PAGS: A Way of Analyzing Rhetorical "Strategies" in a Text
from the Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing)

last updated 9/4/07

Rhetoric, of course, has to do with persuasion, and it has been a specific area of complex study for 2500 years (according to Wikipedia, but what do they know?).  One approach to analyzing the Rhetorical or persuasive choices of any text (or of a piece of your own writing) is simplified into and abbreviation the Allyn & Bacon Guide call PAGS.

Keep in mind that when you try to find evidence of these things in a text, they overlap greatly.

Purpose? To entertain?  Inform?  Argue?  Enrage?  Express?  Seduce?  Critique?  Scold?  A call to action?  Provide escapism?  Confess your sins to the world and be absolved?  To make money?  To create beauty or anti-beauty (art)?  To start a revolution?  To make a marriage proposal?
Audience? Who's identity and ideological laundry list or lenses is the author apparently wanting to "appeal" to?  And why (go back up to purpose)?  Looking at the context of the text, and especially the genre of the text (see below), will tell you a lot about audience.  The style of the text (see below) also tells you a lot about audience.

You can also read my Rhetorical Reading Guide for more specific questions and aspects of any text you can analyze in order to think more about audience choices.

Genre? Categories of "texts" with "special rules" or codes of conduct--Movies: Chick Flicks, Action, Westerns, Horror.  Writing: Non-fiction, Fiction, Poetry, Playwriting.

In the genre of non-fiction writing, for instance, which we focus on in this class, there are many sub-genres: Creative-Nonfiction (Memoir, Nature Writing, Humor, Personal Essay), Journalism (which you could say contains more information-style, "objective" sounding reports, but also Opinion pieces and Editorials), Exposť, True Crime, How-To, Scholarly (which breaks out into different, specialized, jargony sub-sub-genres like Biology, Literature, Business, Environmental Studies, Law etc, each with their own sub-genres containing very specialized language and rules).

Style (language, structure, voice)? Diction--word choice; Sentence types; Overall Structure/organization; Voice.  Specific jargon or formal diction (Postmodernism by and for Students) vs. more poetic language (Voices and Visions) vs. more journalistic language (NY Times) vs. more informal/colloquial language styles (MTV) are some of the things we usually look at when we analyze a writer's "style."  Each author often has their own, personal style/voice too (which is much harder to analyze).  Analyzing style also involves looking at the structure and complexity/simplicity of sentences, and the overall structure or organization of a piece of writing (opened form? closed form?), can often show you a lot about purpose, audience, and genre; often the style is dictated by the codes or rules of the genre, and audience expectations, so this category is often analyzed in terms of the other categories...

Opened form (thesis at the bottom, or implied rather than stated; reader doesn't know where it's going) writing styles are often found in creative writing genres like Memoir or Fiction; implied meaning (rather than overtly stated morals or themes); concrete, sensory details; narrative or story telling techniques; perhaps non-linear in chronology (leaps, weaving, not something easily outlined)--audiences who like this usually like to read creative writing.  Purpose:  To work with more complex subjects or art forms (things that defy neat, orderly structures)...but also to... Entertain?  Show Beauty or Ugliness somewhere?  Create a venue for voyeurism?  A TV example is Seinfeld, a show about nothing.

Closed form (thesis at the top; clearly organized with topic sentences...may look like "the five paragraph essay") styles are often found in scholarly writing genres like a report on a Biology experiment, a Literary analysis, a presentation of Business techniques, an argument about the meaning of Oprah in a Popular Culture journal; thesis overtly stated in the introduction; one topic sentence focusing each paragraph and supported with details; a conclusion reiterating and extending the ideas presented--audiences who often want impersonal ("objective" sounding) information or arguments rather than personal stories.  Purpose: good for informing clearly and arguing logically/linearly (a la Toulmin, or How-To guides); good for preaching (i.e. typical sit-coms have a predictable structure--conflict, pratfalls, recovery, resolution--where a moral is learned at the end)