English 103 Fall 2010 Essay 4 – Visual Analysis Purpose: Essay 4 is primarily informative and analytical

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English 103

Fall 2010

Essay 4 – Visual Analysis
Essay 4 is primarily informative and analytical--and may also be persuasive--rather than primarily expressive, reflective, or argumentative. In this essay, you will analyze a specific ad that you consider especially noteworthy. To do so, you will bring a critical eye to complex visual texts. You will need to be extremely sensitive to what is being presented/represented; you will need to be equally sensitive to what is not being presented/represented. This essay will invite you to interpret what you see, fill in contexts, and assume a stance toward the material you are interpreting.
The ad can be from any source--television, magazine, billboard, Internet, or some combination of these. Consider contexts and target consumers. Include print illustrations if possible. Do not assume your reader is familiar with your ad.


Spend a few hours reviewing ads from several different sources, such as newspapers, magazines, billboards, television, radio, and the Web (including pop-ups and YouTube). Choose two ads that you find provocative, and use the “Thinking Critically About Ideas and Images” in Quick Access Compact, pp. 68-83, to brainstorm ideas for responding to and interpreting the two ads. Review your prewriting and choose the ad that seems the most provocative and important to interpret, particularly in terms of how cultural expectations are fulfilled, inverted, violated, enlarged, or presumed. For example, are our cultural expectations about gender roles challenged when we see scantily clad-women fawning over a newly-bescented young man in an Axe commercial?

Audience Analysis:

Now that you have chosen an ad, in a two-page document, analyze the target audience for that ad. Keep the following questions in mind as you write about audience. What does the ad imply about its audience in terms of specific gender? race or ethnicity? education? class or income? religious affiliation? political orientation? Does the ad presume shared knowledge of contexts, such as fashions, fads, people, events, facts, or other ads? Does the ad invite its audience or viewer to identify with a specific character or situation? (For example, an ad may invite audience identification with a domestic female audience by portraying a housewife complaining that the floor “just won’t come clean.”) If so, how is this accomplished? What else do you know about the target audience? HINT: KEEP THIS DOCUMENT FOR POSSIBLE USE IN YOUR ELECTRONIC PORTFOLIO.


Review your prewriting about the ad and develop a specific arguable claim (thesis) about how the ad persuades its target audience by using or manipulating cultural expectations. In order to support your claim, identify three to five specific elements of the ad that best demonstrate how it uses or manipulates expectations or assumptions. Write an analysis asserting and supporting your claim. You should include direct evidence in the form of direct quotations, screenshots, photos, or scanned images, and your analysis should make direct reference to this evidence as you support your claims.


Your essay should be 5 pages and should observe conventions for printing a college essay (please use Times New Roman, 12-point font, double spaced, 1-11/4 inch margins). In addition, you should be careful to observe proper format for citations as indicated on p. 378 (MLA) or p. 421 (APA) in the Quick Access Compact.


Essay 4 will receive a letter grade that will count for 15% of your final course grade. The successful essay will be carefully crafted in support of its analytical claim, and will draw meaningful conclusions about the uses of cultural expectations and strategies for persuading the ad’s target audience. Essays that fail to make and support clear claims, that have haphazard organization, or that are poorly developed will receive lower grades, as will essays with surface errors so numerous that they interfere significantly with communication.

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