The Rhetorical Triangle Making Your Writing Credible, Logical, and Appealing
Never in the history of humanity has there ever been so much written information as there is today. So many stories have been told. So many messages have been sent. If you want to make your message stand out, you have your work cut out for yourself.
It is a fight for attention and it is very difficult to win. How do you formulate your message? How do you do it in no way so that they hear you? Do you engage people’s attention? How do you win in the arena of rhetoric?
This article will give you a tool to make your text more engaging, your message more credible, your story more believable and your narrative more logical.
Is called the rhetorical triangle. It tells you the three most important aspects of rhetoric – the author, the audience, and the context. And it tells you how to make sure that those are all represented and how that will benefit your story.
WHAT IS THE RHETORICAL TRIANGLE?
The term ‘rhetoric’ has been given a bad rap today. When we say ‘rhetoric’ we almost always mean political rhetoric. And because of the, very often, negative messages in political rhetoric, and controversial statements, the word has been associated with negative connotations.
Rhetoric is the tool you are using in your verbal or written speech to convince the audience of certain messages.
You can see how it can be connected to do something negative when it comes to politics. But you actually use it in your everyday life. And for people who do speaking or writing for a living, mastering the art of the rhetoric is essential to improve their work.
This is where the idea of the rhetorical triangle meets its purpose. It is basically a checklist you can use to make sure your rhetoric is meeting the expectations of the audience – and with that, you are making it more powerful, and your message – more impactful.
The triangle is balanced on its three pillars:
The writer or the speaker of the text is the person who is associated with creating the message and the main statement. They need to be perceived as an authority on the matter. There are ways to present the figure of the author in a way that it looks more reliable and carries more credibility.
The audience is the main player in this game in the sense the message is created for them. The audience needs to crave the information that the author gives them and they have to be open to receive the message they will be sent.
No speech is timeless. The way we perceive what we are being told heavily depends on the societal narrative at the time and the current events. You cannot afford to come across as tone deaf if you want your message to have an effect.
Does your message fall within the triangle?
Creating compelling messages is the balancing act in between being credible as an author, engaging your audience, and speaking within the right context.
TO MAKE YOUR WRITING CREDIBLE
…establish yourself as The Author.
Why is it difficult?
Making your writing credible means the reader can trust what you are saying because you are using true facts, reliable sources and impeccable logic to connect the events in a narrative that leads to the right conclusions.
The reader must trust you. You must establish yourself as the authority on the matter you are speaking or writing about.
Make your purpose clear
The first step is to know what the purpose of your message is. You probably think you already know that and you have a pretty good idea. But can you see the big picture of the purpose of your text? Do you question its purpose the way that the audience would question it?
Think about what you want to communicate. Do you want to give information to your audience? Do you want to make them do something for you or for themselves? Are you trying to enlighten them? Are you trying to provide a solution to a problem? Are you trying to change their perspective on a controversial topic?
Does your entire text align with the goal that you ultimately want to achieve? Once you have your intentions clear, you might discover, for example, that your introduction is completely out of line, or that you end up on the wrong note. Or that you start and end right, but the majority of your text keeps going on the wrong direction – you are constantly losing your train of thought. Stay on topic. Stay on brand.
Say who you are
You need to establish yourself as the authority, not just the author. You need to give your audience a reason to believe everything you are saying. And not just that. They need to be able to allow you to sway their opinion. They need to be able to allow you to influence their emotions. They need to feel like they know you.
You need to come across as reliable, honest and relatable.
Give enough information about yourself, so as to persuade your audience, you are not there to lie to them or manipulate them.
See what inspired you or what caused you to be involved in this topic to begin with. Explain what makes you qualified to speak on this issue. What is your education or experience with the topic? Is there any life experience that created bias in you when it comes to the matter? Explain how you came to have the opinion you are having or how you came to be interested in the topic.
Allow the audience to relate to you in the reasoning for your choice to be an author of this message.
Use reliable sources
It is crucial to never lie to your audience. Voluntarily or involuntarily. You cannot afford to include information in your text just because it fits your narrative, when it’s not completely proven correct.
You cannot afford to mislead your audience.
One of the best ways to always make sure that you are factual, is to speak from experience. To talk on a topic that you are educated in and have put a lot of work in.
Another way is to use from-the-source information. Use interviews, polls and research from official sources.
As sad as it is to admit, the Internet is not the most reliable source most times. In most cases if you have something printed – a book or a newspaper, it has been fact checked, and has gone through an editor. On the Internet, you have user generated content, which more often than not, cannot be trusted.
Give real examples
If you want to be seen as more credible, use real examples instead of anecdotal evidence.
Use news articles from trusted sources such as printed newspapers, and their websites. Use academic papers. Statistics and research.
You cannot present someone’s opinion as an argument to support your cause, unless they are an authority on the matter.
For example, if you speak on immigration, which is a controversial topic. Avoid using people’s opinions from blogs, or opinion statements and articles, unless they are really involved – they are immigrants themselves, or they are politicians whose opinion will be a decision factor, or they are directly affected from the issue. You can use anyone’s opinion to give an example of the public opinion, but not to support one or another decision.
Use simple words
Avoid sounding pompous and too businessy. Avoid using too much jargon or complex language whatsoever.
It is a popular opinion, that if someone understands a subject they will be able to explain it in simple terms. And it is the truth.
If you really want to convey your message, you want to sound logical, relatable, and welcoming. Use complex language and you will alienate your audience. Even the ones who want to listen to you and agree with you, they will lose your train of thought. And your arguments will look to have holes in them. Even if they don’t.
By using simple words you are creating the aura of simplicity for the matter itself as well. Getting simply from fact A to opinion B and conclusion C, with an impeccable logic that everyone can follow, is the easiest way to get people on your side.
Watch this instructional video from Stanford University Libraries about evaluating the credibility of your sources:
TO MAKE YOUR WRITING APPEALING
…think about The Audience
Why is it difficult?
In order to make your writing appealing, it has to be unique, credible, reliable, controversial, it has to be of interest to multiple people, it has to be something that no one has ever written about before.
If your writing is credible, that means you are probably using credible sources. If you are using credible sources that means that someone has already researched the topic. Therefore if you are writing his credible it’s most probably not unique.
If your writing is both unique and credible, chances are it is a topic not a lot of people have bought to write about. Which easily means it’s boring.
Yes, it is a balancing act. And that balance requires thinking that great deal about your audience. About what they want to hear from you, what they expect and what they don’t expect, when they will accept from you as surprise and when they want you to tell them something they already know.
When they’re open for emotional discussions and when it will be appropriate for them to allow you to change their opinion – when they will allow you to impact them.
Find what topics interest people
The first step towards coming up with appealing writing, is to choose that topic.
Research what sorts of topics interested people. What is the word of the day? What does the news tell you? What are the reactions of people on social media to current events? What gets the attention and what doesn’t?
Even if you already have a topic in mind or would like to talk about something particular, that’s out of research can always help you change your angle in a way that will make your writing moral relatable. And more interesting. And more sought after.
What does the audience expect
Think about who your audience is. And what they expect from you. Do they expect you to educate them? Or entertain them?
Will they use your writing in their free time, or in school, or in their work?
Do you think they might want to quote you, or use your paper in another way?
Do they expect you to provide them with facts, or an emotional journey?
Always adapt your work to meet the expectations of your audience. That way they will be happy with what you have to say – they’ll always be more open if you meet their expectations at least halfway.
Go for something unique
No one wants to hear the same old story. Yes, you have found credible sources. Yes, what you have to say is important for people to know, or to be reminded of.
But keep playing the old song, no one will think your message is very impactful. If anything, people will have been impacted by the source where they heard it originally.
If you cannot get the away from your topic, put an original spin on it. Look at the topic from another angle, ask for more opinions, look for a controversial research on the topic.
Stating your opinion is not always bad
Just because you are writing is supposed to be credible and reliable; just because your audience expects from you to hear the facts, that doesn’t mean that you cannot say what you think about the topic. In fact, it might help you a lot.
If you are supposed to be unbiased in your text, explained to the audience that on top of the facts and the objective story, you will also give your opinion, and you don’t want to burden on anyone with it. You just want to share it for people who can relate with it. Be very clear about where the analysis stops and the opinion piece begins. Warn the audience about any bias you might have on the subject and where it comes from.
It is okay to show your opinion as long as you are very clear about where you are coming from.
Seek the marriage between emotion and intellect
Emotion will make your text relatable. Intellect will make your text engaging. The balance between the two is what will bring you the greatest audiences, and the best feedback.
You will be able to both provide interesting information and tell your story in a way people seek out that information from you.
TO MAKE YOUR WRITING LOGICAL
…align all content in the right Context
Why is it difficult?
Making a text logical is difficult when you already have it unique, credible and engaging.
In order to have a logical text you want to have facts in the beginning, that will consequently bring your to opinion A, through analysis B, to conclusion C.
And all of those need to be well backed up by facts, supported by experts, by statistics, or research. For your entire journey from A to C, you must have equal amounts of support by other sources.
If you are able to find that support, that already means that your subject has been researched already. Chances are what you are saying is old news. It is neither unique nor engaging. So, in order to make their writing more interesting people often change paths from A to C, sacrificing the quality of the logic between the two.
What will always help you make your text logical is to think about the context.
Be forthcoming with your main statement
Nowadays, there is too much information available around. There are so many books published and available in so many forms to read. The same applies to newspapers. There are so many. Not to mention the huge amount of information that is available online.
The reader nowadays is very impatient. It’s just a fact. You have to be forthcoming with what you want to say. Say your main statement as soon as possible in your text. Or you really risk losing your reader before they get to the most important thing you have to say to them.
Think in context of current events
Be cognizant of current events. And how your message could be perceived differently because of current social issues.
A great example of how one message is perceived as unacceptable is the case of Pepsi using the Black Lives Matter protests for their ad campaign for their soft drink.
Because the public considered the ad to be controversial, the company was forced to pull the campaign because it received huge public backlash. Society punished them for failing to understand how the current context of events cannot be used for marketing messages.
Think in context of your audience
Where will be audience be when they receive your message? Are you giving a speech at a school? Are you writing an article that is supposed to be read on their smartphones on the way to work? Are you giving the eulogy at a funeral?
The location context is very important in order to choose your angle, your register, the mood of your text, whether it is formal or informal, whether it is serious or humorous, whether you can afford a bad word or two.
It will help your logic, if you put your message in the same context that your audience will put it into when they’re reading it. The same message will be perceived differently in different situations.
Count your arguments
Your own logic will always sound logical to you. You need to understand that and try to be unbiased when you judge your own text.
Good way to do it is to forget about the narrative that you have your head to think sort of mathematically about your journey from the beginning to the end of your writing.
Trying to provide between three and five arguments with equal weight and support that will get you from the original facts to the final conclusion. Make sure you introduce those arguments in the beginning of your writing. You do that in order to prepare the audience what they’re about to read. When the audience is prepared they will find it easier to follow your logic.
Be cautious of the counterarguments
Whenever you lay out your arguments, always make sure to imagine what would be the strongest counterarguments. If it is possible for you, already try negotiating with the audience why the counterarguments are not as logical as I what you are saying.
Can you change the context
Thinking within context is always important. But it is not always crucial to what you have to say. As long as you make conscious effort to change the context for the audience.
Imagine you are at a funeral. The mood is somber and dark. You have to give the eulogy. And what you do is smiling, saying jokes, and being goofy. That would be unacceptable behavior, wouldn’t it?
But not always. Imagine you had changed in the context first. Imagine you have prefaced your talking by saying that you once talked to the deceased, and they told you they never want their funeral to be a sad occasion for everyone. And you promised them to tell a joke or two.
It looks very logical and simple, but you can’t really proceed with the message before you give the right context.
This is obviously a very black and white example, but you’ll be amazed how often people forget to change the context, and how many benefits they lose out on because of this.
Great writing is a balancing act. It is a popular misconception that in order to improve your writing you just need to think about a way to tell your story better.
The fact is, you are writing and your message could be perfect. Your story could be believable. Your language could be great.
But if you don’t think about all the ways the audience will interact with the text, you may never be successful in what you want to achieve.
Because, ultimately, you could write the worst text and the worst message ever, but it will always be successful in the audience engages with it the right way. They are the most important factor.
So, tell them who you are, think about what they want, and put your message in the right context. And you have mastered the rhetorical triangle.
In the course of your daily life, you will often find yourself in a conversation with someone who …