Writer's WebThe Canons of Rhetoric: Style
by Kelsey Shields, Writing Consultant
(printable version here)

How your argument is presented to your audience can tell them a lot about you. Inarticulate writing, unsubstantiated claims, and grammatical errors will likely cause your reader to quit after the first or second paragraph. Therefore, the style canon of rhetoric relies heavily on correctness, clarity, evidence, propriety, and ornateness.

Correctness. This refers to your knowledge and grasp of the English language. Be familiar with parts of speech, make sure your syntax is clear, and that everything is punctuated correctly. Also, having a broad vocabulary that you can use correctly will make you appear more intelligent, although be careful not to alienate your audience, either.

Description. As one source states, "to convince people, you should not only seek to make them understand: for real conviction, you should reach to their emotions by vivid description" (Straker). However, be careful with how much description you insert into your argument, as it can ultimately take away from the rationality of your argument. Before you start writing, it's best to decide whether you want your thesis to be logos- or pathos-driven.

Propriety. The three golden rules of propriety are "be careful, be moderate, and be considerate" (Straker). As always, think about your audience before you begin writing, and consider the type of vocabulary you want to use. Avoid crude language or jargon that may make others perceive you as arrogant or attempting to appear better than them. Make sure that you never exaggerate your claims, nor try to hide what may be perceived as holes in your argument. Acknowledging weaknesses in your text can encourage your readers to trust you more.

Ornateness. Just like clarity, ornateness is a context-sensitive element of rhetoric. Ornateness relies on the eloquence of your speech, and not just the smooth flow of your syntax; it also takes into consideration the usage of figures of speech, such as similes and metaphors, to present your ideas.





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