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What Are the Different Types of Rhetorical Skills?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Since time immemorial, people have done their best to persuade others to believe as they believe, trust what they trust, and do what they do. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Cicero collectively helped formalize the study of how language is used in persuasion, also called argument. The approaches they focused on are called rhetorical skills. Rhetorical skills fall into a number of categories, including invention, arrangement, memory, delivery, and style.

As a rhetorical skill, invention is the origin. It includes ethos, pathos, and logical proof. Ethos refers to the speaker’s apparent ethical standards as well as credibility. Pathos is concerned with the degree to which the orator provokes an emotional response in those who are listening. Logical proof is found in the use of inductive and deductive reasoning.

The category of arrangement looks at the rhetorical structure of the orator’s argument and includes seven elements: introduction, narration, proposition, division, proof, refutation, and conclusion. Introduction is the orator’s invitation to the audience to listen to the argument, and narration briefly lists facts that relate to the argument. In the proposition, the orator explores these facts. Division is how the orator organizes all the points into categories; proof refers to the orator’s logical, step-by-step presentation of supporting ideas; and refutation is the point at which the orator points out the errors in the opposing argument. During the conclusion, the orator summarizes the argument and urges the audience to respond emotionally.

The role of memory in rhetorical skills is simple but important. The orator must internalize the argument’s structure to the point where he or she can present it as though it were spontaneous and heartfelt. Delivery involves the orator’s control of tone of voice and gesture.

Rhetorical skills work hand in hand with one another. Without style, the final formal category, the orator’s points are bound to fall flat. The language in which the argument is delivered must demonstrate purity, or linguistic correctness; clarity, which means the points are transparent; and decorum, or how appropriate the points are to the argument as a whole. The orator simultaneously impresses and subtly seduces the audience through the use of ornament, or metaphor, linguistic rhythm, and idioms. Good rhetorical skills also require questions, including interrogative or rhetorical questions that don’t require a response: rogatio, in which the orator asks and answers the question; quaesitio, which presents a number of questions quickly in an attempt to sway the audience emotionally; and percontatio, which are unanswerable questions that leave the audience feeling unsatisfied.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Mar 28, 2013

Why don't we use more elements of rhetorical writing in schools? I've never had a teacher have me write an essay in this format but there is a rhetorical skills section in the university exam.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 27, 2013

@fify-- I agree with you. Debate is a very important rhetorical skill for careers in politics and law. Forming arguments and counter-arguments and using facts to support these arguments is how politicians and lawyers convince people.

I was in a politics and law class in college and we had many students in class who were preparing for law school. Some of them were so competent in rhetorical skills that they could form one argument in support of something and then form an argument against the same thing just a minute later.

I've never seen any other group of people think so thoroughly and quickly and represent their thoughts so convincingly. It was very impressive.

By fify — On Mar 27, 2013

I think politicians use these rhetorical skills very well. When I listen to political speeches, I become very interested in whatever subject that was discussed. But this is not just because the topic is very intriguing, it's because the speaker presents information in such a way that it makes me interested in it.

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