Skip to main content


OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

What is a Text?

The word “text” is probably the most fluid term in a rhetorical situation. Usually, the word “text” refers to a written or typed document. In terms of a rhetorical situation, however, “text” means any form of communication that humans create. Whenever humans engage in any act of communication, a text serves as the vehicle for communication. Three basic factors affect the nature of each text: the medium of the text, the tools used to create the text, and the tools used to decipher the text.

Medium of a Text

Texts can appear in any kind of medium, or mechanism for communicating. The plural of medium in this sense is media. Various media affect the ways that authors and audiences communicate. Consider how these different types of media can affect how and what authors communicate to audiences in various rhetorical situations: hand-written, typed, computer-generated, audio, visual, spoken, verbal, non-verbal, graphic, pictorial, tactile, with words, or without words (there are many others, of course). Some varied specific examples of media could include a paper, a speech, a letter, an advertisement, a billboard, a presentation, a poster-board, a cartoon, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, an email, a Twitter tweet, a Facebook post, graffiti, a conversation (face-to-face, on a cell phone, via text messages) . . . this list is nearly endless.

Tools to Make a Text

Every text is made with tools that affect the structure and content of a text. Such tools could be physical tools that range from very basic (such as the larynx, throat, teeth, lips, and tongue necessary for verbal communication) to very complex (such as a laptop computer with graphic-manipulating software). These tools could also be more conceptual tools that range from simple (such as implementing feedback from an instructor) to more complicated (such as implementing different kinds of library and primary research). The tools of communication often determine the kinds of communication that can happen in any given rhetorical situation.

Tools to Decipher a Text

Likewise, audiences have varied tools for reading, viewing, hearing, or otherwise appreciating various texts. These could be actual physical tools that would likewise range from very basic (like the eyes and reading glasses necessary to read) to very complex (like a digital projector and screen to view a PowerPoint presentation). Or they could be conceptual tools that could range from simple (childhood principles learned from parents) to more complicated (a master’s degree in art). The tools that audiences have at their disposal affect the ways that they appreciate different texts.