Aspects of the Rhetorical Situation Exercise

Longaker and Walker chaps 1 - 2, to p 21.

This exercise gives you the opportunity to learn more about the rhetorical situation and gives you more practice in observing and taking notes. It draws on the same method as the first exercise, but now gets more detailed and substantive.

Read Longaker and Walker, chaps 1 and 2, to page 21. You'll need to draw on chap 2 in detail, so have the text nearby to refer to.

Bring up the Bemidji Community Arts Center (aka The Watermark Center) home page in a browser window. BCAC. This is the artifact to address in your notes.

You will be using your notes for this exercise in the the next exercise, which addresses the texualized rhetorical situation in more detail.

How to Proceed

Go to your wiki name page and start a new page titled AspectsOfTheRhetoricalSituation - followed by your initials. (ex: AspectsOfTheRhetoricalSituationMCM) Work with this exercise in that page, making notes that others can follow. Your notes don't have to be letter-perfect. You can use bullets or sentences or fragments. But get your thinking down on the screen so you can see what you're doing.

Use the elements of the rhetorical situation as presented in Longaker and Walker. Make notes as you did before in describing the home page, this time addressing the following elements of the rhetorical situation. Use headings to organize your notes. You can copy and paste the heading below into your page to get started.

=== a description of the page ===
To start,  describe the page. See my notes below.

=== the occasion ===

=== the exigence ===

===the issue or question===

=== the kind of discourse=== 

===the forum and genre ===

=== the physical material ===

=== the cultural and historical context of the situation ===
=== the presuppositions ===

Start by describing the page

Just describe the page. Use neutral language, move into detail, be methodical. Stand outside the rhetorical exchange - not as the audience but as an outside observer viewing the exchange. Describe what the page looks like, the position of the images and text, the dominant colors, the menus and navigation bars that you see. Describe the interactions that viewers can make, and what changes. Doing this will orient you to the page and bring up details that you can draw on and develop further in working with the other elements of the rhetorical situation.

As an example -
There are left and right pointing arrows overlaying the banner image that takes up the top quarter of the page. Clicking on them cycles through three images, each with a translucent caption superimposed over the bottom of the image: one image of the gallery, one of a ceramic plate as a wall handing, and one, a collage of a book cover, the author of the book, and some maps of Minnesota.

And so on.

Two Passes

As before, make two passes. You don't need to organize your notes under two headings as you did before. But still, take two passes. On the first, take some rough notes on what you are noticing at the time. Then store the page. Then, either some time later or immediately, take another pass, this time fleshing out those rough notes in more detail, adding more specifics, examples, further consideration, revising your first take as you see your ideas develop.

Store your notes periodically. The wiki keeps a copy every time you store. Later, you can review the history of the page to see how your notes evolved. (Try it on this page by clicking the History link at the bottom of the page.)

Focus on the Home Page But Click Around the Site

Where do you get the materials do address these points of focus? By looking at the page. By reading the text content and noting the images. By interacting with the page. By looking at the design of the page: the placement of images, the title of the page, the menus, the headings, the fonts used ...

Focus your notes on what you find on the home page, but you might need to follow some of the links to other pages to get a better sense of how the home page itself addresses the rhetorical situation.

This is to say that, You address the elements of the rhetorical situation from what you can infer from what you notice on the page. The page itself will signal what the occasion entails. The page itself will signal what the exigence is. You will have to infer the occasion and so on, but you do so from the page. Is the text judicial, deliberative, or epideictic? Determining which it is will let you infer even more details of the rhetorical situation.

Stand outside the rhetorical exchange - not as the audience but as an outside observer viewing the exchange. This perspective doesn't demand that you know what the rhetor or audience think or know.

Don't Panic: Some Advice

Don't know where to start? Begin by describing the page, as though you were describing it to someone who couldn't see it. This gets you oriented to the page and will let you notice things that you can bring into play when you start making notes on the elements.

You don't need to follow the list of elements in order. Start where you can address the element. Start with forum and genre, perhaps. Then work towards other elements as you continue to observe the home page.

By the same token, feel free to jump around between the elements, and add or revise your first ideas as you develop them further. Notes are a way of tracing how your ideas and observations develop, and wikis encourage this constant updating and revision. Use that capability.

Store often. That way you won't loose work. As well, you can see how your understanding of the page and the rhetorical situation develops as you work.

There is language throughout the web page - not just in paragraphs. Web pages are infested with words: the drop down menus, the navigatin bars, the headings: all words. So when you look at the language aspect of the rhetorical situation, that language includes the menus and navigation. So consider the BCAC navigation bar at the top of the page: Is this judical, deliberative, or epideictic?

Home-About-Exhibits-Programs-2015 Calendar-Contribute- Shop-The Watermark Project-News & Updates

This is navigation, so we would expect the language to be deliberative in order to to help the user decide what to do. But is it just that? There might be traces of judical or epideictic language in the navigation, too. In your notes, decide how you are going read them.

Watch for Part 2 of this exercise next week: The textualized rhetorical situation.


Complete knowledge of the rhetorical situation is impossible by rhetor, audience, and rhetorical critic. However, a sound description, analysis, and interpretation will take the active elements into account. They are the affordances and constraints of your work with the messages.

The Changing Rhetorical Situation: The rhetorical situation unfolds, changes, evolves, devolves ... as the addressee moves through the discourse. Some elements will change, others will not.

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