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A Quick Guide to Rhetorical Analyses

Eric I., former Writing Center tutor

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

If you have been asked to do a rhetorical analysis of a text, you have been asked to critically examine the text and uncover the inner-workings of the rhetorics at work in the text. Your goal is to understand the purpose the author(s) had in writing the text and what kind of effect the author(s) wanted to produce in the readers. But beyond simply identifying the intended goals and effects of a text, you need to understand how those goals and effects are achieved. The three most basic concepts of a rhetorical analysis are ethos, pathos, and logos. These Ancient Greek concepts were introduced by Aristotle as the three means of persuasion. While these are considered the main forms of rhetoric, they are not the only forms of rhetoric but are a good place to start from.

Ethos: The author’s credibility; the author’s authority. Ethos relates to the character of the author and what makes the author a reputable source about a given subject. Go to an example of an ethos-based site, and an explanation of what it is (from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).

Pathos: The emotions of the reader. Pathos relates to the way authors appeal to their readers’ emotions.

Logos: The logical appeal that an author makes. Logos refers to the use of logical reasoning in creating an argument, whether through the use of statistical information or logical claims that bear on the validity of the argument itself.

Writing the Rhetorical Analysis

In general, the introduction of a rhetorical analysis will include a summary or description of the text as well as any necessary context that your reader will need to understand your rhetorical analysis. Such context may include biographical information about the author(s), for example.
When writing a rhetorical analysis, there are a few ways to approach the text. Here are two examples of how you can approach a rhetorical analysis—there are many other approaches but these might be helpful to start with:

  • Summarize the main argument.
  • Break the argument down into smaller pieces.
  • Identify each major point/detail that builds up to the main thesis/argument.

or

  • Identify thesis/main argument
  • Identify theme of main argument
  • Find sections that match the theme of the main argument

In either approach above, you will be analyzing the way that the author constructed the main argument and any supporting details. You can then identify each use of ethos, pathos, and logos and any other rhetorical devices (otherwise known as tropes).

Your writing style in a rhetorical analysis should be highly academic and precise. The strength of a rhetorical analysis relies on the way you write the analysis. You should use a formal tone—your reader should get the impression that you know what you are talking about.  Your analysis should follow a logical organization that will be easy to follow for your reader. Discuss the text in a logical order—if you are breaking the text down into smaller parts, discuss them in order. In this case, you would start small and build up to the larger thesis. If you are starting with the big picture first, find common themes or threads throughout the text and discuss them together.

Some guiding questions when writing a rhetorical analysis

  • What is the main argument (or arguments) in the text?
  • What kind of organizational structure does the author use? Is the main argument stated early on? In the middle? At the end? What does this tell you about the rest of the text?
  • Who is the intended or perceived audience?
  • How does the writing style in the text make the piece more appealing to the intended or perceived audience?
  • Does the author establish herself as an expert on the subject of the text? If so, how?

Additional resources

  • Ethos, Pathos, and Logos from Durham Technical Community College. Gives multiple examples and definitions of ethos, pathos, and logos and contains links to other related resources.
  • Writing a Rhetorical Analysis from the University of British Columbia Writing Centre. Contains guides for critical reading, critical writing, a sample text, and a rhetorical analysis of the sample.
  • Basic Questions for Rhetorical Analysis from Silva Rhetoricae. Contains guiding questions that help in conducting a rhetorical analysis of a text.

View a list of tutors who specialize in writing in rhetoric

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