Rhetorical Modes of Writing: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Rhetoric?
  • 0:36 Descriptive Writing
  • 1:31 Expository
  • 2:36 Narration
  • 3:35 Persuasive
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

If you've ever written anything, you've used rhetoric. Examine the most common modes in rhetorical writing and learn how you can use them in your life.

What Is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the art of communication with an audience. For writers, rhetoric means the writer tries to communicate with the readers using literary devices and compositional techniques. There are many modes of rhetorical writing. The four most common modes of writing are description, expository, narration, and persuasive. It's important that you understand that you can use more than one mode for the same written work. Learning the basics of each mode will come in handy when writing. It'll also greatly improve your understanding of your readers and how they retain information.


Description is writing that tries to describe an idea to help the reader visualize it. Descriptive writing often depicts a person, place, or thing with great illustrative detail. It's important to be thorough when describing, so keep in mind the five W's (who, what, when, where, and why). This rhetorical mode is often used in creative writing to make characters and places come to life.

Examples include:

  • Journal entries
  • Poems
  • A descriptive paper on a friend
  • Character sketches

These examples all take one idea and expand it with specific details. Descriptive writing should include all sensory details in order to better capture the idea and help the reader visualize. For example, if you're writing about a unique experience you're having, you want to write about it in a way that your readers can feel like they have experienced it as well. Remember, descriptive mode describes.


Expository is writing that explains, informs, or analyzes the information. This style of writing attempts to explain an idea or concept to the point that the reader knows exactly what the writer means. A writer should clearly state the evidence and discuss any relevance. This is considered the most-used rhetorical mode.

Examples include:

  • Textbooks
  • Informational or business letters
  • News articles
  • Research papers
  • Directions
  • How-to essays

These examples all provide the information in straightforward styles. Though some might include opinions, these all focus on the facts to convince the readers of the idea. For example, say you're writing a research paper on the mental effects of watching TV. You might think TV negatively affects the brain, but it is your job as the writer to provide all of the research on the topic, even if it goes against what you believe. If you only provide one side of the research, the paper will not be considered as credible to your readers because it will make you seem like a biased writer. Remember, the expository mode explains.


Narration is writing that tells a story by recounting events. Narrative writing often utilizes descriptive writing to help establish a scene. The purpose of this rhetorical mode is to show the reader what happened. Organization is key in narrative writing, as the order of events described needs to be chronological and clear to the reader.

Examples include:

  • History books
  • Biographies
  • Autobiographies
  • Some novels

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