Posted in Discussion Questions

Reading Discussion: Lloyd Bitzer “The Rhetorical Situation”

This article by Lloyd Bitzer is 25 years old this year. It was published in 1992, two years before Dr. Bitzer retired from UW-Madison. It is still considered foundational to how we understand rhetoric and modern public communication. If you have taken an English or Communications class, you have likely had discussions about the rhetorical situation even Bitzer was never cited.

Here’s some things I want you to think about as you scan this text for understanding:

  • How does Bitzer define rhetoric?
  • What does he say about what rhetoric does?
  • How does he describe the rhetorical situation? Why does he think understanding it is an important line of inquiry? (look at pg. 5-6)
  • How do you understand exigence and constraint? (Section II pg. 6-8)
  • What does it mean to say that rhetorical situations “invite response”? (pg 9)

Make sure you read through the general characteristics of rhetorical situation Bitzer enumerates at the end of his article (Section III).

Discussion Questions:

  • What connections can you make between this reading and our previous introductory reading about rhetoric?
  • How does this reading change your working definition(s) of what rhetoric is/does?
  • Where do you find yourself resisting Bitzer’s arguments about rhetoric/the rhetorical situation? What seems outdated, or in need of questioning after 25 years?
  • At the same time, where do you find yourself agreeing with Bitzer? What persists? What seems enduring/true?


I am a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition and Purdue University. I currently teach first year composition. My research interests include threshold concepts in composition, invention strategies, service-learning, community engagement, and professional and technical writing.

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