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How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

July 14, 2016 - Posted to Writing

Content how to write a rhetorical analysis essay

If you pay attention to politics, you may have noticed that two different politicians can take the same set of facts and make entirely different statements using those facts. You’ve probably also noticed that journalists who write about politics can do the same thing. Then there is the world of advertising. One ad might claim that a competitor is untrustworthy because they charge premium prices. That same competitor might then respond that they charge higher prices because their customers want the VIP treatment.

How does that work? How and why are facts used to present different points of view. Better yet, how are they used to influence audiences? The answer to that question is simple; rhetoric. The purpose of rhetoric is to use words, either spoken or written, to influence an audience. Rhetoric can include the artistic use of facts, emotionally charged imagery, words and phrases intended to evoke a certain reaction.

Not all rhetoric is negative, and not all rhetoric is limited to politics and advertisements. Rhetoric is everywhere. Basically, if opinions and facts combine, there is going to be rhetoric. Even work that is strictly academic often contains rhetoric.

The purpose of a rhetorical analysis essay is to break down a speech or written work (non fiction) into various parts and then explain how rhetoric was used to create an overall impression or audience reaction. It requires reading or listening with an analytical point of view. The following is a guideline that you can use to help you through the process of writing a rhetorical analysis essay.

Begin by Gathering Information

Who is the writer or speaker? What organization are they affiliated with? What are the goals of that organization? Take note of the writer’s credentials. What is the purpose and context of the work? An article written by a member of an impartial organization to encourage all citizens to register to vote is different than an editorial written to imply that people who live in poor areas are more likely to commit voter fraud. This is especially true if there is a specific agenda. Who is the target audience of the piece in question? What is the goal of the author in reaching out to that target audience, and what is it about that audience that makes them a desirable audience.  The last part is relatively easy. What is the topic that is being discussed.

All About Appeals

Rhetoric involves the use of appeals to get a point across and to make the desired impact. There are three distinct types of appeal. These are pathos (pathetic), ethos (ethic), and logos (logic). Pathetic appeals are strictly emotional. They are intended to evoke an emotional response in the audience. An example of using this kind of appeal would be relaying a heart wrenching story about somebody in a speech in order to evoke a sympathetic response and get people behind the speaker’s cause. In academics, most appeals are based in logic. This would include the use of statistics, case studies, and research. Ethical appeals hinge on the writer’s credibility and credentials. Essentially, this means, ‘believe what I say because I am qualified to say it for these reasons.’

Remember that it is not uncommon for writers or speakers to combine multiple appeals in a single piece. Read carefully so that you do not miss anything.

Tone Imagery And More

The second layer of rhetoric involves the use of the writer’s tone, imagery, diction, etc. The writer might use repition to drive a specific point home. They might share anecdotes to create a stronger response. Comparison is another method that is frequently used. Rhetoric can also be effectively employed through the use of artfully chosen words. A writer might use very minimizing and condescending language when referring to an opposing point of view, or a speaker might use a very snide tone. A final use of rhetoric is to actively undercut the oppositions position, or their credibility. This creates the impression that the author or speaker has such a strong position that they are not afraid to call out or confront those who would oppose them. For more help with this consider taking a look at a rhetorical analysis sample essay.

Begin The Analysis

Now that you have gathered all of the information, you can begin writing your analysis. First of all, try to determine why the writer might have chosen the strategies that they did. Then, consider how those appeals worked for the writer. If they did not work, ask yourself why. On a final note, keep in mind that you must separate the writer’s argument from their use of rhetoric. For example, you might find the position that the writer or speaker takes absolutely abhorrent, but still find that they used rhetoric absolutely brilliantly. If you are writing a rhetorical analysis on a historical speech or writing, don’t forget historical context. You can’t properly analyze rhetoric from 50 years ago while also relying on current knowledge and hindsight. For example, if a politician made a speech decades ago advocating some action that wound up causing absolute devastation, you have to ignore those results in your analysis. If you are analyzing a very new speech or article, you also have to leave out any of your own predictions about  what you think might happen if people are convinced by the speech. In some ways writing the analysis is similar to writing a research paper.

Putting Pen to Paper

You’ll want to begin with your introduction. This is where you let your readers know what you will be analyzing in your essay. It’s also a good idea to let them know what to expect, and any parameters or limitations that you put in place while writing your analysis. Be sure to provide all of the relevant information on the work being analyzed including title, author, date of publication, etc. A brief summary of the piece might be helpful as well.

Next, you will want to outline for your readers the methods the author used in employing rhetoric. After that, your thesis will be your statement as to whether or not you believe they are effective. The paragraphs that follow will of course be your presentation of evidence that supports  your thesis. As always, if you need help with writing your essay fast, professional writing services are always an option.

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