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How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis | Key Concepts & Examples

Published on August 28, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A rhetorical analysis is a type of essay  that looks at a text in terms of rhetoric. This means it is less concerned with what the author is saying than with how they say it: their goals, techniques, and appeals to the audience.

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Table of contents

Key concepts in rhetoric, analyzing the text, introducing your rhetorical analysis, the body: doing the analysis, concluding a rhetorical analysis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about rhetorical analysis.

Rhetoric, the art of effective speaking and writing, is a subject that trains you to look at texts, arguments and speeches in terms of how they are designed to persuade the audience. This section introduces a few of the key concepts of this field.

Appeals: Logos, ethos, pathos

Appeals are how the author convinces their audience. Three central appeals are discussed in rhetoric, established by the philosopher Aristotle and sometimes called the rhetorical triangle: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Logos , or the logical appeal, refers to the use of reasoned argument to persuade. This is the dominant approach in academic writing , where arguments are built up using reasoning and evidence.

Ethos , or the ethical appeal, involves the author presenting themselves as an authority on their subject. For example, someone making a moral argument might highlight their own morally admirable behavior; someone speaking about a technical subject might present themselves as an expert by mentioning their qualifications.

Pathos , or the pathetic appeal, evokes the audience’s emotions. This might involve speaking in a passionate way, employing vivid imagery, or trying to provoke anger, sympathy, or any other emotional response in the audience.

These three appeals are all treated as integral parts of rhetoric, and a given author may combine all three of them to convince their audience.

Text and context

In rhetoric, a text is not necessarily a piece of writing (though it may be this). A text is whatever piece of communication you are analyzing. This could be, for example, a speech, an advertisement, or a satirical image.

In these cases, your analysis would focus on more than just language—you might look at visual or sonic elements of the text too.

The context is everything surrounding the text: Who is the author (or speaker, designer, etc.)? Who is their (intended or actual) audience? When and where was the text produced, and for what purpose?

Looking at the context can help to inform your rhetorical analysis. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech has universal power, but the context of the civil rights movement is an important part of understanding why.

Claims, supports, and warrants

A piece of rhetoric is always making some sort of argument, whether it’s a very clearly defined and logical one (e.g. in a philosophy essay) or one that the reader has to infer (e.g. in a satirical article). These arguments are built up with claims, supports, and warrants.

A claim is the fact or idea the author wants to convince the reader of. An argument might center on a single claim, or be built up out of many. Claims are usually explicitly stated, but they may also just be implied in some kinds of text.

The author uses supports to back up each claim they make. These might range from hard evidence to emotional appeals—anything that is used to convince the reader to accept a claim.

The warrant is the logic or assumption that connects a support with a claim. Outside of quite formal argumentation, the warrant is often unstated—the author assumes their audience will understand the connection without it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still explore the implicit warrant in these cases.

For example, look at the following statement:

We can see a claim and a support here, but the warrant is implicit. Here, the warrant is the assumption that more likeable candidates would have inspired greater turnout. We might be more or less convinced by the argument depending on whether we think this is a fair assumption.

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See an example

define rhetorical essay

Rhetorical analysis isn’t a matter of choosing concepts in advance and applying them to a text. Instead, it starts with looking at the text in detail and asking the appropriate questions about how it works:

  • What is the author’s purpose?
  • Do they focus closely on their key claims, or do they discuss various topics?
  • What tone do they take—angry or sympathetic? Personal or authoritative? Formal or informal?
  • Who seems to be the intended audience? Is this audience likely to be successfully reached and convinced?
  • What kinds of evidence are presented?

By asking these questions, you’ll discover the various rhetorical devices the text uses. Don’t feel that you have to cram in every rhetorical term you know—focus on those that are most important to the text.

The following sections show how to write the different parts of a rhetorical analysis.

Like all essays, a rhetorical analysis begins with an introduction . The introduction tells readers what text you’ll be discussing, provides relevant background information, and presents your thesis statement .

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how an introduction works.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of oratory in American history. Delivered in 1963 to thousands of civil rights activists outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech has come to symbolize the spirit of the civil rights movement and even to function as a major part of the American national myth. This rhetorical analysis argues that King’s assumption of the prophetic voice, amplified by the historic size of his audience, creates a powerful sense of ethos that has retained its inspirational power over the years.

The body of your rhetorical analysis is where you’ll tackle the text directly. It’s often divided into three paragraphs, although it may be more in a longer essay.

Each paragraph should focus on a different element of the text, and they should all contribute to your overall argument for your thesis statement.

Hover over the example to explore how a typical body paragraph is constructed.

King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.

The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis wraps up the essay by restating the main argument and showing how it has been developed by your analysis. It may also try to link the text, and your analysis of it, with broader concerns.

Explore the example below to get a sense of the conclusion.

It is clear from this analysis that the effectiveness of King’s rhetoric stems less from the pathetic appeal of his utopian “dream” than it does from the ethos he carefully constructs to give force to his statements. By framing contemporary upheavals as part of a prophecy whose fulfillment will result in the better future he imagines, King ensures not only the effectiveness of his words in the moment but their continuing resonance today. Even if we have not yet achieved King’s dream, we cannot deny the role his words played in setting us on the path toward it.

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The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain the effect a piece of writing or oratory has on its audience, how successful it is, and the devices and appeals it uses to achieve its goals.

Unlike a standard argumentative essay , it’s less about taking a position on the arguments presented, and more about exploring how they are constructed.

The term “text” in a rhetorical analysis essay refers to whatever object you’re analyzing. It’s frequently a piece of writing or a speech, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, you could also treat an advertisement or political cartoon as a text.

Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments . Ethos appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.

Collectively, these three appeals are sometimes called the rhetorical triangle . They are central to rhetorical analysis , though a piece of rhetoric might not necessarily use all of them.

In rhetorical analysis , a claim is something the author wants the audience to believe. A support is the evidence or appeal they use to convince the reader to believe the claim. A warrant is the (often implicit) assumption that links the support with the claim.

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How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay–Examples & Template

define rhetorical essay

What is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

A rhetorical analysis essay is, as the name suggests, an analysis of someone else’s writing (or speech, or advert, or even cartoon) and how they use not only words but also rhetorical techniques to influence their audience in a certain way. A rhetorical analysis is less interested in what the author is saying and more in how they present it, what effect this has on their readers, whether they achieve their goals, and what approach they use to get there. 

Its structure is similar to that of most essays: An Introduction presents your thesis, a Body analyzes the text you have chosen, breaks it down into sections and explains how arguments have been constructed and how each part persuades, informs, or entertains the reader, and a Conclusion section sums up your evaluation. 

Note that your personal opinion on the matter is not relevant for your analysis and that you don’t state anywhere in your essay whether you agree or disagree with the stance the author takes.

In the following, we will define the key rhetorical concepts you need to write a good rhetorical analysis and give you some practical tips on where to start.

Key Rhetorical Concepts

Your goal when writing a rhetorical analysis is to think about and then carefully describe how the author has designed their text so that it has the intended effect on their audience. To do that, you need to consider a number of key rhetorical strategies: Rhetorical appeals (“Ethos”, “Logos”, and “Pathos”), context, as well as claims, supports, and warrants.

Ethos, Logos, and Pathos were introduced by Aristotle, way back in the 4th century BC, as the main ways in which language can be used to persuade an audience. They still represent the basis of any rhetorical analysis and are often referred to as the “rhetorical triangle”. 

These and other rhetorical techniques can all be combined to create the intended effect, and your job as the one analyzing a text is to break the writer’s arguments down and identify the concepts they are based on.

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical appeal #1: ethos.

Ethos refers to the reputation or authority of the writer regarding the topic of their essay or speech and to how they use this to appeal to their audience. Just like we are more likely to buy a product from a brand or vendor we have confidence in than one we don’t know or have reason to distrust, Ethos-driven texts or speeches rely on the reputation of the author to persuade the reader or listener. When you analyze an essay, you should therefore look at how the writer establishes Ethos through rhetorical devices.

Does the author present themselves as an authority on their subject? If so, how? 

Do they highlight how impeccable their own behavior is to make a moral argument? 

Do they present themselves as an expert by listing their qualifications or experience to convince the reader of their opinion on something?

Rhetorical appeal #2: Pathos

The purpose of Pathos-driven rhetoric is to appeal to the reader’s emotions. A common example of pathos as a rhetorical means is adverts by charities that try to make you donate money to a “good cause”. To evoke the intended emotions in the reader, an author may use passionate language, tell personal stories, and employ vivid imagery so that the reader can imagine themselves in a certain situation and feel empathy with or anger towards others.

Rhetorical appeal #3: Logos

Logos, the “logical” appeal, uses reason to persuade. Reason and logic, supported by data, evidence, clearly defined methodology, and well-constructed arguments, are what most academic writing is based on. Emotions, those of the researcher/writer as well as those of the reader, should stay out of such academic texts, as should anyone’s reputation, beliefs, or personal opinions. 

Text and Context

To analyze a piece of writing, a speech, an advertisement, or even a satirical drawing, you need to look beyond the piece of communication and take the context in which it was created and/or published into account. 

Who is the person who wrote the text/drew the cartoon/designed the ad..? What audience are they trying to reach? Where was the piece published and what was happening there around that time? 

A political speech, for example, can be powerful even when read decades later, but the historical context surrounding it is an important aspect of the effect it was intended to have. 

Claims, Supports, and Warrants

To make any kind of argument, a writer needs to put forward specific claims, support them with data or evidence or even a moral or emotional appeal, and connect the dots logically so that the reader can follow along and agree with the points made.

The connections between statements, so-called “warrants”, follow logical reasoning but are not always clearly stated—the author simply assumes the reader understands the underlying logic, whether they present it “explicitly” or “implicitly”. Implicit warrants are commonly used in advertisements where seemingly happy people use certain products, wear certain clothes, accessories, or perfumes, or live certain lifestyles – with the connotation that, first, the product/perfume/lifestyle is what makes that person happy and, second, the reader wants to be as happy as the person in the ad. Some warrants are never clearly stated, and your job when writing a rhetorical analysis essay is therefore to identify them and bring them to light, to evaluate their validity, their effect on the reader, and the use of such means by the writer/creator. 

bust of plato the philosopher, rhetorical analysis essay

What are the Five Rhetorical Situations?

A “rhetorical situation” refers to the circumstance behind a text or other piece of communication that arises from a given context. It explains why a rhetorical piece was created, what its purpose is, and how it was constructed to achieve its aims.

Rhetorical situations can be classified into the following five categories:

Why was a text written or a cartoon drawn? Does it want to inform someone? Instruct a certain audience? Entertain a specific group of people? 
Who will read/see this (or read/saw it in the past) and be influenced by it/motivated to do something?
What type of writing/advertisement/communication is this?
What views does the piece represent? How do these views fit into the situation the writer was in at the time or the reader is in now?
What forms, means, and techniques does the piece use to communicate with its audience?

Asking such questions when you analyze a text will help you identify all the aspects that play a role in the effect it has on its audience, and will allow you to evaluate whether it achieved its aims or where it may have failed to do so.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

Analyzing someone else’s work can seem like a big task, but as with every assignment or writing endeavor, you can break it down into smaller, well-defined steps that give you a practical structure to follow. 

To give you an example of how the different parts of your text may look when it’s finished, we will provide you with some excerpts from this rhetorical analysis essay example (which even includes helpful comments) published on the Online Writing Lab website of Excelsior University in Albany, NY. The text that this essay analyzes is this article on why one should or shouldn’t buy an Ipad. If you want more examples so that you can build your own rhetorical analysis template, have a look at this essay on Nabokov’s Lolita and the one provided here about the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter of Anne Lamott’s writing instruction book “Bird by Bird”.

Analyzing the Text

When writing a rhetorical analysis, you don’t choose the concepts or key points you think are relevant or want to address. Rather, you carefully read the text several times asking yourself questions like those listed in the last section on rhetorical situations to identify how the text “works” and how it was written to achieve that effect.

Start with focusing on the author : What do you think was their purpose for writing the text? Do they make one principal claim and then elaborate on that? Or do they discuss different topics? 

Then look at what audience they are talking to: Do they want to make a group of people take some action? Vote for someone? Donate money to a good cause? Who are these people? Is the text reaching this specific audience? Why or why not?

What tone is the author using to address their audience? Are they trying to evoke sympathy? Stir up anger? Are they writing from a personal perspective? Are they painting themselves as an authority on the topic? Are they using academic or informal language?

How does the author support their claims ? What kind of evidence are they presenting? Are they providing explicit or implicit warrants? Are these warrants valid or problematic? Is the provided evidence convincing?  

Asking yourself such questions will help you identify what rhetorical devices a text uses and how well they are put together to achieve a certain aim. Remember, your own opinion and whether you agree with the author are not the point of a rhetorical analysis essay – your task is simply to take the text apart and evaluate it.

If you are still confused about how to write a rhetorical analysis essay, just follow the steps outlined below to write the different parts of your rhetorical analysis: As every other essay, it consists of an Introduction , a Body (the actual analysis), and a Conclusion .

Rhetorical Analysis Introduction

The Introduction section briefly presents the topic of the essay you are analyzing, the author, their main claims, a short summary of the work by you, and your thesis statement . 

Tell the reader what the text you are going to analyze represents (e.g., historically) or why it is relevant (e.g., because it has become some kind of reference for how something is done). Describe what the author claims, asserts, or implies and what techniques they use to make their argument and persuade their audience. Finish off with your thesis statement that prepares the reader for what you are going to present in the next section – do you think that the author’s assumptions/claims/arguments were presented in a logical/appealing/powerful way and reached their audience as intended?

Have a look at an excerpt from the sample essay linked above to see what a rhetorical analysis introduction can look like. See how it introduces the author and article , the context in which it originally appeared , the main claims the author makes , and how this first paragraph ends in a clear thesis statement that the essay will then elaborate on in the following Body section:

Cory Doctorow ’s article on BoingBoing is an older review of the iPad , one of Apple’s most famous products. At the time of this article, however, the iPad was simply the latest Apple product to hit the market and was not yet so popular. Doctorow’s entire career has been entrenched in and around technology. He got his start as a CD-ROM programmer and is now a successful blogger and author. He is currently the co-editor of the BoingBoing blog on which this article was posted. One of his main points in this article comes from Doctorow’s passionate advocacy of free digital media sharing. He argues that the iPad is just another way for established technology companies to control our technological freedom and creativity . In “ Why I Won’t Buy an iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either) ” published on Boing Boing in April of 2010, Cory Doctorow successfully uses his experience with technology, facts about the company Apple, and appeals to consumer needs to convince potential iPad buyers that Apple and its products, specifically the iPad, limit the digital rights of those who use them by controlling and mainstreaming the content that can be used and created on the device . 

Doing the Rhetorical Analysis

The main part of your analysis is the Body , where you dissect the text in detail. Explain what methods the author uses to inform, entertain, and/or persuade the audience. Use Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle and the other key concepts we introduced above. Use quotations from the essay to demonstrate what you mean. Work out why the writer used a certain approach and evaluate (and again, demonstrate using the text itself) how successful they were. Evaluate the effect of each rhetorical technique you identify on the audience and judge whether the effect is in line with the author’s intentions.

To make it easy for the reader to follow your thought process, divide this part of your essay into paragraphs that each focus on one strategy or one concept , and make sure they are all necessary and contribute to the development of your argument(s).

One paragraph of this section of your essay could, for example, look like this:

One example of Doctorow’s position is his comparison of Apple’s iStore to Wal-Mart. This is an appeal to the consumer’s logic—or an appeal to logos. Doctorow wants the reader to take his comparison and consider how an all-powerful corporation like the iStore will affect them. An iPad will only allow for apps and programs purchased through the iStore to be run on it; therefore, a customer must not only purchase an iPad but also any programs he or she wishes to use. Customers cannot create their own programs or modify the hardware in any way. 

As you can see, the author of this sample essay identifies and then explains to the reader how Doctorow uses the concept of Logos to appeal to his readers – not just by pointing out that he does it but by dissecting how it is done.

Rhetorical Analysis Conclusion

The conclusion section of your analysis should restate your main arguments and emphasize once more whether you think the author achieved their goal. Note that this is not the place to introduce new information—only rely on the points you have discussed in the body of your essay. End with a statement that sums up the impact the text has on its audience and maybe society as a whole:

Overall, Doctorow makes a good argument about why there are potentially many better things to drop a great deal of money on instead of the iPad. He gives some valuable information and facts that consumers should take into consideration before going out to purchase the new device. He clearly uses rhetorical tools to help make his case, and, overall, he is effective as a writer, even if, ultimately, he was ineffective in convincing the world not to buy an iPad . 

Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Analysis Essays 

What is a rhetorical analysis essay.

A rhetorical analysis dissects a text or another piece of communication to work out and explain how it impacts its audience, how successfully it achieves its aims, and what rhetorical devices it uses to do that. 

While argumentative essays usually take a stance on a certain topic and argue for it, a rhetorical analysis identifies how someone else constructs their arguments and supports their claims.

What is the correct rhetorical analysis essay format?

Like most other essays, a rhetorical analysis contains an Introduction that presents the thesis statement, a Body that analyzes the piece of communication, explains how arguments have been constructed, and illustrates how each part persuades, informs, or entertains the reader, and a Conclusion section that summarizes the results of the analysis. 

What is the “rhetorical triangle”?

The rhetorical triangle was introduced by Aristotle as the main ways in which language can be used to persuade an audience: Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, Ethos to the writer’s status or authority, and Pathos to the reader’s emotions. Logos, Ethos, and Pathos can all be combined to create the intended effect, and your job as the one analyzing a text is to break the writer’s arguments down and identify what specific concepts each is based on.

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What Is a Rhetorical Analysis and How to Write a Great One

Helly Douglas

Helly Douglas

Cover image for article

Do you have to write a rhetorical analysis essay? Fear not! We’re here to explain exactly what rhetorical analysis means, how you should structure your essay, and give you some essential “dos and don’ts.”

What is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

How do you write a rhetorical analysis, what are the three rhetorical strategies, what are the five rhetorical situations, how to plan a rhetorical analysis essay, creating a rhetorical analysis essay, examples of great rhetorical analysis essays, final thoughts.

A rhetorical analysis essay studies how writers and speakers have used words to influence their audience. Think less about the words the author has used and more about the techniques they employ, their goals, and the effect this has on the audience.

Image showing definitions

In your analysis essay, you break a piece of text (including cartoons, adverts, and speeches) into sections and explain how each part works to persuade, inform, or entertain. You’ll explore the effectiveness of the techniques used, how the argument has been constructed, and give examples from the text.

A strong rhetorical analysis evaluates a text rather than just describes the techniques used. You don’t include whether you personally agree or disagree with the argument.

Structure a rhetorical analysis in the same way as most other types of academic essays . You’ll have an introduction to present your thesis, a main body where you analyze the text, which then leads to a conclusion.

Think about how the writer (also known as a rhetor) considers the situation that frames their communication:

  • Topic: the overall purpose of the rhetoric
  • Audience: this includes primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences
  • Purpose: there are often more than one to consider
  • Context and culture: the wider situation within which the rhetoric is placed

Back in the 4th century BC, Aristotle was talking about how language can be used as a means of persuasion. He described three principal forms —Ethos, Logos, and Pathos—often referred to as the Rhetorical Triangle . These persuasive techniques are still used today.

Image showing rhetorical strategies

Rhetorical Strategy 1: Ethos

Are you more likely to buy a car from an established company that’s been an important part of your community for 50 years, or someone new who just started their business?

Reputation matters. Ethos explores how the character, disposition, and fundamental values of the author create appeal, along with their expertise and knowledge in the subject area.

Aristotle breaks ethos down into three further categories:

  • Phronesis: skills and practical wisdom
  • Arete: virtue
  • Eunoia: goodwill towards the audience

Ethos-driven speeches and text rely on the reputation of the author. In your analysis, you can look at how the writer establishes ethos through both direct and indirect means.

Rhetorical Strategy 2: Pathos

Pathos-driven rhetoric hooks into our emotions. You’ll often see it used in advertisements, particularly by charities wanting you to donate money towards an appeal.

Common use of pathos includes:

  • Vivid description so the reader can imagine themselves in the situation
  • Personal stories to create feelings of empathy
  • Emotional vocabulary that evokes a response

By using pathos to make the audience feel a particular emotion, the author can persuade them that the argument they’re making is compelling.

Rhetorical Strategy 3: Logos

Logos uses logic or reason. It’s commonly used in academic writing when arguments are created using evidence and reasoning rather than an emotional response. It’s constructed in a step-by-step approach that builds methodically to create a powerful effect upon the reader.

Rhetoric can use any one of these three techniques, but effective arguments often appeal to all three elements.

The rhetorical situation explains the circumstances behind and around a piece of rhetoric. It helps you think about why a text exists, its purpose, and how it’s carried out.

Image showing 5 rhetorical situations

The rhetorical situations are:

  • 1) Purpose: Why is this being written? (It could be trying to inform, persuade, instruct, or entertain.)
  • 2) Audience: Which groups or individuals will read and take action (or have done so in the past)?
  • 3) Genre: What type of writing is this?
  • 4) Stance: What is the tone of the text? What position are they taking?
  • 5) Media/Visuals: What means of communication are used?

Understanding and analyzing the rhetorical situation is essential for building a strong essay. Also think about any rhetoric restraints on the text, such as beliefs, attitudes, and traditions that could affect the author's decisions.

Before leaping into your essay, it’s worth taking time to explore the text at a deeper level and considering the rhetorical situations we looked at before. Throw away your assumptions and use these simple questions to help you unpick how and why the text is having an effect on the audience.

Image showing what to consider when planning a rhetorical essay

1: What is the Rhetorical Situation?

  • Why is there a need or opportunity for persuasion?
  • How do words and references help you identify the time and location?
  • What are the rhetoric restraints?
  • What historical occasions would lead to this text being created?

2: Who is the Author?

  • How do they position themselves as an expert worth listening to?
  • What is their ethos?
  • Do they have a reputation that gives them authority?
  • What is their intention?
  • What values or customs do they have?

3: Who is it Written For?

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • How is this appealing to this particular audience?
  • Who are the possible secondary and tertiary audiences?

4: What is the Central Idea?

  • Can you summarize the key point of this rhetoric?
  • What arguments are used?
  • How has it developed a line of reasoning?

5: How is it Structured?

  • What structure is used?
  • How is the content arranged within the structure?

6: What Form is Used?

  • Does this follow a specific literary genre?
  • What type of style and tone is used, and why is this?
  • Does the form used complement the content?
  • What effect could this form have on the audience?

7: Is the Rhetoric Effective?

  • Does the content fulfil the author’s intentions?
  • Does the message effectively fit the audience, location, and time period?

Once you’ve fully explored the text, you’ll have a better understanding of the impact it’s having on the audience and feel more confident about writing your essay outline.

A great essay starts with an interesting topic. Choose carefully so you’re personally invested in the subject and familiar with it rather than just following trending topics. There are lots of great ideas on this blog post by My Perfect Words if you need some inspiration. Take some time to do background research to ensure your topic offers good analysis opportunities.

Image showing considerations for a rhetorical analysis topic

Remember to check the information given to you by your professor so you follow their preferred style guidelines. This outline example gives you a general idea of a format to follow, but there will likely be specific requests about layout and content in your course handbook. It’s always worth asking your institution if you’re unsure.

Make notes for each section of your essay before you write. This makes it easy for you to write a well-structured text that flows naturally to a conclusion. You will develop each note into a paragraph. Look at this example by College Essay for useful ideas about the structure.

Image showing how to structure an essay

1: Introduction

This is a short, informative section that shows you understand the purpose of the text. It tempts the reader to find out more by mentioning what will come in the main body of your essay.

  • Name the author of the text and the title of their work followed by the date in parentheses
  • Use a verb to describe what the author does, e.g. “implies,” “asserts,” or “claims”
  • Briefly summarize the text in your own words
  • Mention the persuasive techniques used by the rhetor and its effect

Create a thesis statement to come at the end of your introduction.

After your introduction, move on to your critical analysis. This is the principal part of your essay.

  • Explain the methods used by the author to inform, entertain, and/or persuade the audience using Aristotle's rhetorical triangle
  • Use quotations to prove the statements you make
  • Explain why the writer used this approach and how successful it is
  • Consider how it makes the audience feel and react

Make each strategy a new paragraph rather than cramming them together, and always use proper citations. Check back to your course handbook if you’re unsure which citation style is preferred.

3: Conclusion

Your conclusion should summarize the points you’ve made in the main body of your essay. While you will draw the points together, this is not the place to introduce new information you’ve not previously mentioned.

Use your last sentence to share a powerful concluding statement that talks about the impact the text has on the audience(s) and wider society. How have its strategies helped to shape history?

Before You Submit

Poor spelling and grammatical errors ruin a great essay. Use ProWritingAid to check through your finished essay before you submit. It will pick up all the minor errors you’ve missed and help you give your essay a final polish. Look at this useful ProWritingAid webinar for further ideas to help you significantly improve your essays. Sign up for a free trial today and start editing your essays!

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You’ll find countless examples of rhetorical analysis online, but they range widely in quality. Your institution may have example essays they can share with you to show you exactly what they’re looking for.

The following links should give you a good starting point if you’re looking for ideas:

Pearson Canada has a range of good examples. Look at how embedded quotations are used to prove the points being made. The end questions help you unpick how successful each essay is.

Excelsior College has an excellent sample essay complete with useful comments highlighting the techniques used.

Brighton Online has a selection of interesting essays to look at. In this specific example, consider how wider reading has deepened the exploration of the text.

Image showing tips when reading a sample essay

Writing a rhetorical analysis essay can seem daunting, but spending significant time deeply analyzing the text before you write will make it far more achievable and result in a better-quality essay overall.

It can take some time to write a good essay. Aim to complete it well before the deadline so you don’t feel rushed. Use ProWritingAid’s comprehensive checks to find any errors and make changes to improve readability. Then you’ll be ready to submit your finished essay, knowing it’s as good as you can possibly make it.

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Helly Douglas is a UK writer and teacher, specialising in education, children, and parenting. She loves making the complex seem simple through blogs, articles, and curriculum content. You can check out her work at hellydouglas.com or connect on Twitter @hellydouglas. When she’s not writing, you will find her in a classroom, being a mum or battling against the wilderness of her garden—the garden is winning!

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Rhetorical Analysis Definition and Examples

The analysis can be used on any communication, even a bumper sticker

  • An Introduction to Punctuation

Sample Rhetorical Analyses

Examples and observations, analyzing effects, analyzing greeting card verse, analyzing starbucks, rhetorical analysis vs. literary criticism.

  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

Rhetorical analysis is a form of criticism or close reading that employs the principles of rhetoric to examine the interactions between a text, an author, and an audience . It's also called rhetorical criticism or pragmatic criticism.

Rhetorical analysis may be applied to virtually any text or image—a speech , an essay , an advertisement, a poem, a photograph, a web page, even a bumper sticker. When applied to a literary work, rhetorical analysis regards the work not as an aesthetic object but as an artistically structured instrument for communication. As Edward P.J. Corbett has observed, rhetorical analysis "is more interested in a literary work for what it does than for what it is."

  • A Rhetorical Analysis of Claude McKay's "Africa"
  • A Rhetorical Analysis of E.B. White's "The Ring of Time"
  • A Rhetorical Analysis of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
  • "Our response to the character of the author—whether it is called ethos, or 'implied author,' or style , or even tone—is part of our experience of his work, an experience of the voice within the masks, personae , of the work...Rhetorical criticism intensifies our sense of the dynamic relationships between the author as a real person and the more or less fictive person implied by the work." (Thomas O. Sloan, "Restoration of Rhetoric to Literary Study." The Speech Teacher )
  • "[R]hetorical criticism is a mode of analysis that focuses on the text itself. In that respect, it is like the practical criticism that the New Critics and the Chicago School indulge in. It is unlike these modes of criticism in that it does not remain inside the literary work but works outward from the text to considerations of the author and the audience...In talking about the ethical appeal in his 'Rhetoric,' Aristotle made the point that although a speaker may come before an audience with a certain antecedent reputation, his ethical appeal is exerted primarily by what he says in that particular speech before that particular audience. Likewise, in rhetorical criticism, we gain our impression of the author from what we can glean from the text itself—from looking at such things as his ideas and attitudes, his stance, his tone, his style. This reading back to the author is not the same sort of thing as the attempt to reconstruct the biography of a writer from his literary work. Rhetorical criticism seeks simply to ascertain the particular posture or image that the author is establishing in this particular work in order to produce a particular effect on a particular audience." (Edward P.J. Corbett, "Introduction" to " Rhetorical Analyses of Literary Works ")

"[A] complete   rhetorical analysis requires the researcher to move beyond identifying and labeling in that creating an inventory of the parts of a text represents only the starting point of the analyst's work. From the earliest examples of rhetorical analysis to the present, this analytical work has involved the analyst in interpreting the meaning of these textual components—both in isolation and in combination—for the person (or people) experiencing the text. This highly interpretive aspect of rhetorical analysis requires the analyst to address the effects of the different identified textual elements on the perception of the person experiencing the text. So, for example, the analyst might say that the presence of feature x will condition the reception of the text in a particular way. Most texts, of course, include multiple features, so this analytical work involves addressing the cumulative effects of the selected combination of features in the text." (Mark Zachry, "Rhetorical Analysis" from " The Handbook of Business Discourse , " Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini, editor)

"Perhaps the most pervasive type of repeated-word sentence used in greeting card verse is the sentence in which a word or group of words is repeated anywhere within the sentence, as in the following example:

In quiet and thoughtful ways , in happy and fun ways , all ways , and always , I love you.

In this sentence, the word ways is repeated at the end of two successive phrases, picked up again at the beginning of the next phrase, and then repeated as part of the word always . Similarly, the root word all initially appears in the phrase 'all ways' and is then repeated in a slightly different form in the homophonic word always . The movement is from the particular ('quiet and thoughtful ways,' 'happy and fun ways'), to the general ('all ways'), to the hyperbolic ('always')." (Frank D'Angelo, "The Rhetoric of Sentimental Greeting Card Verse." Rhetoric Review )

"Starbucks not just as an institution or as a set of verbal discourses or even advertising but as a material and physical site is deeply rhetorical...Starbucks weaves us directly into the cultural conditions of which it is constitutive. The color of the logo, the performative practices of ordering, making, and drinking the coffee, the conversations around the tables, and the whole host of other materialities and performances of/in Starbucks are at once the rhetorical claims and the enactment of the rhetorical action urged. In short, Starbucks draws together the tripartite relationships among place, body, and subjectivity. As a material/rhetorical place, Starbucks addresses and is the very site of a comforting and discomforting negotiation of these relationships." (Greg Dickinson, "Joe's Rhetoric: Finding Authenticity at Starbucks." Rhetoric Society Quarterly )

"What essentially are the differences between literary criticism analysis and rhetorical analysis? When a critic explicates Ezra Pound's Canto XLV , for example, and shows how Pound inveighs against usury as an offense against nature that corrupts society and the arts, the critic must point out the 'evidence'—the 'artistic proofs' of example and enthymeme [a formal syllogistic argument that is incompletely stated}—that Pound has drawn upon for his fulmination. The critic will also call attention to the 'arrangement' of the parts of that argument as a feature of the 'form' of the poem just as he may inquire into the language and syntax. Again these are matters that Aristotle assigned mainly to rhetoric...

"All critical essays dealing with the persona of a literary work are in reality studies of the 'Ethos' of the 'speaker' or 'narrator'—the voice—source of the rhythmic language which attracts and holds the kind of readers the poet desires as his audience, and the means this persona consciously or unconsciously chooses, in Kenneth Burke's term, to 'woo' that reader-audience." (Alexander Scharbach, "Rhetoric and Literary Criticism: Why Their Separation." College Composition and Communication )

  • Definition and Examples of Explication (Analysis)
  • Audience Analysis in Speech and Composition
  • Definition and Examples of Ethos in Classical Rhetoric
  • Stylistics and Elements of Style in Literature
  • A Rhetorical Analysis of U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'
  • Definition of Belles-Lettres in English Grammer
  • Invented Ethos (Rhetoric)
  • Definition of Audience
  • What is a Rhetorical Situation?
  • Critical Analysis in Composition
  • Rhetoric: Definitions and Observations
  • Definition and Examples of the Topoi in Rhetoric
  • What Is the Second Persona?
  • Feminist Literary Criticism
  • An Introduction to Rhetorical Questions
  • What Is Phronesis?

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Chapter 6: Thinking and Analyzing Rhetorically

6.3 What is Rhetorical Analysis?

Rhetoric: The art of persuasion

Analysis: Breaking down the whole into pieces for the purpose of examination

Unlike summary, a rhetorical analysis does not only require a restatement of ideas; instead, you must recognize rhetorical moves that an author is making in an attempt to persuade his or her audience to do or to think something. In the 21st century’s abundance of information, it can sometimes be difficult to discern what is a rhetorical strategy and what is simple manipulation; however, an understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical moves will help you become more savvy with the information surrounding you on a day-to-day basis. In other words, rhetorical moves can be a form of manipulation, but if one can recognize those moves, then one can be a more critical consumer of information rather than blindly accepting whatever one reads, sees, hears, etc.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain what is happening in the text,  why the author might have chosen to use a particular move or set of rhetorical moves, and how those choices might affect the audience. The text you analyze might be explanatory, although there will be aspects of argument because you must negotiate with what the author is trying to do and what you think the author is doing. Edward P.J. Corbett observes, rhetorical analysis “is more interested in a literary work for what it does than for what it is”  (qtd. in Nordqvist).

One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text’s rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of a which a text is created.

  • The questions that you can use to examine a text’s rhetorical situation are in   Chapter 6.2 .

Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text. You have to be able to describe the basics of the author’s thesis and main points before you can begin to analyze it.

  • The questions that you can use to summarize a text are in  Chapter 5.1

A third element of rhetorical analysis requires you to connect the rhetorical situation to the text. You need to go beyond summarizing and look at how the author shapes his or her text based on its context. In developing your reading and analytical skills, allow yourself to think about what you’re reading, to question the text and your responses to it, as you read. Use the following questions to help you to take the text apart—dissecting it to see how it works:

  • Does the author successfully support the thesis or claim?   Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or does it wander at any point?
  • Is the evidence the author used effective for the intended audience? How might the intended audience respond to the types of evidence that the author used to support the thesis/claim?
  • What rhetorical moves do you see the author making to help achieve his or her purpose? Are there word choices or content choices that seem to you to be clearly related to the author’s agenda for the text or that might appeal to the intended audience?
  • Describe the tone in the piece. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language, or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Point to aspects of the text that create the tone; spend some time examining these and considering how and why they work. (Learn more about tone in Section 4.5 “ Tone, Voice, and Point of View . ”)
  • Is the author objective, or does he or she try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint? If the author is biased, does this interfere with the way you read and understand the text?
  • Do you feel like the author knows who you are? Does the text seem to be aimed at readers like you or at a different audience? What assumptions does the author make about their audience? Would most people find these reasonable, acceptable, or accurate?
  • Does the text’s flow make sense? Is the line of reasoning logical? Are there any gaps? Are there any spots where you feel the reasoning is flawed in some way?
  • Does the author try to appeal to your emotions? Does the author use any controversial words in the headline or the article? Do these affect your reading or your interest?
  • Do you believe the author? Do you accept their thoughts and ideas? Why or why not?

It is also a good idea to revisit Section 2.3 “How to Read Rhetorically.” This chapter will compliment the rhetorical questions listed above and help you clearly determine the text’s rhetorical situation.

Once you have done this basic, rhetorical, critical reading of your text, you are ready to think about how the rhetorical situation ( Section 6.2 ) – the context out of which the text arises –  influences certain rhetorical appeals ( Section 6.4 ) that appear in it.

Attributions

This chapter contains material from “The Word on College Reading and Writing” by Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood , OpenOregon Educational Resources , Higher Education Coordination Commission: Office of Community Colleges and Workforce Development is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing by Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Rhetorical Analysis

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Almost every text makes an argument. Rhetorical analysis is the process of evaluating elements of a text and determining how those elements impact the success or failure of that argument. Often rhetorical analyses address written arguments, but visual, oral, or other kinds of “texts” can also be analyzed. 

Rhetorical Features—What to Analyze

Asking the right questions about how a text is constructed will help you determine the focus of your rhetorical analysis. A good rhetorical analysis does not try to address every element of a text; discuss just those aspects with the greatest [positive or negative] impact on the text’s effectiveness. 

The Rhetorical Situation

Remember that no text exists in a vacuum. The rhetorical situation of a text refers to the context in which it is written and read, the audience to whom it is directed, and the purpose of the writer. 

The Rhetorical Appeals

A writer makes many strategic decisions when attempting to persuade an audience. Considering the following rhetorical appeals will help you understand some of these strategies and their effect on an argument. Generally, writers should incorporate a variety of different rhetorical appeals rather than relying on only one kind. 

Ethos (appeal to the writer’s credibility)

  • What is the writer’s purpose (to argue, explain, teach, defend, call to action, etc.)?
  • Do you trust the writer? Why?
  • Is the writer an authority on the subject? What credentials does the writer have?
  • Does the writer address other viewpoints?
  • How does the writer’s word choice or tone affect how you view the writer?

Pathos (appeal to emotion or to an audience’s values or beliefs)

  • Who is the target audience for the argument?
  • How is the writer trying to make the audience feel (i.e., sad, happy, angry, guilty)?
  • Is the writer making any assumptions about the background, knowledge, values, etc. of the audience?

Logos (appeal to logic)

  • Is the writer’s evidence relevant to the purpose of the argument? Is the evidence current (if applicable)? Does the writer use a variety of sources to support the argument?
  • What kind of evidence is used (i.e., expert testimony, statistics, proven facts)?
  • Do the writer’s points build logically upon each other?
  • Where in the text is the main argument stated? How does that placement affect the success of the argument?
  • Does the writer’s thesis make that purpose clear?

Kairos (appeal to timeliness)

  • When was the argument originally presented?
  • Where was the argument originally presented?
  • What circumstances may have motivated the argument?
  • Does the particular time or situation in which this text is written make it more compelling or persuasive?
  • What would an audience at this particular time understand about this argument?

Writing a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

No matter the kind of text you are analyzing, remember that the text’s subject matter is never the focus of a rhetorical analysis. The most common error writers make when writing rhetorical analyses is to address the topic or opinion expressed by an author instead of focusing on how that author constructs an argument.

You must read and study a text critically in order to distinguish its rhetorical elements and strategies from its content or message. By identifying and understanding how audiences are persuaded, you become more proficient at constructing your own arguments and in resisting faulty arguments made by others.

A thesis for a rhetorical analysis does not address the content of the writer’s argument. Instead, the thesis should be a statement about specific rhetorical strategies the writer uses and whether or not they make a convincing argument.

Incorrect: Smith’s editorial promotes the establishment of more green space in the Atlanta area through the planting of more trees along major roads.

This statement is summarizing the meaning and purpose of Smith’s writing rather than making an argument about how – and how effectively – Smith presents and defends his position.

Correct: Through the use of vivid description and testimony from affected citizens, Smith makes a powerful argument for establishing more green space in the Atlanta area.

Correct: Although Smith’s editorial includes vivid descriptions of the destruction of green space in the Atlanta area, his argument will not convince his readers because his claim is not backed up with factual evidence.

These statements are both focused on how Smith argues, and both make a claim about the effectiveness of his argument that can be defended throughout the paper with examples from Smith’s text.

Introduction

The introduction should name the author and the title of the work you are analyzing. Providing any relevant background information about the text and state your thesis (see above). Resist the urge to delve into the topic of the text and stay focused on the rhetorical strategies being used.

Summary of argument

Include a short summary of the argument you are analyzing so readers not familiar with the text can understand your claims and have context for the examples you provide.

The body of your essay discusses and evaluates the rhetorical strategies (elements of the rhetorical situation and rhetorical appeals – see above) that make the argument effective or not. Be certain to provide specific examples from the text for each strategy you discuss and focus on those strategies that are most important to the text you are analyzing. Your essay should follow a logical organization plan that your reader can easily follow.

Go beyond restating your thesis; comment on the effect or significance of the entire essay. Make a statement about how important rhetorical strategies are in determining the effectiveness of an argument or text.

Analyzing Visual Arguments

The same rhetorical elements and appeals used to analyze written texts also apply to visual arguments. Additionally, analyzing a visual text requires an understanding of how design elements work together to create certain persuasive effects (or not). Consider how elements such as image selection, color, use of space, graphics, layout, or typeface influence an audience’s reaction to the argument that the visual was designed to convey.

This material was developed by the KSU Writing Center and is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License . All materials created by the KSU Writing Center are free to use and can be adopted, remixed, and shared at will as long as the materials are attributed. Please keep this information on materials you adapt or adopt for attribution purposes. 

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How to write a rhetorical analysis

Rhetorical analysis illustration

What is a rhetorical analysis?

What are the key concepts of a rhetorical analysis, rhetorical situation, claims, supports, and warrants.

  • Step 1: Plan and prepare
  • Step 2: Write your introduction
  • Step 3: Write the body
  • Step 4: Write your conclusion

Frequently Asked Questions about rhetorical analysis

Related articles.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and aims to study writers’ or speakers' techniques to inform, persuade, or motivate their audience. Thus, a rhetorical analysis aims to explore the goals and motivations of an author, the techniques they’ve used to reach their audience, and how successful these techniques were.

This will generally involve analyzing a specific text and considering the following aspects to connect the rhetorical situation to the text:

  • Does the author successfully support the thesis or claims made in the text? Here, you’ll analyze whether the author holds to their argument consistently throughout the text or whether they wander off-topic at some point.
  • Does the author use evidence effectively considering the text’s intended audience? Here, you’ll consider the evidence used by the author to support their claims and whether the evidence resonates with the intended audience.
  • What rhetorical strategies the author uses to achieve their goals. Here, you’ll consider the word choices by the author and whether these word choices align with their agenda for the text.
  • The tone of the piece. Here, you’ll consider the tone used by the author in writing the piece by looking at specific words and aspects that set the tone.
  • Whether the author is objective or trying to convince the audience of a particular viewpoint. When it comes to objectivity, you’ll consider whether the author is objective or holds a particular viewpoint they want to convince the audience of. If they are, you’ll also consider whether their persuasion interferes with how the text is read and understood.
  • Does the author correctly identify the intended audience? It’s important to consider whether the author correctly writes the text for the intended audience and what assumptions the author makes about the audience.
  • Does the text make sense? Here, you’ll consider whether the author effectively reasons, based on the evidence, to arrive at the text’s conclusion.
  • Does the author try to appeal to the audience’s emotions? You’ll need to consider whether the author uses any words, ideas, or techniques to appeal to the audience’s emotions.
  • Can the author be believed? Finally, you’ll consider whether the audience will accept the arguments and ideas of the author and why.

Summing up, unlike summaries that focus on what an author said, a rhetorical analysis focuses on how it’s said, and it doesn’t rely on an analysis of whether the author was right or wrong but rather how they made their case to arrive at their conclusions.

Although rhetorical analysis is most used by academics as part of scholarly work, it can be used to analyze any text including speeches, novels, television shows or films, advertisements, or cartoons.

Now that we’ve seen what rhetorical analysis is, let’s consider some of its key concepts .

Any rhetorical analysis starts with the rhetorical situation which identifies the relationships between the different elements of the text. These elements include the audience, author or writer, the author’s purpose, the delivery method or medium, and the content:

  • Audience: The audience is simply the readers of a specific piece of text or content or printed material. For speeches or other mediums like film and video, the audience would be the listeners or viewers. Depending on the specific piece of text or the author’s perception, the audience might be real, imagined, or invoked. With a real audience, the author writes to the people actually reading or listening to the content while, for an imaginary audience, the author writes to an audience they imagine would read the content. Similarly, for an invoked audience, the author writes explicitly to a specific audience.
  • Author or writer: The author or writer, also commonly referred to as the rhetor in the context of rhetorical analysis, is the person or the group of persons who authored the text or content.
  • The author’s purpose: The author’s purpose is the author’s reason for communicating to the audience. In other words, the author’s purpose encompasses what the author expects or intends to achieve with the text or content.
  • Alphabetic text includes essays, editorials, articles, speeches, and other written pieces.
  • Imaging includes website and magazine advertisements, TV commercials, and the like.
  • Audio includes speeches, website advertisements, radio or tv commercials, or podcasts.
  • Context: The context of the text or content considers the time, place, and circumstances surrounding the delivery of the text to its audience. With respect to context, it might often also be helpful to analyze the text in a different context to determine its impact on a different audience and in different circumstances.

An author will use claims, supports, and warrants to build the case around their argument, irrespective of whether the argument is logical and clearly defined or needs to be inferred by the audience:

  • Claim: The claim is the main idea or opinion of an argument that the author must prove to the intended audience. In other words, the claim is the fact or facts the author wants to convince the audience of. Claims are usually explicitly stated but can, depending on the specific piece of content or text, be implied from the content. Although these claims could be anything and an argument may be based on a single or several claims, the key is that these claims should be debatable.
  • Support: The supports are used by the author to back up the claims they make in their argument. These supports can include anything from fact-based, objective evidence to subjective emotional appeals and personal experiences used by the author to convince the audience of a specific claim. Either way, the stronger and more reliable the supports, the more likely the audience will be to accept the claim.
  • Warrant: The warrants are the logic and assumptions that connect the supports to the claims. In other words, they’re the assumptions that make the initial claim possible. The warrant is often unstated, and the author assumes that the audience will be able to understand the connection between the claims and supports. In turn, this is based on the author’s assumption that they share a set of values and beliefs with the audience that will make them understand the connection mentioned above. Conversely, if the audience doesn’t share these beliefs and values with the author, the argument will not be that effective.

Appeals are used by authors to convince their audience and, as such, are an integral part of the rhetoric and are often referred to as the rhetorical triangle. As a result, an author may combine all three appeals to convince their audience:

  • Ethos: Ethos represents the authority or credibility of the author. To be successful, the author needs to convince the audience of their authority or credibility through the language and delivery techniques they use. This will, for example, be the case where an author writing on a technical subject positions themselves as an expert or authority by referring to their qualifications or experience.
  • Logos: Logos refers to the reasoned argument the author uses to persuade their audience. In other words, it refers to the reasons or evidence the author proffers in substantiation of their claims and can include facts, statistics, and other forms of evidence. For this reason, logos is also the dominant approach in academic writing where authors present and build up arguments using reasoning and evidence.
  • Pathos: Through pathos, also referred to as the pathetic appeal, the author attempts to evoke the audience’s emotions through the use of, for instance, passionate language, vivid imagery, anger, sympathy, or any other emotional response.

To write a rhetorical analysis, you need to follow the steps below:

With a rhetorical analysis, you don’t choose concepts in advance and apply them to a specific text or piece of content. Rather, you’ll have to analyze the text to identify the separate components and plan and prepare your analysis accordingly.

Here, it might be helpful to use the SOAPSTone technique to identify the components of the work. SOAPSTone is a common acronym in analysis and represents the:

  • Speaker . Here, you’ll identify the author or the narrator delivering the content to the audience.
  • Occasion . With the occasion, you’ll identify when and where the story takes place and what the surrounding context is.
  • Audience . Here, you’ll identify who the audience or intended audience is.
  • Purpose . With the purpose, you’ll need to identify the reason behind the text or what the author wants to achieve with their writing.
  • Subject . You’ll also need to identify the subject matter or topic of the text.
  • Tone . The tone identifies the author’s feelings towards the subject matter or topic.

Apart from gathering the information and analyzing the components mentioned above, you’ll also need to examine the appeals the author uses in writing the text and attempting to persuade the audience of their argument. Moreover, you’ll need to identify elements like word choice, word order, repetition, analogies, and imagery the writer uses to get a reaction from the audience.

Once you’ve gathered the information and examined the appeals and strategies used by the author as mentioned above, you’ll need to answer some questions relating to the information you’ve collected from the text. The answers to these questions will help you determine the reasons for the choices the author made and how well these choices support the overall argument.

Here, some of the questions you’ll ask include:

  • What was the author’s intention?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • What is the author’s argument?
  • What strategies does the author use to build their argument and why do they use those strategies?
  • What appeals the author uses to convince and persuade the audience?
  • What effect the text has on the audience?

Keep in mind that these are just some of the questions you’ll ask, and depending on the specific text, there might be others.

Once you’ve done your preparation, you can start writing the rhetorical analysis. It will start off with an introduction which is a clear and concise paragraph that shows you understand the purpose of the text and gives more information about the author and the relevance of the text.

The introduction also summarizes the text and the main ideas you’ll discuss in your analysis. Most importantly, however, is your thesis statement . This statement should be one sentence at the end of the introduction that summarizes your argument and tempts your audience to read on and find out more about it.

After your introduction, you can proceed with the body of your analysis. Here, you’ll write at least three paragraphs that explain the strategies and techniques used by the author to convince and persuade the audience, the reasons why the writer used this approach, and why it’s either successful or unsuccessful.

You can structure the body of your analysis in several ways. For example, you can deal with every strategy the author uses in a new paragraph, but you can also structure the body around the specific appeals the author used or chronologically.

No matter how you structure the body and your paragraphs, it’s important to remember that you support each one of your arguments with facts, data, examples, or quotes and that, at the end of every paragraph, you tie the topic back to your original thesis.

Finally, you’ll write the conclusion of your rhetorical analysis. Here, you’ll repeat your thesis statement and summarize the points you’ve made in the body of your analysis. Ultimately, the goal of the conclusion is to pull the points of your analysis together so you should be careful to not raise any new issues in your conclusion.

After you’ve finished your conclusion, you’ll end your analysis with a powerful concluding statement of why your argument matters and an invitation to conduct more research if needed.

A rhetorical analysis aims to explore the goals and motivations of an author, the techniques they’ve used to reach their audience, and how successful these techniques were. Although rhetorical analysis is most used by academics as part of scholarly work, it can be used to analyze any text including speeches, novels, television shows or films, advertisements, or cartoons.

The steps to write a rhetorical analysis include:

Your rhetorical analysis introduction is a clear and concise paragraph that shows you understand the purpose of the text and gives more information about the author and the relevance of the text. The introduction also summarizes the text and the main ideas you’ll discuss in your analysis.

Ethos represents the authority or credibility of the author. To be successful, the author needs to convince the audience of their authority or credibility through the language and delivery techniques they use. This will, for example, be the case where an author writing on a technical subject positions themselves as an expert or authority by referring to their qualifications or experience.

Appeals are used by authors to convince their audience and, as such, are an integral part of the rhetoric and are often referred to as the rhetorical triangle. The 3 types of appeals are ethos, logos, and pathos.

define rhetorical essay

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Rhetorical Analysis

define rhetorical essay

A rhetorical analysis asks you to explain how writers or speakers within specific social situations attempt to influence others through discourse (including written or spoken language, images, gestures, and so on). A rhetorical analysis is not a summary. It also does not ask you to agree or disagree with the author’s argument. Instead, the purpose of a rhetorical analysis is to make an argument about how an author conveys their message to a particular audience: you’re exploring the author’s goals, describing the techniques or tools used and providing examples of those techniques, and analyzing the effectiveness of those techniques.

To write a rhetorical analysis, you’ll first break down the rhetorical situation and analyze the author’s rhetorical strategies.

Rhetorical Situation

The rhetorical situation is the communicative context of a text, which includes:

Audience : The specific or intended audience of a text.

Author/speaker/writer : The person or group of people who composed the text.

Purpose : To inform, persuade, entertain; what the author wants the audience to believe, know, feel, or do.

Exigence : The text’s reason for being, such as an event, situation, or position within an ongoing debate that the writer is responding to.

Message : The content of the text, the key point(s) the author is communicating to the audience.

Medium and genre : The delivery method, which includes broadly and narrowly defined categories of communication such as:

  • Alphabetic text (newspaper editorials, peer-reviewed academic articles, magazine feature essays),
  • Images (advertisements, photographs),
  • Sound (speeches, radio commercials, songs),
  • Multimodal texts (YouTube videos, performances, graphic novels).

Rhetorical Strategies

After breaking down the rhetorical situation, you need to analyze how the author uses rhetorical techniques to convey the message. As you analyze the text, consider:

  • How effectively does the author use the ethos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? In other words, how does the author convince the audience of their credibility, authority, or trustworthiness? What qualifications do they have to address this topic? How does the author demonstrate shared values with the audience?
  • How effectively does the author use the pathos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? In other words, how does the author evoke emotions of pity, sympathy, anger, courage, happiness, sorrow, etc. in the audience? How does the author establish a bond with the audience? What kinds of images, colors, words, sounds does the author use to evoke these feelings?
  • How effectively does the author use the logos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? What evidence and types of reasoning does the author use? How does the author arrange their ideas or order their main points? Does the author use repetition, inductive logic, or deductive logic? Does the author refer to precedents? Address alternative arguments or viewpoints?

Writing a Thesis for Your Rhetorical Analysis

After you’ve analyzed the rhetorical situation and rhetorical strategies, you’ll need to create a thesis for your rhetorical analysis. Often, the thesis statement will assess the author’s effectiveness in accomplishing their purpose with the intended audience through the use of rhetorical strategies.

You might adapt a template like this one: “In [text], [author] effectively convinces [audience] of [message] by [rhetorical strategies].”

Here’s an example: The webpage “Rhetorical Analysis,” written by the Writers Workshop, effectively informs students about how to write a rhetorical analysis by breaking down the elements of the rhetorical situation in an easy-to-read list, posing a series of questions about rhetorical strategies, and capitalizing on the Workshop’s ethos as the campus writing center.

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Conspiracy Theory PWR 1 Fall Quarter 2008 Jonah G. Willihnganz Stanford University

The Rhetorical Analysis Audience: Freshman Class of Stanford University 5 pages, double-spaced Due on Coursework Friday, October 10 by 12 noon (in Materials folder)

What a rhetorical analysis is:

A rhetorical analysis is an examination of how a text persuades us of its point of view. It focuses on identifying and investigating the way a text communicates, what strategies it employs to connect to an audience, frame an issue, establish its stakes, make a particular claim, support it, and persuade the audience to accept the claim. It is not, as we have noted, an analysis of what a text says but of what strategies it uses to communicate effectively. You must, of course, begin your analysis with what the text says—its argument—but the work of the essay is to show how the text persuades us of its position.  You might think of the piece you choose to analyze as a particular kind of engine whose machinations produce particular results. An analysis of the engine examines all the parts, how they work in isolation, together, etc. to see how the engine does what it does, or makes what it makes.

Your task is to produce a rhetorical analysis of one of the pieces (or pair of pieces) listed below. Your goal is to show how the essay, debate, or story's structure, rhetorical appeals, and strategies attempt to persuade us of its/their point of view. In your essay you should have a clear thesis of your own about the piece (or pair of pieces) you are analyzing and supply strong textual evidence to support your thesis. I would suggest that before you begin you read the guidelines below and the Evaluation Rubric that we will use to assess essays in this course (in the Course Materials section of the web site). There you will find the six principle criteria for a successful essay.

  • Maclolm X, " The Ballot or the Bullet "
  • Martin Amis, " The Last Days of Muhhamad Atta "
  • Joseph McCarthy, " Repsonse to Edward R. Murrow" on See It Now

The Form of the Essay:

As we will discuss, there is no set form , no five-paragraph standard, for writing essays such as these. But since your goal is to convince your audience of an argument, you need to use the best strategies to do so. Persuasive writing, we have seen, gains the attention and establishes a connection with its audience, provides a context for the argument it will pursue, and pursues that argument (often declared near the beginning of the essay, but not always) by building the strongest case possible. So in your first paragraph or two you will probably want to capture the attention of your audience, provide the context of the analysis you are making, and provide either your claim or your purpose (with the actual claim to come later). The form of your essay will flow from the thesis you invent, so constructing a strong one is crucial. Make sure that your thesis obeys the prescriptions we have discussed in class. Your thesis needs to be an argument , concrete and specific (vs. abstract and vague), and of appropriate scope (defensible within the constraints of the essay). An argument, as we have said, is something with which someone might conceivably disagree. Your goal here, as we have said, is to show us how a text works, what strategy or strategies it uses. Therefore a general statement such as "This story has very powerful rhetorical strategies " does not qualify as an argument, but "This essay's consistent use of war analogies encourages the audience to emotionally identify with its position" does.

Be sure to give your essay a good title, one that signals the slant and/or value of your analysis. In this essay, the only citations you need to provide are the page numbers of directly quoted passages of the text you are analyzing.

Some suggestions about the process of writing this essay:

Successful essays are approached in stages. Writing, we have said, is a process of thinking, and so to produce a piece capable of persuading others we almost always need to write in stages. The first stage is pouring out our first impressions, our "first take" on a text or subject. This draft, notes or outline—whatever form it takes—is usually some record or story of our thoughts. It is important to recognize that this then needs to be transformed in a second stage into something that is much more like a "performance"—something carefully calculated to persuade a particular audience of the position we have developed. Make sure you submit for scrutiny this second stage .

We have done a bit of this kind of analysis in class, so the activity of thinking about the texts should feel familiar.  When we write essays that try to perform a clear but sophisticated analysis, it is sometimes helpful to approach the task in discrete steps.  When producing a rhetorical analysis, you might try the following. Take notes at each stage of these stages and write out full sentences as often as possible so that you begin to make your formulations early-on. 

Firs t, describe for yourself as fully as possible what you take to be the general meaning/message of the piece . Do the same for more specific, particular effects. Then begin your examination the piece's strategies by looking at whether/how the work signals in any way its audience, purpose, and context.  Begin with what the works do for you—that is, start with your experience.  This isn't a license to say anything you like, or, for example, to speak simply about what the works remind you of, since you will have to account for the effects you describe and how they are produced. 

Second , identify the most prominent strategies the work uses to produce the meaning/effect you have described. Use terms and concepts we have discussed in class—the Aristotelian forms of appeal, metaphor, metonymy, analogy, common ground, etc—and any others that seem useful.  Look in particular for any patterns that are developed by the work.  Finally, decide what seem to be the most important elements of the work for you—that is, identify what is for you to be the most striking, meaningful effect(s) of the work and methods used to achieve it/them.  This will help you hone in on a thesis.

Third, craft a few sentences that explain why, in your view, the piece works the way it does. Try to craft these sentences so that they set up, first, a description of what the meaning/effect of the piece is, and, second, what strategies, elements, etc. help produce that meaning/effect. Then isolate the textual evidence you will use—probably only a portion of what you have noted.

Fourth, write the draft. Make sure you give us your thesis or an indication of your thesis early.  (You can give us the whole argument right up front, pose a question you'll explore, whose answer will be your thesis, or give us a general version of your thesis that you'll refine for us by the end of your essay.)  However, since you are writing not for a teacher but to interest and then convince your classmates about something, abandon the traditional, academic 5-paragraph form (thesis, 3 or so points of evidence, recapitulation of thesis).  In its place, try to write a narrative of your analysis—you might use phrase such as "when I/one first encounters. . ." "what is striking about. . ." "I/one realizes, begins to recognize. . ."  Take us on the journey of your own discovery, a discovery that is expressed as a claim about the works under consideration. 

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6.2: Rhetorical Analysis

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This chapter builds on the rhetorical concepts introduced in the section, Reading and Writing Rhetorically.

What Is “Rhetorical Analysis”?

Rhetoric : The art of persuasion

Analysis : Breaking down the whole into pieces for the purpose of examination

Unlike a straightforward summary, a rhetorical analysis does not only require a restatement of ideas; instead, you must recognize rhetorical moves that an author is making in an attempt to persuade his or her audience to do or to think something. In the 21st century’s abundance of information, it can sometimes be difficult to discern what is a rhetorical strategy and what is simple manipulation; however, an understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical moves will help you become more savvy with the information surrounding you on a day-to-day basis. In other words, rhetorical moves can be a form of manipulation, but if one can recognize those moves, then one can be a more critical consumer of information rather than blindly accepting whatever one reads, sees, hears, etc.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain what is happening in the text, why the author might have chosen to use a particular move or set of rhetorical moves, and how those choices might affect the audience. The text you analyze might be explanatory, although there will be aspects of argument because you must negotiate with what the author is trying to do and what you think the author is doing. As Edward P.J. Corbett observes, rhetorical analysis “is more interested in a literary work for what it does than for what it is” (qtd. in Nordqvist).

One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text’s rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of a which a text is created.

Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text. You have to be able to describe the basics of the author’s thesis and main points before you can begin to analyze it.

To do rhetorical analysis, you will connect the rhetorical situation to the text. You will go beyond summarizing and instead look at how the author shapes his or her text based on its context. In developing your reading and analytical skills, allow yourself to think about what you’re reading, to question the text and your responses to it, as you read. Use the following questions to help you to take the text apart—dissecting it to see how it works:

  • Does the author successfully support the thesis or claim? Is the point held consistently throughout the text, or does it wander at any point?
  • Is the evidence the author used effective for the intended audience? How might the intended audience respond to the types of evidence that the author used to support the thesis/claim?
  • What rhetorical moves do you see the author making to help achieve his or her purpose? Are there word choices or content choices that seem to you to be clearly related to the author’s agenda for the text?
  • Describe the style and tone in the piece. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language, or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Point to aspects of the text that create the tone; spend some time examining these and considering how and why they work.
  • Is the author objective, or does he or she try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint? If the author is biased, does this interfere with the way you read and understand the refer to the written word: “Proofread your text before submitting the paper.”
  • A text refers to any form of communication, primarily written or oral, that forms a coherent unit, often as an object of study. A book can be a text, and a speech can be a text, but television commercials, magazine ads, website, and emails can also be texts: “Dieting advertisements formed one of the texts we studied in my Sociology class.”“?
  • Do you feel like the author knows who you are? Does the text seem to be aimed at readers like you or at a different audience? What assumptions does the author make about their audience? Would most people find these reasonable, acceptable, or accurate?
  • Does the text’s flow make sense? Is the line of reasoning logical? Are there any gaps? Are there any spots where you feel the reasoning is flawed in some way?
  • Does the author try to appeal to your emotions? Does the author use any controversial words in the headline or the article? Do these affect your reading or your interest?
  • Do you believe the author? Do you accept their thoughts and ideas? Why or why not?

Once you have done this basic, rhetorical, critical reading of your text, you are ready to think about how the rhetorical situation–the context out of which the text arises–influences certain rhetorical appeals (logos, pathos, ethos) that appear in it.

A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing by Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Linked in this textbook is Laura Bolin Carroll’s essay. Click here to read Caroll’s essay: Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis

Professional Examples of Rhetorical Analysis

Hooks, Bell. Cultural Criticism & Transformation . video. LCSC Library

Kilbourne, Jean. 20 Oct 2015. “ Jesus is a Brand of Jeans .” The Humanist .

Kilbourne, Jean. Killing Us Softly video series. LCSC Library.

Kilbourne, Jean. Deadly Persuasion video series. LCSC Library.

Meslin, Dave. 2010. Antidote to Apathy . TED Talk.

9.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about Rhetoric

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Develop a rhetorical analysis through multiple drafts.
  • Identify and analyze rhetorical strategies in a rhetorical analysis.
  • Demonstrate flexible strategies for generating ideas, drafting, reviewing, collaborating, revising, rewriting, and editing.
  • Give and act on productive feedback for works in progress.

The ability to think critically about rhetoric is a skill you will use in many of your classes, in your work, and in your life to gain insight from the way a text is written and organized. You will often be asked to explain or to express an opinion about what someone else has communicated and how that person has done so, especially if you take an active interest in politics and government. Like Eliana Evans in the previous section, you will develop similar analyses of written works to help others understand how a writer or speaker may be trying to reach them.

Summary of Assignment: Rhetorical Analysis

The assignment is to write a rhetorical analysis of a piece of persuasive writing. It can be an editorial, a movie or book review, an essay, a chapter in a book, or a letter to the editor. For your rhetorical analysis, you will need to consider the rhetorical situation—subject, author, purpose, context, audience, and culture—and the strategies the author uses in creating the argument. Back up all your claims with evidence from the text. In preparing your analysis, consider these questions:

  • What is the subject? Be sure to distinguish what the piece is about.
  • Who is the writer, and what do you know about them? Be sure you know whether the writer is considered objective or has a particular agenda.
  • Who are the readers? What do you know or what can you find out about them as the particular audience to be addressed at this moment?
  • What is the purpose or aim of this work? What does the author hope to achieve?
  • What are the time/space/place considerations and influences of the writer? What can you know about the writer and the full context in which they are writing?
  • What specific techniques has the writer used to make their points? Are these techniques successful, unsuccessful, or questionable?

For this assignment, read the following opinion piece by Octavio Peterson, printed in his local newspaper. You may choose it as the text you will analyze, continuing the analysis on your own, or you may refer to it as a sample as you work on another text of your choosing. Your instructor may suggest presidential or other political speeches, which make good subjects for rhetorical analysis.

When you have read the piece by Peterson advocating for the need to continue teaching foreign languages in schools, reflect carefully on the impact the letter has had on you. You are not expected to agree or disagree with it. Instead, focus on the rhetoric—the way Peterson uses language to make his point and convince you of the validity of his argument.

Another Lens. Consider presenting your rhetorical analysis in a multimodal format. Use a blogging site or platform such as WordPress or Tumblr to explore the blogging genre, which includes video clips, images, hyperlinks, and other media to further your discussion. Because this genre is less formal than written text, your tone can be conversational. However, you still will be required to provide the same kind of analysis that you would in a traditional essay. The same materials will be at your disposal for making appeals to persuade your readers. Rhetorical analysis in a blog may be a new forum for the exchange of ideas that retains the basics of more formal communication. When you have completed your work, share it with a small group or the rest of the class. See Multimodal and Online Writing: Creative Interaction between Text and Image for more about creating a multimodal composition.

Quick Launch: Start with a Thesis Statement

After you have read this opinion piece, or another of your choice, several times and have a clear understanding of it as a piece of rhetoric, consider whether the writer has succeeded in being persuasive. You might find that in some ways they have and in others they have not. Then, with a clear understanding of your purpose—to analyze how the writer seeks to persuade—you can start framing a thesis statement : a declarative sentence that states the topic, the angle you are taking, and the aspects of the topic the rest of the paper will support.

Complete the following sentence frames as you prepare to start:

  • The subject of my rhetorical analysis is ________.
  • My goal is to ________, not necessarily to ________.
  • The writer’s main point is ________.
  • I believe the writer has succeeded (or not) because ________.
  • I believe the writer has succeeded in ________ (name the part or parts) but not in ________ (name the part or parts).
  • The writer’s strongest (or weakest) point is ________, which they present by ________.

Drafting: Text Evidence and Analysis of Effect

As you begin to draft your rhetorical analysis, remember that you are giving your opinion on the author’s use of language. For example, Peterson has made a decision about the teaching of foreign languages, something readers of the newspaper might have different views on. In other words, there is room for debate and persuasion.

The context of the situation in which Peterson finds himself may well be more complex than he discusses. In the same way, the context of the piece you choose to analyze may also be more complex. For example, perhaps Greendale is facing an economic crisis and must pare its budget for educational spending and public works. It’s also possible that elected officials have made budget cuts for education a part of their platform or that school buildings have been found obsolete for safety measures. On the other hand, maybe a foreign company will come to town only if more Spanish speakers can be found locally. These factors would play a part in a real situation, and rhetoric would reflect that. If applicable, consider such possibilities regarding the subject of your analysis. Here, however, these factors are unknown and thus do not enter into the analysis.

Introduction

One effective way to begin a rhetorical analysis is by using an anecdote, as Eliana Evans has done. For a rhetorical analysis of the opinion piece, a writer might consider an anecdote about a person who was in a situation in which knowing another language was important or not important. If they begin with an anecdote, the next part of the introduction should contain the following information:

  • Author’s name and position, or other qualification to establish ethos
  • Title of work and genre
  • Author’s thesis statement or stance taken (“Peterson argues that . . .”)
  • Brief introductory explanation of how the author develops and supports the thesis or stance
  • If relevant, a brief summary of context and culture

Once the context and situation for the analysis are clear, move directly to your thesis statement. In this case, your thesis statement will be your opinion of how successful the author has been in achieving the established goal through the use of rhetorical strategies. Read the sentences in Table 9.1 , and decide which would make the best thesis statement. Explain your reasoning in the right-hand column of this or a similar chart.

Only 50 percent of the students have said they want to study Spanish or any other language, so statistics show a lack of interest in spite of Octavio Peterson’s rhetorical claims.
A public vote should be taken to see how many residents support Octavio Peterson’s rhetoric and ideas on language and whether his divisive opinion can be considered as it stands.
Because Octavio Peterson’s ideas on foreign language teaching are definitely worthy of support, I will summarize his letter and show why he is correct.
This analysis of Peterson’s language shows how he uses rhetorical strategies to persuade readers to consider the future of language learning in the city’s schools.

The introductory paragraph or paragraphs should serve to move the reader into the body of the analysis and signal what will follow.

Your next step is to start supporting your thesis statement—that is, how Octavio Peterson, or the writer of your choice, does or does not succeed in persuading readers. To accomplish this purpose, you need to look closely at the rhetorical strategies the writer uses.

First, list the rhetorical strategies you notice while reading the text, and note where they appear. Keep in mind that you do not need to include every strategy the text contains, only those essential ones that emphasize or support the central argument and those that may seem fallacious. You may add other strategies as well. The first example in Table 9.2 has been filled in.

Ethos, credibility First, second, fourth By referring to himself, his education, his job, and his community involvement as a parent and concerned resident and by saying he has researched the subject, the writer establishes credibility.
Pathos, emotion
Logos, reason
Kairos, timeliness
Repetition
Figurative language
Speaking familiarly or “folksily”
Rhetorical question
Parallel structure
Addressing counterclaims
Bandwagon
Ad hominem (name-calling)
Hyperbole (exaggeration)
Causal fallacy

When you have completed your list, consider how to structure your analysis. You will have to decide which of the writer’s statements are most effective. The strongest point would be a good place to begin; conversely, you could begin with the writer’s weakest point if that suits your purposes better. The most obvious organizational structure is one of the following:

  • Go through the composition paragraph by paragraph and analyze its rhetorical content, focusing on the strategies that support the writer’s thesis statement.
  • Address key rhetorical strategies individually, and show how the author has used them.

As you read the next few paragraphs, consult Table 9.3 for a visual plan of your rhetorical analysis. Your first body paragraph is the first of the analytical paragraphs. Here, too, you have options for organizing. You might begin by stating the writer’s strongest point. For example, you could emphasize that Peterson appeals to ethos by speaking personally to readers as fellow citizens and providing his credentials to establish credibility as someone trustworthy with their interests at heart.

Following this point, your next one can focus, for instance, on Peterson’s view that cutting foreign language instruction is a danger to the education of Greendale’s children. The points that follow support this argument, and you can track his rhetoric as he does so.

You may then use the second or third body paragraph, connected by a transition, to discuss Peterson’s appeal to logos. One possible transition might read, “To back up his assertion that omitting foreign languages is detrimental to education, Peterson provides examples and statistics.” Locate examples and quotes from the text as needed. You can discuss how, in citing these statistics, Peterson uses logos as a key rhetorical strategy.

In another paragraph, focus on other rhetorical elements, such as parallelism, repetition, and rhetorical questions. Moreover, be sure to indicate whether the writer acknowledges counterclaims and whether they are accepted or ultimately rejected.

The question of other factors at work in Greendale regarding finances, or similar factors in another setting, may be useful to mention here if they exist. As you continue, however, keep returning to your list of rhetorical strategies and explaining them. Even if some appear less important, they should be noted to show that you recognize how the writer is using language. You will likely have a minimum of four body paragraphs, but you may well have six or seven or even more, depending on the work you are analyzing.

In your final body paragraph, you might discuss the argument that Peterson, for example, has made by appealing to readers’ emotions. His calls for solidarity at the end of the letter provide a possible solution to his concern that the foreign language curriculum “might vanish like a puff of smoke.”

Use Table 9.3 to organize your rhetorical analysis. Be sure that each paragraph has a topic sentence and that you use transitions to flow smoothly from one idea to the next.

Write a topic sentence explaining your first point of analysis. If you begin with what you think is the writer’s strongest point, state what it is and explain the rhetorical strategies used to support it. Provide appropriate quotations from the text.

Suggestion: Address ethos, pathos, and logos first. You may need more than one paragraph to cover them.

If needed, continue your discussion of ethos, pathos, and/or logos, explaining how they function in the text and providing examples. Once you have completed your discussion, move on to your next point, which will address one or more specific strategies used.
Following a transition, write a topic sentence to address another point or points in the text. Discuss the strategies used, provide examples and quotations as appropriate, and show how they support (or don’t support) the writer’s thesis statement. Consider rhetorical strategies such as parallelism, repetition, rhetorical questions, and figurative language.
Continue as needed. In this paragraph, you might point out rhetorical fallacies, such as bandwagon, ad hominem, or any others you notice, if you have not yet done so. Indicate how they strengthen or weaken the writer’s position. If you have already addressed all the elements of your analysis, discuss the writer’s approach to counterclaims. You may need more than four body paragraphs for your rhetorical analysis.

As you conclude your essay, your own logic in discussing the writer’s argument will make it clear whether you have found their claims convincing. Your opinion, as framed in your conclusion, may restate your thesis statement in different words, or you may choose to reveal your thesis at this point. The real function of the conclusion is to confirm your evaluation and show that you understand the use of the language and the effectiveness of the argument.

In your analysis, note that objections could be raised because Peterson, for example, speaks only for himself. You may speculate about whether the next edition of the newspaper will feature an opposing opinion piece from someone who disagrees. However, it is not necessary to provide answers to questions you raise here. Your conclusion should summarize briefly how the writer has made, or failed to make, a forceful argument that may require further debate.

For more guidance on writing a rhetorical analysis, visit the Illinois Writers Workshop website or watch this tutorial .

Peer Review: Guidelines toward Revision and the “Golden Rule”

Now that you have a working draft, your next step is to engage in peer review, an important part of the writing process. Often, others can identify things you have missed or can ask you to clarify statements that may be clear to you but not to others. For your peer review, follow these steps and make use of Table 9.4 .

  • Quickly skim through your peer’s rhetorical analysis draft once, and then ask yourself, What is the main point or argument of my peer’s work?
  • Highlight, underline, or otherwise make note of statements or instances in the paper where you think your peer has made their main point.
  • Look at the draft again, this time reading it closely.
  • Ask yourself the following questions, and comment on the peer review sheet as shown.

________ ________

The Golden Rule

An important part of the peer review process is to keep in mind the familiar wisdom of the “Golden Rule”: treat others as you would have them treat you. This foundational approach to human relations extends to commenting on others’ work. Like your peers, you are in the same situation of needing opinion and guidance. Whatever you have written will seem satisfactory or better to you because you have written it and know what you mean to say.

However, your peers have the advantage of distance from the work you have written and can see it through their own eyes. Likewise, if you approach your peer’s work fairly and free of personal bias, you’re likely to be more constructive in finding parts of their writing that need revision. Most important, though, is to make suggestions tactfully and considerately, in the spirit of helping, not degrading someone’s work. You and your peers may be reluctant to share your work, but if everyone approaches the review process with these ideas in mind, everyone will benefit from the opportunity to provide and act on sincerely offered suggestions.

Revising: Staying Open to Feedback and Working with It

Once the peer review process is complete, your next step is to revise the first draft by incorporating suggestions and making changes on your own. Consider some of these potential issues when incorporating peers’ revisions and rethinking your own work.

  • Too much summarizing rather than analyzing
  • Too much informal language or an unintentional mix of casual and formal language
  • Too few, too many, or inappropriate transitions
  • Illogical or unclear sequence of information
  • Insufficient evidence to support main ideas effectively
  • Too many generalities rather than specific facts, maybe from trying to do too much in too little time

In any case, revising a draft is a necessary step to produce a final work. Rarely will even a professional writer arrive at the best point in a single draft. In other words, it’s seldom a problem if your first draft needs refocusing. However, it may become a problem if you don’t address it. The best way to shape a wandering piece of writing is to return to it, reread it, slow it down, take it apart, and build it back up again. Approach first-draft writing for what it is: a warm-up or rehearsal for a final performance.

Suggestions for Revising

When revising, be sure your thesis statement is clear and fulfills your purpose. Verify that you have abundant supporting evidence and that details are consistently on topic and relevant to your position. Just before arriving at the conclusion, be sure you have prepared a logical ending. The concluding statement should be strong and should not present any new points. Rather, it should grow out of what has already been said and return, in some degree, to the thesis statement. In the example of Octavio Peterson, his purpose was to persuade readers that teaching foreign languages in schools in Greendale should continue; therefore, the conclusion can confirm that Peterson achieved, did not achieve, or partially achieved his aim.

When revising, make sure the larger elements of the piece are as you want them to be before you revise individual sentences and make smaller changes. If you make small changes first, they might not fit well with the big picture later on.

One approach to big-picture revising is to check the organization as you move from paragraph to paragraph. You can list each paragraph and check that its content relates to the purpose and thesis statement. Each paragraph should have one main point and be self-contained in showing how the rhetorical devices used in the text strengthen (or fail to strengthen) the argument and the writer’s ability to persuade. Be sure your paragraphs flow logically from one to the other without distracting gaps or inconsistencies.

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Short Paper 3: Rhetorical Analysis

This 2 page statement should clearly answer the research questions below regarding rhetorical communication (see below). The following bullets provide the prompt for the essay. Students may choose to treat their answers to each bulleted prompt as separate paragraphs in the final essay.

Please note that this assignment is asking you to answer all of the questions below. You do not have to format the answers as separate paragraphs, although I recommend that organizational strategy to feature your answers to the questions.

  • Introduction: After your Attention-Getting Device (AGD), provide the thesis and purpose of your rhetorical analysis. What new observations does your analysis reveal? What is the benefit, profit, or take-away of having completed this analysis? Then, provide a preview statement that outlines how the rest of the essay will proceed.
  • What is rhetoric? Cite a key definition drawn from the course and/or academic sources, and explain what this definition means.
  • Explain a core rhetorical concept . Connect this definition to a concept (or concepts) drawn from the course. Why and how do they offer a helpful lens through which to understand contemporary rhetoric?
  • Show how the concept illuminates a case. Provide an example of current or contemporary rhetoric that illustrates this rhetorical concept ‘in action’.  Tell us enough about the case to understand the relevance of the rhetorical concept, and then show how the concept illuminates our understanding of this example.
  • Conclusion: Gesture beyond the case at hand to explain why your rhetorical analysis might be useful more generally or in application to a wider set of topics. What else about public communication might an analysis like this one reveal?

It is important that you make use of clear organization and topic sentences in your writing. Please indicate which question you are answering in the header of your document (in addition to identifying information like student name, class, date), offer a prospective answer as a thesis statement, and briefly discuss researched support for the thesis. For additional writing and organizational advice for this assignment, please consult the following document: Additional Guidance for Critical Writing.

Short papers should contain (1) in text citations (guidelines for in-text citations can be found here: Citations for Critical Writing ) and (2) a works cited section at the end of the document containing 3-5 properly formatted citations (more information about MLA , APA , and Chicago can be found at the corresponding links).

How to Organize a Short-Form Rhetorical Analysis, Paragraph by Paragraph

The optimal organization for this paper is a logically dependent structure , meaning that each paragraph built toward a larger argument. This approach is modeled below. However you decide to organize the paper, it must coordinate a thesis that advances how rhetoric and rhetorical concepts help to explain a given topic/object/artifact/event/text/image with topic sentences that flow through the entire document.

Paragraph 1: Thesis. Articulate a clear thesis statement, purpose statement and preview for your short essay.

  • (e.g.) Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic ratios, such as between scene and agent, can help us to understand the rhetorical choices made by courtroom speakers in US v. Texas (2021) and the motives of the plaintiff and defendant in the case.
  • (e.g.) The concept of anamorphosis , drawn from theories of visual rhetoric , can help us to explain the dynamic scenes and narrative structure of the film The Green Knight .
  • How have we understood the idea of “rhetoric” in this class? As speech, persuasion, ideological signs, symbols, and representations, narratives, arguments, visual rhetorics, public address, settler representations and disavowals, instances of public secrecy, or digital rhetoric.
  • The purpose statement should explain what is gained or better understood by describing this artifact using rhetorical concepts. This is a statement about why this analysis is important, urgent, or deserving of our attention. It may speak to the ethical stakes of the analysis or the reasons why people would benefit from a rhetorical perspective.
  • The preview statement should give us a sense of how the rest of the essay will unfold. Given the progression below, it might read: first, I will offer a nuanced definition of rhetoric and explain the features of [a specific rhetorical concept]. Then I will describe how [the rhetorical concept] helps us to understand [your case study, speech, text, image, etc.]

Paragraph 2-3: What is rhetoric? Cite a key definition drawn from the course and/or academic sources, and explain what this definition means. At the most general level, we have discussed rhetoric as persuasion, representation, and hierarchies of power. These are themes that stretch across multiple chapters.

In addition to the unit-specific definitions below, I have also uploaded a separate document that contains some more Definitions of Rhetoric.   For reference, you might consider the following pairings, which have been recurrent throughout the class. Feel free to return to the lecture outline document and/or agenda document, which is also where these definitions are drawn from. We have also more specifically defined rhetoric in the following ways:

  • Plato: “Rhetoric moves the soul by means of speech”
  • Aristotle: “Rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic (or philosophy) / the available means of persuasion in any given situation.”
  • Burke: Rhetoric as identification is “the way that speech unifies and divides a collective public audience.” Rhetoric as symbolic action “occurs around symbols and relies upon the idea of consubstantiality or the creation of a sameness or likeness, between different members of a group based upon a shared and symbolic point of reference, rather than just persuading with the right words.”
  • Ideology and Myth: Rhetoric describes the way that any given sign can acquire an additional meaning or signification, contributing to a shared system of belief that supports an ideology.
  • Agency: Rhetoric describes any subject’s relative “capacity to act.” In the case of a speech, for instance, “agency” may reside with the audience (who acts on the speech), the speaker (who compels the action), and/or the text (the speech itself which has a specific and repeatable kind of force).
  • Persona: Rhetoric is public address or speech addressed with an audience in mind or that is implied by the act of address.
  • Speech Act: Rhetoric is a performative utterance that has specific consequences either at the moment of the utterance or at some distance from it.
  • Narrative: Rhetoric is the arrangement of forms in language, image, and speech to create recognizable genres. Forms provide a recognizable logical order, are repeatable (such as a sequence or a figure of speech), and are ambivalent to the ethical or political goals that they serve.
  • Argument: Rhetoric, when organized as an argument, is both a thing (such as a logical form) and a relationship (for example, as between an affirmative and a negative position, or between a defendant and a plaintiff).
  • Visual Rhetoric: Rhetoric consists of the persuasive and presentational symbolism of the circulating image that acts as a source of shared culture and identification for a given public. Visual rhetoric may also be an iconic image, an image event, monumental rhetoric, or body rhetoric.
  • The Rhetorical Situation: Rhetoric is a “fitting response” to an exigency that is addressed to an audience (or audiences) while navigating specific constraints. It is a “complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse, introduced in the situation, can so constrain human decision or action as to bring about the significant modification of the exigence
  • The Settler Situation: Rhetoric consists of the colonizer’s patterns of disavowal that project that threat of colonization onto a foreign other who allegedly threatens the colonizer with their colonization, and which provides the colonizer with a justification to perpetuate colonial governance.
  • Secrecy Rhetoric: Rhetoric consists of the ways that “we know that we do not know” or the cues, patterns, and behaviors that alert a person or public, after the fact, to the existence of some secret.
  • Digital Rhetoric: The language we use and the practices that have become invisible/normal concerning technology, in which the words and techniques we use to monitor and model human behavior have destructive public consequences.

Paragraph 2-3: Connect this definition to a concept (or concepts) drawn from the course . Why and how do they offer a helpful lens through which to understand contemporary rhetoric? These concepts are considerably more plentiful across the chapters of the book. What is the specific concept related to the larger idea of rhetoric you have selected for this final essay? What is particularly interesting, illuminating, or important about what this concept explains at a general level? If there are ‘tenets’ or components of this concept what are those tenets and how are they defined? (e.g. the four criteria for assessing visual rhetoric in Finnegan’s “Visual Modes of Public Address.”

Paragraph 3-5: Provide an example of current or contemporary rhetoric that illustrates this rhetorical concept ‘in action’. Provide a detailed context about the case to understand the relevance of the rhetorical concept, and then show how the concept illuminates our understanding of this example. You may want to devote one paragraph to the context of your selected topic/object/artifact/text/image and another to the application of the rhetorical concept from the previous paragraphs to this topic. Here are some framing questions for the “context” you might consider. You can answer one or all of these:

  • What was the emergency or problem or situation to which this artifact/object responds?
  • For whom was the object/artifact/text staged? Who was it meant for? Who consumed it? Did it get a lot of attention?
  • What were the limitations of communicating this message? What limitations did the creators of the message face? What kinds of choices were made in the creation of this message?

Here is a more condensed version of this assignment organized by prompts for each section.

Introduction

  • Thesis: What are you arguing? What is the novel connection between rhetorical concept(s) and the example that you are advancing in this essay?
  • Purpose: What’s the significance of the example? What new thing do we learn by applying a rhetorical lens to it?
  • Preview: How will the paper unfold in first, second, third order?

Body 1: Rhetorical Concept

  • What is the general conception of rhetoric that you are advancing (persuasion, representation, hierarchies of power) and is there a definition of rhetoric offered in the textbook or by one of the sources in the “definition” document that might support this understanding?
  • What is the specific concept of rhetoric that fits under the heading of the general definition you just offered? What keyword(s) are you drawing upon from our class that you intend to apply or examine in the light of the case study at hand?

Body 2: Rhetorical Context

  • What do we need to know about this case and how it unfolded in order to understand the application/analysis to follow? What was the public significance of the event? Who created/delivered the rhetorical address/text? Who was its audience? What was it responding to? What happened immediately before and after the event/text/speech under consideration? What was going on more generally in public or political culture at the time?

Body 3: Rhetorical Example

  • Systematically apply the concept from the second bullet of Body 1 to the example you have selected, citing directly from the example (in this case, the words of the speech). What is/are the concept(s), and how would you know it when you saw it? What kinds of evidence are appropriate to consider when claiming that the rhetorical concept(s) are operative? What evidence is there of the concept(s) being used? Restated in your own words, how does the concept relate to the evidence you have just provided?
  • What does the application of the rhetorical concept(s) to the example teach us more generally? How might it apply to other examples other than the one that you have just considered?
  • Where have we been in this essay? (Review)
  • What was the point of the analysis for your reader? (Purpose)
  • What was your core argument, in the most condensed phrasing possible? (Thesis)

Finally, I’ll draw on some examples as illustrations, although you should pick your own pairing of a concept with a case study. The idea is for you to show us that you have gained an understanding of at least one of the rhetorical concepts we have discussed and are able to think about how it explains an instance of persuasion, representation, or hierarchical power relations.

  • Rhetoric is a mode of strategic representation , which uses written and visual symbols in order to convey a message to an audience. Visual rhetoric , for example, can be understood as the use of representations to convey a message to a public audience using a strategic arrangement of element.
  • One concept that falls under this heading is the “image event.” The image event describes the crafting of a public performance for purposes of media circulation, such as a protest, demonstration, or movement that makes for “good pictures” and therefore represents the importance of a social issue to a wider community or audience. An image event also provokes thinking about the authenticity of the performance/demonstration/movement in question precisely because they are designed to be ‘pictured’.
  • One example of this concept in action is the “extinction rebellion” demonstration on the Thames, where activists staged a house floating down a river to illustrate the effects of climate change. You would then show how it is designed for ‘good pictures’ and provokes questions about authenticity.

Another example, focused on a speech:

  • Rhetoric is a strategy of persuasion , where a speaker crafts a message for an audience with some idea of how they would like this audience to think, feel, and act in response. One broad framework that is useful for understanding rhetoric as persuasion is “the rhetorical situation,” which helps us to puzzle out the different elements that collaborate to give a speech its force and meaning.
  • A rhetorical situation is composed minimally of an “exigence,” an “audience” and “constraints.” The exigence is the “imperfection marked by urgency” which is the problem to which the speaker responds and seeks to resolve. The audience is those people to whom the speech is addressed who have the capacity to act in order to resolve or reduce the urgency of the exigence. Constraints describe the limitations upon the speaker and the speech which must be navigated in order for persuasion to have its intended effect.
  • A speech by Barack Obama such as the 2008 “Yes We Can” address can be explained as an intentionally crafted persuasive address by attending to the “problem” to which he responded (i.e., the exigence : a recession in the wake of the Bush presidency, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc), the audiences to whom his speech was addressed (moderate Americans and the specific constituencies named in the speech itself), and constraints (such as the fact that “yes we can” was used in previous campaigns that were not successful, or that it was adapted from other movement leaders like Dolores Huerta [Si se puede]).

Selecting a Topic: Like the encomium assignment, you pick your topic. You may want to think about your topic first based on its importance or exemplarity, and then work your way through rhetorical concepts that might help us to understand it. If you are struggling to find a topic for your rhetorical analysis, you might consider looking on AmericanRhetoric.com , which offers MANY examples from famous public figures and from films.

Sample Short Paper 3 Assignments: Below you will find three examples of this essay fully written out. They are meant to provide some models beyond the step-by-step paragraph layout provided above.

Class Sample 1

Class sample 2, class sample 3.

Additional Resources for Short Paper 3

  • Writing Discussion 1: Rhetorical Analysis (discussed the assignment description above)
  • Writing Discussion 2: Organizing Your Analysis .
  • Reverse Outlinining and student-prompted examples of topics for this essay.
  • Writing Discussion 3: Revising and Editing Short Paper 3

On January 29, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium hundreds of Members of European Parliament rose to their feet, joined hands, and broke into song for what was perhaps the most consequential rendition of Auld Layne Syne in European history. Moments before, the European Parliament had ratified the terms of the United Kingdom’s withdraw from the European Union, ending 47-years of British membership in the organization (Payne, 2020). This paper examines the moment from a rhetorical lens, arguing that the rhetorical concepts of the second persona and eavesdropping audience can be used to better understand the political motivations for the European Parliaments singing of the Scottish folk song. To this end, the paper is divided into a definition for rhetoric, explanation of how this definition relates to the concepts of the second persona and eavesdropping audiences, and exploration of how the singing of Auld Layne Syne can be better understood by viewing it as an example of these concepts in action.

First, for the purposes of this paper the definition of rhetoric developed by Kenneth Burke shall be utilized. According to Burke, rhetoric “is the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends….the basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents” (Burke, 1969). Thus, rhetoric can be understood as the use of language by human actors to advance ideological objectives by inculcating attitudes within others or effectuating the action of others. So long as the message remains intelligible, rhetoric can occur through any medium, and can be certainly communicated and analyzed through the medium of a song such as Auld Layne Syne.

This definition connects directly to the concept of second persona and the eavesdropping audience. Simply put, to understand rhetoric as the utilization of language to mold attitudes and incite action is necessarily to presume that rhetoric cannot occur without an audience capable. While their multiple audiences to which rhetoric may be addressed,  the first penitent to this case is the second persona, or the implied audience who a rhetor is targeting his address towards directly. The other is the eavesdropping audience. This audience is one that the rhetor wants to hear their message while explicitly targeting the message at another group. This is typically done to limit the either limit the agency of the eavesdropping audience, or to acknowledge and empower them. Pundits, elected officials, and other political actors regularly address the second persona and the eavesdropping actors in the rhetoric, as evidenced by examining the signing of Auld Layne Sayne.

These concepts of audience concepts provide a lens to better understand the European Parliaments purpose for singing Auld Layne Sang after voting to approve the terms of the United Kingdoms withdrawal from the European Union. To be certain, the rendition of Auld Layne Syne is an act of rhetoric. Despite what reporting on the seemed to imply, the signing was not spontaneous, as evinced by MEP’s circulating to one another lyric sheets, but instead can best be understood by being viewed as pre-planned act of political messaging targeted towards the British public, the second persona in this scenario, and Scotland, the eaves-dropping audience. For those Britons watching the proceeding, both who did and did not vote from Brexit, the somber singing of Auld Layne Sing was meant to cast the moment as one of celebration and instead frame moment as the tragic end of a period of cooperation and camaraderie. In doing so, the rhetorical action accomplished a political objective by subverting the attempt of Nigel Farage and his Eurosceptic UKIP delegation, who had moments before stormed out of the building in a flurry of boorishly gleeful flag waving, to cast the moment as one of celebration and instead framed the vote as the tragic end of a period of cooperation and camaraderie. Perhaps more interestingly, the selection of a quintessentially Scottish song written partially in 18th-century Scots can also be understood as disguised overture to the Scotland, the eaves-dropping audience, who’s public and ruling pro-EU, anti-UK [1]  Scottish National Party continues to openly muse about attempting a second independence referendum in the aftermath of the Brexit vote (Sturgeon, 2021).

In conclusion, Burke’s definition of rhetoric and the rhetorical concepts of the second persona and eavesdropping audience allows a lens by which to better understand the singing of Auld Layne Syne. Applying this lens reveals the singing as a complex political calculation designed to simultaneously undermine UKIP and encourage the SNP, rather than as, the cursory observer may assume, a spontaneous, and perhaps slightly frivolous, symbolic bidding of farewell to the United Kingdom.

While many understand rhetoric as simply the art of persuading an individual or group of people, it can be better understood as “the art of ruling the minds of men” (Plato, 2018). In this short paper, I will argue that rhetoric may be understood as that rhetoric is the language of colonizers and how media coverage on events such as those in Jerusalem may perpetuate coloniality and provide the colonizer with a justification to perpetuate their colonial governance. By the end of this paper, my reader should understand what rhetoric is, and how colonial communication animates western media coverage on the recent attacks in Jerusalem. To do this, I’ll first explain how I define rhetoric, following with a connection to colonial communication and Dr. Lechuga’s “incomunicable”, and finally closing with an outline of how this plays out in my given example.

To begin, I will define rhetoric through the lens of colonialism, in that rhetoric is a collection of renounced patterns that project the threat of colonization onto the colonized other, while providing the colonizer justification to perpetuate their colonial governance (Hallsby, 2021). This means that for the colonizer, rhetoric is another weapon they use to perpetuate their colonial power in a way that is often hidden, objective and subtle because of their continued rejection of responsibility. Rhetoric is used here to bring power to the colonizer, while bringing fear and oppression to the colonized.

The previous definition of rhetoric is connected to Dr. Michael Lechuga’s concept of colonial communication and “incomunicable”. Colonial communication is defined as a “colonizing group [that] distributes and maintains control over the political, social, and economic hierarchies” (Lechuga, 2021). Furthermore, “incomunicable” is a concept that is used to refer to the product of colonial communication (Lechuga, 2021). When rhetoric is used to maintain control over a group of people and structures of power, rhetoric is being used to dictate what is acceptable or not acceptable, what is allowed or not allowed, in order to keep the colonial power in place. These concepts are helpful in understanding the aforementioned definition of rhetoric because they provide a tangible way of how colonial rhetoric has a clear purpose, which is to maintain the systems of power of the colonial government, while maintaining the colonized position below.

Over the weekend, Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank of Palestine has been the target of massive raids and attacks by Israeli officers due to the protesting of the planned eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. These past few days have left hundreds injured, multiple dead, and the entire world heartbroken and ashamed of Israeli response to the peaceful protesters. While these events have been an example of many things, including irresponsible US foreign aid, continued violations of human rights, and the exacerbation of the Israeli apartheid, it has also been an example of colonial communication. Many western news media outlets have been reporting day in and day out about the details of what is going on on the ground. Through these media coverage, I will highlight how rhetoric as colonial communication is prevalent due to it rendering the Palestinian people and their struggle “incomunicable”.

In an article published today in the New York Times, the subtitle of Kingsley and Kershner (2021) report indicate the prevalence of colonial rhetoric. They say “clashes between the Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem” (Kingsley and Kershner, 2021). In this subtitle, the word “clashes” is a clear indication of the objectivity of colonial communication in that the word suggests that the events are strictly two sided, and that both sides are responsible for the attacks. However, the fact of the matter is that Israeli forces attacked the Palestinians, and when using the word attacked, it is clear who is responsible for the event. Another example of this is also from the New York Times where they titled their article “Hundreds of Palestinians Hurt After Israeli Police Enter Aqsa Mosque” (The New York Times, 2021). Again, the word “enter” is used objectively, but dismisses the violence and power that Israeli forces held during that incident. Here, it is clear that rhetoric is being used to dismiss the true nature of the events happening in Jerusalemn against the Palestinian people and their land, and it is being used to maintain the position of the Israeli colonial government, who continues to attack, raid and destroy Palestinian land, but remains unnaffected and disavowed.

Hallsby, A. (2021). Lecture Outlines for COMM 3601: Definitions of Rhetoric for Short Paper 3. https://tinyurl.com/3wds3rsn

Kingsley, P., & Kershner, I. (2021, May 10). After Raid on Aqsa Mosque, Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Airstrikes. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/world/middleeast/jerusalem-protests-aqsa-palestini ans.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&fbclid=IwAR2-XjTKxhvDnjTzCwZaroCVfoI-E fwU13qjPMr048vZQcdMJoDG_AzD0zM.

Lechuga, M. (2021). Incommunicable: How the University Participates in Settler Colonialism [Lecture recording]. Canvas MP3 File. https://canvas.umn.edu/courses/213469/files/20308189/download?download_frd=1.

Plato (2018). Phaedrus (B. Jowett, Trans.). Scribe Publishing Company. (Original work published 370 BC)

The New York Times. (2021, May 10). Hundreds of Palestinians Hurt After Israeli Police Enter Aqsa Mosque. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/middleeast/100000007754341/aqsa-mosque-jerusa lem-clash.html.

‘Snitches get stitches’, a phrase that most people know means say what you know to someone and suffer the consequences. Secrets play a large part in secrecy rhetoric, whether it be keeping them or exposing them. Secrecy rhetoric is a type of rhetoric that many people encounter on a daily basis whether it be in their interaction or the media they consume. In this paper, I will define secrecy rhetoric, discuss the concept of surveillance in regards to secrecy rhetoric, and close by relating surveillance and secrecy rhetoric to the 2016 film Snowden .

To begin, secrecy rhetoric is defined as “rhetoric that consists of the ways that ‘we know that we don’t know’ or the cues, patterns, and behaviors that alert a person or public, after the fact, to the existence of some secrets (Hallsby, 2021). What this definition means is that rhetoric is the actions taken to reveal secrets to those who are un aware of the secret. One key concept of secrecy rhetoric is the concept of surveillance which is the act of observing an interaction or behavior by a nonparticipant in the action (Hallsby, 2021).

Surveillance is one of the key concepts to understand in secrecy rhetoric. It also is helpful in understanding contemporary rhetoric in a few ways. As stated before, surveillance is the act of observing an interaction or behavior by a nonparticipant in the action. This is definition makes it easier to understand the concept of persona in contemporary rhetoric for example, an audience that has seen something the speaker has done that revealed something about them but the audience remained silent it would be the fourth persona. Another way that surveillance helps to understand contemporary rhetoric is that rhetoric involves knowing the audience and persuading them which can be done with the help of secrets. This means that the speaker can keep secrets from the audience or they an let them in on a secret. To illustrate the concept of surveillance in action, let’s look at the example of the 2016 film Snowden .

The 2016 film Snowden is about Edward Snowden, a former employee of the NSA who revealed classified information about the American government to the public. In the film Snowden surveils people through their devices without their knowledge and is disturbed by the extent of the capabilities of the NSA to watch almost everyone. In one scene in particular, Snowden is looking into his camera on his laptop and appears scared of who could be watching him. So, he decides to cover the lens with some tape, to not be surveilled (Stone, 2016, 0:55:26). The film depicts surveillance as the collection of secrets and private information by the NSA, this leads to Snowden becoming a whistleblower and revealing the secrets to the public by leaking the classified information to the Guardian (Greenwald, 2013). Throughout the whole film, Snowden is observing interactions as a nonparticipant, in other words surveilling them and obtaining their secrets.

To conclude, secrets in rhetoric play a large role in contemporary rhetoric by helping us to understand the how secrets are formed and how secrets are revealed. If there is one thing to take away from this paper it should be that surveillance is a key concept in helping us to understand rhetoric because it pertains to the relationship between the audience and the speaker. ‘To know that we don’t know’ is the principle of secrets and whether they be secrets of the individual or the government, they are both relevant to secrecy rhetoric.

Greenwald, G. (2013, June 11). Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance.

Hallsby, Atilla. (2021). Lecture Outline for COMM 3601: Defeniions of Rhetoric for Short Paper 3 . https://tinyurl.com/3wds3rsn , last accessed May 7, 2021.

Stone, O. (Director). (2016). Snowden [Film]. Endgame Entertainment.

  • While this is admittedly an oversimplification of the SNP’s relationship with the United Kingdom, a detailed discussion of the SNP’s politics and positions towards secessionism is beyond the scope of this paper. ↵

Reading Rhetorical Theory Copyright © 2022 by Atilla Hallsby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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17 Rhetorical Modes for Paragraphs & Essays

Questions to Ponder

Before you read this chapter, discuss with partners:

  • What are rhetorical modes (also called “patterns of organization” and “methods of development”)? Can you list some examples?
  • Why are rhetorical modes important in writing? Jot down your ideas.

purple flowers in pattern

Now read the graphic below. Can you add to the list of rhetorical modes that you created with your partners?

Flow Chart. Central idea: Choosing Paragraph Patterns. Radiating from top right: Narration - introduction, to tell a story that makes a point, to give background on people or event, to show sequence of events. Process - to show steps of action, to explain how to do something. Example/Illustration - to clarify a point or concept, to give a picture or specific instance, to make the abstract real. Analogy - to compare scenarios, to compare to a settled outcome, to compare one event to another very different one. Definition - to clarify meaning, to set foundation of argument, to give background. Comparison/contrast - to draw distinction between items, to find common ground. Description - to give details, to create a picture. Cause/effect - to lead from one item to another, to argue logic of evidence of action. Classification/Division - to put items in categories, to clarify comparison of items in a category, to divide items by characteristics.

Rhetorical Modes

Rhetorical modes are also called patterns of organization or methods of development ; they are the ways that authors and speakers organize their ideas to communicate effectively. The rhetorical modes that are covered here are best used as ways to look at what’s already happening in your draft and to consider how you might emphasize or expand on any existing patterns. You might already be familiar with some of these patterns because instructors will sometimes assign them as the purpose for writing an essay. For example, you might have been asked to write a cause and effect essay or a comparison and contrast essay.

Patterns of organization or methods of developing content usually happen naturally as a consequence of the way the writer engages with and organizes information while writing. That is to say, most writers don’t sit down and say, “I think I’ll write a cause and effect essay today.”  Instead, a writer might be more likely to be interested in a topic, say, the state of drinking water in the local community, and as the writer begins to explore the topic, certain cause and effect relationships between environmental pollutants and the community water supply may begin to emerge . And in fact, many times, one essay may incorporate two or more rhetorical modes, as the author makes an argument for their point of view.

Activity A ~ Brainstorming Rhetorical Modes

Pause here to brainstorm ideas with your partner. Using the chart above (“ Choosing Paragraph Patterns “), discuss some of the topics below. Which mode(s) might you use in an essay about these topics? Would you need to explore more than one rhetorical mode for each topic?

  • Gender roles
  • Race in America
  • The value of art in society
  • Travel as part of a well-rounded education
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Advice to new parents
  • Advice to teachers
  • The value of making mistakes
  • How you’d spend a million dollars
  • What a tough day at work taught you about yourself or others
  • My family history
  • Your idea: ___________

Keep reading to consider some of the ways that these strategies can help you as you revise a draft.

Cause/Effect

Do you see a potential cause-and-effect relationship developing in your draft?  The cause/effect pattern may be used to identify one or more causes followed by one or more effects or results. Or you may reverse this sequence and describe effects first and then the cause or causes. For example, the causes of water pollution might be followed by its effects on both humans and animals. Use the signal words cause ,  effect , and  result , to cue the reader about your about the relationships that you’re establishing.

Here’s an example article from T he New York Times , “ Rough Times Take Bloom Off a New Year’s Rite, the Rose Parade ,” that explores the cause and effect relationship (from 2011) between Pasadena’s budgetary challenges and the ability of their Rose Parade floats to deck themselves out in full bloom.

Problem/Solution

At some point does your essay explore a problem or suggest a solution? The problem/solution pattern is commonly used in identifying something that’s wrong and in contemplating what might be done to remedy the situation. For example, the problem of water pollution could be described, followed by ideas of new ways to solve the problem. There are probably more ways to organize a problem/solution approach, but here are three possibilities:

  • Describe the problem, followed by the solution
  • Propose the solution first and then describe the problems that motivated it
  • Explain a problem, followed by several solutions, and select one solution as the best

Emphasize the words problem  and  solution  to signal these sections of your paper for your reader.

Here’s an example article from T he New York Times , “ Monks Embrace Web to Reach Recruits ,” that highlights an unexpected approach by a group of Benedictine monks in Rhode Island; they’ve turned to social media to grow their dwindling membership.

Compare/Contrast

Are you trying to define something? Do you need your readers to understand what something is and what it is not? The compare-and-contrast method of development is particularly useful in extending a definition, or anywhere you need to show how a subject is like or unlike another subject. For example, the statement is often made that drug abuse is a medical problem instead of a criminal justice issue. An author might attempt to prove this point by comparing drug addiction to AIDS, cancer, or heart disease to redefine the term “addiction” as a medical problem. A statement in opposition to this idea could just as easily establish contrast by explaining all the ways that addiction is different from what we traditionally understand as an illness. In seeking to establish comparison or contrast in your writing, some words or terms that might be useful are by contrast ,  in comparison ,  while ,  some , and  others .

Here’s an example article from T he New York Times “ Who Wants to Shop in a Big Box Store, Anyway? ” The author explores some interesting differences between the average American and average Indian consumer to contemplate the potential success of big box stores in India and also to contemplate why these giant big box corporations, like Walmart or Target, might have to rethink their business model.

yellow umbrella on surface of water at daytime

These three methods of development—cause/effect, problem/solution, and compare/contrast—are just a few ways to organize and develop ideas and content in your essays. It’s important to note that they should not be a starting point for writers who want to write something authentic, to discuss something that they care deeply about. Instead, they can be a great way to help you look for what’s already happening with your topic or in a draft, to help you to write more, or to help you reorganize some parts of an essay that seem to lack connection or feel disjointed.

Sometimes writers incorporate a variety of modes in any one essay. For example, under the umbrella of an argument essay, and author might choose to write paragraphs showing cause and effect, description, and narrative. The rhetorical mode writers choose depends on the purpose for writing. Rhetorical modes are a set of tools that will give you greater flexibility and effectiveness in communicating with your audience and expressing ideas.

In addition to cause/effect , problem/solution , and compare/contrast , there are many other types of rhetorical modes:

  • Classification and division , often used in science, takes large ideas and divides them into manageable chunks of information, classifying and organizing them into types and parts.
  • Definition  clarifies the meaning of terms and concepts, providing context and description for deeper understanding of those ideas.
  • Description  provides detailed information using adjectives that appeal to the five senses (what people see, hear, smell, taste, and touch) as well as other vivid details that help readers visualize or understand an item or concept.
  • Evaluation  analyzes and judges the value and merit of an essay, a concept, or topic.
  • Illustration  provides examples and evidence in detail to support, explain, and analyze a main point or idea.
  • Narrative  uses fictional or nonfictional stories in a chronological sequence of events, often including detailed descriptions and appeals to the senses and emotions of readers while storytelling to reveal a theme or moment.
  • Persuasion  (i.e., argumentation) logically attempts to convince readers to agree with an opinion or take an action; the argument also acknowledges opposing viewpoints and accommodates and/or refutes them with diplomatic and respectful language, as well as provides precise and accurate evidence and other expert supporting details.
  • Process analysis  describes and explains, step by step, chronologically, in detail, and with precision and accuracy, how to do something or how something works.

Assignment prompts for college essays may require a specific rhetorical mode, or you may be able to choose the best mode(s) to express your ideas clearly. Either way, be sure to ask your instructor if you are not sure which rhetorical mode(s) to use.

Key Takeaways

Why are rhetorical modes important?

  • As readers, understanding an author’s rhetorical mode helps us to understand the text, and to read and think critically.
  • Knowing the rhetorical mode helps us to identify the author’s main ideas, which helps us to summarize the author’s work.
  • As writers, we use rhetorical modes to make our writing clearer; they help us signal our topic and direction to our readers.
  • Rhetorical modes also help us to develop support and keep our readers interested.

Activity B ~ Identifying Rhetorical Modes

  • Read a printed or online essay or article. A letter to the editor or an editorial from a newspaper would be perfect. Then, with a partner, identify the modes of writing found in the article. (Use the lists above to help.) Analyze the different choices the writer has made about language and organization to express a point of view. Notice how the author may combine rhetorical modes (for example, a problem-solution article that uses cause-and-effect organization in some paragraphs, or a definition pattern that uses narrative or compare and contrast paragraphs to develop similarities or differences).
  • Select, read, and annotate a sample student essay in a specific style as provided in “ Readings: Examples of Essays ” from Saylor Academy . Note in the margins or on another sheet of paper what rhetorical mode each paragraph uses, how those modes and paragraphs support the overall rhetorical mode of the essay, and whether each paragraph does so successfully or not. Discuss in small groups and summarize your findings to report to the rest of the class.

If you want to learn more about three common rhetorical modes, read what the New York Times  has to say in their learning blog article, “ Compare-Contrast, Cause-Effect, Problem Solution: Common ‘Text Types’ in The Times .”

Note: links open in new tabs.

This chapter was modified from the following Open Educational Resources:

“Patterns of Organization and Methods of Development ” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

“ Introduction ” from  English Composition   by Karyl Garland, Ann Inoshita, Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma, Kate Sims, and Tasha Williams, is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

“ Chapter 10: The Rhetorical Modes ” and “ Chapter 15: Readings: Examples of Essays ,” from  Writing for Success from Saylor Academy, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0.

CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

to think about

to write quickly

to come out, to be revealed

to decorate themselves

to fix; to make right

getting smaller

ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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III. Rhetorical Situation

3.7 Rhetorical Modes of Writing

Kathryn Crowther; Lauren Curtright; Nancy Gilbert; Barbara Hall; Tracienne Ravita; Kirk Swenson; Ann Inoshita; Karyl Garland; Kate Sims; Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma; Tasha Williams; Susan Wood; and Terri Pantuso

Rhetorical modes simply mean the ways we can effectively communicate through language. Each day people interact with others to tell a story about a new pet, describe a transportation problem, explain a solution to a science experiment, evaluate the quality of an information source, persuade a customer that a brand is the best, or even reveal what has caused a particular medical issue. We speak in a manner that is purposeful to each situation, and writing is no different. While rhetorical modes can refer to both speaking and writing, in this section we discuss the ways in which we shape our writing according to our purpose or intent. Your purpose for writing determines the mode you choose.

Typically speaking, the four major categories of rhetorical modes are narration, description, exposition, and persuasion.

  • The narrative essay tells a relevant story or relates an event.
  • The descriptive essay uses vivid, sensory details to draw a picture in words.
  • The writer’s purpose in expository writing is to explain or inform. Oftentimes, exposition is subdivided into other modes: classification, evaluation, process, definition, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect.
  • In the persuasive essay, the writer’s purpose is to persuade or convince the reader by presenting one idea against another and clearly taking a stand on one side of the issue. We often use several of these modes in everyday and professional writing situations, so we will also consider special examples of these modes such as personal statements and other common academic writing assignments.

Whether you are asked to write a cause/effect essay in a history class, a comparison/contrast report in biology, or a narrative email recounting the events in a situation on the job, you will be equipped to express yourself precisely and communicate your message clearly. Learning these rhetorical modes will also help you to become a more effective writer.

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. A narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story. When writing a fictional story, we can create characters and events to best fit our story.

The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is determined by a writer’s purpose. The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because their intentions are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories, whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Is it important that you recount history, either your own or someone else’s? Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image—either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell.

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

The Structure of a Narrative Essay

Major narrative events are most often conveyed in chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. However, sometimes it can be effective to begin with an exciting moment from the climax of the story (“flash-forward”) or a pivotal event from the past (“flash-back”) before returning to a chronological narration. Certain transitional words and phrases aid in keeping the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story.

The following are the other basic components of a narrative:

  • Plot: The events as they unfold in sequence.
  • Characters:  The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, or the protagonist.
  • Conflict:  The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.
  • Theme:  The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.
  • Write the narrative of a typical Saturday in your life.
  • Write a narrative of your favorite movie.

Description

Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by the writer to describe the world through the use of sensory details.

As mentioned earlier, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The use of sensory details provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations. To make your writing vivid and appealing, avoid empty descriptors if possible. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. Good, beautiful, terrific, and nice are examples. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreads and confusion. A good day, for instance, can mean far different things depending on one’s age, personality, or tastes.

The Structure of a Description Essay

Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and focus of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order, which means an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on. For example, if the subject were a client’s kitchen in the midst of renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Or maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.

  • Describe various objects found in your room.
  • Describe an analog clock.

Classification

The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without even thinking about it. For example, cars can be classified by type (convertible, sedan, station-wagon, or SUV) or by the fuel they use (diesel, petrol, electric, or hybrid). Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay. It’s best to choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.

The Structure of a Classification Essay

The classification essay opens with a paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:

When people think of New York, they often think of only New York City. But New York is actually a diverse state with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore. In order to better understand the diversity of New York State, it is helpful to break it into these five separate regions: Long Island, New York City, Western New York, Central New York, and Northern New York.

The underlined thesis explains not only the category and subcategory, but also the rationale for breaking the topic into those categories. Through this classification essay, the writer hopes to show the readers a different way of considering the state of New York.

Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each region of New York would have its own paragraph. To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways. This will help you think outside the box and perhaps even learn something entirely new about a subject.

The conclusion should bring all of the categories and subcategories back together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of New York add to its diversity and complexity.

  • Classify your college by majors (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics, etc.).
  • Classify the variety of fast food places available to you by types of foods sold in each location.

Writers evaluate arguments in order to present an informed and well-reasoned judgment about a subject. While the evaluation will be based on their opinion, it should not seem opinionated. Instead, it should aim to be reasonable and unbiased. This is achieved through developing a solid judgment, selecting appropriate criteria to evaluate the subject, and providing clear evidence to support the criteria.

Evaluation is a type of writing that has many real-world applications. Anything can be evaluated. For example, evaluations of movies, restaurants, books, and technology ourselves are all real-world evaluations.

The Structure of an Evaluation Essay

Evaluation essays are typically structured as follows.

Subject : First, the essay will present the subject. What is being evaluated? Why? The essay begins with the writer giving any details needed about the subject.

Judgement : Next, the essay needs to provide a judgment about a subject. This is the thesis of the essay, and it states whether the subject is good or bad based on how it meets the stated criteria.

Criteria : The body of the essay will contain the criteria used to evaluate the subject. In an evaluation essay, the criteria must be appropriate for evaluating the subject under consideration. Appropriate criteria will help to keep the essay from seeming biased or unreasonable. If authors evaluated the quality of a movie based on the snacks sold at the snack bar, that would make them seem unreasonable, and their evaluation may be disregarded because of it.

Evidence : The evidence of an evaluation essay consists of the supporting details authors provide based on their judgment of the criteria. For example, if the subject of an evaluation is a restaurant, a judgment could be “Kay’s Bistro provides an unrivaled experience in fine dining.” Some authors evaluate fine dining restaurants by identifying appropriate criteria in order to rate the establishment’s food quality, service, and atmosphere. The examples are the evidence.

Another example of evaluation is literary analysis; judgments may be made about a character in the story based on the character’s actions, characteristics, and past history within the story. The scenes in the story are evidence for why readers have a certain opinion of the character.

Job applications and interviews are more examples of evaluations. Based on certain criteria, management and hiring committees determine which applicants will be considered for an interview and which applicant will be hired.

  • Evaluate a restaurant. What do you expect in a good restaurant? What criteria determines whether a restaurant is good?
  • List three criteria that you will use to evaluate a restaurant. Then dine there. Afterwards, explain whether or not the restaurant meets each criteria, and include evidence (qualities from the restaurant) that backs your evaluation.
  • Give the restaurant a star rating. (5 Stars: Excellent, 4 Stars: Very Good, 3 Stars: Good, 2 Stars: Fair, 1 Star: Poor). Explain why the restaurant earned this star rating.

The purpose of a process essay is to explain how to do something (directional) or how something works (informative). In either case, the formula for a process essay remains the same. The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps.

Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From learning to ride a bike as a child to starting a new job as an adult, we initially needed instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

The Structure of a Process Essay

The process essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process. The organization of a process essay typically follows chronological order. The steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur, and so your body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easy to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph. Words such as first, second, third, next, and finally are cues to orient readers and organize the content of the essay.

Finally, it’s a good idea to always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. Once we get too close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a peer read over your analysis will serve as a good way to troubleshoot any confusing spots.

  • Describe the process for applying to college.
  • Describe the process of your favorite game (board, card, video, etc.).

The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: to write an extended definition of a word or term. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as collective groups. Take, for example, a word like alcoholism. The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of its legality; parents may define alcoholism in terms of its morality; and doctors will define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change, has an enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Debating the definition of a word or term might have an impact on your relationship or your job, or it might simply be a way to understand an unfamiliar phrase in popular culture or a technical term in a new profession.

Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can be difficult at first, but once a definition is established between two people or a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important.

When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as hero, immigration, or loyalty, rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay. For definition essays, try to think of concepts in which you have a personal stake. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has value and importance to you.

The Structure of a Definition Essay

The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state your definition of the term as your thesis. The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary’s definition is limiting, so you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Indeed, unless you are specifically addressing an element of the dictionary definition (perhaps to dispute or expand it), it is best to avoid quoting the dictionary in your paper. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different from a leader in an elementary school setting. If a context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be vague and confusing.

The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term’s definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define such a leader according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph. Be specific and detailed: flesh out each paragraph with examples and connections to the larger context.

  • Define what is meant by the word local.
  • Define what is meant by the word community.

Comparison and Contrast

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by examining them closely and comparing them, contrasting them, or both. The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.

Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

The Structure of a Comparison-and-Contrast Essay

The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader. You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  • According to the subjects themselves, discussing one and then the other.
  • According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point.

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

  • Compare two types of fruit, then
  • Contrast how they are different from each other

Cause and Effect

It is often considered human nature to ask, “why?” and “how?” We want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future, or why our colleague received a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.

A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to lead to the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause-and effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.

Indeed, you can use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.

The Structure of a Cause-and-Effect Essay

The cause-and-effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event. The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:

  • Start with the cause and then talk about the effects.
  • Start with the effect and then talk about the causes.

For example, if your essay were on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause, or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect.

Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay fully and completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes . Be careful of resorting to empty speculation. In writing, speculation amounts to unsubstantiated guessing. Writers are particularly prone to such trappings in cause-and-effect arguments due to the complex nature of finding links between phenomena. Be sure to have clear evidence to support the claims that you make. Because cause-and-effect essays determine how phenomena are linked, they make frequent use of certain words and phrases that denote such linkage.

  • Discuss the cause/effect relationship between studying and good grades
  • Discuss the cause/effect impact of sleep deprivation

The purpose of persuasion in writing is to convince, motivate, or move readers toward a certain point of view, or opinion. The act of trying to persuade automatically implies that more than one opinion on the subject can be argued. The idea of an argument often conjures up images of two people yelling and screaming in anger. In writing, however, an argument is very different. An argument is a reasoned opinion supported and explained by evidence. To argue in writing is to advance knowledge and ideas in a positive way. Written arguments often fail when they employ ranting rather than reasoning.

Most of us feel inclined to try to win the arguments we enter. On some level, we all want to be right, and we want others to see the error of their ways. More times than not, however, arguments in which both sides try to win end up producing losers all around. The more productive approach is to persuade your audience to consider your opinion as a valid one, not simply the right one.

The Structure of a Persuasive Essay

The following five features make up the structure of a persuasive essay:

  • Introduction and thesis
  • Opposing and qualifying ideas
  • Strong evidence in support of claim
  • Style and tone of language
  • A compelling conclusion

Creating an Introduction and Thesis

The persuasive essay begins with an engaging introduction that presents the general topic. The thesis typically appears somewhere in the introduction and clearly states the writer’s point of view.

Acknowledging Opposing Ideas and Limits to Your Argument

Because an argument implies differing points of view on the subject, you must be sure to acknowledge those opposing ideas. Avoiding ideas that conflict with your own gives the reader the impression that you may be uncertain, fearful, or unaware of opposing ideas. Thus it is essential that you not only address counterarguments but also do so respectfully.

Try to address opposing arguments earlier rather than later in your essay. Rhetorically speaking, ordering your positive arguments last allows you to better address ideas that conflict with your own because it allows you to focus on countering those arguments. This way, you leave your reader thinking about your argument rather than someone else’s. You have the last word.

Acknowledging points of view different from your own also has the effect of fostering more credibility between you and the audience. Readers will know from the outset that you are aware of opposing ideas and that you are not afraid to give them space. It is also helpful to establish the limits of your argument and what you are trying to accomplish. In effect, you are conceding early on that your argument is not the ultimate authority on a given topic. Such humility can go a long way toward earning credibility and trust with an audience (“ethos”). Audience members will know from the beginning that you are a reasonable writer, and they will trust your argument as a result. For example, in the following concessionary statement, the writer advocates for stricter gun control laws, but she admits it will not solve all of our problems with crime:

Although tougher gun control laws are a powerful first step in decreasing violence in our streets, such legislation alone cannot end these problems since guns are not the only problem we face.

Such a concession will be welcome by those who might disagree with this writer’s argument in the first place. To effectively persuade their readers, writers need to be realistic in their goals and humble in their approach to get readers to listen to their ideas.

  • Write a paragraph where you persuade readers to drink water rather than soda
  • Write a paragraph persuading your professors to adopt Open Educational Resources (free textbooks) for all classes

This section contains material from:

Crowther, Kathryn, Lauren Curtright, Nancy Gilbert, Barbara Hall, Tracienne Ravita, and Kirk Swenson. Successful College Composition . 2nd edition. Book 8. Georgia: English Open Textbooks, 2016. http://oer.galileo.usg.edu/english-textbooks/8 . Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License .

Inoshita, Ann, Karyl Garland, Kate Sims, Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma, Tasha Williams, and Susan Wood. “Evaluation.” In English Composition: Connect, Collaborate, Communicate , by Ann Inoshita, Karyl Garland, Kate Sims, Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma, and Tasha Williams. Honolulu, 2019. http://pressbooks.oer.hawaii.edu/englishcomposition/chapter/evaluation/ . Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .

The highest or most intense point in a sequence of events that lead to some resolution, settlement, judgement, or ending; the peak or culmination. In fiction, the climax of a story usually occurs when the characters make the decisions, fight the battle, or enter into the romantic relationship that will impact the ending of that story.

The feeling or attitude of the writer which can be inferred by the reader, usually conveyed through vocabulary, word choice, and phrasing; associated with emotion.

A statement, usually one sentence, that summarizes an argument that will later be explained, expanded upon, and developed in a longer essay or research paper. In undergraduate writing, a thesis statement is often found in the introductory paragraph of an essay. The plural of thesis is theses .

The standards or rules of judgement, grading, or other types of scrutiny.

The sequence of events that occur linearly or consecutively in time.

The explanation, justification, or motivation for something; the reasons why something was done.

Delicate, faint, or mild; requiring discernment, perception, or awareness to detect.

To be different, diverse, or dissimilar; to deviate from a plan or practice.

A remarkable or notable occurrence or event, especially one that is rare or exceptional in nature. The plural of phenomenon is phenomena .

A short account or telling of an incident or story, either personal or historical; anecdotal evidence is frequently found in the form of a personal experience rather than objective data or widespread occurrence.

To produce, seemingly out of thin air, an object, idea, or being.

3.7 Rhetorical Modes of Writing Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Crowther; Lauren Curtright; Nancy Gilbert; Barbara Hall; Tracienne Ravita; Kirk Swenson; Ann Inoshita; Karyl Garland; Kate Sims; Jeanne K. Tsutsui Keuma; Tasha Williams; Susan Wood; and Terri Pantuso is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

31 Useful Rhetorical Devices

What is a rhetorical device and why are they used.

As with all fields of serious and complicated human endeavor (that can be considered variously as an art, a science, a profession, or a hobby), there is a technical vocabulary associated with writing. Rhetoric is the name for the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion, and though a writer doesn’t need to know the specific labels for certain writing techniques in order to use them effectively, it is sometimes helpful to have a handy taxonomy for the ways in which words and ideas are arranged. This can help to discuss and isolate ideas that might otherwise become abstract and confusing. As with the word rhetoric itself, many of these rhetorical devices come from Greek.

quill-in-ink

Ready, set, rhetoric.

The repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables

wild and woolly, threatening throngs

Syntactical inconsistency or incoherence within a sentence especially : a shift in an unfinished sentence from one syntactic construction to another

you really should have—well, what do you expect?

Repetition of a prominent and usually the last word in one phrase or clause at the beginning of the next

rely on his honor—honor such as his?

A literary technique that involves interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of earlier occurrence : flashback

Repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground

The repetition of a word within a phrase or sentence in which the second occurrence utilizes a different and sometimes contrary meaning from the first

we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately

The usually ironic or humorous use of words in senses opposite to the generally accepted meanings

this giant of 3 feet 4 inches

The use of a proper name to designate a member of a class (such as a Solomon for a wise ruler) OR the use of an epithet or title in place of a proper name (such as the Bard for Shakespeare)

The raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it

we won't discuss his past crimes

An expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect

to be, or not to be: that is the question

Harshness in the sound of words or phrases

An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases

working hard, or hardly working?

A disjunctive conclusion inferred from a single premise

gravitation may act without contact; therefore, either some force may act without contact or gravitation is not a force

The substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one

greasy spoon is a dysphemism for the word diner

Repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

of the people, by the people, for the people

Emphatic repetition [ this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary ]

An interchange of two elements in a phrase or sentence from a more logical to a less logical relationship

you are lost to joy for joy is lost to you

A transposition or inversion of idiomatic word order

judge me by my size, do you?

Extravagant exaggeration

mile-high ice-cream cones

The putting or answering of an objection or argument against the speaker's contention [ this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary ]

Understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary

not a bad singer

The presentation of a thing with underemphasis especially in order to achieve a greater effect : UNDERSTATEMENT

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them ( Metaphor vs. Simile )

drowning in money

A figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated

crown as used in lands belonging to the crown

The naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it

A combination of contradictory or incongruous words

cruel kindness

The use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense : REDUNDANCY

I saw it with my own eyes

A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by "like" or "as"

cheeks like roses

The use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense

she blew my nose and then she blew my mind

A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships ), the whole for a part (such as society for high society ), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin ), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man ), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage )

The use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one

opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy

MORE TO EXPLORE: Rhetorical Devices Used in Pop Songs

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  1. How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis

    A rhetorical analysis is a type of essay that looks at a text in terms of rhetoric. This means it is less concerned with what the author is saying than with how they say it: their goals, techniques, and appeals to the audience. A rhetorical analysis is structured similarly to other essays: an introduction presenting the thesis, a body analyzing ...

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    Name the author of the text and the title of their work followed by the date in parentheses. Use a verb to describe what the author does, e.g. "implies," "asserts," or "claims". Briefly summarize the text in your own words. Mention the persuasive techniques used by the rhetor and its effect.

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    Rhetorical Analysis. Rhetoric is the study of how writers and speakers use words to influence an audience. A rhetorical analysis is an essay that breaks a work of non-fiction into parts and then explains how the parts work together to create a certain effect—whether to persuade, entertain or inform. You can also conduct a rhetorical analysis ...

  5. Rhetorical Analysis Definition and Examples

    Rhetorical analysis is a form of criticism or close reading that employs the principles of rhetoric to examine the interactions between a text, an author, and an audience. It's also called rhetorical criticism or pragmatic criticism. Rhetorical analysis may be applied to virtually any text or image—a speech, an essay, an advertisement, a poem ...

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    5. State your thesis. Now that you've completed your analysis of the material, try to summarize it into one clear, concise thesis statement that will form the foundation of your essay. Your thesis statement should summarize: 1) the argument or purpose of the speaker; 2) the methods the speaker uses; and 3) the effectiveness of those methods ...

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    Follow this step-by-step guide to write your own effective rhetorical analysis essay. 1. Choose and study a text. Review the work you're analyzing more than once to become as familiar as possible with the author's argument and writing style. Make sure you have read the text thoroughly, and that you fully understand each point that the ...

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    One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text's rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of a which a text is created. The questions that you can use to examine a text's rhetorical situation are in Chapter 6.2. Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text.

  9. Rhetorical Analysis

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    Step 1: Plan and prepare. With a rhetorical analysis, you don't choose concepts in advance and apply them to a specific text or piece of content. Rather, you'll have to analyze the text to identify the separate components and plan and prepare your analysis accordingly. Here, it might be helpful to use the SOAPSTone technique to identify the ...

  11. Rhetorical Analysis

    A rhetorical analysis asks you to explain how writers or speakers within specific social situations attempt to influence others through discourse (including written or spoken language, images, gestures, and so on). A rhetorical analysis is not a summary. It also does not ask you to agree or disagree with the author's argument.

  12. Rhetorical Analysis

    What a rhetorical analysis is: A rhetorical analysis is an examination of how a text persuades us of its point of view. It focuses on identifying and investigating the way a text communicates, what strategies it employs to connect to an audience, frame an issue, establish its stakes, make a particular claim, support it, and persuade the ...

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    Rhetoric: The art of persuasion. Analysis: Breaking down the whole into pieces for the purpose of examination. Unlike summary, a rhetorical analysis does not simply require a restatement of ideas; instead, you must recognize rhetorical moves that an author is making in an attempt to persuade their audience to do or to think something. In the ...

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    Rhetorical analysis shows how the words, phrases, images, gestures, performances, texts, films, etc. that people use to communicate work, how well they work, and how the artifacts, as discourse, inform and instruct, entertain and arouse, and convince and persuade the audience; as such, discourse includes the possibility of morally improving the ...

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  16. 6.2: Rhetorical Analysis

    One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text's rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of a which a text is created. Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text. You have to be able to describe the basics of the author's thesis and main points before ...

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    Short Paper 3: Rhetorical Analysis. This 2 page statement should clearly answer the research questions below regarding rhetorical communication (see below). The following bullets provide the prompt for the essay. Students may choose to treat their answers to each bulleted prompt as separate paragraphs in the final essay.

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    Typically speaking, the four major categories of rhetorical modes are narration, description, exposition, and persuasion. The narrative essay tells a relevant story or relates an event. The descriptive essay uses vivid, sensory details to draw a picture in words. The writer's purpose in expository writing is to explain or inform.

  21. 31 Common Rhetorical Devices and Examples

    An expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect. to be, or not to be: that is the question. cacophony | see definition ». Harshness in the sound of words or phrases. chiasmus | see definition ». An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases.

  22. Opinion

    The widespread media condemnation of a shoddy front-page Wall Street Journal article about President Biden "slipping" with age suggests we may have reached a journalistic inflection point.