Common source evaluation tools, such as PATS and CRAAP, help students assess sources of information based on considerations specific to the source itself, such as purpose, authority, timeliness/currency, scope/relevance, and accuracy. What these tools do not consider is the source’s appropriateness within different rhetorical situations. By teaching students to consider a source’s potential appropriateness within different rhetorical contexts (in an opinion paper vs. a research paper, or as a primary vs. a secondary source) we provide students a framework for more meaningful source evaluation and a means by which to articulate how, why, and when sources are used.
RHETORICAL SITUATION: The Rhetorical Situation is the CONTEXT of any piece of communication—the situation you find yourself in regarding WHY you are saying something at all, WHAT you have to say, and WHO you are trying to communicate with. Or, in other words, it is the purpose, message, and audience for your work. Other factors like scope/length and time frame may be part of a rhetorical situation as well.
Identifying the rhetorical situation, or context, for a piece of writing, allows us to make decisions about our writing’s style, format, word choice, content, description, organization, source selection and use, evidence…all of it. Without an understanding of these three things we, as writers, are unable to proceed. To learn more, take a look at our Considering Rhetorical Situation in Source Evaluation handout.