A rhetorical analysis is a form of argument that involves both critical thinking and research. You will be asked to use your knowledge of audience appeals (ethos, pathos and logos), as well as your understanding of fallacies and the rhetorical situation in writing this essay. If you feel you need to review any of these, please review Lessons 2, 3, and 4 before writing.
This lesson will step you through the stages of completing a rhetorical analysis.
What is a Rhetorical Analysis?
A rhetorical analysis requires you to apply your critical reading skills in order to break down a text. The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to articulate HOW the author writes by discussing the strategies the author uses to achieve his or her goal or purpose of writing his or her piece. This will include strategies used to attract the audience (like the rhetorical situation) as well as the classical appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos). Along the way, stay critical—your thesis will encapsulate your judgment of the piece, and you will need evidence to point toward the success or failure of the item you’re analyzing.
While you will be able to choose your own focus, there will be a couple of basic parameters.
- First, your essay will need to include one outside source in addition to the text itself.
- Second, whatever you write about should ideally relate to the subject you plan to might delve into as part of the forthcoming research project. You might want to browse the upcoming units to help inspire you.
- Third, make sure to keep things clean—publication is part of the writing process, so any item you analyze should be publishable and researchable.
Writing a Rhetorical Analysis
The first step is to find something you’d like to write about.
Appropriate topics might include:
- a verbal, written, or visual argument that evokes a personal reaction in you. This might be something you’ve read in another class, something you saw on the news, or something you came across the Internet.
- a current event or subject that you want to learn more about
- a text that you feel has been misread or misinterpreted
Once you have your object of analysis and have done some research to help find evidence, you will want to focus your efforts:
- READ your text carefully, and at least a couple of times to ensure that you fully understand what you have read. Can you see the author’s thesis?
- Next, start to analyze the features of the text you’re analyzing. Keep the following questions in mind as you read:
- Who is the author? Does s/he have credibility to discuss the topic? Is there apparent bias? Is an institution sponsoring him/her, and if so, what does that institution represent?
- What is the thesis, and what is the overall argument the author presents?
- What did the author choose to study? Why?
- What is the writer’s purpose? To inform? To persuade? To criticize?
- Who is the author’s intended audience? Does s/he appeal to a resistant audience? A Neutral audience? Or is s/he “preaching to the choir?”
- What appeal(s) are applied (ethos, pathos, logos, or a combination)?
- How does the writer arrange his or her ideas? Does the author use inductive or deductive reasoning in structuring the argument?
- Did you note any fallacies as you read? Is so, which ones?
- How does the writer use diction? (Word choice, arrangement, accuracy, is it formal, informal? Technical versus slang?)
- Does the writer use dialogue? Quotations? Statistics? Why or why not?
- What have others said about this text? Some databases like Opposing Viewpoints will automatically share related articles. If you find an article online, you can search for more information (for example, the student with an interest in video games might search Video Game Violence Reactions).
Please note: If your essay just answers these questions, it will not get a good grade! These questions are designed to be a guide for note taking! Not every question will apply to every analysis, and you may find other appropriate questions to ask that are specific to your selection.
Focusing Your Essay
Now that you have your subject of analysis (your text), have done some background research, and have analyzed your text, it’s time to write your thesis. Here’s the trick: It does not matter whether you agree or disagree with the message in your text… your thesis should focus on its strategy.
- Focus on rhetorical features: “The article titled ‘Video Games Violence is Overblown’ initially attracts an audience through its use of logos, but when the facts turn to editorial ranting, the argument degrades to a mess of fallacies including ad hominem attacks against video game producers that render the overall argument ineffective.”
- Focus on interaction of elements: “The ad makes impressive use of visual appeals to pathos by rallying the audience to come together using a sympathetic image, by creating a strong tagline that is easy to remember, by crafting inspiring verbiage, and by providing resources to take further action.”
- Focus on audience: “While some would argue that a segment found on Fox News’ YouTube channel would show bias against Democrats, this particular segment does an impressive job of reaching out to a resistant audience by stating statistics (including statistics that make the Republican side look bad), using impartial language, and avoiding headlines or imagery that could be seen as ‘attacking’ the opposing view.”
This can be a tricky step, so make sure to save time to draft and revise accordingly to make sure your thesis matches what you truly wish to argue.
Organizing the Essay
After identifying your thesis, look back at the notes you took on your text. Try to arrange the key ideas in a logical way, following the support structure in your thesis. You may find that some of the observations you noticed at first are less important. It is ok to toss things aside to keep focused.
A sample outline might look like this:
- Summarize the text being critiqued
- Discuss the author and their background
- Discuss issues related to the audience and the appeals
- Discuss specific elements that relate back to the points about the audience
- Discuss what others have said about the text
The shape of the essay will evolve depending on the text you select. Thinking back to the sample essays, each took a different path to meet the goal, but they all had certain elements in common. See the list for guidelines:
- Make sure to logically transition between ideas.
- Stay on topic and let your thesis be your guide.
- Each paragraph should have a strong topic sentence to ease transition between elements.
- Avoid summary in favor of clear, specific examples.
- Make sure to cite all sources in MLA format.
- Don’t hurt your own ethos as a writer… Proofread, proofread, proofread!
Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Compose your rhetorical analysis essay using the directions listed in the Instruction section of this lesson. Your essay needs to meet the following requirements:
- You should not include more than one in-text citation per paragraph, and the conclusion should contain no citations. In addition, only one short quote and one long quote are allowed per essay.
- The essay should be 4-5 pages (not counting the cover sheet) in .
- You will be required to cite at least two sources for this essay (the text you’re analyzing and at least one source to support your analysis). Check out the page in the ENG101&102 Research Guide to review correctly formatted sample citations and to learn about tools that will generate citations for you!
- Your essay must follow MLA formatting guidelines, including in-text citations and a Works Cited page.
A rhetorical analysis is a form of argument that involves both critical thinking and research. You will be asked to use your knowledge of audience appeals (ethos, pathos and logos), as well as your understanding of fallacies and the rhetorical situation in writing this essay.