A rhetorical analysis asks you to explain how writers or speakers within specific social situations attempt to influence others through discourse (including written or spoken language, images, gestures, and so on). A rhetorical analysis is not a summary. It also does not ask you to agree or disagree with the author’s argument. Instead, the purpose of a rhetorical analysis is to make an argument about how an author conveys their message to a particular audience: you’re exploring the author’s goals, describing the techniques or tools used and providing examples of those techniques, and analyzing the effectiveness of those techniques.
To write a rhetorical analysis, you’ll first break down the rhetorical situation and analyze the author’s rhetorical strategies.
The rhetorical situation is the communicative context of a text, which includes:
Audience: The specific or intended audience of a text.
Author/speaker/writer: The person or group of people who composed the text.
Purpose: To inform, persuade, entertain; what the author wants the audience to believe, know, feel, or do.
Exigence: The text’s reason for being, such as an event, situation, or position within an ongoing debate that the writer is responding to.
Message: The content of the text, the key point(s) the author is communicating to the audience.
Medium and genre: The delivery method, which includes broadly and narrowly defined categories of communication such as:
- Alphabetic text (newspaper editorials, peer-reviewed academic articles, magazine feature essays),
- Images (advertisements, photographs),
- Sound (speeches, radio commercials, songs),
- Multimodal texts (YouTube videos, performances, graphic novels).
After breaking down the rhetorical situation, you need to analyze how the author uses rhetorical techniques to convey the message. As you analyze the text, consider:
- How effectively does the author use the ethos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? In other words, how does the author convince the audience of their credibility, authority, or trustworthiness? What qualifications do they have to address this topic? How does the author demonstrate shared values with the audience?
- How effectively does the author use the pathos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? In other words, how does the author evoke emotions of pity, sympathy, anger, courage, happiness, sorrow, etc. in the audience? How does the author establish a bond with the audience? What kinds of images, colors, words, sounds does the author use to evoke these feelings?
- How effectively does the author use the logos appeal to accomplish their intended purpose? What evidence and types of reasoning does the author use? How does the author arrange their ideas or order their main points? Does the author use repetition, inductive logic, or deductive logic? Does the author refer to precedents? Address alternative arguments or viewpoints?
Writing a Thesis for Your Rhetorical Analysis
After you’ve analyzed the rhetorical situation and rhetorical strategies, you’ll need to create a thesis for your rhetorical analysis. Often, the thesis statement will assess the author’s effectiveness in accomplishing their purpose with the intended audience through the use of rhetorical strategies.
You might adapt a template like this one: “In [text], [author] effectively convinces [audience] of [message] by [rhetorical strategies].”
Here’s an example: The webpage “Rhetorical Analysis,” written by the Writers Workshop, effectively informs students about how to write a rhetorical analysis by breaking down the elements of the rhetorical situation in an easy-to-read list, posing a series of questions about rhetorical strategies, and capitalizing on the Workshop’s ethos as the campus writing center.