How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Which Will Stand Out?

on 21/08/2018

Rhetorical analysis essay

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. A rhetorical analysis is an attempt to determine how persuasive a particular speaker/writer was in their speech/text. A rhetorical analysis essay is a structured way to write about your findings.

Usually it is a speech or a text, but actually anything can be subject to a rhetorical analysis: novels, movies, works of art. You may be surprised, but paintings do speak, and not only in Hogwarts. Have you seen the works of Hieronymus Bosch? They are more vocal about the societal problems of that time than some of the modern journalists could ever hope to be.

This is because almost every human creation is a communicative medium, through which the creator attempts to convey their argument. When Trump makes an argument that immigrants from Africa are bad for the US based on the premise that they are uneducated, he does it through speech. When Britain makes a Trump baby blimp, they also make a valid argument, which hinges on Trump’s alleged childish attitude as a premise. It’s just a different means to get the message across.

Because rhetoric concerns itself primarily with speaking and writing, I will focus on them. So, make yourself a cup of tea and find out how to write a professional rhetorical analysis essay. Give yourself 5 minutes to become an expert Essay Writer.

Don’ts of Rhetorical Analysis

Take a look at some don’ts of a rhetorical analysis:

  • Don’t analyze the extralinguistic information;
  • Don’t just list the linguistic elements – figure out their purpose;
  • Don’t focus on individual words – analyze the speech as a whole;
  • Don’t make more than one statement per paragraph;
  • Don’t include more than 3 evidence bits per paragraph;
  • Don’t make value judgments. 

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis?

So, what is a rhetorical analysis? These are the most important rules for writing it.

Focus on Language

A rhetorical analysis is just that – the analysis of rhetoric. You shouldn’t try to analyze anything outside the scope of language. Let me give you an example. If you write that the author adds legitimacy to their writing by listing their credentials in the foreword – that would be a rhetorical analysis. If you write that the author appears more competent because of a Neuroscience degree, but THEY NEVER SAID A WORD about it themselves, that would be a value judgment. Watch the language, ignore the extralinguistic information when you write a rhetorical analysis.  

Meaning Versus Form

Any word is a sign which consists of a signifier (the form) and a signified (the concept). Yeah, I am a former English major, just deal with it please. (See, I am trying to add legitimacy to my words here, this is something to analyze in my rhetoric) Anyways, it would be tempting to focus just on the signifier/the form, but then you’d end up writing a mere shopping list of linguistic items instead of a thorough rhetorical analysis.  

Let’s say your writer/speaker is a newbie professor, who endeavors to aggrandize themselves by utilizing ornate GRE vocabulary. Instead of just writing down those words, look beyond their physical form. What meaning do they carry, what thoughts and images do they evoke? The form is important, as without it the language wouldn’t exist, but it is the meaning, which enlivens the rhetoric. It is the meaning, which you should write about in your rhetorical analysis.

Still, writing about individual words in your rhetorical analysis is like looking at the painting through a magnifying glass. While you may discover some unique features and minor flaws, sometimes, you just need to take a step back and look at it from a distance. In your rhetorical analysis adopt a hermeneutic approach, meaning you should write about the whole based on its parts and the parts based on the whole.

Ethos/Logos/Pathos

These are the three modes of persuasion utilized by the author/speaker to make their rhetorical more impactful. Let’s go over them one by one.

Persuasion

Ethos. Ethos means credentials. Plain and simple. Ethos can be situated and invented. When the speaker lists their qualifications in the beginning of the speech, they apply the situated ethos. When they add credibility to their persona by demonstrating extensive knowledge and skills through the text, this is the invented ethos.

Logos. Logos is all the logical reasons the speaker presents to buttress their overarching argument. Every coherent speech attempts to make an argument. Usually the argument is presented in the beginning as a thesis statement and then supported throughout the speech by evidence.

If you want to analyze the logos properly, you should be aware of various argument types (deductive, inductive, causal, statistical etc.) I would recommend you to get familiar with logical fallacies as well. For instance, when Republicans mention Clinton whenever they are blamed for something, this is a logical fallacy known as a red herring.

Statistics should be double-checked as well. Do not fall into the argumentum ad populum fallacy. Just because some number has been cited a million times already does not make it any truer. Look for the original source. Where did this bit of statistics come from? If its origin is a research article, has that article been peer-reviewed?

Pathos. Pathos is the emotional foundation of a speech/text. Does it evoke sympathy or anger, joy or sadness? Perhaps, it triggers a variety of feelings, as, for instance, a speech by Martin Luther King, which was both calm and invigorating.

Pathos depends on a person’s diction as well as their tone. Words may be carefully selected to produce a desired effect, but if you sound slack and uninspired, they will fall on deaf ears. If one wants to produce a truly memorable text, they’ve got to make their audience’s amygdala (the emotional brain center) work.

If you want to write a good rhetorical analysis, you should dedicate a lot of time to dissecting different elements of pathos. For instance, does the author repeat certain words and phrases, and what effect does it produce? Does it make the text more emphatic? Does it make it monotonous?

You should be able to spot various patterns, as professional speakers/writers would often mention key words/phrases a couple times to really drive their point home. The best of them do it sneakily, but if you look long and hard enough, you will be able to notice them as well as include in your rhetorical analysis essay.

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

The previous section meant to draw your attention to the various aspects of the text you should analyze. Here I would like to focus on writing a rhetorical analysis essay in particular.

Rhetorical Essay Analysis Questions

Introduction

  • Look for grabbers/hooks. What tone do they set?
  • Does the addressor boost their image with ethos?
  • How strong is a thesis statement?

Body paragraphs

  • Is the diction formal or colloquial?
  • Is the text rich with the figures of speech?
  • How complex is the syntax?

Conclusion

  • Is there a call for action?
  • Is the conclusion sufficiently supported by the body paragraphs?
  • Is it logically related to the thesis statement?

Chronological Rhetorical Analysis Essay

When you write a chronological rhetorical analysis essay, you examine the text in a linear sequence of timecodes. So, you start by looking at the thesis statement, moving onto the supporting points and ending with a speaker’s/writer’s conclusion.     

Find out what to pay attention to in each part of the text.

Introduction

Many writers/speakers use hooks or grabbers in the introduction. These are the surprising statistical facts, personal anecdotes, inspiring quotes, what have you. See if you can notice one (they are pretty glaring) and write about the effects they produce.

See if the person mentions their credentials (ethos) right away. Do you think it adds weight to their words? Maybe, it sets an arrogant tone. Try to see beyond the individual words, although brace yourself for lots of quoting/paraphrasing to prop up your supporting points.

Most importantly, single out a thesis statement. It is usually stated directly in the beginning and repeated/paraphrased at the end. You will need to write if the person provided enough reasons for their thesis, and that you will do in the body paragraphs. 

Body paragraphs

When you write your rhetorical analysis essay, I would recommend you to focus on these elements:

  • Diction
  • Figures of Speech
  • Syntax

When you write a chronological rhetorical analysis essay, you go sentence by sentence. You get to observe how the text unfolds and builds up to its logical (hopefully) conclusion.

Let’s take a look at Trump’s State of the Union address and examine it based on these criteria.

His diction is more formal than usual, although not devoid of informal words such as tremendous, which makes him sound more relatable and emotional.

Here’s a review of the most frequent figures of speech he utilizes.  

SOTU Rhetorical Analysis Language

Repetition: The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again.

(Repetitions make the message more expressive)

Polysyndeton: Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them, and to always be worthy of them.

(Polysyndeton makes the speech more solemn, as it is widely used in the Bible)

Parallelism: If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.

(Parallelisms again make the speech more emphatic, but at the same time organized and easier to perceive)

Personification: But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine.

(People tend to sympathize more with other people rather than inanimate objects or abstract concepts)

When it comes to syntax, you, obviously, write about sentences. In a professional rhetorical analysis, you should state whether the addresser prefers declarative, exclamatory or imperative sentences, and what effect such choices deliver.

You should also write about the length of the statements: it’s best if the short ones intermingle with long ones. Too many short sentences make the text sound abrupt, while too many long ones render it difficult or, in the worst case, completely incomprehensible. Do not disregard such vital details when you write your rhetorical analysis essay.

Conclusion

In your rhetorical analysis essay, write about how the speaker/writer ends the speech/text. Normally it should offer a call for action such as “Read more books” or “Go to the gym.” Of course, the message won’t usually be as forceful and explicit. Sometimes it will be a rhetorical question such as: “When will the government realize that the added sugar is just as dangerous to people’s health as alcohol and cigarettes?”

In your rhetorical analysis you should write whether the conclusion follows naturally from the speech or perhaps is a bit contrived. Some conclusions may be too short and jumbled, some, on the contrary, are long-winded and redundant. Make sure to support your rhetorical analysis with examples from the text.

Non-Chronological Rhetorical Essay Analysis

In a non-chronological rhetorical essay, you are not bound by time codes. This allows you to take a holistic approach when you write your analysis.  

Introduction

In the introduction to your essay, you will need to write your own thesis statement. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the text?
  • Has this purpose been fulfilled?
  • What were the main methods used to deliver the message?

Once you answer these questions, write a thesis statement based on those answers.

Body Paragraphs

In the body paragraphs for your rhetorical analysis essay, the best strategy is to analyze the text based on the ethos/logos/pathos triad. We’ve already covered it in the previous section, so, I wouldn’t repeat myself. Just make sure to devote one paragraph per persuasion mode. So, your body paragraph structure may look like this.

  1. Introduction
  2. Ethos
  3. Ethos
  4. Logos
  5. Logos
  6. Pathos
  7. Pathos
  8. Conclusion

Start each paragraph with a topic sentence (your supporting argument). Then write up to three examples to prove it. The last sentence should serve as a natural transition to the next paragraph.

Before you even start writing, think carefully about all the supporting arguments. Do not be afraid to omit those, which do not particularly underpin your thesis. Your teacher will notice, and you will not get a good grade for your rhetorical analysis essay as a result.

Conclusion

A conclusion is basically a fancier version of the introduction. You should just restate your thesis in more detail. At the same time, you should not write too much. It’s a fine line to walk, so, let me give you an example.

Let’s say you analyze Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address. Here’s what you may write in the introduction and conclusion to your rhetorical analysis essay.

SOTU rhetorical analysis introduction

In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump delivered an optimistic message about the future of the United States by using statistics as well as personal anecdotes to support his argument.

SOTU rhetorical analysis conclusion

The State of the Union address can be characterized by its positive outlook on the US future, as Donald Trump utilizes multiple statistical as well as personal examples to prove his point. These include the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the brave actions of the American officers and firefighters during Hurricane Harvey, Irma and the Las Vegas Strip Shooting as well as the general decline in unemployment.

As you can see, the thesis and the conclusion are almost identical, but the conclusion offers more specific examples. The caveat here is not to go too far. You’ve already explained your points in your body paragraphs – there is no need to write about them again.

Final Conclusion

Hopefully, your “How to write a successful rhetorical analysis essay?” question has been answered. Let me just shout out one more time – do not make value judgments about a person delivering the speech/writing the text. Forget everything you knew about them up to this point. In your rhetorical analysis essay, focus on what they are saying or writing, rather than on who they are.

You may think that Donald Trump is not the best president in history, but you cannot deny that his State of the Union address was pretty well-written. You cannot disparage it just because you do not like the speaker. It’s okay to point out false info bits, but in your rhetoric analysis, it’s not okay to say: this person is a known liar, so, nothing they say can be trusted.

You critique the text, not the person. It’s a rhetorical analysis essay, not a psychological profile. So, be logical and objective, rather than emotional and subjective, and you will definitely stand out among other students.

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