Rhetorical Analysis

“Rhetorical Analysis” Summary (EC, Chapter 12, p. 257-90)

What is rhetorical analysis?

  • A close reading of a text (image, video, song, tweet, etc.) to determine how it functions. 
  • To determine the reason for reception or popularity of a text or argument. 
  • To better understand its impact on society, deeper implications, what it lacks, whom it excludes
  • Dig deeply into the context, particularly when the argument is puzzling, troubling, or unusually successful.
  • Ask questions of your text: Why?! Ask questions of your response/response of others: Why?


  • Appeals to Character
  • Readers believe writers who seem honest, wise, and trustworthy—is there evidence of these traits in the writer of the text you are rhetorically analyzing?
  • Does the writer have the authority or experience to write on the subject?
  • Is evidence presented in full and not tailored to the writer’s agenda?
  • Are important objections to the writer’s position acknowledged and addressed? Sources documented?
  • Mostly, does the author sound trustworthy? How can you tell?
  • Pay attention to the writer’s choice of words—you’ll have to interpret them 


  • Appeals to Logic
  • Does it make a plausible claim and offer good reasons for you to believe it? 
  • Relies on facts, reliable evidence, and appeals to your reasonable side
  • You’ll need to assess the reliability of the writer’s sources and data use


  • Appeals to Emotion
  • In a rhetorical analysis, your task is to study an author’s words, the emotions they evoke, and the claims they support
  • Does the emotion raise: anger, sympathy, fear, envy, joy, love, lust, pride?
  • Does the writer use evocative language to convince you, distract you, confuse you?
  • Combining elements from all of these, you are asking: What strategies does the text employ to move your heart, win your trust, change your mind, or why it fails to do so?

Composing a Rhetorical Analysis: Questions

  • What is the purpose of this argument? What does it hope to achieve?
  • Who is the audience for this argument? Who is ignored or excluded?
  • What appeals or techniques does the argument use—emotional, logical, ethical? Explain.
  • What type of argument is it, and how does the genre affect the argument? (You might challenge the lack of evidence in editorials, but you wouldn’t make the same complaint about bumper stickers.)
  • Who is making the argument? What ethos does it create, and how does it do so? What values does the ethos evoke? How does it make the writer or creator seem trustworthy?
  • What authorities does the argument rely on or appeal to?
  • What facts, reasoning, and evidence are used in the argument? How are they presented?
  • What claims does the argument make? What issues are raised—or ignored or evaded?
  • What are the contexts—social, political, historical, cultural—for this argument? Whose interests does it serve? Who gains or loses by it?
  • How is the argument organized or arranged? What media does the argument use and how affectively?
  • How does the language or style of the argument persuade an audience?

Show how the key devices in an argument actually make it succeed or fail.

  • Quote freely from a written piece (and paraphrase)
  • Describe the elements in any visuals 
  • Make it clear where the argument makes sense 
  • Make it clear where the argument could use work or is faulty
  • Provide evidence to demonstrate when an argument startles, challenges, insults, or lulls audiences
  • Understand the purpose of the argument, the author, and the audience

What else can you look at when performing rhetorical analysis?

  • Style:
  • What strategies does the writer use to connect with the audience, stylistically?
  • Style early in the draft tells the reader something about you—sets a tone.
  • Manipulating style enables you to shape readers’ responses to ideas
  • Style devices: repetition, parallelism, paragraph length, sentence length, humor, irony

Youtube videos to rhetorically analyze for practice: 

Copyright, 2022, Lamanda Beesley Conrad

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