Rhetorically Situate the Source

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by sharyn morrow

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by sharyn morrow

Identifying the purpose of why a text is written and the audience to whom the text is written as well as understanding who the author is helps researchers more fully determine the usefulness and relevance of a source. These elements–purpose, audience, and author–help make up the rhetorical process. You can understand a source better by thinking about how and why it was developed.


1. Open up a document and put the full bibliographic citation of one source at the top of the page.

2. Analyze the rhetorical situation of the source by engaging with the questions below:

  • Purpose/aim: What is the audience supposed to do after reading/consuming the text? Don’t just give the verb of the action (i.e., persuade, educate, call to action, entertain, inform, shock, etc.); instead, discuss the specific argument or type of entertainment or action to complete. How do you know this is the purpose? Provide examples from the text that help you understand the purpose.
  • Audience (intended, secondary, & tertiary): Who are the intended audience members of this text? Things you might discuss about the audience include: age, experiences/beliefs (especially in relation to the purpose and/or topic), gender, occupation, location, socio-economics, parents and peers, education, culture, etc. Be sure to discuss what are the expectations of the audience based on these details. Also discuss where in the text the author is meeting the wants/needs of the audience.
  • Subject/topic: What is the exact, focused topic being conveyed and/or argument being made. Most of the time you will cover this while discussing the purpose/aim.
  • Author/producer: Who wrote/produced this text? How/why is the author invested in the topic? How/why does the author have the authority or expertise to write about this topic? Who/where/how was this text produced? How/why does the production method, mode, and media contribute to or distract from the authority of the author and/or the text?

3. Share-out: In the comments thread, upload a document with your notes or provide a link to where you have posted your notes elsewhere (make sure they are posted publicly). Be sure to include a full bibliographic citation of the source from which you are taking notes.

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