THE FIVE CANONS OF RHETORIC

As opposed to the three branches of rhetoric, which cover three broad realms in which we communicate, the five canons of rhetoric serve as a process to show how rhetoric, as an art, may be used to develop an effective message. While the five canons of rhetoric were originally conceived by Aristotle as a way to develop and prepare for public speeches, the canons have been identified today as a contemporary way to think more creatively and to create communications in any channel, from speeches  to resumes to formal reports.

Check out this diagram of the five canons of rhetoric (and read below for more detailed information):

WHAT IS INVENTION (INVENTIO)?

“Invention” is about coming up with a good idea, or having something useful to say to your audience. The word “invention” in English actually comes from the Latin term “invenire,” which, roughly translated, means “to find.” When you’re in the invention stage, you’re considering what your audience needs to know and why they need to know it. Similar to the appeal of logos, invention considers the “what” a communicator has to say. When you think of your topic and what matters most to your audience, you might consider the different ways in which your topic can be addressed (we call these the “topoi” or common topics). Common topics, according to Silvae Rhetorica, of invention include the following:

  • Definition (describe to your audience through definitions and classifications)
  • Division (separating your subject matter into its parts or whole, or breaking down into subjects)
  • Comparison (showing similarities and differences of your topic with that of another or showing the degree to which your topic does or does not do something)
  • Relationship (describing things like cause and effect; antecedent and consequence; contraries; and contradictions)
  • Circumstances (determining what might be possible or impossible according to your topic or what the past might have to say about the future)
  • Testimony (using other accounts to describe your topic, considering things like eye-witness accounts, authority figure explanations, rumors, oaths, documents, law, supernatural considerations, precedents, and so forth)
  • Notation and Conjugates (addressing your topic in terms of language and its relationship to language)

WHAT IS ARRANGEMENT (DISPOSITIO)?

When we talk about arrangement in rhetoric, we’re referring to how a communication is constructed or organized. When you write or say or design something, you make choices about where and when things show up in a document. Consider where to organize words, sentences, paragraphs, and sections. Make strategic decisions about what comes first, what goes last, where the key points of emphasis are, and so forth. Arrangement is much like storytelling. How can you set up your communication so that someone can understand the key people, the key problems, the key solutions, and the key series of events and locations that matter?

There are many ways (endless, in fact) to arragement documents, but many speeches, reports, and common communication platforms follow similar arrangement styles. A proposal, for example, will often start with an introduction; provide a problem statement; give research, proof, or facts that support the thesis; show the results of the research; and offer a proposed idea. Depending on your communication piece, consider if there are conventions or paradigms that you should follow. Then strategically modify where necessary to give appropriate emphasis.

WHAT IS STYLE (ELOCUTIO)?

Style is the fun, artistic part of communication. When we talk about style in rhetoric, we are referring to the choices you make to impact an audience. What words will you choose? What phrases and stories will you tell? What will be your pace? Will you use figures of speech or other linguistic devices to enhance understanding and appeal? Style is usually aligned with the rhetorical appeal pathos because style will often affect the emotions and reactions of your audience.

WHAT IS MEMORY (MEMORIA)?

Memory, when originally conceived as one of the five canons, made reference to memorizing a speech. Good orators, it was believed, would have their speech so well memorized that they could give it without hesitation. Memory required speakers to develop mnemonic devices to help them remember what they would say next.

However, memory is much more than memorization and, in fact, for most speeches of today, memorizing a speech isn’t usually considered a good idea. When we refer to memory in rhetoric, we mean that a speaker or communicator should know as much as possible about a topic before presenting so that, should an occasion arise to improvise or answer questions, you would know the topic so well that you could respond with accuracy and professionalism.

WHAT IS DELIVERY (PRONUNTIATO)? 

As you might infer from the Greek definition of delivery, “pronuntiatio,” delivery is, in part, about pronunciation. As a broader concept in presenting information, delivery is about the way in which you give a speech or present a communication piece. So, in speech, delivery is about your eye contact, posture, professionalism, the way you dress, confidence, body language, and so forth. But delivery can be applied to any communication piece. The delivery of your resume, for example, might be seen in the paper you choose, the quality of the print job, and even the way you fold it or deliver it when you give it to an employer.

For useful presentation delivery suggestions, see the POWERFUL Presentation Method edugraphic.