Rhetorical analysis

Many of the texts from this semester are engaged in making arguments, either implicitly or explicitly. In order to better understand those arguments, how they are made, and who they are made for, you will write a rhetorical analysis of an argument in one of the course texts.

What is rhetorical analysis?

“Rhetorical analysis” is the process of analyzing how arguments are constructed and who will find them effective. A strong rhetorical analysis takes into account the different elements of the rhetorical triangle: writer or speaker, audience, and text or message. Rhetorical analysis uses many of the skills of close reading—careful attention to details, structure, tone and emotion—but applies those skills to identifying the parts of an argument and analyzing which audiences will find them effective and why.

How should I start my rhetorical analysis?

The first step in your rhetorical analysis is to select an argument to analyze. As with the close reading, the length of your argument should be relatively short. You may choose a short, complete argument from Conservation in the Progressive Era, or you may identify a section of a longer work that functions as a stand-alone argument (a speech from The Jungle or a section of Nickel and Dimed, for instance).

Once you have identified your argument, you should go through the steps in the rhetorical analysis exercise. Be sure to identify any questions that you are unable to answer at the moment but think might be important to your analysis. You can then determine what sort of research you might need to conduct to answer your questions.

What should my rhetorical analysis look like?

  • The goal of this assignment is to make an argument about an argument. As such, your rhetorical analysis should contain a thesis that makes a claim about how the argument works, for whom, and why.
  • Your analysis should take the form of a mini-essay that poses a question or problem that can be reasonably explored in 500-750 words. This means that you might not explore every rhetorical strategy you identify in the text; your goal is to make a single, focused argument, rather than to catalogue everything you notice.
  • The bulk of your assignment should consist of a close examination of the text. It is not enough to merely identify or label rhetorical strategies. You must connect these strategies to their audience and back to your thesis. In addition, you must support every claim you make about how the argument works and who it works for with evidence drawn either from the text itself or from a reliable secondary source.
  • As with your close reading, you should aim to conclude with a short paragraph that re-visits your argument and main claim and then suggests why that argument is significant. What does your rhetorical analysis teach your reader about this argument, its audience(s), its author and/or its context?

How should you organize your rhetorical analysis?

Your rhetorical analysis will likely be organized in a manner similar to your close reading: an introduction to set up the argument, its context and your thesis, body paragraphs, each with a main analytic claim, and a conclusion that wraps up the analysis and makes a case for its significance. Unlike in your close reading, you may want to follow your introduction with a very brief summary of the argument you are analyzing. This summary should be carefully constructed with your thesis and analysis in mind—it should emphasize the elements of the argument that are relevant to your analysis, and should provide a fair and charitable paraphrase of the author’s claims.

What kind of evidence should you use to support your analysis?

Most of the evidence in your rhetorical analysis should be in the form of short quotations from the text. As with the close reading, you should follow any quotations with provide analysis of those quotations to explain the significance of the quotation and show how it fits into your argument. Your paper should not contain any quotations that are not accompanied by analysis.

You may also find it helpful to include a limited amount of secondary research to support claims you make about the argument’s author and/or context. When drawing on secondary sources, you should aim to summarize concisely, rather than quoting directly or paraphrasing at length. You should cite any secondary sources using MLA style, with parenthetical in-text citations and a bibliography at the end of your paper. If you have questions about your argument’s context or author that require secondary sources to answer, but are unsure how to conduct the necessary research to find the answers, consult with me and/or the librarians at Leyburn.

Who is the audience for your rhetorical analysis?

Your audience for this paper should be a hypothetical classmate who has attended class and read the argument you are analyzing, but has not been overly studious or attentive. This classmate will definitely notice if you make an obvious claim, but there is also room to teach her something new about the readings and concepts from class. Your classmate does not need full, detailed summaries of the readings, because she has already read them, but she does need concise reminders to help locate herself in the text and to remind her of what the important points were.

Submission instructions

The due date for your rhetorical analysis is Friday, March 3. To be eligible for revision, you must turn a paper in by the due date. It is always better to turn an imperfect paper in on time and then revise it than to worry about perfecting your paper, missing the deadline, and being unable to revise further.

Revision instructions

The last day to turn in a revised paper for comments is Friday, March 24, and the last day to turn in a revised paper for a final grade is Friday, April 7. You should allow for at least a week between submitting a revised paper and receiving it back with comments. This means that to take full advantage of the revision policy, you should plan carefully to meet course deadlines and submit revisions well in advance of the final deadline.