Writing a Rhetorical Analysis
The first step is to find something you’d like to write about.
Appropriate topics might include:
• a verbal, written, or visual argument that evokes a personal reaction in you. This might be something you’ve read in another class, something you saw on the news, or something you came across the Internet.
• a current event or subject that you want to learn more about
• a text that you feel has been misread or misinterpreted
For this lesson, view this sample search from a student who has an interest in video games. She knows that she wants to do her research project on these texts, but is not sure where to focus. From ENG101, she remembers that the Rio Library subscribes to the Opposing Viewpoints database. Watch a video of her search. She finds a wealth of resources on Opposing Viewpoints, and after reading for a while, she chooses one article to analyze and plans to use evidence from an opposing viewpoint as well as her own experience with playing the titles mentioned, as evidence.
Your search might look differently, but the goal is to save time in order to do it well. Once you have your object of analysis and have done some research to help find evidence, you will want to focus your efforts:
• READ your text carefully, and at least a couple of times to ensure that you fully understand what you have read. Can you see the author’s thesis?
• Next, start to analyze the features of the text you’re analyzing. Keep the following questions in mind as you read:
1 Who is the author? Does s/he have credibility to discuss the topic? Is there apparent bias? Is an institution sponsoring him/her, and if so, what does that institution represent?
2 What is the thesis, and what is the overall argument the author presents?
3 What did the author choose to study? Why?
4 What is the writer’s purpose? To inform? To persuade? To criticize?
5 Who is the author’s intended audience? Does s/he appeal to a resistant audience? A Neutral audience? Or is s/he “preaching to the choir?”
6 What appeal(s) are applied (ethos, pathos, logos, or a combination)?
7 How does the writer arrange his or her ideas? Does the author use inductive or deductive reasoning in structuring the argument?
8 Did you note any fallacies as you read? Is so, which ones?
9 How does the writer use diction? (Word choice, arrangement, accuracy, is it formal, informal? Technical versus slang?)
10 Does the writer use dialogue? Quotations? Statistics? Why?
11 What have others said about this text? Some databases like Opposing Viewpoints will automatically share related articles. If you find an article online, you can search for more information (for example, the student with an interest in video games might search Video Game Violence Reactions).
Please note: If your essay just answers these questions, it will not get a good grade! These questions are designed to be a guide for note taking! Not every question will apply to every analysis, and you may find other appropriate questions to ask that are specific to your selection.
Focusing Your Essay
Now that you have your subject of analysis (your text), have done some background research, and have analyzed your text, it’s time to write your thesis. Here’s the trick: It does not matter whether you agree or disagree with the message in your text… your thesis should focus on its strategy.
• Focus on rhetorical features: “The article titled ‘Video Games Violence is Overblown’ initially attracts an audience through its use of logos, but when the facts turn to editorial ranting, the argument degrades to a mess of fallacies including ad hominem attacks against video game producers that render the overall argument ineffective.”
• Focus on interaction of elements: “The ad makes impressive use of visual appeals to pathos by rallying the audience to come together using a sympathetic image, by creating a strong tagline that is easy to remember, by crafting inspiring verbiage, and by providing resources to take further action.”
• Focus on audience: “While some would argue that a segment found on Fox News’ YouTube channel would show bias against Democrats, this particular segment does an impressive job of reaching out to a resistant audience by stating statistics (including statistics that make the Republican side look bad), using impartial language, and avoiding headlines or imagery that could be seen as ‘attacking’ the opposing view.”
This can be a tricky step, so make sure to save time to draft and revise accordingly to make sure your thesis matches what you truly wish to argue.
Organizing the Essay
After identifying your thesis, look back at the notes you took on your text. Try to arrange the key ideas in a logical way, following the support structure in your thesis. You may find that some of the observations you noticed at first are less important. It is ok to toss things aside to keep focused.
A sample outline might look like this:
• Introduction (lays the foundation for readers who might not be familiar with what you’re analyzing)
Summarize the text being critiqued
Discuss the author and their background (if appropriate)
Present your thesis
• Body paragraphs (dig into the rhetorical features present in the text)
Discuss issues related to the audience and the appeals
Discuss specific elements that relate back to the points about the audience
Discuss what others have said about the text
• MLA Formatted Works Cited Page
The shape of the essay will evolve depending on the text you select. Thinking back to the sample essays, each took a different path to meet the goal, but they all had certain elements in common. See the list for guidelines:
• Make sure to logically transition between ideas.
• Stay on topic and let your thesis be your guide.
• Each paragraph should have a strong topic sentence to ease transition between elements.
• Avoid summary in favor of clear, specific examples.
• Make sure to cite all sources in MLA format.
Don’t hurt your own ethos as a writer… Proofread, proofread, proofread!
• You should not include more than one in-text citation per paragraph, and the conclusion should contain no citations. In addition, only one short quote and one long quote are allowed per essay.
• The essay should be 4-5 pages (not counting the cover sheet) in MLA style.
You will be required to cite at least two sources for this essay (the text you’re analyzing and at least one source.