Thinking About Your Assignment

When you receive your writing assignment from your professor, it’s important to stop and think about your assignment. What are the requirements? What is the purpose of this assignment? What is your professor asking you write? Who will be your audience?

Before you begin to write any part of an essay you have been assigned, it’s important to first carefully consider your assignment. You must think about the requirements and how you plan to meet those requirements. All too often, students make the mistake of jumping into an assignment without stopping to think about it rhetorically.

What does it mean to think about an assignment rhetorically?

It means that you’re being considerate of the purpose of the assignment, the audience for the assignment, the voice you might want to use when you write, and how you will approach the assignment effectively overall.

Each time you are presented with a writing assignment in college, you’re being presented with a particular situation for writing. Learning about rhetoric can help you learn to make good decisions about your writing. Rhetoric can be simply defined as figuring out what you need to do to be effective, no matter the writing situation.

Thinking rhetorically is an important part of any writing process because every writing assignment has different expectations. There is no such thing as right, when it comes to writing; instead, try to think about good writing as being writing that is effective in that particular situation.

The following video presentation will help you as you begin to think about your assignments rhetorically. It’s so important to stop and think about what you are being asked to write about and why before you begin an assignment.

Video Transcript

Thinking Rhetorically: Adding Rhetoric to Your Writing Process

A Writing Process Presentation brought to you by the Excelsior University Online Writing Lab

What is Rhetoric?

Before you can begin to think about your assignments rhetorically, you need a clear definition of rhetoric. Rhetoric is essentially the study or art of effective communication. Rhetoric dates back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks. Back then, only the privileged were allowed to study. Now, anyone can learn the techniques of effective communication, and you are about to!

Why is rhetoric such an important part of your writing process?

Well, writing assignments have different requirements and expectations, and you have to be able to adjust to those differing expectations. To do this, you must figure out what those expectations are. Knowledge of some basic rhetorical concepts or tools will help you figure out those expectations. See? That’s why you need rhetoric!

So, what are these rhetorical tools?

In order to think about your writing process rhetorically, you should begin by thinking about the purpose of your assignment, your intended audience, the voice you should use, and how all of this will affect your message.


Each writing assignment will have a particular purpose, and, within that purpose, you will need to find a purpose for yourself as a writer. Here’s an example: If the purpose of your writing assignment is to write a research paper on an issue related to your field, you would want to think about the topics and issues related to your major and decide what you want to say about that issue. The key is to remember every assignment has a different purpose!


It is important to think about how your audience will perceive your writing. Some writing assignments will have a specific audience assigned. For example, you may have to write a short paper with future co-workers in mind. If an audience is not specified, you can assume an “academic audience” made up of your professors and your peers. The key is to remember to keep your audience in mind when you write!


Your voice is how you “sound” in your writing. As a writer, you have to make decisions about your voice because your tone of voice makes an impression. You have to make a decision with each assignment because voice requirements change. You may want to sound more informal in a blog but more formal in a research paper. The key is to remember to adjust your voice to make the impression you want to make on your audience.

Impacting Your Message: Adding These Tools to Your Writing Process

Here are the steps:

Number one – Think rhetorically about your assignment.

Number two – Think about your purpose as you develop ideas.

Number three – Keep your purpose and audience in mind as you narrow your topic and begin to gather ideas.

Number four – As you organize and draft, think about what information your audience needs and how you want to sound to your audience.

Number five – As you revise and edit, pay close attention to your voice. Your tone of voice should be appropriate to the situation.

This Stuff Is Easy: You’re a Rhetorician Already!

You may not have thought about it, but you are a skilled rhetorician already. Think about how much you intuitively use these tools when you ask your parents for money, tell your children they cannot stay out past curfew, or try to convince a co-worker to see your side of an issue on a project. All you have to do is keep those skills in mind and use these rhetorical tools to help you understand the expectations of academic writing!

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