Rhetorical Situation

Rhetoric means communicating with a purpose or in an attempt to persuade an audience to do or believe something. Rhetoric also refers to the study of such communication.

The rhetorical situation, then is the context within which a writer or speaker carries out such communication. You can begin to understand the rhetorical situation of an act of communication by analyzing:

  • Purpose — Why is this person writing? What effect(s) does the writer hope to achieve?
  • Audience — Who is this person’s intended audience? Are there multiple different audiences? What strategies does the author use to get the message across to those audiences? What sorts of stakes do those audiences have in the message?
  • Context — Who is reading this text (which might include other audiences the author never intended or considered)? What specific contexts apply because of the way this text is being presented right now? The same text read by different people, in different times or places, presented with different purposes, can have very different contexts.

Braziller & Kleinfeld, The Rhetorical Situation


  • Data
  • Sources
  • Backing


In “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing,” Joseph Bizup advocates for a new vocabulary around the use of evidence and sources for students. Instead of primary, secondary, and tertiary as the main classifications of sources, Bizup proposes the acronym BEAM:

  • Background for materials a writer relies on for general information or for factual evidence;
  • Exhibit for materials a writer analyzes or interprets;
  • Argument for materials whose claims a writer engages; and
  • Method for materials from which a writer takes a governing concept or derives a manner of working.

Work Cited

Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1: 2008. 72-86.