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Rhetorical Modes of Writing

Organizing Information in Paragraphs

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Advanced Level

In a lesson about types of writing, we saw that regardless of the type of writing you choose (expository, descriptive, persuasive, narrative, or reflective), you still have a great deal of flexibility to choose the rhetorical mode (or mode of writing) that does the job best. Essentially, this means that, depending on your purpose, you can organize the information differently depending on the message you want to or need to convey.

Let’s examine several common rhetorical modes: narration, description, example and illustration, listing, definition, process analysis or steps-in-a-process, comparison-contrast, cause-effect, and problem-solution.

Expository or Informative Writing

Example 1. Expository or informative writing

Below is an expository paragraph in a New York Times article by Ted Alcorn.

Americans drank more during the [COVID-19] pandemic, but national data on the change have only recently become available. Alcohol tax revenues collected by the U.S. Treasury Department rose by eight percent in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, compared with the previous year, and remain well above pre-pandemic levels.

Deaths caused by drinking also rose during the pandemic, spiking 25 percent in 2020 over the previous year. But the deaths — which have topped 140,000 nationwide — have been rising for decades in every state. . . . 

Source:

Alcorn, Ted. “Rise in Deaths Spurs Effort to Raise Alcohol Taxes.” The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2022, .

Narrative Writing

In narrative writing, you tell a story and present information to the readers as a sequence of events.

In storytelling, writers have a great deal of flexibility to the tone that is most appropriate to the message (e.g., serious, joyous, mournful, passionate, and so on).

Whereas you should avoid the first person point of view in formal or academic writing (i.e., using first person pronouns such as I, we, me, us), using first person pronouns in the narrative writing actually brings the writer closer to the story and the topic.

Example 2. Narrative writing

Below is a paragraph in which National Geographic contributor Paul Salopek uses narrative writing to tell the reader about his experience in the Himalayas.

Earlier this year, a teacher friend named Yang Wendou and I hiked across the Hengduan Mountains from south to north. We climbed through forests of fir, spruce, and Yunnan pine. We skidded down snowy passes within sight of Tibet. We breathed razor-cold air at 15,000 feet. We yo-yoed among ice peaks for 220 miles. We saw many wonders. Ours was perhaps the first foot traverse of the vast mountain range, an eastern extension of the Himalaya, undertaken in generations.

Typically, you find narrative writing in anecdotes, jokes, novels, short stories, and poems.

Source:

Salopek, Paul. “Ancient Himalayan towers keep their secrets on a walk through southwest China.” National Geographic, 16 Sept. 2022, .

Descriptive

In the descriptive style of writing, you create an image in the readers’ minds.

Example 3. Descriptive writing

Below is a paragraph in which National Geographic contributor Paul Salopek uses the descriptive writing to “show” the reader what a particular Himalayan area is like.

A product of the colliding Indian and Asian tectonic plates, the wild range knuckles up in parallel white scarps, each carved by plunging river valleys coursing north-south. . . .  Because of this, the region stands out as one of the most biodiverse landscapes on the Earth. Elevation and latitude crosscut to form mazes of high-altitude grasslands, chilly black-green conifer forests, temperate rhododendron thickets, and subtropical lowland savannas. The human picture is hardly less scrambled.

Source:

Salopek, Paul. “Ancient Himalayan towers keep their secrets on a walk through southwest China.” National Geographic, 16 Sept. 2022, .

Persuasive Writing

In persuasive writing, your goal is to convince or (a) to persuade your readers to change their minds, viewpoints, or beliefs or (b) to persuade your readers to do something.

In order to persuade your readers, you must present a convincing, logical argument. You must move your readers to buy something, which could be a concept, and idea, or an actual product.

You commonly find persuasive writing in advertisements, opinion articles or editorials, (political) speeches, product reviews, sales pitches, and business proposals,

Example 4. Persuasive writing

Below is a very short passage in which Marc Franco uses persuasion writing convince English-language learners not to obsess over vocabulary while reading a passage.

A common complaint among English-language learners (ELLs) is that they often cannot fully understand what they read because they keep running into unknown or unfamiliar words. They end up interrupting their reading frequently to look those words up. By the time they finish a paragraph, they have forgotten what the paragraph is about. Afterwards, they forget all the words, anyhow.

Reading generally requires you to keep track of multiple ideas in multiple paragraphs so that you understand the sequence of and relationship between these ideas. With limited brain capacity to process information, readers must stay focused. However, whenever ELLs interrupt their reading to look words up, they are no longer focusing on understanding the content.

Even effective readers run into new or unfamiliar words when they read. The difference is that they focus on the content. As long as the overall content makes sense, they skip over those words and keep reading.

There is a time to read and a time to study vocabulary. ELLs should break the habit of looking up new words while they read. Unless they cannot understand a key sentence or paragraph because of vocabulary, ELLs should be encouraged focus on understanding the content at all times. Over time, they will improve their reading fluency and comprehension. They can always learn any unknown or unfamiliar words after reading.

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