open book on the comforter of a bed with two hands holding it open. It has small string lights sitting in the center of the book, lighting up the words on the page, contrasting with the dim lighting surrounding it
Open Book with String Lights. Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Learning Objectives

  • Understand rhetorical reading and how to apply
  • Understand how to analyze different points of view even if they do not agree with yours
  • Recognize the difference between content and function feature strategies
  • Understand why rhetorical reading is preferred over content and function feature strategies
  • Identify the connection between writer’s function feature and reader’s function feature
  • Realize the importance of credible sourcing for research

Key Terms

  • Rhetorical reading – the act of delving into an article or a piece of text having deeper understanding prior to the knowledge based on research one had already done on the author and his/her point of view to decipher what the author is trying to portray to the audience and why
  • Rhetor – the author(s) of a piece of text and/or those responsible for discourse.
  • Content Reading Strategy – reading information and keeping that information as facts
  • Function Feature Strategy – a reader’s use of the generic functions of a text  in order to infer or generate meaning from a text.

What is Rhetorical Reading?

Rhetorical reading, simply put, is using whatever it is you are reading to understand what you are reading. It is beyond simply trying to understand what an author is saying. This entails reading outside of the text to understand the text itself.1 Reading rhetorically starts as a concept many students may find slightly difficult to interpret, but over time it becomes a habit and a priority when researching and analyzing information. The purpose of reading rhetorically is to understand how the text is shaped by the context. As a college student, rhetorical reading is necessary in most classes because our job is now to not only read and keep what the text says, but instead to ask questions that break through the surface of the reading and throw you deeper into the text’s meaning. This involves discovering why you are reading a piece of text and why the author created the text rather than just understanding the material in which you are reading.

Rhetorical reading is not easy. It should be viewed as a challenge the text proposes to you every time you read the information presented to you. Analyzing the author and the author’s point of view are key components when reading rhetorically. To become a rhetorical reader, you must understand how to interpret what the author is saying and why they are saying it. This has to do with who the author (see also: rhetor)     is. Efficient rhetorical readers will often do outside research on the author to interpret the author’s point of view and will skillfully be able to use the author’s point of view to prepare themselves to read rest of the text while understanding why the text is being read and for what purpose it was written. Becoming aware of where the author is coming from before delving into the text can be considered the most important and prominent part of rhetorical reading.

As college students, reading rhetorically should be something that becomes a habit, especially while reading material about our college assignments. The   goal for us as students is to get beyond just reading to keep information and analyzing. Our goal should become about using the information you know about the author and their point of view as well as using the text you are currently analyzing to develop your own opinion, thereby using that opinion to relay the information you found to other readers. Forming one’s own opinion while reading rhetorically will also help one increase his/her own understanding of the text.

Having to do outside research on the author of a piece of text results from the fact that we cannot simply read information and assume it is always true. We are many times challenged by professors to back up information with more sources and examples from other texts. This is precisely why we read rhetorically by doing research on the author and by questioning the point of view of the author.

Classroom with a professor teaching his students. All the tables and chair are facing the center of the room forming a square and having all the chairs on the outside of the square. The professor is seated on the outside of the square with the students away from the podium that is out of frame. How the furniture is situated within the space encourages discussion and places the professor on equal ground with the students.
University Academic Writing I Classroom

Why do we trust sources?

When we choose our sources while researching authors, or while researching anything for that matter, what is it that allows us to trust that source and what the author of that source is saying? As readers and researchers, our job is to find reliable outside information to enhance our knowledge of the piece of text we are reading that would extend beyond our simple understanding from solely reading that text. Because of the advancements in modern technology, we can access a multitude of information in a matter of seconds, but what tells us this information is trustworthy?

To trust a source completely, it is necessary to do outside research to affirm the information that you found in the text. Not everything you see for the first time is true, and it is necessary to be able to pick out information that may not be 100% factual. Even when you think a source may be very credible, it never hurts to find that information somewhere else to back up claims. Reliable information, namely on the internet, would be considered any information published through reliable sources. This is where the question arises of who is considered a reliable source and who should be disregarded when searching for solid information. Information published by those who have received a doctorate, or a PhD, well as any professional in the field of information being discussed would be considered reliable information.

When reading any article, the first step as a rhetorical reader would be to check the website. If the website is one that is well-known for consisting of correct and reliable information, then the text in which you are reading is most likely reliable, as well. Wikipedia is a source that many professors and other teachers negate because of the possibility of unreliable information being posted, as it is possible to be edited by anyone. However, Wikipedia is not the only source that could possibly contain information that is not majority factual, and that is precisely why outside research is necessary. Wikipedia can be an incredibly thorough source to start from to find baseline information on the topic or author in which you are researching, but this should be used as a starting point, mostly, and never as one’s only source of reliable information. Other, more credible websites should always be searched for when doing this kind of research. Additionally, it never hurts to double check information found online. Finding another source affirming the same information as another is a reassuring sign that you found information that is reliable.

Your Position vs. Author’s Position

Many news sources today have a bias that leans toward one side or another of a certain topic or argument. When reading the news, most people tend to read from sources that agree with their views rather than sources that oppose them. Readers do this because it affirms the information in which they already know and provides them with the information they want to hear. As a rhetorical reader, it is best to consider all sides of a topic, news or not. When we read or watch the news as a rhetorical reader, we need to be aware of this bias and understand who the author is trying to persuade. As the reader, it is not so much important to agree with what the author is saying but rather it is more important to be able to understand why the author is saying that and to understand why the opposing side of the topic as compared to you, as the reader, can makes sense to others.

News sources will use their power to persuade the viewer in many cases. As a rhetorical reader, it is necessary to view all news knowing that not all information you read will be completely factual. This is not saying the news is unreliable, however, it is trying to persuade you not to believe everything you hear without affirming the information through other reliable sources. The reason that some information found in the news may not be 100% factual is namely because of this bias that exists within the news. The author of an article in the news may be aware of his/her audience and may use language that is enticing towards those very people. Words may be twisted or used tactically in ways that is not necessarily considered lying or supplying false information but is still not sharing all the actual truth. This does not mean you should not hold your own opinions on the information being distributed by news sources, but instead means you should get as much information as you can before forming that opinion to as educated as possible on the subject at hand.

Instead of ignoring articles that do not agree with your point of view, reading those articles will aid you in expanding your knowledge and strengthening your argument against the position the author holds. It is easy to get comfortable with reading text that you are familiar with and that consist of information that consistently affirms your beliefs, but that can cause us to get caught in an isolated information bubble that does not allow any latest information in or out. Not only does this limit you as a reader, but it can also cause complacency as an analyst of text and this is not something that would be favorable or beneficial to a college student.

Reading Strategies

Aside from the strategy of reading rhetorically, which will be explained in depth in the next section, there are two other reading strategies to be discussed. They are referred to as the content strategy and the function feature strategy.   Each are commonly used among readers, as they are quite simple to partake in, requiring little to no work and/or time, but are both extremely important when dealing with rhetoric. Often, these strategies are performed without the reader’s recognition. Each strategy can be useful within different scenarios or types of text but overall, rhetorical reading is the advanced and preferred way to read any piece of text. This is true especially for college students looking to improve both their reading and writing.

Annotated section of an article about how to be a successful college student . The function features are bullet points used to help understand the topic the information falls under and the use of brief statements to make the information easier to read. The content feature is the fact that the information is presented in the paragraph form which allows the reader to receive the information as a whole.
Reading Strategy Use within Online Article.
Content from https://web.archive.org/web/20200805164757/https://www.rit.edu/studentaffairs/asc/online/blog/2015/06/how-be-successful-college-student

Content Reading Strategy

The content reading strategy is the simplest and, by far, the easiest to implement. This strategy involves reading information and keeping that information as facts. Minimal thinking is involved. No work is being done besides the action of reading the text itself. An example of the content reading strategy would be reading a biology textbook, or any factual textbook for that matter. While reading these kinds of textbooks, we often read them simply to receive the information being presented to us. In other words, content reading strategy is the simple act of reading what is written. This is the basis for what the content reading strategy is: reading text to simply receive information or facts.

Some examples of comments coded as content strategies provided by Christina Haas and Linda Flower in “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning”:

  • ‘So, we’re talking about psychological principles here.’
  • ‘I think it’s talking about social conditions, like families in which both parents work, and the changing roles of women.’
  • ‘I don’t know what glibness is, so it’s still confusing’

Function Feature Strategy

Another reading strategy, function feature, is a step up from the content strategy. It refers to conventional, generic functions of text. This would include headlines and other characteristics of text that allow the reader to strategize and navigate through the text because he/she understands how each piece of the text works and comes together.

Think about it like the toolbox. Normally, the toolbox is used to fixed something. The author has this toolbox: hook, colors, headlines, paragraph structure. The author’s goal is to grab the reader’s attention from the start to give them an idea of what the rest of the text will discuss; therefore, he/she might spend some time using his/her toolbox to make the text as engaging as possible. Authors use these features to guide readers and organize information in their reading process and understanding of the text.

As readers, we know that the author uses the tools to ensure that the text is engaging enough to grab the reader’s attention. Therefore, the roll of a reader using function feature is to find a deeper understanding of the text, knowing why the author chose certain strategies for their work.

Let us take the example of the newspaper. The journalist will likely include a short, bolded, enormous size title so that it is attractive enough to the eye. After it catches your attention to read the work, the job by the reader is done. The author’s goal is to get the reader to consume their thoughts and their words. The reader’s job is to pick apart the different constituents of the text and make sense of them to deepen the understanding of the text.

Some examples of comments coded function/feature strategies provided by Christina Haas and Linda Flower in “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the  Construction of Meaning”:

  • ‘I guess these are just examples.’
  • ‘Is this the introduction?’
  • ‘This seems to be the final point.’

Strategies for Reading Rhetorically: Pieced Together

The rhetorical reading strategy is a step above both the content and function feature strategies, although it holds aspects of each. Reading rhetorically involves “reading around the text” and delving into the text with increased knowledge. What we mean by “reading around the text” would be reading the text while considering who the author is, who the intended audience is, and the point of view of the author.

To achieve this goal, researching the author before reading the text to understand the author’s viewpoint is imperative. The increased knowledge mentioned above should include these details and should have to be researched prior to analyzing the text itself. By doing this, a reader allows themself to be prepared before perusing into a piece of text.

Expressly, reading rhetorically involves all of what was mentioned previously within this chapter. To read rhetorically includes delving into analyzing the author, the author’s purpose, and intended audience of the specific text in addition to using the content and function features to convey a more in-depth analysis.

It is the preferred way in which college students should be reading pieces of text to maximize knowledge on the subject being studied or analyzed. Becoming a rhetorical reader requires work and much research, but, in the end, one will help immensely through rhetorical reading by becoming both a better reader and writer.

Unattached puzzle pieces with the words “The Author”, “Author’s Purpose”, “Author’s Point of View”, “Intended Audience”, “Content Feature”, and “Function Feature” on each piece.
Pieces of Reading Rhetorically

Review Questions

  1. What is the purpose of rhetorical reading?
  2. What is the main difference between content and function feature?
  3. Why is rhetorical reading preferred over content and function feature?
  4. Why is research on sources important to college level reading?
  5. When expressing rhetorical reading, how can we make sure to keep things interesting, as a writer and a student?
  6. What situation should a reader use context or function feature reading instead of rhetorical reading?


  1. Choose two different news articles about the same topic but from different authors with different points of view. Recognize what side you stand on, if any, then interpret both authors point of view. See how they relay information differently and understand how the opposing side makes sense but may not be agreeable with your opinion.
  2. Pick a piece of text that you were told to read or find an article, do research on the author, and check the credibility of the author.



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