Understanding the Misuse of Rhetorical Appeals

In many fields there is an understanding of rhetorical appeal and an ethical means of not misusing it. One field that may not seem like it has much relevance in this area, because facts are imperative, is law. You might be asking “what does law, facts, and ethics have to do with technical communications?” As technical communicators we often take information and help put it out to the public. One tool used in most of the information produced is rhetorical appeal.

Rhetorical appeals are often used to target specific audiences  in order to help them digest, comprehend, or create interest in the information being presented to them. In that process there are editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders, etc. that are set in place to assure the information is not misused. However, that’s not to say no other field uses a similar process.  It is to say that the same process can be done, and the information presented can still be misused.The issue is information can be miscommunicated or misrepresented in some cases to benefit the side it is coming from.

In Mary L. Schuster’s article Emotional Appeals and Moral Standards: Rhetorical Arguments in Court Cases, she uses court cases to illustrate the ways rhetorical appeals can be used unethically. Schuster draws attention to several court cases that include what she calls the “shocks-the-conscience” test. This occurs when information is used to shock the jurors/audience and sway them towards the side of the individuals using the test. The information is skewed and this is the point at which Schuster wants professionals in communications to care. Information should not be used for shock value because it has the potential to have more negative ramifications than good ones. 


Emotional Appeals and Moral Standards: Rhetorical Arguments in Court Cases, by  Mary L. Schuster

Viewpoint Written by Andi Silva, Texas State University

Viewpoint Edited by Rachel Spradling, Texas State University

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