Writing for Web: Rhetorical Modes

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Write what you know?” Well, let’s challenge that advice. What’s wrong with researching something you don’t know and writing to learn about it and teach others? The important question is: What is your goal?

Chapter 10 discusses rhetorical modes: narration, description, explanation, and argument. These ancient ideas have worked for centuries, but how do you apply it to 20th-century Web writing? It is true that most writing crosses over into several modes, but practicing them separately will give you a better understanding of how they work and how they are effective.

In chapter 10, Felder repeats a lot of ideas from previous chapters, so it’s a little redundant. A better way to present this information is to define what your goal is, and use the rhetorical modes in order to accomplish that goal. If you’re not sure where to start, try these ideas from the chapter:

Narration – Tell the reader what happened. This is great for personal experiences, and try with who, what, where, why, and how?

Description – This mode explains how something happened. These are the nitty-gritty details that can either bore your readers or keep them wanting more. There is a fine line, so make sure you find a happy medium.

Explanation – This makes your writing easier to understand. This mode is more common in explaining processes, cause and effect, and used to compare and contrast ideas. Think simple. Your readers will understand your ideas and find you more credible.

Argument – Who doesn’t love a good debate? Whether it’s a political debate or an argument written for entertainment or discussion, arguments get people talking. Use this mode to persuade your audience to think on their own or side with a particular viewpoint.

Point of View

Another important topic in this chapter is Point of View. POV is very important, but not for reasons you may think. For example, have you noticed this post is written in second person? If so, kudos. If not, it’s no big deal because many people do not pay that close attention.

The important thing is consistency. If you bounce between I, you, and he/she, you will irritate your readers and lose their attention. Here’s a cheat sheet:

First person = I, me, we, our, etc.

Second person = you (Yes, I am writing to you the reader)

Third person = he, she, they, them, etc.

So, before you try only writing what you know, try a topic you know nothing about. Some ideas could be fly fishing, biotechnology, BASE jumping, fashion, teen movies, auto mechanics, sea dragons. Then choose your mode(s) and point of view, and see what happens! You will learn something new and teach someone else through your writing exercise.

And remember, it’s not what you know, it’s what you’re willing to learn.