By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Develop a rhetorical analysis through multiple drafts.
- Identify and analyze rhetorical strategies in a rhetorical analysis.
- Demonstrate flexible strategies for generating ideas, drafting, reviewing, collaborating, revising, rewriting, and editing.
- Give and act on productive feedback for works in progress.
Summary of Assignment: Rhetorical Analysis
The assignment is to write a rhetorical analysis of a piece of persuasive writing. It can be an editorial, a movie or book review, an essay, a chapter in a book, or a letter to the editor. For your rhetorical analysis, you will need to consider the rhetorical situation—subject, author, purpose, context, audience, and culture—and the strategies the author uses in creating the argument. Back up all your claims with evidence from the text. In preparing your analysis, consider these questions:
- What is the subject? Be sure to distinguish what the piece is about.
- Who is the writer, and what do you know about them? Be sure you know whether the writer is considered objective or has a particular agenda.
- Who are the readers? What do you know or what can you find out about them as the particular audience to be addressed at this moment?
- What is the purpose or aim of this work? What does the author hope to achieve?
- What are the time/space/place considerations and influences of the writer? What can you know about the writer and the full context in which they are writing?
- What specific techniques has the writer used to make their points? Are these techniques successful, unsuccessful, or questionable?
For this assignment, read the following opinion piece by Octavio Peterson, printed in his local newspaper. You may choose it as the text you will analyze, continuing the analysis on your own, or you may refer to it as a sample as you work on another text of your choosing. Your instructor may suggest presidential or other political speeches, which make good subjects for rhetorical analysis.
When you have read the piece by Peterson advocating for the need to continue teaching foreign languages in schools, reflect carefully on the impact the letter has had on you. You are not expected to agree or disagree with it. Instead, focus on the rhetoric—the way Peterson uses language to make his point and convince you of the validity of his argument.
Quick Launch: Start with a Thesis Statement
Complete the following sentence frames as you prepare to start:
- The subject of my rhetorical analysis is ________.
- My goal is to ________, not necessarily to ________.
- The writer’s main point is ________.
- I believe the writer has succeeded (or not) because ________.
- I believe the writer has succeeded in ________ (name the part or parts) but not in ________ (name the part or parts).
- The writer’s strongest (or weakest) point is ________, which they present by ________.
Drafting: Text Evidence and Analysis of Effect
The context of the situation in which Peterson finds himself may well be more complex than he discusses. In the same way, the context of the piece you choose to analyze may also be more complex. For example, perhaps Greendale is facing an economic crisis and must pare its budget for educational spending and public works. It’s also possible that elected officials have made budget cuts for education a part of their platform or that school buildings have been found obsolete for safety measures. On the other hand, maybe a foreign company will come to town only if more Spanish speakers can be found locally. These factors would play a part in a real situation, and rhetoric would reflect that. If applicable, consider such possibilities regarding the subject of your analysis. Here, however, these factors are unknown and thus do not enter into the analysis.
One effective way to begin a rhetorical analysis is by using an anecdote, as Eliana Evans has done. For a rhetorical analysis of the opinion piece, a writer might consider an anecdote about a person who was in a situation in which knowing another language was important or not important. If they begin with an anecdote, the next part of the introduction should contain the following information:
- Author’s name and position, or other qualification to establish ethos
- Title of work and genre
- Author’s thesis statement or stance taken (“Peterson argues that . . .”)
- Brief introductory explanation of how the author develops and supports the thesis or stance
- If relevant, a brief summary of context and culture
Once the context and situation for the analysis are clear, move directly to your thesis statement. In this case, your thesis statement will be your opinion of how successful the author has been in achieving the established goal through the use of rhetorical strategies. Read the sentences in Table 9.1, and decide which would make the best thesis statement. Explain your reasoning in the right-hand column of this or a similar chart.
|Sentence||Why or Why Not?|
|Only 50 percent of the students have said they want to study Spanish or any other language, so statistics show a lack of interest in spite of Octavio Peterson’s rhetorical claims.|
|A public vote should be taken to see how many residents support Octavio Peterson’s rhetoric and ideas on language and whether his divisive opinion can be considered as it stands.|
|Because Octavio Peterson’s ideas on foreign language teaching are definitely worthy of support, I will summarize his letter and show why he is correct.|
|This analysis of Peterson’s language shows how he uses rhetorical strategies to persuade readers to consider the future of language learning in the city’s schools.|
The introductory paragraph or paragraphs should serve to move the reader into the body of the analysis and signal what will follow.
Your next step is to start supporting your thesis statement—that is, how Octavio Peterson, or the writer of your choice, does or does not succeed in persuading readers. To accomplish this purpose, you need to look closely at the rhetorical strategies the writer uses.
First, list the rhetorical strategies you notice while reading the text, and note where they appear. Keep in mind that you do not need to include every strategy the text contains, only those essential ones that emphasize or support the central argument and those that may seem fallacious. You may add other strategies as well. The first example in Table 9.2 has been filled in.
|Rhetorical Device/Strategy||Paragraph(s) Location||Effect on Argument|
|Ethos, credibility||First, second, fourth||By referring to himself, his education, his job, and his community involvement as a parent and concerned resident and by saying he has researched the subject, the writer establishes credibility.|
|Speaking familiarly or “folksily”|
|Ad hominem (name-calling)|
When you have completed your list, consider how to structure your analysis. You will have to decide which of the writer’s statements are most effective. The strongest point would be a good place to begin; conversely, you could begin with the writer’s weakest point if that suits your purposes better. The most obvious organizational structure is one of the following:
- Go through the composition paragraph by paragraph and analyze its rhetorical content, focusing on the strategies that support the writer’s thesis statement.
- Address key rhetorical strategies individually, and show how the author has used them.
As you read the next few paragraphs, consult Table 9.3 for a visual plan of your rhetorical analysis. Your first body paragraph is the first of the analytical paragraphs. Here, too, you have options for organizing. You might begin by stating the writer’s strongest point. For example, you could emphasize that Peterson appeals to ethos by speaking personally to readers as fellow citizens and providing his credentials to establish credibility as someone trustworthy with their interests at heart.
Following this point, your next one can focus, for instance, on Peterson’s view that cutting foreign language instruction is a danger to the education of Greendale’s children. The points that follow support this argument, and you can track his rhetoric as he does so.
You may then use the second or third body paragraph, connected by a transition, to discuss Peterson’s appeal to logos. One possible transition might read, “To back up his assertion that omitting foreign languages is detrimental to education, Peterson provides examples and statistics.” Locate examples and quotes from the text as needed. You can discuss how, in citing these statistics, Peterson uses logos as a key rhetorical strategy.
In another paragraph, focus on other rhetorical elements, such as parallelism, repetition, and rhetorical questions. Moreover, be sure to indicate whether the writer acknowledges counterclaims and whether they are accepted or ultimately rejected.
The question of other factors at work in Greendale regarding finances, or similar factors in another setting, may be useful to mention here if they exist. As you continue, however, keep returning to your list of rhetorical strategies and explaining them. Even if some appear less important, they should be noted to show that you recognize how the writer is using language. You will likely have a minimum of four body paragraphs, but you may well have six or seven or even more, depending on the work you are analyzing.
In your final body paragraph, you might discuss the argument that Peterson, for example, has made by appealing to readers’ emotions. His calls for solidarity at the end of the letter provide a possible solution to his concern that the foreign language curriculum “might vanish like a puff of smoke.”
Use Table 9.3 to organize your rhetorical analysis. Be sure that each paragraph has a topic sentence and that you use transitions to flow smoothly from one idea to the next.
|Body paragraph 1||
Write a topic sentence explaining your first point of analysis. If you begin with what you think is the writer’s strongest point, state what it is and explain the rhetorical strategies used to support it. Provide appropriate quotations from the text.
Suggestion: Address ethos, pathos, and logos first. You may need more than one paragraph to cover them.
|Body paragraph 2||If needed, continue your discussion of ethos, pathos, and/or logos, explaining how they function in the text and providing examples. Once you have completed your discussion, move on to your next point, which will address one or more specific strategies used.|
|Body paragraph 3||Following a transition, write a topic sentence to address another point or points in the text. Discuss the strategies used, provide examples and quotations as appropriate, and show how they support (or don’t support) the writer’s thesis statement. Consider rhetorical strategies such as parallelism, repetition, rhetorical questions, and figurative language.|
|Body paragraphs 4–6 (or more if needed)||Continue as needed. In this paragraph, you might point out rhetorical fallacies, such as bandwagon, ad hominem, or any others you notice, if you have not yet done so. Indicate how they strengthen or weaken the writer’s position. If you have already addressed all the elements of your analysis, discuss the writer’s approach to counterclaims. You may need more than four body paragraphs for your rhetorical analysis.|
As you conclude your essay, your own logic in discussing the writer’s argument will make it clear whether you have found their claims convincing. Your opinion, as framed in your conclusion, may restate your thesis statement in different words, or you may choose to reveal your thesis at this point. The real function of the conclusion is to confirm your evaluation and show that you understand the use of the language and the effectiveness of the argument.
In your analysis, note that objections could be raised because Peterson, for example, speaks only for himself. You may speculate about whether the next edition of the newspaper will feature an opposing opinion piece from someone who disagrees. However, it is not necessary to provide answers to questions you raise here. Your conclusion should summarize briefly how the writer has made, or failed to make, a forceful argument that may require further debate.
For more guidance on writing a rhetorical analysis, visit the Illinois Writers Workshop website or watch this tutorial.
Peer Review: Guidelines toward Revision and the “Golden Rule”
Now that you have a working draft, your next step is to engage in peer review, an important part of the writing process. Often, others can identify things you have missed or can ask you to clarify statements that may be clear to you but not to others. For your peer review, follow these steps and make use of Table 9.4.
- Quickly skim through your peer’s rhetorical analysis draft once, and then ask yourself, What is the main point or argument of my peer’s work?
- Highlight, underline, or otherwise make note of statements or instances in the paper where you think your peer has made their main point.
- Look at the draft again, this time reading it closely.
- Ask yourself the following questions, and comment on the peer review sheet as shown.
Peer Review: Rhetorical Analysis
Name of Writer: ________ Name of Reviewer: ________
The Golden Rule
An important part of the peer review process is to keep in mind the familiar wisdom of the “Golden Rule”: treat others as you would have them treat you. This foundational approach to human relations extends to commenting on others’ work. Like your peers, you are in the same situation of needing opinion and guidance. Whatever you have written will seem satisfactory or better to you because you have written it and know what you mean to say.
However, your peers have the advantage of distance from the work you have written and can see it through their own eyes. Likewise, if you approach your peer’s work fairly and free of personal bias, you’re likely to be more constructive in finding parts of their writing that need revision. Most important, though, is to make suggestions tactfully and considerately, in the spirit of helping, not degrading someone’s work. You and your peers may be reluctant to share your work, but if everyone approaches the review process with these ideas in mind, everyone will benefit from the opportunity to provide and act on sincerely offered suggestions.
Revising: Staying Open to Feedback and Working with It
- Too much summarizing rather than analyzing
- Too much informal language or an unintentional mix of casual and formal language
- Too few, too many, or inappropriate transitions
- Illogical or unclear sequence of information
- Insufficient evidence to support main ideas effectively
- Too many generalities rather than specific facts, maybe from trying to do too much in too little time
In any case, revising a draft is a necessary step to produce a final work. Rarely will even a professional writer arrive at the best point in a single draft. In other words, it’s seldom a problem if your first draft needs refocusing. However, it may become a problem if you don’t address it. The best way to shape a wandering piece of writing is to return to it, reread it, slow it down, take it apart, and build it back up again. Approach first-draft writing for what it is: a warm-up or rehearsal for a final performance.
Suggestions for Revising
When revising, make sure the larger elements of the piece are as you want them to be before you revise individual sentences and make smaller changes. If you make small changes first, they might not fit well with the big picture later on.
One approach to big-picture revising is to check the organization as you move from paragraph to paragraph. You can list each paragraph and check that its content relates to the purpose and thesis statement. Each paragraph should have one main point and be self-contained in showing how the rhetorical devices used in the text strengthen (or fail to strengthen) the argument and the writer’s ability to persuade. Be sure your paragraphs flow logically from one to the other without distracting gaps or inconsistencies.