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Writing a Rhetorical Analysis Essay? Here’s Everything You Will Ever Need to Know

Student in her dorm room writing a rhetorical analysis essay at the table Writing a rhetorical analysis essay is tricky, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing. If you’re not sure where to start, sometimes you can end up sitting in front of your computer screen for hours wondering why you’re doing this to yourself.

There are a lot of layers when it comes to any type of analysis, especially one based on an author’s use of rhetoric. Understanding rhetorical writing is one thing. Writing about rhetorical writing is a whole new ball game, and it can be exhausting.

No one said college was going to be easy. But with our help, you will learn how to write an effective rhetorical analysis essay so well, it’ll feel like you’ve been doing this your entire life. Don’t believe us? Read this and give it a try. We promise you’ll be satisfied with the results.

Young man taking notes near a computer to write an essay

What is Rhetoric?

First thing’s first – to write a good rhetorical analysis essay, you need to understand rhetoric.

Essentially, rhetoric is the art of persuasion through writing. It’s the technique and type of language used to connect to audiences and convince people to believe a certain point of view or message.

Rhetoric is a concept that was first coined by Aristotle in Ancient Greece. Back in his day, it was important for influential people to use rhetoric to help shape societies and influence change. No one in Ancient Greece could quickly Google something when trying to think for themselves. They had to take peoples’ word for it, and that meant that those influential people needed to make sure they used the right rhetorical techniques to get people to believe them or stand up for their cause.

Since then, rhetoric has been used for over 2,000 years to appeal to or influence audiences as a persuasion technique and still remains an important part of today’s language.

Rhetoric in the Real World

You’ve seen rhetoric many times in your life. Rhetorical strategies are used in every political speech, opinion article, argumentative essay, and advertisement. Every TED Talk you’ve ever watched involves rhetorical strategies, and the same goes for every commercial you’ve seen or every documentary you’ve watched.

Politicians use rhetoric in their speeches in order to gain support from potential voters and campaigners in specific demographics. For example, if you were running for Premiere of a province in Canada and you were delivering a speech to an audience of teachers and educators, you wouldn’t spend an hour talking about the tax breaks you’re giving to commercial businesses. You would want to focus on the positive changes you would make within the education system or to improve child care programs because those are the topics that directly affect that specific audience. You’d likely also use a different language to speak to this audience than you would to a group of senior citizens or factory workers in order to better connect with them.

Think about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Why do you think this speech resonated with so many people and became one of the most well known speeches in history? It’s all thanks to King’s use of rhetorical writing. He made his audience really feel the pain that African Americans were going through in the segregated ‘60s and appealed to emotions to promote the need for equal treatment between races. And it worked.

So What Does This Have to do With My Essay?

Now you know what rhetoric is. But you may be wondering what the point of that brief rhetoric lesson was and what it has to do with your essay. The answer is quite simple: a rhetorical analysis essay is an essay in which you analyze a text for its use of rhetoric, or rhetorical writing. Make sense now?

Your job in your paper is to look at the author’s use of rhetorical writing and determine what techniques they’ve used, as well as how effective those techniques are overall. Just to be clear, your goal is not to add your opinions on the topics or dive into your standpoint or point of view on the subject. You’re going to analyze the author’s use of persuasion specifically.

Young woman reading a book looking for use of rhetoric

How to Analyze a Text

Now that you understand what it is we have to do here, let’s move on to the next step: learning how to analyze the text. It’s important to do this step before you get into the analysis of persuasion because you need to know how to identify specific elements within the article and how to break the article down to dig deeper into its structure.

Try using the SOAPSTone strategy. This is a strategy used to remember what elements to look for and identify when reading an article, text, or anything else. SOAPSTone stands for:

● S – Speaker: Who is telling the story or providing the information?

● O – Occasion: What is the context behind the author’s decision to write the article?

● A – Audience: Who is the author writing to?

● P – Purpose: Why has the author written this piece? In other words, why is the author trying to convince their audience to do something or think a specific way?

● S – Subject: What specific point is the author making?

● Tone: What is the overall attitude or tone that the author is giving off?

Once you understand how to analyze a text, you should understand what it is you’re looking for when you’re writing a rhetorical analysis. Looking for and finding the answers to each of these elements is an essential step in breaking down what you’re reading and choosing items to analyze. Understanding all of this information gives you the background and context you need to understand the author’s rhetorical position and the techniques they’re using to convey that point of view.

Female student writing a paper using her laptop on a desk

Get The Context First

Before you start digging deep into the rhetorical writing styles and techniques you’ll need to discuss, it’s important to gather contextual information. This includes the target audience, the setting, the point they’re making, and so on. Some of this you would have already done if you performed the SOAPSTone strategy outlined above. The rest you can piece together as your next step.

Since you’re writing a rhetorical analysis essay, which will focus on the way your author has expressed their point of view to their audience, you’ll need to have this contextual information on hand when you analyze their techniques. You can’t actively determine that someone didn’t make a good connection with their audience if you don’t make it clear who that audience is.

The following questions will help guide you as you look for context and background information:
Who is the author’s target audience?
What is the point of view the author is trying to argue? In other words, what is their point? What are they trying to get their audience to think or do?
If it’s a speech, where and when was the speech given?
If your text is a book, movie, or other medium, when was it written or made?
What is the overall tone of the text? For example, is it meant to scare someone into making a decision, or excite someone to join a cause?

Knowing and understanding this information will help you with your analysis. In fact, most of the time your professor will outline this information as a requirement in your instructions or rubric. You should include these details in your introduction, or if it’s a longer analysis (think five pages or more) in your first body paragraph.

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Rhetorical Techniques of Appeal: Pathos, Logos, and Ethos

Pathos, logos, and ethos, also known as Aristotle’s Three Proofs, are the core rhetorical techniques of appeal. Back in Ancient Greece, Aristotle used these three terms to explain how rhetoric and persuasion work. They are commonly used in the majority of persuasive writing, and even in most arguments or debates, advertisements, marketing strategies, and much more.

Pathos is the appeal to emotion. With pathos, you would use arguments that appeal to your reader’s emotions or try to invoke an emotional response from them. For example, if you’re writing about why animal testing is bad, you would invoke pathos by describing the pain that animals suffer while in a lab, thus making the reader feel sympathetic for the animals.

Logos is the appeal to logic. When you use logos to persuade someone of something, you use facts and logical information, data, and/or statistics to convince the reader that something is true. For example, if you’re writing a paper about the issue of obesity in America, you could include statistics on the percentage of the population that is obese to indicate the validity of your argument.

Ethos is the appeal to ethics. When you use ethos in an argument, you would establish credibility, expertise, and/or authority. So, for example, if you’re writing a paper about dinosaurs, you would invoke ethos by using information from a credible expert in the field, such as a leading paleontologist.

When using these rhetorical techniques of appeal, you can tailor the approach depending on who your audience is and what type of argument will appeal to them. For example, when writing a scientific paper to an audience of biology students, you’ll want to lean more toward logos and present valid facts or data. If you’re writing a persuasive speech about climate change, you’ll likely choose to use pathos to invoke fear or ethos to showcase what scientists have said. You can choose to include all three appeals, or you could focus on just one if it makes more sense.

Heads up – these are all really great rhetorical techniques you can use when you’re writing an argumentative essay! They can help strengthen your argument and influence your audience to believe your point of view.


How to Identify Pathos, Logos, and Ethos in Your Text

When doing a rhetorical analysis, you want to examine your article to determine the ways the author has used these techniques to appeal to their reader. Most of the time, you can tell if the author has used pathos, logos, or ethos by the way you personally respond when you read their article. For example, if you feel sad or angry about something, that’s a good sign of pathos. However, if you’re still not really clear, here are a few lists of examples you can look for when searching for each type of appeal.

Pathos (appeal to emotion):

● Trigger words that connect to emotions

● Anecdotes or stories from witnesses, survivors, marginalized people, etc.

● Questions that prompt you to think about something

● Exclamation points

Logos (appeal to logic):

● Statistics and facts

● Direct information, like nutritional ingredients or technical specifications

● Maps, charts, and graphs

● Use of primary sources such as research studies, government documents, legal cases, or court reports

● Analogies

Ethos (appeal to ethics):

● Direct quotes from industry experts or researchers

● Testimonials or endorsements from industry leaders

● Use of peer-reviewed secondary sources

Male and female students looking at a paper together

Other Rhetorical Methods and Terms to Look For

While pathos, logos, and ethos are the most common rhetorical techniques of appeal, there are also some other elements to look for within your text. Here are some other terms that are commonly used in rhetoric and the art of persuasion that should be on your radar when you analyze the text for rhetorical methods and techniques:

Hyperbole (Exaggeration): When someone exaggerates something within a text, it’s usually done to prove a point and emphasize something. For example, going back to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s classic speech, one of his lines is this: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low.” Here, he’s using hyperbole to exaggerate his point that equality among humans will have a wide, far-reaching impact on the world.

Diction: An extremely important rhetorical technique, and writing device in general, diction refers to the style of speech or writing that an author uses. Writing style is very significant for rhetoric because a well-written, eloquent piece of writing has a more prominent effect, and descriptive, powerful words can leave a lasting emotional impact.

Fallacy: This is one you need to watch out for as the reader, as fallacies are often used to promote biased opinions, propaganda, deception, or manipulation. Essentially, a fallacy is the use of faulty logic or an error in reasoning. For example, the author might use an example that isn’t relevant to their argument to distract the reader, or come to a conclusion based on probability and assumptions instead of real logic. If your author is using fallacy, they are not making an effective or credible argument and are using bad rhetorical techniques.

Parallelism (Repetition): Often used in speeches, parallelism involves repeating words or phrases to emphasize something and elicit an emotional response. It also leaves a more lasting impression on the audience. John F. Kennedy used this in one of his most well-known speeches that many people still quote today: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Rhetorical Question: A very common technique used in casual conversations or arguments, a rhetorical question is a question that you ask for emphasis without expecting an answer. They’re designed to appeal to emotions and make you think about something more reflectively.

Tone: The tone is the attitude or atmosphere that the author takes in their writing, and it plays a pretty big role in how you feel while reading. For that reason, tone is usually used to appeal to emotions. You can usually identify your author’s particular tone by examining the words and phrases they use.

Analogy: An analogy is a comparison between two things, just like a simile. When used as a rhetorical method, an analogy is a good way to add logic to something by comparing it to something else so the reader can understand it.

Personification: Another very common rhetorical technique, personification involves adding human characteristics to things that aren’t human. This appeals to the reader’s emotions because they begin to make connections, whether negative or positive, with those non-human things as if they are a person. For example, if you are arguing that smoking should be banned, you might say that “cigarettes steal health” in order to villainize cigarettes and turn your reader against them.

Female college student stuck on her essay

The Elements of an Effective Rhetorical Analysis

Once you’ve gathered all of the information you need from the text and identified all of the rhetorical techniques used in your article, it’s time to start writing. Before you write, start with an outline that will help you organize your thoughts and information to create a cohesive, structured paper that flows perfectly.

For a more complete breakdown of how to write a good essay from start to finish, download our free ebook. This ebook is an essay writing guide that takes you step by step through the process, from making a complete outline to finding credible sources, writing strong body paragraphs, and more.

Your Thesis Statement

In a rhetorical analysis essay, the thesis statement should be a summary of the arguments you’re going to make about the author’s techniques. Try to sum it up as directly as possible with a statement that covers the different methods the author uses, and their overall effectiveness.

Here’s an example: “Smith begins to argue his point by building credibility through the use of facts and statistics, and successfully applies emotional appeal; however, his argument begins to weaken when he attempts to approach a moral reasoning that does not entirely make sense, ultimately unraveling the strength of his argument.”

A Good Introduction

Like any introduction, your introductory paragraph should begin with a catchy hook. Then, narrow down and work through to your thesis statement at the end. Make sure you introduce the author and specify the text you’re going to be analyzing, and add any background information you think is relevant or necessary. As we mentioned earlier, this is where you can add that audience information if you’re not going to use a body paragraph for that.

Solid, Structured Body Paragraphs

A great way to organize your body paragraphs in a rhetorical analysis essay is to section them by technique. Have one paragraph about ethos, one on pathos, and one on logos. You can also include another paragraph about any other rhetorical techniques if you think the author has used them prominently. As you argue your points, be sure to use quotations and paraphrasing from the text to add examples.

Ending it With a Good Conclusion

As with any essay, you need to end things on a solid note with a good conclusion that leaves your reader with something to think about. Make sure you don’t add any new information to your conclusion. This should be a summary of the main points you’ve made. Begin your conclusion by restating your thesis in different words, then move out to some summaries about what you’ve stated, and then close it out with a good final line.

Female student getting ready to analyze a book for a paper

You’re Here to Analyze, Not Influence

Remember that your rhetorical analysis is exactly that: an analysis. When you’re writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the points the author is making and forget that you’re analyzing their presentation – not their content or topic. This is especially true if you have a strong opinion about that subject. Even if you don’t agree with their topic, your job is to provide feedback on the effectiveness of their argument as a whole. Try to leave your point of view aside and focus on the words, or you could end up losing marks for going off track.

A Few Final Writing Tips For Your Rhetorical Analysis Essay

You’re just about ready to put that keyboard to good use and craft an amazing essay! Before you get to work writing away, here are a few quick tips to remember:

● Don’t push your point of view too aggressively. The point of your paper is to analyze, not argue.

● Read or watch rhetorical writing samples like popular speeches or TED Talks to understand how the techniques work in practice.

● If you’re sitting down for a really long writing session, make sure you give yourself breaks to stretch your legs and stay hydrated to keep your brain circulating.

● Watch your referencing. Make sure you’re following the proper citation style.

● Don’t skip the editing and proofreading process. It’s worth it to hire a professional editing service that can provide you with constructive feedback if you want to be completely sure your paper will make the grade.


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