If you’ve never written a rhetorical analysis, you’re not alone. Rhetorical analysis essays can be a struggle because if you’re unfamiliar with them. Plus, these essays are complex and challenging.
But don’t worry—we’re here to help! In this article, we’ll explain:
- Exactly what a rhetorical analysis is (and isn’t).
- How to read and plan your essay.
- How to write a rhetorical analysis, step-by-step.
We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
What is a rhetorical analysis?
Rhetorical analysis requires you to evaluate the work of another author. You must analyze the author’s purpose, as well as the strategies the author uses to achieve this purpose.
This type of essay is not a summary. You shouldn’t rehash what you read in the article or literary work, and you shouldn’t simply interpret the meaning of the text.
Here’s the bottom line: Instead of explaining what the author writes, you need to explain how the author writes. This requires higher-level thinking, which is why you’ll see rhetorical analysis essays on tests and other standardized exams.
How to read critically
The first step to writing a rhetorical analysis is reading. Carefully read through the article(s) or literary work(s) you’ve been assigned to determine the main idea of the author’s argument.
After this initial read-through, read the text(s) again — this time analyzing the author’s use of rhetoric.
Guide your analysis with questions like:
- What is the author’s thesis or overall argument?
- What is the author’s purpose for writing this particular document, speech, etc.?
- Who is the author’s target audience?
- How does the author arrange and connect ideas? Chronologically? Cause and effect? Compare and contrast?
- Does the author repeat important terms?
- How does the writer use punctuation? Does she incorporate fragments or run-ons? Are her sentences declarative, exclamatory, or imperative? What effect does this achieve?
- Does the writer use dialogue and/or quotations? Why?
- What is the effect of the author’s word choice, tone, and diction? Is the language formal or informal? Does the author use slang or technical terminology?
- Does the writer use italics, underlining, or parentheses? Why?
- How does the author use ethos, pathos, and/or logos? Are these appeals effective? Why or why not?
As you consider your answers to these questions, jot down notes on a sheet of scratch paper. And note that this list of questions isn’t exhaustive: If you notice another technique the author is using, be sure to address that as well!
The goal here is to break the text into much smaller elements, then analyze how and why the author incorporated these elements. What effect did the author’s various strategies achieve? Did the author fulfill her purpose?
How to plan your rhetorical essay
Start by crafting the thesis for your rhetorical analysis. In your thesis, you should briefly mention the author’s purpose and main argument, then list 3 to 4 of the main rhetorical devices the author uses.
What if the author used more than 3 to 4 devices? Choose the strategies that you feel have the strongest supporting evidence. Look for quotes and examples you can use to prove your point.
For each of the rhetorical strategies you select, you’ll need to gather examples from the text. Consider why the author used this device and the overall effect it achieved. You can also evaluate how effectively you feel the author implemented this strategy.
Don’t forget to include an in-text citation when quoting the author or citing a specific fact or statement from the author’s works. You’ll also need a full list of references at the end of your paper. If you need help, try the Cite This For Me Harvard referencing tool and guide. Other styles are also available.
How to write your rhetorical analysis: Step-by-step tips
Once you’ve planned your essay, it’s time to start writing. Here’s a look at each step in the writing process.
In your intro, provide any necessary background information related to the author or the topics covered by the author.
You also need to include your thesis, referencing the author’s main point or purpose and the rhetorical devices he used to achieve this purpose.
The bulk of your essay should be the body paragraphs, so keep your intro short and sweet.
The easiest way to organize your body paragraphs is to devote one body paragraph to each rhetorical strategy mentioned in your thesis. These paragraphs should appear in the same order in which you listed the rhetorical devices in your thesis.
Each body paragraph needs its own topic sentence that clearly states what rhetorical device will be covered, as well as the device’s overall purpose.
Next, you should provide several examples demonstrating the author’s use of the device. Make sure you also explain how each example illustrates the technique being discussed.
You should then analyze the author’s use of rhetoric:
- Why did the author choose to use this rhetorical strategy?
- How does this rhetorical strategy help advance the author’s purpose?
- What was the overall effect of this rhetorical strategy?
Your conclusion should briefly restate your main points. Connect the rhetorical devices you analyzed throughout the essay, explaining their overall effect on the reader.
In your final sentence, apply your argument on a higher level: Why does it matter? How does it relate to the real world? What’s the importance of the speech or text you analyzed?
Now that you’ve written your conclusion, you’re all done, right? Not so fast—it’s essential to devote some time to revising and editing your essay.
Pay attention to grammar, spelling, word usage, and the flow of ideas. Are all of your ideas logically connected? Did you use transitions? Is your paper clear and concise? If you can confidently answer, “Yes” to these questions, now you’re done.
Final thoughts on the rhetorical analysis essay
Writing a rhetorical analysis isn’t quite as complicated as it seems. To ace your next rhetorical analysis essay, simply:
- Read carefully, taking notes on the author’s use of rhetoric as you go.
- Based on your notes, construct your thesis and build a plan. Select 3 to 4 rhetorical devices to discuss in your essay, along with textual examples of each.
- Write your intro, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
- Avoid summarizing! Instead, you’re analyzing and evaluating the author’s use of rhetorical devices.
- Don’t forget to proofread!
Following these tips will help your critical reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills shine.