Definition and Examples of Rhetorical Stance

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The rhetorical stance is the role or behavior of a speaker or writer in relation to their subject, audience, and persona (or voice). The term rhetorical stance was coined in 1963 by American rhetorician Wayne C. Booth. It's sometimes also referred to as "footing."

Examples and Observations

  • "The common ingredient that I find in all of the writing I admire--excluding, for now, novels, plays and poems--is something that I shall reluctantly call the rhetorical stance, a stance which depends on discovering and maintaining in any writing situation a proper balance among the three elements that are at work in any communicative effort: the available arguments about the subject itself, the interests and peculiarities of the audience, and the voice, the implied character, of the speaker. I should like to suggest that it is this balance, this rhetorical stance, difficult as it is to describe, that is our main goal as teachers of rhetoric."
    (Wayne C. Booth, "The Rhetorical Stance." College Composition and Communication, October 1963)
  • Rhetorical Stance in Speaking and Writing
    "Closely related to tone is the concept of rhetorical stance, which is a fancy term for a simple idea.
    "Most language transactions are face-to-face: we can see the people we are talking to. In these situations, we all make subtle shifts in our way of talking, depending on the audience, and it is these shifts--some of which are not so subtle--that make up our rhetorical stance in spoken discourse. . . .
    "In short, when you talk, you adjust your rhetorical stance continually, using different techniques for different people in various situations.
    "In writing, the tone is a part of rhetorical stance: seriousness, irony, humor, outrage, and so on. So is purpose: you can explain, explore, or demonstrate; you can attempt to persuade someone to take any action or make a decision. And, of course, you can try to rouse emotions with a poem or to amuse people with a fictional tale."
    (W. Ross Winterowd, The Contemporary Writer. Harcourt, 1981)
  • Adapting to an Audience
    "[R]hetorical stance is pure Aristotle. The stance is all about adjusting tone and purpose to different audiences. Here the student chooses a stand on a given topic with a keen eye on the audience. The purpose is not to manipulate in the Sophist sense but to better garner arguments, evidence that will convince. Rhetorical stance also invites 'being an insider' in order to get into the mind of that audience."
    (Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson, Four by Four: Practical Methods for Writing Persuasively. ABC-CLIO, 2012)
  • Your Rhetorical Stance
    "'Where do you stand on that?' is a question often asked of political figures and other authorities. But writers must ask the question of themselves as well. Understanding where you stand on your topic--your rhetorical stance--has several advantages. It will help you examine where your opinions come from and thus help you address the topic fully; it will help you see how your stance might differ from the stances held by members of your audience, and it will help you establish your credibility with your audience. This part of your rhetorical stance--your ethos or credibility--helps determine how well your message will be received. To be credible, you will need to do your homework on your subject, present your information fairly and honestly, and be respectful of your audience."
    (Andrea A. Lunsford, The St. Martin's Handbook, 7th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Rhetorical Stance." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Rhetorical Stance. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Rhetorical Stance." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).