Rhetorical Analysis

A rhetorical analysis considers all elements of the rhetorical situation--the audience, purpose, medium, and context--within which a communication was generated and delivered in order to make an argument about that communication. A strong rhetorical analysis will not only describe and analyze the text, but will also evaluate it; that evaluation represents your argument.

  1. Description: What does this text look like? Where did you find the text? Who sponsored it? What are the rhetorical appeals? (i.e. calm music in the background of a commercial establishes pathos) When was it written?
  2. Analysis: Why does the author incorporate these rhetorical appeals? (For example, why does the author incorporate calm music? What is the point of the pathos?) How would the reception of this text change if it were written today, as opposed to twenty years ago? What is left out of this text and why? Should there be more logos in the ad? Why?
  3. Evaluation: Is the text effective? Is the text ethical? What might you change about this text to make it more persuasive?

Rhetoric Defined

  • Classically, “the art of persuasion”
  • “About using language purposefully, in order to get something done in the world” (“What is Rhetoric”).
  • “Something that allows you to formulate ethical reading strategies [...] but also to invent your own responses to the world” (“What is Rhetoric”).

Keywords and Concepts

Following are some basic terms and concepts (far from inclusive) that you should consider and use in a rhetorical analysis.

Rhetorical Situation

The rhetorical situation identifies the relationship among the elements of any communication--audience, author (rhetor), purpose, medium, context, and content.

Audience

Spectator, listeners, and/or readers of a performance, a speech, a reading, or printed material. Depending on the author’s/writer’s perception, an audience may be real (actually listening or reading), invoked (those to whom the writer explicitly writes) or imagined(those who the writer believes will read/hear her work) (Dept. of English)

Author/Rhetor/Speaker/Writer

The person or group of people who composed the text.

Purpose of the Author

The reason for communicating; the expected or intended outcome. 

Medium

The delivery method, which varies by type of text:

  • Alphabetic Text (for example, written speech, newspaper editorial, essay, passage out of a novel, poetry)
  • Images (for example, TV commercials, advertisements in magazines or on websites)
  • Sound (for example, radio or TV commercials, a website advertisement, speeches)
  • Multimodal texts (YouTube videos, performances, digital stories)

Context

The time, place, public conversations surrounding the text during its original generation and delivery; the text may also be analyzed within a different context such as how an historical text would be received by its audience today.

Claim

The main idea, thesis, opinion, or belief of an argument that the author must prove. The claim should be debatable and answer the question, "What’s the point?"

Support

The statements given to back up the claim. These can take the form of facts, data, personal experience, expert opinion, evidence from other texts or sources, emotional appeals, or other means. The more reliable and comprehensive the support, the more likely the audience is to accept the claim.

Warrant

The connection, often unstated and assumed, between the claim and the supporting reason(s), or support. The warrant is the assumption that makes the claim seem plausible. More specifically, warrants are the beliefs, values, inferences and/or experiences that the writers/speakers assume they share with the audience. If the audience doesn’t share the writers'/speakers' assumptions within the text, the argument will not be effective.

Rhetorical Triangle

The elements of the rhetorical situation interact with and influence one another. In learning to write an analysis, it is thus helpful to think about the relationship among these elements within the rhetorical triangle. By doing this, writers will be able to better understand how the elements of each text come together (often overlap) to make an argument or persuade an audience.

Ethos

The authority or credibility of the author. Can refer to any of the following: the actual character of the speaker/writer, the character of the writer as it is presented in a text, or as a series of ground rules/customs, which are negotiated between speaker, audience, and specific traditions or locations. The speaker must convince the audience of their credibility through the language they use and through the delivery, or embodied performance, of their speech.

Did you analyze ethos enough in your essay?

  • Have you looked at what experiences or claims to authority qualify this author to speak or write?
  • Have you considered the credibility and moral character of the writer/speaker?
  • Have you considered the design or appearance of the text you are analyzing? Does it look professional? What can you say about the author based on the appearance of the text alone?

Pathos

Emotional appeals to the audience to evoke feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow. The speaker may also want the audience to feel anger, fear, courage, love, happiness, sadness, etc.

Have you analyzed pathos enough in your essay?

  • Have you considered how the author appeals to the emotions of the reader/viewer?◦How does the author establish a bond with his audience?
  • How might the author change his strategy if he was trying to establish a bond with a different audience?
  • Have you considered your own personal reaction to the background music of this advertisement?
  • What kinds of feelings do the colors that the author uses provoke?
  • What other images in the text provoke an emotional response? Why would the author include these images?

Logos

In classical rhetoric, logos is the means of persuasion by demonstration of the truth, real or apparent, the reasons or supporting information used to support a claim, the use of logic or reason to make an argument. Logos can include citing facts and statistics, historical events, and other forms of fact based evidence.

Do you analyze logos enough in your essay?

  • How does the author back up his argument in this text? Does he incorporate facts, statistics, or numbers?
  • Have you considered how logical the author’s argument is?
  • Are the claims this author is making realistic?
  • Does the author consider alternative arguments?

Kairos

The right time to speak or write; advantageous, exact, or critical time; a window of time during which action is most effective. (Ex. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a dream speech was delivered at the right moment in history—in the heat of civil rights debates.)

Stasis

Literally, stasis is “a stand” or a “resting place” in an argument where opponents agree on what the issue is but disagree on what to do about it. The skilled rhetor is able to move the argument away from stasis. (Ex. Rhetor A asserts that abortion is murder. Rhetor B asserts that abortion is not murder. This is the point of stasis. The argument cannot rest here indefinitely. One of these rhetors must get the argument beyond the issue of murder.)