Business Writing Tip #55—A word or two about rhetoric

I don’t know how often you hear the phrase, “It’s just rhetoric”. I hear it a lot. It seems to be the usual response to a politician’s promise. And it seems to suggest that rhetoric is a bad thing.

Somewhere we seem to have lost the original meaning of the word “rhetoric”. My trusty dictionary (The Concise Oxford Dictionary) defines it as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing”.

Perhaps people object to being “persuaded”. It may be that they consider “persuasion” to be a synonym for “unethical manipulation”. Well, I think it’s time we reclaimed “rhetoric” as a useful and powerful tool in our writing toolbox.rhetoric

In business we often try to persuade people.

  • We want to persuade our customers to buy our products or services.
  • We want to persuade our clients to accept our proposals.
  • We may even want to persuade our bosses to give us a pay rise.

Careful use of rhetorical devices can help. And there are many that we can choose from. In this post we’ll look at three.

Sound Repetition (Alliteration)

This technique calls for us to repeat an initial consonant sound in a series of words. It’s fairly simple to do and can be very powerful.

“Let us go forth to lead the land we love.” (J F Kennedy)

Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses (Anaphora)

With this technique we repeat a word, or words, two, three or more times. In the example both “we shall” and “we shall fight” are repeated to give emphasis to the words. And to make them memorable.

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” (Winston Churchill)

Series of three parallel statements (Tricolon)

Lists of three are powerful. People can remember three things without much effort. Think about it. If you lose your shopping list with three items on it, you’re much more likely to remember what to buy than if you try to remember your lost shopping list of ten items.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” (Benjamin Franklin)

One thought on “Business Writing Tip #55—A word or two about rhetoric

  1. This is a wonderful article, and really informative – it has helped me with a rhetorical analysis I am currently working on for my university studies. Thank you! Gail Robinson (New Zealand)

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