Everything you need to know about digital writing was written in ancient Greece. I didn’t know this in my western philosophy course at the time. If I did, then I would have paid more attention. I was distracted by my professor, who looked just like Socrates — with a toga and everything. What lesson I should have listened to carefully was about Aristotle’s work on the art of rhetoric and the five rhetorical canons. To this day Aristotle’s work still impacts how I write in our ever-evolving digital landscape, where writing trends change constantly.
The Five Rhetorical Canons
As a copywriter for our St. Louis office, my goal is to write usable, persuasive digital content for brands, companies, and clients. Applying the following rhetorical canons can help any writer, from beginner to expert, with this goal.
Memory — Be as knowledgeable as you can about the subject.
Memory is often explained as the act of reciting information, but memory also reflects the writer’s credibility. Your words should indicate that you know the topic, intimately. When you write about a product or brand, you must do your research. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should have a good grasp of the topic. And thus your reader will feel satisfied that your words recall the subject with clarity.
Arrangement — Organized writing helps your reader navigate the digital experience.
The arrangement is all about the organization. You should ask yourself, “Is my content logical? Where do I have the most important information? Did I bury the lead?”
Focus on arranging content correctly. Using a precise arrangement will improve your digital writing and user experience. You should ask yourself, “Do my words fit into the responsive design? How about the character count? What aids a user’s navigation? When do readers correspond to an input/output function?” Arranging your content properly eases the task of reading and makes your words more accessible.
Invention — Your topic should arise out of an audience’s need.
The invention, coming up with an idea, is the most challenging aspect of writing. Thankfully, in the digital age, there are many tools to help you generate ideas. For instance, research SEO keywords. See what users are searching for. Understanding popular search queries will help you understand what audiences want to read. Your ideas should answer frequently searched questions. When writing a how-to article, your writing should be inventive while also helping to answer a real need.
Delivery — How and when you deliver your message can impact how your content is received.
How and when you deliver your message has a big impact on its success. Keep in mind that content belongs to a multitude of diverse social platforms. Words are delivered differently on a microblog like Twitter compared to a long-form blog like Medium, for example. How you deliver that message will make your content more persuasive. Additionally, at what moment you provide your digital content can have a major impact on how you reach users. With the internet moving at light speed, sometimes it is important to deliver your message ASAP to capitalize on a current trend or event.
Style — Personality makes your writing uniquely you.
Your style and voice set your writing apart. Arguably, these are the most discernible traits of writing. The best-written pieces have a distinct style. Think The New Yorker, but in a way that is unique only to you. You can find content with a similar subject in a matter of seconds. Ask, how can your style choices make your content stick out? Using unique diction, metaphors, analogies, tone, or voice is a good start.
Digital Writing From Past to Present
Using Aristotle’s five rhetorical cannons is a surefire way to optimize and enhance your digital writing for advertising and improving SEO content. Great ideas stand the test of time. Sometimes the best ones come from someone wearing a toga.