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Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical Analysis

When presented with a piece of persuasive writing or a persuasive speech, readers often must conduct rhetorical analysis. Rhetorical analysis is the process of breaking down a piece of rhetoric to better understand how the writer made their argument. Studying rhetorical analysis strategies and rhetorical analysis terms can help make critical readers and inform the development of stronger persuasive writing.

Rhetorical Analysis Meaning

Rhetorical analysis is a critical examination of persuasive writing or spoken word. In other words, rhetorical analysis is the process of breaking down rhetoric - the art of persuasion.

Learning how to analyze rhetoric is a critical part of understanding how a writer or speaker makes an argument. Understanding rhetorical analysis strategies can also help writers and speakers learn to strengthen their arguments.

Rhetorical Analysis Elements

When conducting a rhetorical analysis, readers should first consider the following elements of the text or speech:

Topic

The topic is what the writing or speech is about. Readers have to understand what the writer's main focus is to analyze the discussion of it. When analyzing rhetoric, readers should ask the following questions:

  • What is this about?

  • What is the author's stance?

Writer

Readers should consider who the writer is and how their defining characteristics shape their argument. For instance, their age and cultural background may have an impact on their presentation and defense of an issue.

  • Who is the writer or speaker?

  • Where is the writer from?

Audience

The audience is the group of people at which a text or speech is directed. The audience's expectations, values, and levels of knowledge on the topic at hand impact how a writer or speaker presents their information. When analyzing the audience of a piece of rhetoric, readers should ask questions like the following:

  • Who is the intended audience of this work?

  • What might the audience expect from the speaker?

  • How might the audience impact how the writer presents the argument?

Context

The context of a piece of rhetoric is the setting and circumstance it takes place. For instance, the context of a speech includes the year and location in which the speaker gives it. People need to consider the context when conducting rhetorical analysis because it influences how a speaker may have presented information and how the audience would perceive it. Readers can ask the following questions when analyzing context:

  • What year was this written?

  • What culture was this written in and for?

  • How might people have perceived this in the time it was written compared to today?

Rhetorical Analysis, Speech, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Consider the audience and context in rhetorical analysis.

Purpose

Reflecting on an author's purpose is one of the most important parts of rhetorical analysis. Understanding an author's reason for writing helps readers understand the main point of the work and the reasons for the use of various rhetorical techniques. To identify and analyze a purpose, readers can pose questions such as these:

  • Why is the author communicating this information?

  • What does the author want the audience to know or learn?

  • Does the author effectively achieve their purpose? If so, how?

Rhetorical Analysis Terms

The following terms are common in rhetorical analysis.

Rhetorical Analysis TermDefinition
AlliterationThe repetition of neighboring constant sounds
Allusion An indirect reference to a well-known person, place, thing, or event
AnalogyA comparison between similar things that explains the relationship
Diction The author's choice of words
HyperboleThe use of extreme exaggeration
Imagery The use of vivid descriptions or figurative language to create sensory experiences
Irony A contrast between what is expected to happen and what actually happens
MetaphorWhen one thing is called another to make a comparison
OxymoronThe juxtaposition of two words with opposing meanings
ParadoxA seemingly contradictory statement that actually contains a degree of truth
PersonificationThe assignment of human qualities to something not human
Repetition When words, phrases, or ideas are stated several times for emphasis
SimileThe use of "like" or "as" to make a comparison
SymbolismThe use of an image or action to represent an idea
SyntaxThe rules of word order and sentence construction
ToneThe author or speaker's attitude

Rhetorical Analysis Strategies

When conducting a rhetorical analysis, readers should also consider if the writer uses one or more of the following rhetorical appeals. A rhetorical appeal is a method of persuasion. Identified by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his treatise Rhetoric, the following appeals make for strong arguments. Analyzing how a writer or speaker uses one of these appeals provides insight into the structure and effectiveness of their argument.

Rhetorical Analysis, Aristotle, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about rhetorical appeals.

Ethos

Ethos is an appeal to credibility. Readers should note if the speaker or writer highlights their qualifications to enhance their argument. For instance, a politician who mentions his experience implementing gun policies is appealing to ethos.

Pathos

Pathos is an appeal to emotion. If a speaker or writer is using lots of sensory details and trying to evoke feelings like sadness, emptiness, or celebration among audience members, they are using pathos. For example, a politician who describes stories of people losing their loved ones to gun violence is using pathos.

Logos

Logos is an appeal to logic. If a writer or speaker uses concrete evidence like statistics and recorded evidence, they are making a logical argument. For instance, a politician who mentions statistics about the number of young lives lost to gun violence is using logos.

Kairos

Another important but lesser-known rhetorical appeal is kairos. Kairos is an appeal to time and place. If a speaker or writer is tailoring their argument to the specific context they're giving it in, they are using kairos. For example, imagine a politician waits to introduce his support for gun control at an anti-gun rally. That is a location and time in which he is likely to get profound audience support.

Stasis

A fifth rhetorical component to consider in rhetorical analysis is stasis. Developed by the Ancient Greek rhetorician Hermagoras, stasis is a form of rhetorical analysis that helps one view an argument from multiple perspectives. Using the process of stasis can help rhetoricians form more impactful arguments.

The process of stasis involves asking the following four types of questions.

Question of: ExplanationAsks:
FactExamines the situation at hand
  • What is happening?
  • What are the facts about the situation?
Definition Defines the argument
  • What is the nature of the problem?
  • What are the sides of the argument?
Quality Examines the significance of the situation
  • How serious is this problem?
  • Who is affected by this problem?
  • What are the consequences of addressing or not addressing this problem?
PolicyDetermines how people should act in response
  • Who should address this issue?
  • How should the problem be solved?

Rhetorical Analysis, Notes, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Taking notes and making an outline can help ensure an organized rhetorical analysis essay.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

A rhetorical analysis essay should have the following sections.

  • Introduction In the introduction to a rhetorical analysis essay, you should mention the name of the text or speech you are analyzing, as well as the author and the context. Then you should focus on what elements you will analyze. This information should lead to your thesis, with its three supporting points.
  • Body Paragraph I Typically, a rhetorical analysis essay will have a body paragraph devoted to each rhetorical technique. Each body paragraph should have the following general format:

    • Topic sentence
    • Supporting evidence
    • Analysis
  • Body Paragraph II

    • Topic sentence
    • Supporting evidence
    • Analysis
  • Body Paragraph III

    • Topic sentence
    • Supporting evidence
    • Analysis
  • Conclusion At the end of the essay, the writer should restate the main argument in new words. They should also reflect on the overall implications of their analysis. For instance, does it reveal flaws in the speakers' argument? Or does it help emphasize the speaker’s overall argument?

Rhetorical Analysis Example

For example, imagine you have to conduct a rhetorical analysis of Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger speech. First, you should read through the speech and carefully note lies that stick out to you as impactful, persuasive, and memorable.

Next, you should consider the main elements of rhetorical analysis.

TopicThe Space Shuttle Challenger accident
WriterRonald Reagan
AudiencePeople in the United States
ContextThe Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in a tragic accident in 1986. Seven people lost their lives. Ronald Reagan gave this speech to address the grieving nation.
PurposeReagan aimed to console the nation and to help them not lose faith in scientific discovery.

Reflecting on the above elements will help you realize that Reagan was using rhetorical techniques to console and support the American people. Then, you should look back and your notes and brainstorm. Consider what specific rhetorical techniques Reagan used to reach his goal.

After identifying rhetorical techniques, you should craft a thesis that makes a focused, defensible claim about this piece of rhetoric. For example, the following thesis makes a detailed argument:

By using ethos, pathos, and alliteration, Ronald Reagan expresses sorrow and inspires hope in his 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger speech.

Remember, a strong thesis stands alone as a summary of an argument! Re-read your thesis statement and ask yourself if someone who only read that part of your essay would understand what it is about. If the answer is no, you should add a bit more detail.

After writing the thesis statement, you should make an outline that reflects the template above. Typically writers should devote a distinct body paragraph to each rhetorical device they discuss.

When writing about each device, you should include short, significant quotes or details from the source to support your argument. You should also analyze each piece of evidence so it is clear how they support your thesis. For instance, the following example shows how one might analyze Reagan's use of pathos:

The sudden loss of the Challenger brought widespread feelings of shock and sadness. To console the nation, Reagan focuses on the positive aspects of the astronauts' lives rather than the tragic elements of the event. For example, he says: "Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, 'Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy.'" By evoking images of the lost astronauts feeling joyful and confident, Reagan turns the audience's focus to positive emotions in a tragic time.

Note how the writer hints at the context and the purpose of the speech in the analysis as well. This demonstrates critical reflection on all rhetorical elements, which is the key to strong rhetorical analysis.

Rhetorical Analysis - Key takeaways

  • Rhetorical analysis is the critical examination of persuasive writing.
  • Always consider rhetorical elements like the audience, context, medium, and purpose.
  • Rhetorical terms to consider include allusion, metaphor, and personification.
  • A rhetorical analysis should mention rhetorical appeals like ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos.
  • To conduct a rhetorical analysis, annotate while reading, brainstorm an argument, craft an evidence-based claim, make an outline, and write an essay.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical analysis is the critical examination of rhetoric,

A rhetorical analysis essay should have an introduction with a thesis statement about rhetorical techniques, three body paragraphs with supporting evidence and original analysis, and a conclusion. 

The 5 components of rhetorical analysis are ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and stasis. 

Rhetorical analysis strategies include analyzing ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and stasis. 

The 5 elements of a rhetorical analysis are writer, topic, audience, context, and purpose. 

Final Rhetorical Analysis Quiz

Question

Which of the following is an appeal to location and time?

Show answer

Answer

Kairos

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Question

James is writing a speech in which he uses statistics from scientific studies to argue that recycling will help combat global warming. What type of rhetorical appeal is he using?

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Answer

Logos

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Question

What is the author’s attitude in writing called?

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Answer

Tone


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Question

What is the juxtaposition of two words with opposing meanings called?

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Answer

Oxymoron

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Question

What is diction?

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Answer

Word choice 

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Question

Paul includes the following statement in his writing. 


“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” 


What rhetorical analysis term is he using?

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Answer

Hyperbole

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Question

What are the four rhetorical elements to consider in rhetorical analysis?

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Answer

Audience, context, medium, and purpose 

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Question

What is meant by the medium of a work?

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Answer

A work’s medium is the method it is delivered in

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Question

Which of the following must be in the introduction of a rhetorical analysis essay?

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Answer

Thesis statement 

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Question

Which of the following thesis statement is the strongest for a rhetorical analysis essay?

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Answer

In Ronald Reagan’s 1986 speech about the Space Shuttle Challenger, he expressed his sorrow and inspired hope.

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Question

Typically, rhetorical analysis essays have at least _ body paragraphs 

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Answer

Three

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Question

What is the Greek name for the appeal to emotions?

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Answer

Pathos

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Question

True or False? The medium of a work is only relevant if it is written. 

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Answer

False. No matter what the medium of a work, it is always useful to reflect on how it impacted the argument. 

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Question

True or False? Symbolism and imagery are the same things. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which philosopher wrote about rhetorical appeals?

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Answer

Aristotle 

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