Lloyd F. Bitzer writes this article with the purpose of establishing an adequate conception of rhetorical situation and emphasizing the importance of making it a fundamental aspect to rhetorical theory. Bitzer mentions his concern of how he believes rhetoricians in general are failing to look at the bigger picture when they are analyzing writing or speech. Their focus is solely on the method of how the discourse itself was presented and what the author intended the rhetoric to be. He acknowledges how essential it is to research and analyze the situation that the writing took place in order to fully understand it. Rhetorical situation considers the entire historical context and background information of the circumstance in which the writing occurred, so it can help with explaining why certain things were written and why they were delivered that way.
Bitzer also explains that rhetorical situation is what is actually eliciting the writing. It is a response to the situation that perfectly fits the writing. Therefore, rhetorical situation provides the opportunity for persuasive writing to develop and then alter the reality or the audience’s opinions for that situation. Bitzer argues that the presence of rhetorical discourse will indicate that there is rhetorical situation, but that a rhetorical situation can exist without any preceding discourse. He writes about how there are many situations where no response was elicited.
Bitzer mainly writes this article to define what rhetorical situation is and, therefore, includes elements and characteristics that make it up. One characteristic is that rhetorical situation will always receive a response, like mentioned above, but that the response will be appropriate and fitting to the individual situation. Another characteristic is that the exigence (people, events and feelings) that create the discourse, will take place in reality. The next element is that rhetorical situation depends heavily on the fact that their will be a genuine rhetorical audience to deliver the message to. Finally, rhetorical situation must consider the constraints of the situation and realize what is limiting it. Rhetorical situation can be categorized as either simple or complex and depending on the significance of the situation, will either persist for more opportunities to write and respond or decay immediately after the issue is addressed.
Bitzer understands that rhetorical situation is not only important for writing analysis but also simply that it is present for every piece of writing or speech.