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Rhetoric – A Useful Tool in Instructional Design

by Colin Carmona-Murphy

Writing persuasive instructional design documentation is important in ensuring effective and efficient adult learning. Rhetoric, being the expressive style of writing that helps persuade and engage readers is one of the most important considerations when writing for adult learning. Today, it is often seen as a tool for politicians to spread their message without addressing real problems, as they use figures of speech to avoid providing meaningful content. However, rhetoric is fundamental to instructional design documentation as it helps readers engage at a greater level, as well as helping to increase comprehension and understanding.

Rhetoric has four significant benefits pertaining to instructional design:

  1. Persuading users to change their current behaviours and tasks

  2. Informing learners of change, as it provides clarity and structure to what they are reading

  3. Expressing the need for change, and how the learner will benefit from the change

  4. Entertaining the learner, keeping their attention and creating an enjoyable and engaging experience

Some rhetorical devices are crucial when writing training documentation; they help the writer express their points and create a document that’s easier to follow. My favourite, alliteration, is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely ordered words. An example being “Right-click to rearrange rows in the retained earnings form”, helps the reader recall phrases and concepts at a much higher rate than sentences without alliteration. Another commonly used rhetorical device is an analogy. Analogy’s create a link between something familiar to the reader, and the concept they are being taught. For example, the phrase “Long term memory is like a computer’s hard drive; short term memory is like it’s RAM” helps readers with different levels of knowledge on a concept to reach a shared understanding. In instructional design this is important as the reader will walk away with new knowledge and is more likely to retain this information. There are many other rhetorical devices, including Amplification, Enumeration, and Parallelism that can help with creating effective documentation.

Rhetorical appeals are categories that help classify how rhetoric relates and affects the reader. The first category being Logos, appeals to the logical side of the reader, where facts and figures are cited, making the writer appear insightful and knowledgeable. This is an important category, as readers are inclined to have confidence in the writer when facts are presented. The second appeal is Pathos, which relates to emotions, and can be especially powerful when relating to the readers underlying values. The third rhetorical appeal is Ethos, relating to the credibility and qualifications of the writer to be speaking on the related topic. Understanding these rhetorical appeals helps in instructional design as documents can be crafted to their audiences, making them more effective and relatable.

When used properly, rhetoric can be a powerful tool in an instructional design document. It can help training run smoothly, keep readers engaged, and increase reading comprehension. As writers it is important to understand the audience and write for their specific needs. At Harbinger, we understand the importance and power in the proper use of rhetoric and seek to apply the principles in all of our instructional design documentation.



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