Using Basic Rhetorical Patterns


Rhetorical Modes of Writing

Rhetorical modes simply mean the ways we can effectively communicate through language. Each day people interact with others to tell a story about a new pet, describe a transportation problem, explain a solution to a science experiment, persuade a customer that a brand is the best, or even reveal what has caused a particular medical issue. We speak in a manner that is purposeful to each situation, and writing is no different. While rhetorical modes can refer to both speaking and writing, in this chapter, we reveal the ways in which we shape our writing according to our purpose or intent.

Your purpose for writing determines the mode you choose: The three categories of rhetorical modes are narration, description, and exposition. The narrative essay tells a relevant story or relates an event. The descriptive essay uses vivid, sensory details to draw a picture in words. The writer’s purpose in expository writing is to explain or inform. Exposition is subdivided into definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect.

We often use several of these modes in everyday and professional writing situations, so this chapter will also consider special examples of these modes, such as personal statements and other common academic writing assignments. Whether you are asked to write a cause/effect essay in a history class, a comparison/contrast report in biology, or a narrative email recounting the events in a situation on the job, you will be equipped to express yourself precisely and communicate your message clearly. Learning these rhetorical modes will also help you to become a more effective writer.

The best way to become a better writer is to become a closer reader. This chapter contains essays from students and professional writers that illustrate the rhetorical modes. While you read these essays, remember the purpose of the writing and pay attention to the following:

Thesis statement: What is the author’s main point of the essay? Identify the sentence and see how well it is supported throughout the essay.

Topic sentence: How well does each topic sentence support the thesis, and how well does it describe the main idea of the paragraph?

Supporting evidence: Identify the evidence the author uses to support the essay’s main ideas, and gauge its credibility.

Noting these elements should shape your response to each essay and also to your own writing.


Adapted from “Chapter 3: Rhetorical Modes of Writing” of Successful College Composition (3rd Edition), 2019, used according to  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.



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