Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Rhetorical Framework

Rhetorical Framework: Author-Subject-Audience


Any communication starts with a sender or "author" who sends a message. This message is then received by the receiver or "audience". This relationship forms one part of the "author-subject-audience" rhetorical triangle. The difference between the triangle and linear model is that with the triangle, the audience interacts with the author either verbally or non-verbally in response to the subject of the message. The audience of a message will respond in some way to that message. This response will be either a negative or positive. The audience can choose to either follow the content of the message or to disregard it for any number of reasons and provide this feedback to the author of the message. Usually the receiver will send you something back just to let you know that they received it.

Appeals to the Audience


A key to effective communication is being aware of how the subject of a communication is being conveyed to the audience. The author must be aware of the complexity of the subject, the knowledge base of the audience, the actions they desire the audience to take as well as their likely response, and lastly the most effective appeals to use with that audience. Greek philosopher and rhetorician Aristotle named four important appeals which are useful to consider when trying to convey information to an audience: ethos (appeal to the character and credibility of the speaker or author), pathos (appeal to the emotion of the audience), logos (appeal to the logic of the subject or message) and kairos (appeal to timeliness or relevance).

Appeals in Technical Writing


In technical communication, logos are the most important. This is because technical communication is inherently logical. In order for a technical document to be well received, the content and organization must be logical. Appeals to ethos, establishing the credibility of the author is also important. If the document is otherwise logical but not worded properly or if the credibility of the author is not clearly established, it is likely that the audience will not receive the document well because they will not believe what the author has to say. This is true whether or not the information is correct. It is much more convincing to establish why you are writing that document or to write in a way that makes sense to the reader. Kairos is also an important element in technical communication because attention to time-sensitive details can effect whether or not your document is even read or well received. For example, if a computer manual references hardware that is several years old or uses examples from archaic software, the audience may assume that the author has not kept up with recent technological developments. Kairos involves knowing how much your audience knows and what society as a whole understands. In technical writing, it is highly unlikely that your writing will appeal to emotions.

Ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos can all help you convey your message. If you do not consider what your audience’s knowledge base is, then your appeal to logic will be ineffective. Likewise, if you try to include emotionally loaded words in an instruction manual, your audience will most likely turn away from the product because it appears unprofessional or unreadable.

Purpose and Appeals


As an author, it is important to consider the information that you want to convey. The way you go about conveying this information will depend on the purpose of your document. You could communicate information to persuade or inform. Once you have determined what your goal for a communication is, look to your different options for appeals. Typically, your communication will be in the form of technical writing. Therefore, an appeal to logos is most appropriate. If you were trying to persuade, an appeal to pathos might be more effective. You also have to know what you audience is expecting from you. If you are writing instructions for building a dresser, your reader is going to expect short sentences accompanied by pictures without wordy or excessive language. However, if you are trying to instruct someone on how to paint, you may use emotional language if your purpose is to spark that emotion while still instructing. Know your audience’s knowledge base, what they expect, and the best way to communicate to them using the various forms of appeal.

Audience Feedback


It is much easier to feel out feedback while giving a speech than while writing a technical document. Most likely, you will not be around to see the reaction from the audience. However, you can employ surveys or usability studies to help gauge what your audiences’ response will be. This process is a great way to get a feel for what the audience may or may not respond to and gives the author an opportunity to change the document to reflect audience feedback before it is finalized.