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What Are Rhetorical Modes?

Rhetorical modes are techniques that writers and speakers use to effectively convey ideas and enhance communication. These modes, including narration, description, exposition, and argumentation, shape the way information is presented, making it more persuasive or informative. Each mode serves a unique purpose, guiding readers through a journey of understanding. Wondering how they can transform your writing? Let's explore their power together.
Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

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.

A boy giving a speech.
A boy giving a speech.

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.

Adolph Hitler's verbal rhetoric swayed public opinion in Nazi Germany.
Adolph Hitler's verbal rhetoric swayed public opinion in Nazi Germany.

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.

Simple rhetorical modes include simple descriptions and narratives.
Simple rhetorical modes include simple descriptions and narratives.

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.

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Discussion Comments


@Buster29, I had to use those same rhetorical modes in my college speech class, too. I had to demonstrate how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so each step had to be clear and simple and logical. I didn't have to explain the history of peanut butter or show how bread was made.

My next speech topic wasn't a comparison and contrast, but more like a narration. I had to tell a funny story about something that happened to me when I was a child. I had to use a lot of details and also get a little more emotional.

The persuasive speech was really hard. I had to persuade people that the arts still needed to be taught in public schools. Some of my classmates argued with me about tax dollars being wasted on music programs or technical training being more practical. I had to use a combination of facts and emotions to get my point across.


These rhetorical techniques all sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't remember why. Then I realized I had to write five paragraph themes using all of those modes back in high school English classes. We had to write a descriptive paper first, like how to make a paper airplane. Then we had to compare and contrast two ideas, like living in the city and living in the country. The final theme paper was persuasive, using facts and arguments to defend a particular opinion. I remember I wrote my persuasive theme paper against the use of the death penalty.

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    • A boy giving a speech.
      By: auleena
      A boy giving a speech.
    • Adolph Hitler's verbal rhetoric swayed public opinion in Nazi Germany.
      By: Recuerdos de Pandora
      Adolph Hitler's verbal rhetoric swayed public opinion in Nazi Germany.
    • Simple rhetorical modes include simple descriptions and narratives.
      By: Photo_Ma
      Simple rhetorical modes include simple descriptions and narratives.