Understanding Rhetoric

A Guide to Critical Reading and Argumentation

by Eamon M. Cunningham



Understanding Rhetoric: A Guide to Critical Reading and Argumentation is a composition textbook that outlines three essential skills – rhetoric, argument, and source-based writing – geared towards newcomers and advanced students alike. Though comprehensive in its coverage, the book’s focus is a simple one: how to move beyond a "gut reaction" while reading to an articulation of what is effective and what is not, while explicitly answering the most important question of "Why?" This text gets at this central concern in two fundamental ways.

First, the text teaches composition as a cumulative process, coaching you how to question, challenge, and expand on not just the readings you hold in your hands, but also how to interrogate the internal processes of writing and thinking. The book's blend of composition methods detail the cross-point of product and process to turn reading and writing from a matter of coming up with answers to questions to learning what type of questions need to be asked in the first place. The "right" questions, the text argues, are fundamentally rhetorical in nature.

Second, the content of the practice-based chapters is framed into a larger mesh of intellectual history to show how the writing and thinking you are doing today is continuous with a long history of writing instruction that goes back to the ancient world. This book provides equal representation from classical and contemporary theory with the recognition that theory cannot be fully grasped without practice, and practice cannot be fully understood without its theoretical antecedent. After all, you can’t write "outside the box" until you know where the box is and what it looks like.


"Understanding Rhetoric is a timely resource. The challenge for good, careful writing and logical speaking and argumentation remains a task for postmodern education. This historically and philosophically grounded work is well written and presented in a way that is most helpful to both student and teacher alike. Understanding Rhetoric deserves a place in every high school and college classroom and resource library."
James B. Flynn, Ph.D., is a philosopher of education at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.

"Spanning centuries of writing from classical philosophers to modern US Presidents, the text systematically addresses analysis and composition using both the technical, formal terms of writing as well as colloquialisms.… The text not only explains the process of analysis and writing, it provides detailed and varied examples of both. User-friendly, this text could readily be adopted and used for both college and high school-level composition courses; the teacher need only to begin on page one and the course curriculum would be complete."
Susanne Bronstein is the English Department Chair at Ashland High School in Massachusetts

"Understanding the importance and power of language is more relevant than ever. Cunningham's book -- part informational text, part historical narrative, part handbook--is a critical guide for all students of rhetoric. Each chapter builds on those which precede it, encouraging readers to break away from formulaic processes to really understand, respond to, and control language in the process. The skills in this book are not important just in English classes but in all disciplines."
Erin Timlin is an AP English Language & Composition teacher at Marshfield High School in Massachusetts

"Cunningham provides teachers and their students with tools to discern the deepest levels of meaning situated within the domain of authorial intent through technique, style, and argument. This approach, grounded in theory, structured in application, re-asserts the why of critical reading and writing as processes instead of mere products."
Tom O'Toole, Ed.D, is the Director of Humanities at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical High School in Massachusetts

"Understanding Rhetoric is a helpful resource for any instructor of composition and will serve as an excellent textbook for college-level writing courses. In clear, student-friendly chapters, the book lays out the history and practice of rhetoric, argument, and source-based analytical writing, with plentiful examples from Aristotle up to the present day. Students will find it entertaining and engaging, and instructors will appreciate the developmental progression from reading and analyzing critical sources to creating and composing original work."
Kelly Matthews, Ph.D, is a Professor of English at Framingham State University in Massachusetts

About the Author

Eamon Cunningham is the English Department Chair at Milford High School (Milford, MA) and a lecturer in the English department at Framingham State University (Framingham, MA). He is a featured author in the Best of the Journals in Rhetoric and Composition series (Parlor Press) and has also published with The Journal of Teaching Writing, English Journal, and The Primer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two sons, Liam and Kyle.