What is a rhetorical analysis?
A rhetorical analysis essay breaks a work of non-fiction, such as an essay, speech, cartoon, advertisement or performance, into parts and explains how the parts work together to persuade, entertain, or inform an audience. While identifying these parts is important, evaluating their effectiveness in meeting the author’s objective(s) is equally essential.
Parts of any text include rhetorical strategies, appeals, and/or devices. Each has a distinct purpose. Depending on the rhetorical situation (author, subject, purpose, exigence, audience), authors will choose to use specific rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices to increase the likelihood that their message will be effectively conveyed to their audience. The first step in writing a rhetorical analysis essay is reading the work of non-fiction closely and identify strategies, appeals, and devices.
The ways authors organize evidence and make connections between their audience and the information they provide. Here are some examples:
- Cause and effect
- Comparing and contrasting
- Classifying and dividing
- Explaining a process
Persuasive strategies authors use to support their claims or respond to arguments. The four rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos.
- Logos - appeals to logic
- Pathos - appeals to emotion
- Ethos - appeals to ethics
- Kairos - appeals to time/timeliness of an argument
Techniques, devices, and figurative language used for the purpose of conveying information. Here are ten commonly used rhetorical devices with their definitions taken from Literary Devices:
- Alliteration: a literary device that reflects repetition in two or more nearby words of initial consonant sounds.
- Analogy: a figure of speech that creates a comparison by showing how two seemingly different entities are alike
- Anaphora: a rhetorical device that features repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences, phrases, or clauses.
- Epiphora: a stylistic device in which a word or a phrase is repeated at the ends of successive clauses. Chiasmus: a rhetorical device in which two or more clauses are balanced against each other by the reversal of their structures in order to produce an artistic
- Euphemism: a figure of speech commonly used to replace a word or phrase that is related to a concept which might make others uncomfortable.
- Idiom: a set expression or a phrase comprising two or more words; the phrase is understood to mean something quite different from what individual words of the phrase would imply.
- Metaphor: a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things.
- Personification: a figure of speech in which inanimate objects and ideas are given human attributes.
- Similes: a figure of speech in which two essentially dissimilar objects or concepts are expressly compared with one another through the use of “like” or “as.”
Evaluating the Effectiveness
After identifying rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices, determine their effectiveness at conveying information and meeting the writer’s objective(s) by asking the following questions:
- What is the author’s purpose for writing?
- Does the author clearly aim to persuade, entertain, or inform their audience?
- Do the rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices consistently support the writer’s objective(s)?
- Does the author use any rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices inappropriately? If so, how?
- Are there any other rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices the author should have used to convey their message and meet their objective(s)?
Writing a Rhetorical Analysis Essay
A rhetorical analysis essay is organized very similarly to other essays. It should include an introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction should tell your readers what you will be doing in your essay, provide relevant background information, and present your thesis statement.
The body is where you provide analysis of how the author conveyed their message. This can be done by presenting the differing parts or the rhetorical strategies, appeals, and devices and then describing how effectively (or ineffectively) the author uses these techniques to convey their message and meet their objective(s). Only list and analyze the most important parts. You may also describe in this portion of the essay a rhetorical strategy, appeal, or device an author neglected to use that would have helped them be more effective at meeting their objective(s).
The conclusion should restate the main argument and recap the analysis. Refrain from word-for-word repetition and aim to leave a positive last impression.
What a Rhetorical Analysis Essay is NOT
Although you may use pieces of text from the non-fiction work in your essay to show how an author uses a rhetorical strategy, appeal, or device and how these parts work together, a rhetorical analysis essay is not a summary. It also is not an argumentative essay; you should not take a stance on the argument presented. You should explore how the essay is constructed and if the parts of the essay are effective at presenting information and meeting the author’s objective(s) for communicating.
30+ Rhetorical Devices Everyone MUST Know. Reedsy. (2019, January 11). https://blog.reedsy.com/rhetorical-devices/.
Caulfield, J. (2020, December 10). How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis: Key Concepts & Examples. Scribbr. https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/rhetorical-analysis/.
Literary Devices and Literary Terms - The Complete List. Literary Devices. (2020, August 8). https://literarydevices.net/.
The Norton Reader Toolbar. (n.d.). https://wwnorton.com/college/english/write/read12/toolbar/set02.aspx.
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