Composition (language)

The term composition (from Latin com- "with" and ponere "to place"), in written language, refers to the body of important features established by the author in their creation of literature. Composition relates to narrative works of literature, but also relates to essays, biographies, and other works established in the field of rhetoric.

In narratives

In narratives (primarily fiction), composition includes, but is not limited to,

  • Outline, the organisations of thoughts and/or ideas which is used to determine organisational technique
  • Plot, the course or arrangement of events
  • Theme, the unifying subject or idea
  • Dialogue, a reciprocal conversation between two or more persons
  • Characterisation, the process of creating characters
  • Setting, the time and location in which the composition takes place
  • Description, definitions of things in the composition
  • Style, specifically, the linguistic style of the composition
  • Setting tone or mood, conveying one or more emotions or feelings through words
  • Voice, the individual writing style of the author
  • Tone, which encompasses the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience

In rhetoric

In rhetoric (primarily non-fiction), composition is the arrangement and strategic use of written, oral, visual and/or digital in order to inform, persuade, or motivate an audience in a given situation.

Oral discourse

Traditionally, oratory, or classical rhetoric, is composed of five stages, or canons:[1]

  • Invention, "the search of persuasive ways to present information and formulate arguments"
  • Arrangement, "the organization of the parts of speech to ensure that all means of persuasion are present and properly disposed"
  • Style, "the use of correct, appropriate, and striking language throughout the speech"
  • Memory, "the use of mnemonics and practice of speech"
  • Delivery, "the use of effective gestures and vocal modulation to present the speech"

Typically, in any speech classroom, these stages are still prevalent in the composing process. Other such qualities to be included, especially when considering ones' audience and methods of persuasion, would be the rhetorical appeals:

  • Logos, appeals to logic and reason, evidence and support
  • Ethos, appeals to ethics, the speaker's credibility, trustworthiness, and morals
  • Pathos, appeals to emotion, connecting with audience through shared feelings

Written discourse

As oral discourse shifted to more written discourse, the stage of memory and delivery began to fade, yet the first three stages hold its rank in the writing process of most composition classrooms. The rhetorical appeals also prove important in written texts, as the strategies of using these appeals become more complex as writers understand their audience's needs when not in physical view.


Composition, which includes the language of visuals is a recent development in composition studies. Sonja K. Foss argues that visuals are a valued component of rhetorical study, and to only focus on verbal discourse, limits the opportunity to engage in multiple symbols that create meaning and speak rhetorically.[2] In thinking about how visuals are used to communicate, and how they are composed or analyzed in a rhetorical work, she argues that one considers the focus:

  • Nature, the present elements/physical features and suggested elements/concepts and ideas
  • Function, the action it communicates
  • Evaluation, assessed rhetorically

Foss, who acknowledges visual rhetoric, demonstrates that composition studies has to consider other definitions and incorporations of language.


This composition refers to work produced in digital spaces. The writer or speaker must not only consider all the composing processes of the above-mentioned discourse (like purpose, arrangement, etc.), but the relationship medium plays in the composing and decision process of that work. In digital discourse, the fifth canon of delivery takes on new meaning, and digital spaces change how traditional views of authority, circulation, and context are understood, like composing in a Wikipedia. Thus digital rhetoric, or eRhetoric offers new ways of composing.

See also


  1. Bizzell, Patricia; Herzberg, Bruce, eds. (2001). "Acceptance". The Rhetorical Tradition (2nd ed.). Boston: Bedford/St.Martin‘s. ISBN 0-312-14839-9.
  2. Foss, Sonya (2004). "Framing the Study of Visual Rhetoric: Toward a Transformation of Rhetorical Theory". In Hill, Charles A.; Helmers, Marguerite (eds.). In Defining Visual Rhetorics. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 303–13. ISBN 0-8058-4402-3.
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