Rhetorical Techniques in Persuasive Texts

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Are you making a persuasive speech or writing a persuasive essay? Or are you a consumer who reads ads? If so, this lesson will help you understand different techniques used to influence an audience.

Rhetorical Devices

If you use Facebook or watch TV, you are familiar with rhetorical devices. In fact, you have probably used rhetoric without even realizing it. Rhetorical devices are the techniques of using language in order to persuade your audience. These techniques can use either logic or emotion to influence the audience.

Let's look at some common rhetorical techniques used in text and media.

Repetition

The first technique is one we can all use effortlessly; repetition involves writing or verbally repeating a word or phrase over and over. This strategy has the effect of stressing a specific theme in order to try to influence the audience. Basically, repeating an idea over and over will emphasize that idea to the audience.

Let's look at an example to see how repetition could be used persuasively. Imagine the President of the United States is giving a speech making an argument for invading another country. He will probably realize that many citizens will not approve of going to war, so he might aim to repeat the word 'freedom'. Why would he do this?

In this speech the president would be using repetition to stress a sense of pride of country. Americans pride themselves on being a free nation and helping spread freedom across the globe. In repeating this word, the president is trying to persuade the people to believe that his choice to invade another country is the right choice. Anytime you repeat a word or phrase in persuasive speech or writing, you are using repetition to stress your point and influence your audience.

Exaggeration

A second rhetorical device is exaggeration, which occurs when any idea is made to seem either better or worse than it actually is. Using exaggeration has a similar effect to that of repetition. Essentially, you exaggerate to make the idea seem more important. This can work in a positive way (your idea is made to seem better), or negatively (another idea is made to seem worse). Both of these can be used to influence the audience.

Let's look at an example of both a positive and negative exaggeration. Have you ever seen an advertisement for a miracle weight loss pill? Perhaps it states that the pill will make you lose 20 pounds immediately! This is a positive exaggeration. If the pill even works, it can't possibly work immediately; 20 pounds cannot melt off as soon as you take it.

On the other hand, the same commercial might also claim that physical exercise has bad side effects like injury, or loss of time and money. This is a negative exaggeration of the effects of physical exercise. In reality, you will rarely injure yourself exercising appropriately, and you can do many exercises without spending money on equipment or a gym membership.

The goal is to convince the audience that this pill is better than exercise. These exaggerations emphasize specific ideas, either in a positive or negative way, to make them seem more important than they actually are.

Euphemisms

The next technique, euphemism, is actually the opposite of exaggeration. For this strategy, the writer or speaker tries to make something seem less important and deemphasize some idea. You probably know the code of real estate ads: 'cozy' = small. Or you may refer to an older coworker as 'experienced' or 'mature'.

Think again of that commercial about the weight loss pill that used exaggeration. Imagine the commercial begins with this: 'Do you keep telling people are you just big boned? Do you shop in the plus-sized section? Then you need this pill!' The phrases 'big-boned' and 'plus-sized' are euphemisms for being overweight. In this way, the advertisement deemphasizes the fact that these people are fat, so that they do not offend the target audience. Euphemisms are a great technique of implying meaning without having to directly state it.

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