|Rhetorical Analysis Essay
CAS137H – Robin Kramer
In this 4-5 page essay you will perform a careful analysis of the rhetorical appeals of a single essay, speech, or advertisement (print or commercial) that you deem to be interesting and that has a persuasive aim. By “interesting,” I mean that the text in question should be genuinely sophisticated, as there is no point in analyzing the obvious.
The aim of the essay is to make an argument about how rhetoric is working in the piece to persuade its audience(s). All the texts in question depend on their “audience” – their participants – for effectiveness.
As you approach this assignment, you initially might want to ask yourself these questions:
Where (and when) did the essay, speech, or advertisement appear? How is this significant?
How do social or historical contexts inform the text’s meaning?
How does the piece target, respond to, and/or construct an audience?
Why is the piece arranged as it is?
How does the piece’s style make meaning?
Does the piece use logos to convince?
Does the piece incorporate pathos to influence?
How does ethos function in the piece?
Does the text make interesting references, suggestions, or connotations?
What ideologies does the piece seek to re-inscribe or create?
What are the distinct subtexts within the piece that make its persuasive argument float?
What arguments/assumptions does the piece present or draw upon in order to persuade us?
What sort of world does the essay, speech, or advertisement desire?
What is the key purpose of this piece?
In short, consider the piece from both textual and contextual angles, remembering, as Faigley and Selzer have stated, that rhetoric is both “inside” and “outside” of texts. Then, carefully sift through the questions above and shape them into a central claim (thesis) about the piece that you can support throughout the body of the essay.
Please note that the essay does not need to address every aspect of every question listed above, nor does it need to follow a traditional “three main point” structure. The essay ought to be thesis-driven, and if the whole essay focuses solely on one or two proofs, that is fine.
Consider quoting directly from the text under analysis (in the case of an essay), or using detailed language to describe the setting (in the case of a speech) or the images, text, colors, design, and layout (in the case of a print advertisement or commercial). This will enhance the specificity of your content. At the same time, avoid description-only prose by coupling this description with thoughtful analysis that examines not only what we’re seeing, but why and how these elements are working rhetorically to persuade.
To strengthen your content, avoid these overly generalized and obvious claims:
The advertisement/speech/essay did a great job…
Advertisements/speeches/essays have many components…
Advertisements try to persuade us…
Advertising is everywhere…
Life isn’t really like what the advertisement proclaims…
Advertisements are deceptive…
The advertisement/speech/essay catches your attention…
Engagement: Be interesting. Go beyond the obvious. Your essay should expand, challenge, or transform the audience’s understanding of the essay, speech, or advertisement under analysis.
Content: Make a strong claim (thesis) about the piece’s rhetorical appeals. The rest of the essay ought to support this thesis through the use of effective analytical sentences. Use concrete details and incorporate research where you can to support your claims. In light of this, don’t fall too deeply into mere description of the essay, speech, or advertisement itself. Rather, pair description with analysis. Incorporate rhetorical terms appropriately for precision and depth of analysis.
Mechanics: Edit and proofread to eliminate errors in grammar and mechanics.