What Is Rhetorical Function?

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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2019
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Rhetorical function is most often used as a set of rules that guide a writer in creating an effective composition, particularly academic compositions or compositions for public speaking. The rhetorical function of an action or object refers to the point that it makes in the context of an argument or public discourse exchange. This term can also be used in reference to rhetorical strategy, or the method used to persuade a reader or audience member to agree with the writer's or speaker's point of view.

Rhetorical function can be a few often things, but it is most often used to refer to a set of rules that guide a writer in creating an effective composition. Methods used in academic rhetorical function center around informing the listener or reader. A writer creating an informative piece that describes a subject uses different functions than a writer who is attempting to critique a subject or introduce the reader to a possibly opposing point of view. It can also describe the effect an action or object has on discourse.


When describing a subject, a writer might use describe what an object looks like, feels like or does, or he might use examples or narration to give the reader a better idea of the subject. He might use definitions and classifications or visual aids like tables and charts to teach the reader. A writer might sometimes use rhetorical devices to make a description more interesting, but he generally does not include language meant to convince the reader of any contested point.

In contrast with descriptive, informational writing, a critical or argumentative composition would use rhetorical function meant to persuade the reader or audience of information that may not be generally accepted, like a hypothesis that challenges information that was previously regarded as true. When a writer works to persuade a reader, he might offer information leading to points that support his main conclusion. He may also use narrative to illustrate how the information and points lead to his conclusion.

For the most part, the rhetorical function of an object, which can be a physical object as well as a word within a composition, refers to how the object works to illustrate the information or point made in the composition. Examples of the use of an object for rhetorical function include the use of bra burning to spur women to cast off the feminine constraints that were imposed by society, or putting a flower in a gun to protest a war. Rhetorical function of a word or phrase becomes relevant when a writer chooses to use a word or phrase with a good or bad connotation rather than one that is more neutral.


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