Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical Analysis

Assignment Instructions

Due Dates: See the course schedule in the syllabus for draft version and final version due dates
Length: 4 – 6 pages, excluding Works Cited
Paper Format: MLA
Sources Required: A persuasive article written by an important stakeholder involved in the discourse about your research topic. If you need to do background research to understand the rhetorical situation of the article you choose, cite any sources whose information you include in your paper.
Documentation Format: MLA

To effectively take part in the discourse about your research topic, you need to be an astute reader of texts, one who can distinguish between sound and legitimate arguments and questionable attempts to win your support—whether the latter are flashy but insubstantial websites, compelling but questionable news reports or any other of the myriad messages that you will encounter in the course of your research. Being an astute reader, one who can analyze and understand the persuasive tactics used by the parties who contribute to the discourse about your topic, is the basis of being an effective writer of research-based arguments. Through your rhetorical analysis assignment, you’ll come to a deeper understanding of the “conversation” about your topic and the ways that key players are seeking to influence that conversation.

You will choose a persuasive piece of writing that you believe is an important part of the discourse about your topic, analyze it, and write an essay about it. When you conduct your analysis, you’ll examine the ways the writer uses the tools of rhetoric discussed in our course readings and class meetings. In other words, you will conduct an analysis to determine how a text’s argument “works.” Based on your analysis, you will arrive at an understanding of your text’s rhetorical goals and strategies. Your Rhetorical Analysis essay will state, and argue for, your view of how the text you’ve chosen uses rhetoric to persuade its audience and how effectively it achieves its persuasive goals.

The sections below review guidelines for planning, inventing and drafting your essay.

Audience for Your Essay

The audience for your paper includes me, your instructor, as well as your peers in English 101. We are interested readers who are engaged in the work of trying to understand the ways that persuasive messages influence public and academic debates and discussions. Since we have a basic understanding of rhetoric, you will not need to explain rhetorical concepts and terminology to us.

Generating Material for Your Essay

To conduct a thorough rhetorical analysis, you’ll need to understand the writer, the topic under consideration, the audience the writer addressed, and the historical moment during which the writer wrote. In other words, you will need to grasp, and to inform your readers about, the rhetorical situation in which the writer composed this document. If you’re unsure about the rhetorical situation that your writer engages, you may need to do a bit of research.

Once you research your article’s rhetorical situation, you will be ready to analyze the piece by figuring out its rhetorical techniques and the strengths and weaknesses of them. You will examine the writer’s use of rhetorical appeals and consider how well those appeals meet the needs and expectations of the audience. You will make inferences about what that writer has attempted to do, why s/he makes certain rhetorical choices, and how s/he wants his/her audience to respond.

The following rhetorical analysis questions should help you to generate ideas for your essay:

1. What is the rhetorical situation of the essay?

2. Who is the writer’s audience? How do you know? What is this group’s investment in and position on the topic under discussion? What is this group’s relationship to the writer?

3. What is the writer’s purpose? What is the central argument the writer is making? What stasis point (or stasis points) is the writer engaging? Is s/he, for example, making a definitional claim? A causal claim?

4. How does the writer establish her ethos (good will, good sense, good moral character) with the target audience? How does she establish common ground with her readers? Consider two kinds of evidence for your answers: overt statements concerning the writer’s relationship to his/her audience and the attitudes implied through tone, style, and choice of evidence.

5. How does the writer employ logos (claims, supporting ideas and evidence, implicit assumptions) to (appear to) deliver a rational argument to the target audience?

6. How does the writer employ pathos (eliciting emotions, evoking common values) in order to identify his/her cause with the interests of his/her readers? How does s/he attempt to connect emotionally with this audience?

7. How does the writer address opposing positions or ideas? How does the writer respond to, show awareness of, or ignore other positions on the issue? Consider the perhaps multiple stases at play in the conversation the writer is participating in.

8. How is the text organized? What is the thesis statement? Where is it placed? Is it implicit or explicit? How are supporting arguments presented and arranged?

9. How does the writer use specific words, phrases, sentence structures, or paragraph lengths to establish a tone? What is that tone?

10. How is the target audience likely to respond to the rhetorical choices made by the writer? How will they respond to the writer’s ethos? How will they react emotionally in response to the writer’s use of pathos? How effective will they deem the use of logos to be? How will they react to the handling of opposing viewpoints and organization of the argument? How amenable will they be to the writer’s tone?

Organization and Composition

Your finished essay should follow formal academic essay structure. Thus, it should not merely run through your answers to each of the questions above, one by one; it should have clear and well organized introduction, body and conclusion paragraphs.

Use the thoughts you generate with the questions above to create a thesis for your essay. That thesis should be a statement of how you think the writer uses rhetorical strategies overall and how effectively he/she does so for the target audience. The claims that you make in your essay’s topic sentences should develop the general idea presented in your thesis statement.

To understand your analysis, your audience will need to know the following: the writer and title of the article; the rhetorical situation of the article; a brief summary of the argument made by the article. Devise an organizational scheme that will allow you to incorporate this information in a concise and clear manner early in your essay.