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Adding Rhetorical Devices

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  • Rhetorical Devices



    Next, it’s time to experiment with rhetorical devices to see how they change and strengthen your writing.  A rhetorical device is just a strategy that a writer uses to make his or her writing stronger. 

    Read through the definitions of three different rhetorical devices below and decide on one to try in your research paper. 

    Add in your chosen rhetorical device and then highlight it in blue for your final draft so it’s clear that you’ve experimented with rhetoric.

    Understatement: When an author makes a situation seem less serious than it really is.  Usually you use this technique to emphasize just how important or ridiculous the topic is.  Here are a couple of examples:

    • "The new EU member states of Poland and Lithuania have been arguing this week for the summit to be called off, and criticizing the German preparations. For historical reasons, the eastern Europeans are highly sensitive to any sign of Germany cutting deals with Russia over their heads."
      (The Guardian, May 17, 2007)
    • "I have to have this operation. It isn't very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain."
      (Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye, by J. D. Salinger)

    Rhetorical Question:  When a writer asks a question in an essay that they don’t intend for the reader to answer but they ask it anyway in order to make a point.  Here are a couple of examples:

    • "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?"(H. L. Mencken)
    • “The means are at hand to fulfill the age-old dream: poverty can be abolished. How long shall we ignore this under-developed nation in our midst? How long shall we look the other way while our fellow human beings suffer? How long"
      (Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, 1962)

    Hypophora: This is a special kind of rhetorical question where the author asks a question and then immediately answers it for the reader.  Here are a few examples:

    • "Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't."
      (Pete Seeger in Loose Talk, ed. by Linda Botts, 1980)
    • "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
      (Kurt Vonnegut)

     Note: Examples above are from's grammar website.  The full websites are linked below if you'd like to see more examples.