How to Use Rhetoric to Repurpose Content with ChatGPT
Wait ... what is rhetoric? What does that have to do with ChatGPT?
You can certainly use ChatGPT and other prompting tools to create new content, but AI's lack of creativity is well known.
Because LLMs are a guessing technology, they tend to produce predictable writing.
With work, though, you can get AI to produce more creative content, but that's not really the goal of this particular post. From a workload perspective, it is often not cost-effective to draft a mega-prompt just to produce one new piece of content.
But if you have a prompt, or pieces of a prompt, that can be used and reused with kinds of content that you do over and over, AI can make your life easier and probably increase the quality of your mundane writing tasks.
That's why this course focuses on content management. How can you use ChatGPT to work with content you've already created or create new prompts using rhetoric to systemize your approach?
This is a free preview post for a course on prompt operations that I’ll be delivering to premium subscribers.
Rhetoric and Its Role in Crafting Prompts
First, let's get on the same page about rhetoric ... it's not just about politics or bullshit. Rhetoric is the art of persuasive communication, or using language to effectively influence an audience.
It's not just about what you say, but how you say it.
Now this includes "persuading" AI to achieve a task in a specific way, but also understanding the rhetorical situation enough to communicate that to the chatbot when generating or repurposing content.
Ancient Greeks like Aristotle came up with rhetoric to systematically break down what makes a a good speech ... the primary mode for getting things done in society at that time.
If you wanted to produce change, you had to give a speech. Today, if you want to produce change, you might just have to write a prompt or repurpose your existing content in new and creative ways.
So to create a good prompt, you will need to break down what you want to generate into its rhetorical parts.
Back in the ancient days of rhetoric, Roman senators would break down the parts of public speeches to see what works best and remember them more efficiently. You’ve probably taken a writing class where you break up an essay or research paper to understand how to better reach your audience.
Well, it is the same with prompting AI.
By understanding the principles of rhetoric, we can create prompts that effectively communicate with AI systems, such as ChatGPT, to manage content more efficiently and produce more consistent and useful content.
Breaking Down Prompts with the Rhetorical Triangle
While there are many heuristics (or frameworks) that we can use to break down prompts, the rhetorical triangle is by far the easiest to deploy. So that is where we will start.
The rhetorical triangle is a framework that helps us analyze the relationship between the speaker, audience, and subject in a prompt. AI does not have any knowledge of this context, except what you give it. So if you don't give AI what it needs to be rhetorically effective, then it won't be.
This requires rhetorical awareness.
Aristotle's triangle is composed of three main elements:
Ethos refers to the credibility and authority of the speaker.
Pathos is the emotional appeal of the message.
Logos is the logical reasoning and evidence presented in the prompt.
When crafting a prompt, it's important to consider each element of the triangle and how they work together to achieve the desired outcome.
For example, if you want to write marketing copy that persuades an audience to buy something, you might use ethos by highlighting the credibility of the company, pathos by tapping into the emotions of the reader, and logos by presenting concrete evidence of the product's benefits.
Instead of crafting the content manually, it's more efficient to instruct the AI on the specific rhetorical appeals to focus on and how to do so.
For example, take writing a technical document for a cybersecurity software company. Ethos is crucial. Every time you need to create or update the software's user manual or its online help section, you might focus on establishing the company's credibility and expertise.
This means having prompts ready that instruct the AI to incorporate language that emphasizes the company's years of experience in cybersecurity, its team of expert developers, and its track record of providing robust security solutions.
Similarly, for a product page of the cybersecurity software, the focus might shift to logos, particularly if I want to underline the research and technology behind the product.
This would involve prompts that guide the AI to detail the innovative features of the software, the advanced algorithms it uses, and how these translate into effective protection for the user.
If the target audience is more concerned with user-friendliness and peace of mind, the prompts could be adjusted to emphasize pathos by highlighting the software’s easy-to-use interface and its effectiveness in safeguarding personal data, thus providing a sense of security and comfort to the users.
By tailoring the prompts to address specific rhetorical appeals, the AI can be directed to create technical content that not only informs but also resonates with the intended audience, whether they are IT professionals seeking detailed technical information or everyday users looking for reliable and user-friendly cybersecurity solutions.
In repurposing content, the rhetorical triangle can also be useful. You can analyze the existing content and determine which rhetorical elements were used effectively. Then, you can use those elements as a guide for creating new prompts.
Or you can also take the same content and create a completely new genre or work for a new rhetorical context simply by changing one or more aspects of the rhetorical triangle.
By dissecting prompts through this lens, we gain insights into their structure, purpose, and intended impact, which enables us to craft prompts that resonate with the audience and elicit the desired responses from AI.
Rhetorical Principles for Content Reuse
In the world of digital content, the ability to adapt and reuse existing material is invaluable. Content repurposing is the art of taking one piece of content and reworking it to serve different purposes, audiences, or formats.
This practice is not merely about recycling old content; it's a strategic approach to extract more value.
The essence of content repurposing lies in its efficiency and creativity, allowing content creators and developers to amplify their message across various platforms without starting from scratch every time.
By repurposing content, you can extend the lifespan of your original ideas, cater to different learning styles and preferences, and reach a wider audience.
However, effective repurposing requires more than just reformatting content. It involves a thoughtful process of adaptation, ensuring that the repurposed content is relevant, engaging, and suitable for its new context.
This is where understanding and applying key communication principles, such as those found in the rhetorical triangle, become crucial. This process entails pinpointing the ethos, pathos, and logos in the existing material.
For instance, a blog post about cybersecurity might showcase strong ethos through the use of expert opinions and industry credentials, pathos through narratives that highlight the real-world consequences of cyber threats, and logos through the presentation of statistical data and case studies on cybersecurity breaches.
Recognizing these elements helps you understand why the content was impactful and persuasive in its original form, but also gives you tools for repurposing that content in new ways.
A detailed technical report, rich in logos with its in-depth analysis and cybersecurity data, can be creatively turned into an engaging infographic. This infographic would emphasize compelling visuals and simplified explanations (logos) to make complex cybersecurity concepts more accessible to a broader, non-technical audience.
In contrast, a blog post originally designed to emotionally engage readers about the importance of cybersecurity (pathos) could be adapted into a video series. This series would balance the emotional narrative with a stronger emphasis on expert testimonials and factual evidence (ethos and logos), providing a comprehensive and authoritative perspective on cybersecurity issues.
When using AI to assist in content repurposing, it's important to provide prompts that clearly indicate the desired shift in rhetorical elements. Here is a very simple one-sentence prompt that takes this into account.
Convert this technical manual section into a script for a user-friendly how-to video, emphasizing simplicity and visual appeal, while maintaining the product's credibility.
This guides the AI in the repurposing process, ensuring that the new content aligns with the intended objective.
But to really make this work for you, you’ll need to expand these one-sentence prompts by splitting out the rhetorical parts and expanding them for your AI.
[CONTEXT] Our customers have requested more visual modes of documentation.
[GOAL] Create clear and engaging scripts for our technical documentation that will hold users interest and make them feel comfortable exploring complex technologies.
[ETHOS] All our documentation is based on real-world trial testing and analysis by experts in the field.
[PATHOS] We want users to feel comfortable exploring our technology and not feel dumb while doing so. Be encouraging and empathetic.
[LOGOS] Explain why each section or step in the documentation is important. Include suggestions for visuals.
[TASK] Convert this technical manual section into a script for a user-friendly how-to video.
Note that we could put many different things in each slot, producing a diverse array of results.
Repurposing Bios Using Rhetoric
One practical application of rhetoric and prompt engineering is repurposing bios we've already written about ourselves.
Nobody really likes writing bios, right? That’s why we cut and past them so often.
But what if … instead of just copying and pasting, we could generate a tailored bio for every circumstance. That’s just one small example of how AI empowers our content development.
By analyzing the target audience and understanding their interests and needs, we can adapt our existing bio to create compelling introductions for various purposes. This approach allows us to maintain consistency while customizing our message to resonate with different audiences.
For this lesson, you will have ChatGPT repurpose a bio or about page that you've written somewhere else and rewrite it for a new audience.
Hey, why not introduce yourselves to people reading this!
It might help to recast the rhetorical triangle as a way to analyze the relationship between speaker, audience, and subject in your prompt.
Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker or how you want to portray yourself
Pathos is the emotional appeal or how you want to connect to your audience
Logos is logical reasoning or evidence presented in support of an argument or idea or what call to action you create and how you lead your audience there
When taking this approach, prompts should have all three elements, along with a description of audience and context.
Here is my example prompt, using my LinkedIn Bio.
[Audience & Context] I am introducing myself for participants in a prompt engineering course, where we work together develop ChatGPT Prompts.
[Ethos] I want to be a friendly colleague who helps other smart people work together to develop great prompts, not the professor or expert in the room.
[Pathos] I want to be excited about prompt engineering and easily assessable to participants. I want to create a sense of community.
[Logos] I want to show them the value of rhetoric and practicing in public, so that they will participate in our discussion space and post their own introduction.
[Task] Rewrite the following bio as an introduction in the discussion space for this course.
Lance Cummings is an associate professor of English in the Professional Writing program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Dr. Cummings explores business and writing in technologically and linguistically diverse contexts in both his research and teaching. As Internship Coordinator and design thinking coach, he brings the workplace into the classroom by connecting students to professional networks through applied learning.
Most recently, Dr. Cummings is exploring how to bring the workplace to the classroom through design thinking and ethnomethodological research in US companies and abroad. He leads a research lab to Krakow, Poland every year. His next research project involves ethics in the creator economy and how we can better prepare students for writing in social environments.
Activity: Repurposing Your Bio
For this activity, I invite you to locate a bio you've previously written about yourself. Analyze the target audience of this course (or some other community) and use the principles of rhetoric to repurpose your bio accordingly using ChatGPT.
It really doesn’t matter how long the bio is. If you don’t have any, I recommend just writing a generic one that you might post on a social media home page.
Share your repurposed bio in the comments. You can even take the prompt blocks (or parts of your prompt) and repurpose them to generate responses to your peers.