Guest post from Nadia Jones
When I took my first rhetoric and composition class during freshman year of college, I was bored to tears. It wasn’t until years later, while studying rhetoric in greater depth, did I understand the importance of studying the finer points of persuasive writing. Its importance should not be reduced to developing sound communication skills to improve career prospects. Rather, knowing how to write (or alternatively, speak) persuasively is the key to getting what you want in almost anything in life. Using this line of thinking is an effective way of explaining the importance of rhetoric to your students, who may have difficulty understanding why they should even bother.
Employing persuasive writing techniques always starts with the basic building blocks of rhetoric, which include the four “master tropes”—metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, and irony. For a more student-oriented approach, let’s look at these master tropes and how they may be employed in a common scenario—convincing your parents to give you more money.
Very few people realize how often metaphor is employed in every day speech and writing. A metaphor is usually defined as a figure of speech in which one tangible object or idea is used to represent something less concrete. In broader terms, a metaphor simply links two objects or ideas that are otherwise dissimilar but are alike in an important way. For example, let’s see how we may begin a note to the folks asking for much needed funds using metaphor:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Hope you are doing well. Thankfully, I’m doing okay. I cannot, however, say the same for the status of my bank account. It is an empty vessel, and I am powerless to refill it.
Here, comparing one’s bank account to an empty container brings home the idea of being broke.
Often, metonymy falls into the domain of metaphor, but there is an important distinction. Metonymy is a trope in which one object stands in for a set of objects or ideas. One common example is using “the Crown” to stand in for the various officials that make up the British monarchy. Continuing with our letter, let’s throw in some metonymy:
The reasons for my depleted bank account are various. I’ve tried to rectify this situation by taking action myself, but instead I thought I’d write you a note. As they say, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
In this example, “pen” stands in for writing, while “sword” represents action.
This funny-sounding word, often mispronounced, (it’s syn-EK-dah-key, for the record), is essentially the inverse of metonymy. With metonymy, a whole stands for associated parts, while with synecdoche, a part is made to stand for the whole. Going back to our letter:
I’m not writing to beg. Far from it—I am writing to request funds that will be wisely invested in various educational ventures, the returns of which you will see once your child finishes school and benefits from such an enriching intellectual experience. After all, “man does not live on bread alone.”
In this example, we have two instances of synecdoche. “Man” represents, in a larger sense, all of mankind. “Bread”, although only part of what makes up food in general, stands for any sort of nutritional sustenance.
By far the most complex of rhetorical tropes, irony can mean several different things, and there is still an ongoing debate about what counts as ironic. The most basic definition of verbal irony can be summed up as this—the use of a word or phrase that is intended to mean its opposite, often to humorous effect. In terms of our letter, an ironic statement was earlier expressed: “I am not writing to beg.” Although clothed in language that “sounds” logical, this is precisely what the student is doing—begging. This discord between the denial of begging and the reality thus creates a humorous effect that the parents may find endearing.
Of course, these are just a few of the basic tropes used in rhetoric, and this is only one instance, if a little superficial, in which a writer may use them. Framing tropes in this sense, however, gives students insight into what constitutes good writing. Effective writing isn’t only about being rational. It’s about giving writing some style, by using these tropes, to interest and entertain readers. In the process, you may just get what you want after all.
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.