How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay
Published byat August 22nd, 2021 , Revised On July 1, 2022
In a rhetorical analysis essay, the author analyses the text rhetorically. A rhetorical analysis essay exploits figures of speech to have a compelling or persuasive effect on the audience.
This means that it looks at how the author says what they are saying rather than what they are saying. In a nutshell, a literary analysis essay explores the techniques, goals, and appeals to the readers.
The structure of a rhetorical analysis essay is similar to that of an argumentative essay. It starts by making a bold claim to hook the readers and present the thesis statement in the introduction section. The main body discusses the text, and the conclusion chapter wraps it all up.
This article explains the important conceptions of rhetorical writing and provides tips on writing a first-class rhetorical analysis essay.
The Key Concepts of Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques to figure out how they are designed to persuade the readers. Here are a few important rhetoric concepts that you should know about.
Text and Context
When analysing text in terms of rhetoric, a text is not necessarily a piece of writing but a piece of information that needs to be analysed. This means that a text can be a piece of writing, an advertisement, a speech, or a sarcastic image.
So, in rhetoric, you will examine not only the language but also the visual components of the piece of information. Take into consideration all the elements surrounding the text, including the information about the author (or creator, designer, maker, etc.), the audience the text was developed for, and where, when, and why the text was developed.
Keeping these elements of the text in mind can help you produce an informed rhetorical analysis essay. For example, the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s’ remains one of the most powerful and influential speeches. However, a person who doesn’t know the civil rights movements’ context will not understand its power.
Appeals: Logos, Ethos, Pathos
It is the appeals that enable the author to persuade the readers. The three rhetoric appeals, including logos, ethos, and pathos, were defined by famous philosopher Aristotle and referred to as the rhetoric triangle.
Logos, also known as logical appeal, is the most popular approach to making an argument in academic writing. In rhetoric, it refers to the use of reasoned argument to convince the audience.
Ethos, also called the ethical appeal, is about the writer painting themselves as subject expert. For example, if you are making an argument about the quality of distance education, then indicate your qualifications to show you are an expert in the field of education. Similarly, if you are arguing for the moral permissibility of after-birth abortion, then you could present yourself as a medical expert to enhance your authority and authenticity.
Pathos, also called the pathetic appeal, evokes the readers’ emotions of anger, love, sympathy, or hate. It involves the use of vivid imagery and emotional speaking to try to induce the audience’s emotions.
All three appeals are essential aspects of rhetoric. The author can use one or all three of them to persuade the readers.
Claims, Supports, and Warrants
Rhetoric always aims to express an argument, whether the readers must deduce one (e.g. from a sarcastic text) or the author who clearly and logically defines one. The arguments involve claims, supports, and warrants.
A claim is a bold statement that the author expresses to grab the attention of the readers. The argument can be made out of one single claim or out of several. Claims are generally overtly specified, but they may also just be implied in some kinds of text.
Each claim needs supports, which could be anything that enables the author to persuade the audience. These may appear in the form of hard evidence or responsive appeals.
Claims need supports, and the warrant act as a bridge between them. A warrant takes the form of an assumption or logic. The warrant may not be stated outside the boundaries of formal argumentation – the author shoulders the readers will recognise the connection between the claim and the support. Still, it would help if you aimed to establish the implied warranty.
For example, consider the following rhetorical statement:
Both teams were missing their star performers; the crowd was not entertained.
We can see a claim and support in the above statement, but the warrant is not apparent. It is up to the readers to assume the warrant implied in the statement. For example, the warrant in the above statement assumes that the presence of star performers in the two teams would have entertained the crowd. Depending on the individual reader’s assumption, they may or may not be convinced by this argument.
How to Analyse the Text?
Rhetoric analysis is all about reviewing the text in detail and raising questions to figure out the real meaning and aim behind it. Avoid selecting concepts in advance and applying them to the text. Here are some questions that you should ask:
- Who is the author of the text? What is their background?
- What is the purpose of the text?
- Did the author discuss a range of topics or focus solely on the key claims made in the text?
- Did the author use emotional appeals (sympathy, anger, love) to persuade the readers?
- What tone did they take? Formal or informal? Imposing or personal?
- Who was the targeted audience? Did the author successfully reach and convince their desired audience?
- What is the nature of the supports provided by the author?
By finding answers to these questions, you can successfully establish the rhetoric devices used in the text. Rather than cramming in every rhetoric device, you can think of – it would be appropriate to consider the ones that directly relate to the text.
You will find below information on how to write different parts of a rhetorical analysis.
How to Write the Introduction of Your Rhetorical Analysis?
The introduction of a rhetoric analysis starts with a bold opening statement. It then provides background information pertaining to the text, such as what and who the text is for, and expresses the thesis statement.
Here is an example of a rhetoric analysis introduction.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is considered the jewel of American history. The speech was delivered in 1963 in reaction to the civil rights movement where thousands of civil-rights activists gathered outside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The speech has become a symbol of the civil rights movements and functions as an important part of the American national myth. This rhetorical analysis argues that the audience’s historical size and the King’s assumption of the prophetic voice created a powerful sense of ethos that held on to its emotional influence over the next several decades.
How to Write the Body of Your Rhetoric Analysis?
The body of a rhetoric analysis explores the text in detail. It consists of a minimum of three paragraphs. For more extended essays, you can add as many paragraphs as needed.
Each paragraph explores different aspects of the text, but they should all relate to the original argument.
An example of the main body paragraph of a rhetorical analysis is presented below:
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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.
How to Write the Conclusion of Your Rhetoric Analysis?
The conclusion section is where you summarise your overall argument about the critical rhetoric devices and analysis that enabled you to build your argument. It links back to the original text you are analysis with a focus on broader.
Check the example below to get an idea about how to conclude your literary analysis.
It is evident from the text’s analysis that what made King’s rhetoric so powerful was the carefully constructed ethos rather than the pathos (pathetic appeals) of his utopian dream. By framing a deep connection between contemporary upheavals and a prophecy whose fulfilment will result in a better future, he thought, Kind ensured the efficacy of his words at the moment, the echoes of which can still be felt today. King’s speech set us on the path to achieving his dream, even though we are still far from it.
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