevant political and social problems. Long-winded, confusing, and complex statements may be used, and are often followed up with over-simplified, clear-cut statements intended to inspire trust in the audience.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - That doesn't surprise me, really. Children are natural performers, and even though we like to think of them as not being self-conscious, I can remember being very aware of an audience when I was a kid, even when there wasn't one!

It's part of learning how to fit into communities. If you aren't aware of the reactions of people to your actions or your speech, then you aren't going to learn which things are considered good and which are considered bad.

Also, when it comes to metaphors and things, kids have the imagination to really get into the heart of description. I bet in some ways they are better than adults in deciding what to put in their speeches and other writing, even if they can't quite get it out as well as an adult might.


I'm learning to be a teacher and we are being taught the different things to look for in a child's writing so we can pick out how advanced they are. Being aware of the audience is one of the things we look for and it's surprising to me how sophisticated children can be in their audience awareness (although they might not understand it the same way as adults do).

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