Ap language Rhetorical Analysis Essay cbapelc c1—

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AP Language

Rhetorical Analysis Essay

CBAPELC C1—The course teaches and requires students to write in several forms (e.g., narrative, expository, analytical, and argumentative essays) about a variety of subjects (e.g., public policies, popular culture, personal experiences).
Rankin, Estelle and Barbara Murphy. 5 Steps to a 5: AP English Language 2010-2011. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010.

What Is the Purpose of the Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

The College Board wants to determine your facility with reading, understanding, and analyzing challenging texts. They also want to assess how well you manipulate language to communicate your written analysis of a specific topic to a mature audience. The level of your writing should be a direct reflection of your critical thinking.

AP is looking for connections between analysis and the passage. For example, when you find an image, identify and connect it to the prompt. Don’t just list items as you locate them.
Types of Rhetorical Analysis Essay Prompts

Let's look at a few of the TYPES of questions that have been asked on the AP English Language and Composition exam in the past.

  • Analyze an author's view on a specific subject.

  • Analyze rhetorical devices used by an author to achieve his or her purpose.

  • Analyze stylistic elements in a passage and their effects.

  • Analyze the author's tone and how the author conveys this tone.

  • Compare and/or contrast two passages with regard to style, purpose, or tone.

  • Analyze the author's purpose and how he or she achieves it.

  • Analyze some of the ways an author re-creates a real or imagined experience.

  • Analyze how an author presents him- or herself in the passage.

  • Discuss the intended and/or probable effect of a passage.

It's good to remember that the tasks demanded of you by the question remain constant.

What changes is the source material on which you base your response to the question. Therefore, your familiarity with the terms and processes related to the types of questions is crucial.

Don’t be thrown by the complexity of the passage. You choose the references you want to incorporate into your essay. So even if you haven’t understood everything, you can write an intelligent essay—AS LONG AS YOU ADDRESS THE PROMPT and refer to the parts of the passage you do understand.

Watch for overconfidence when you see what you believe to be an easy question with an easy passage. You are going to have to work harder to find the nuances in the text that will allow you to write a mature essay.

Timing and Planning the Rhetorical Analysis Essay

1-3 minutes reading and working the prompt.

5 minutes reading and making marginal notes regarding the passage. - Try to isolate two references that strike you. This may give you your opening and closing.

10 minutes preparing to write. (Choose one or two of these methods with which you're comfortable.) Highlighting - Marginal mapping - Charts or key word/one word/line number outlining

20 minutes writing your essay, based on your preparation.

3 minutes proofreading.

In the margin, note what time you should be finished with this essay. For example, the test starts at 1:00. You write 1:40 in the margin.

You should plan to spend 1-3 minutes carefully reading the question. This gives you time to really digest what the question is asking you to do.

Highlight, circle, or underline the essential terms and elements in the prompt.
The following paragraphs are from the opening of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. After carefully reading the excerpt, write a well-organized essay in which you char­acterize Capote's view of Holcomb, Kansas, and analyze how Capote conveys this view. Your analysis may consider such stylistic elements as diction, imagery, syntax, structure, tone, and selection of detail.

Note: When the question reads “such as,” you are not required to use only those ideas pre­sented; you are free to use your own selection of techniques, strategies, and devices. Notice the prompt requires more than one element. You MUST use more than one. Sorry, one will not be enough. No matter how well-presented, your essay will be incomplete.

Sometimes the incidental data given in the prompt, such as the title of the work, the author, the date of publication, the genre, etc., can prove helpful.

Depending on your style and comfort level, choose one of these approaches to your close reading.

  • Read quickly to get the gist of the passage.

  • Reread, using a marginal notes approach.


  • Read slowly, using marginal notes.

  • Reread to confirm that you have caught the full impact of the passage.

Note: In both approaches, you MUST highlight and make marginal notes. There is no way to avoid this. Ignore what you don't immediately understand. It may become clear to you after reading the passage. Concentrate on those parts of the passage that apply to what you highlighted in the prompt.

You have to choose what to use and which specifics to include for support. Don't be rattled if there is leftover materia1.

After you have marked your passage, review the prompt. Now, choose the elements you are able to identify and analyze those that support Capote's view. To demonstrate, we have chosen structure, tone, and selection of detail.
Now, it's time to write. Your opening statement is the one that catches the eye of the reader and sets the expectation and tone of your essay. Spend time on your first paragraph to maximize your score. A suggested approach is to relate a direct reference from the pas­sage to the topic. Make certain that the topic is very clear to the reader. This reinforces the idea that you fully understand what is expected of you and what you will communicate to the reader. As always, identify both the text and its author in this first paragraph.

  • Include the author and title.

  • Address the prompt.

  • Specifically mention the elements you will refer to in your essay.

Here are four sample opening paragraphs that address each of the above criteria:


In the opening of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote presents a picture of the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Through structure, selection of detail, and a detached tone, he makes it clear that he views Holcomb as dull and ordinary.


Holcomb, Kansas. Holcomb, Kansas. Even the sound of the place is boring and uninteresting. Moreover, Truman Capote seems to agree with this in his opening to In Cold Blood. I, too, would be inclined to pass by this sleepy, bland, and undistinguished hamlet. This view is developed through the author's tone, structure, and selection of detail.


"Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Sante Fe tracks, drama in the shape of exceptional happenings had never stopped here." This is the town of Holcomb, Kansas. Using a reportorial tone, specific structure, and selection of detail, Capote introduces the reader to this unremark­able town in the opening of In Cold Blood.


In Cold Blood is a very appropriate title, because Capote presents a cold and unemo­tional view of Holcomb, Kansas. His tone, structure, and selection of detail create a dis­tant and detached picture of this desolate farm community.

Each of these opening paragraphs is an acceptable beginning to this AP English Language and Composition exam essay. Look at what each of the paragraphs has in common.

  • Each has identified the title and author.

  • Each has stated which stylistic elements will be used.

  • Each has stated the purpose of analyzing these elements.

However, observe what is different about the opening paragraphs.

  • Sample A restates the question without elaborating. It is to the point and correct, but it does not really pique the reader's interest. (Use this type of opening if you feel unsure or uncomfortable with the prompt.)

  • Sample B reflects a writer who really has a voice. He or she has already determined Capote's view and indicates that he or she understands how this view is created.

  • Sample C immediately places the reader into the passage by referring specifically to it.

  • Sample D reveals a mature, confident writer who is unafraid to make his or her own voice heard.

Note: There are many other types of opening paragraphs that could also do the job.
Obviously, this is where you present your analysis and the points you want to make that are related to the prompt.

  • Adhere to the question.

  • Use specific references and details from the passage. Don't always paraphrase the original. Refer directly to it. Place quotation marks around those words/phrases you extract from the passage.

  • Use “connective tissue” in your essay to establish adherence to the question. Use the repetition of key ideas in the prompt and in your opening paragraph. Try using “echo words” (that is, synonyms: town/village/hamlet; bland/ordinary/undistinguished). Use transitions between paragraphs.

We urge you to spend more time developing the body paragraphs rather than worrying about a concluding paragraph. If you want to make a final statement, try to link your ideas to a particularly effective line or image from the passage. A conclusion does not have to be a paragraph. It can be the writer’s final remark/observation in a sentence or two.


  1. Work the Prompt: Highlight the essential terms and elements of the prompt. (3 minutes)

Carefully read the following excerpt from Louisa May Alcott’s nonfiction narrative Hospital Sketches (1863). In a carefully constructed essay, identify the author’s intended effect on the reader and the ways in which the author re-creates her experience in a U.S. Army hospital during the Civil War. Consider such elements as pacing, diction, imagery, selection of detail, and tone.

  1. Compare your highlighting to the group.

  1. Work the Material: Annotate the passage by making marginal notes that refer back to the prompt. (5 minutes)

"Death of a Soldier"











s I went on my hospital rounds with Dr. P., I happened to ask which man in the room suffered most. He glanced at John. "Every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the left lung and broke a rib. The poor lad must lie on his wounded back or suffocate."

"You don't mean he must die, doctor?"

"There's not the slightest hope for him."

I could have sat down on the spot and cried heartily, if I had not learned the wisdom of bottling up one's tears for leisure moments. The army needed men like John, earnest, brave, and faithful; fighting for liberty and justice with both heart and hand.

John sat with bent head, hands folded on his knee, and no outward sign of suffering, till, looking nearer, I saw great tears roll down and drop upon the floor. It was a new sight there; for, though I had seen many suffer, some swore, some groaned, most endured silently, but none wept. Yet it did not seem weak, only very touching, and straightway my fear vanished, my heart opened wide and took him in. Gathering the bent head in my arms, as freely as if he had been a little child, I said, "Let me help you bear it, John."

Never, on any human countenance, have I seen so swift and beautiful a look of gratitude, surprise and comfort. He whispered, "Thank you, m'am, this is right good! I didn't like to be a trouble; you seemed so busy ... "

I bathed his face, brushed his bonny brown hair, set all things smooth about him.

While doing this, he watched me with the satisfied expression I so liked to see. He spoke so hopefully when there was no hope. "This is my first battle; do they think it's going to be my last?"

It was the hardest question I had ever been called upon to answer; doubly hard with those clear eyes fixed upon mine. ''I'm afraid they do, John."

He seemed a little startled at first, pondered over the fateful fact a moment, then shook his head. "I'm afraid, but it's difficult to believe all at once. I'm so strong it don't seem possible for such a little wound to kill me." And then he said, ''I'm a little sorry I wasn't wounded in front; it looks cowardly to be hit in the back, but I obeyed orders."

John was dying. Even while he spoke, over his face I saw a gray veil falling that no human hand can lift. I sat down by him, wiped drops from his forehead, stirred the air about him with a slow wave of a fan, and waited to help him die. For hours he suffered dumbly, without a moment's murmuring: his limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white, and again and again he tore the covering off his breast, as if the lightest weight added to his agony.





ne by one, the other men woke, and round the room appeared a circle of pale faces and watchful eyes, full of awe and pity; for, though a stranger, John was beloved by all. "Old boy, how are you?" faltered one. "Can I say or do anything for you anywheres?" whispered another.

"Take my things home, and tell them that I did my best."

He died then; though the heavy breaths still tore their way up for a little longer, short they were but the waves of an ebbing tide that beat unfelt against the wreck. He never spoke again, but to the end held my hand close, so close that when he was asleep at last, I could not draw it away. Dan, another patient, helped me, warning me as he did so that it was unsafe for dead and living flesh to lie so long together. But though my hand was strangely cold and stiff, and four white marks remained across its back, even when warmth and color had returned elsewhere, I could not but be glad that, through its touch, the presence of human sympathy, perhaps had lightened that hard hour.

When they had made him ready for the grave, I stood looking at him. The lovely expression which so often beautifies dead faces soon replaced marks of pain. The ward master handed me a letter, saying it had come the night before but was forgot. It was John's letter, come just an hour too late to gladden the eyes that had longed for it so eagerly.

After I had cut some brown locks for his mother, and taken off the ring to send her, I kissed this good son for her sake, and laid the letter in his hand. Then I left him, glad to have known so genuine a man, and carrying with me an enduring memory of a brave Virginia blacksmith, as he lay serenely waiting for the dawn of that long day which knows no night.

  1. Compare your annotation to the group.

  1. Write the opening paragraph. (5 minutes)

    1. Cite author and title

    2. Identify author’s intended effect on the reader.

    3. Specifically mention the strategies and devices you will consider.

  1. Compare your opening to the group.

  1. Write the body paragraphs. (5 minute prep and 20 minute writing)

    1. Present your analysis and prompt-related points.

    2. Adhere to the question.

    3. Use specific references and details from the passage.

    4. Use connective tissue—repetition, echo words, and transitions—to establish coherence.

  1. Compare your body to the group.

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