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Rhetorical Argument

An introduction to the types of rhetorical arguments and related concepts.


When we say "argument," we usually think of either spoken or written arguments. However, arguments can be made in all forms, including visual arguments. Visual arguments rely on images to persuade a viewer to believe or do something. Advertisements in magazines are often types of visual arguments. 

Car driving along beach cliffSay you are at the doctor's office in the waiting room, and you see an advertisement that has a beautiful model sitting in a Lexus driving down a long, open road. The image may evoke some feelings of inadequacy ("I'll never be as pretty as her"), freedom (the long, winding road), and envy. All of these work together as an argument to convince you that a Lexus will change your life, and you will be as beautiful and as free as the model if you only had one. 

Like other forms of arguments, visual arguments may contain logical fallacies or use rhetorical appeals to persuade the viewer.

A visual argument is an argument made primarily through images that is intended to persuade viewers to believe or do something.

Learning to decode visual arguments can be challenging. We are bombarded with images every day and are often unaware of how they affect us. Did you know that red, yellow, orange, and green make us hungry? Think about fast food chains. How many of them use one, or more, of those colors in their logo or design?

In movies, we associate black with bad and white with good. In Star Wars, Darth Vader wears a black cloak, while Luke Skywalker has white clothing.

Learning to recognize how images, even color, layout, and font choices, affect people can help you to hone your visual literacy and learn how to identify and evaluated visual arguments. The same evaluative criteria - rhetorical appeals and logical fallacies - can also be present in visual arguments. 

We think of visual to mean only pictures, but it could also be graphs, charts, memes, colors, or even font choices. If a political cartoon showed a politician speaking in Times New Roman font and another politician speaking in Comic Sans, then it could be implying that one politician is serious while the other is childish.

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