"Argument, Audience, and Persuasion"

Carolyn Miller & Davida Charney

In: Bazerman, Charles (ed).,

Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text, 2007.


A writer writes in order to influence readers, to change their beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. Readers make judgments about validity and plausibility; they ask  questions about importance, relevance, and interest; and they decide whether action is warranted. The authors and readers who interact by way of a written text operate from specific socio-historical contexts, contexts that may differ in time, location, and culture. Writing is thus a complex, dynamic, and situated mode of communication, and persuasion—the aim to influence—is a dimension of all writing, not a distinct type or genre of discourse that can be separated from “informative” or “expressive” or other supposedly non-persuasive types. Researchers who seek to understand these dimensions of writing—the interactions of writer, reader, context, and text—enter the province of rhetoric, the classical art of choosing from among the available means of persuasion. ... In this chapter, after providing a brief orientation, we synthesize rhetorical research into current questions about the central issues of audience and argument, focusing on studies of three kinds:  analysis of textual features, inquiry-based experimentation, and pedagogical application.