III. Rhetorical Situation

3.3 What is Rhetorical Analysis?

A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing

Rhetoric: The art of persuasion

Analysis: Breaking down the whole into pieces for the purpose of examination

Unlike summary, a rhetorical analysis does not simply require a restatement of ideas; instead, you must recognize rhetorical moves that an author is making in an attempt to persuade their audience to do or to think something. In the 21st century’s abundance of information, it can sometimes be difficult to discern what is a rhetorical strategy and what is simple manipulation. However, an understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical moves will help you become more savvy with the information surrounding you on a day-to-day basis. In other words, rhetorical moves can be a form of manipulation, but if you can recognize those moves, then you can be a more critical consumer of information rather than blindly accepting whatever you read, see, hear, etc. as indisputable truth.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain what is happening in the text, why the author might have chosen to use a particular move or set of rhetorical moves, and how those choices might affect the audience. The text you analyze might be explanatory, although there will be aspects of argument because you must negotiate with what the author is trying to do and what you think the author is doing.

One of the elements of doing a rhetorical analysis is looking at a text’s rhetorical situation. The rhetorical situation is the context out of which a text is created. Another element of rhetorical analysis is simply reading and summarizing the text. You have to be able to describe the basics of the author’s thesis and main points before you can begin to analyze it.

To do rhetorical analysis, first connect the rhetorical situation to the text. Move beyond simply summarizing and instead look at how the author shapes their text based on its context. In developing your reading and analytical skills, allow yourself to think about what you’re reading, to question the text and your responses to it as you read. Consider using the following questions to help you to take the text apart—dissecting it or unpacking to see how it works:

  • Does the author successfully support the thesis or claim? Is the point held consistently throughout the text or does it wander at any point?
  • Is the evidence the author used effective for the intended audience? How might the intended audience respond to the types of evidence that the author used to support the thesis/claim?
  • What rhetorical moves do you see the author making to help achieve their purpose? Are there word choices or content choices that seem to you to be clearly related to the author ’s agenda for the text?
  • Describe the tone in the piece. Is it friendly? Authoritative? Does it lecture? Is it biting or sarcastic? Does the author use simple language or is it full of jargon? Does the language feel positive or negative? Point to aspects of the text that create the tone; spend some time examining these and considering how and why they work.
  • Is the author objective, or do they try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint? If the author is biased, does this interfere with the way you read and understand the text?
  • Do you feel like the author knows who you are? Does the text seem to be aimed at readers like you or at a different audience? What assumptions does the author make about their audience? Would most people find these reasonable, acceptable, or accurate?
  • Does the flow of the text make sense? Is the line of reasoning logical? Are there any gaps? Are there any spots where you feel the reasoning is flawed in some way?
  • Does the author try to appeal to your emotions? Does the author use any controversial words in the headline or the article? Do these affect your reading or your interest?
  • Do you believe the author? Do you accept their thoughts and ideas? Why or why not?

Once you have done this basic, rhetorical, critical reading of your text, you are ready to think about how the rhetorical situation – the context out of which the text arises – influences certain rhetorical appeals that appear in it.

Practice Activity

This section contains material from:

“What is Rhetorical Analysis?” In A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing, by Melanie Gagich and Emilie Zickel. Cleveland: MSL Academic Endeavors. Accessed July 2019. https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/csu-fyw-rhetoric/chapter/what-is-rhetorical-analysis/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

OER credited in the text above includes:

Burnell, Carol, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear. The Word on College Reading and Writing. Open Oregon Educational Resources. Accessed December 18, 2020. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/wrd/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.



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