Doing Rhetorical Criticism
Processes of rhetorical criticism involves four steps
Selecting an artefact
Analyzing the artefact
Formulating a research question
Writing the essay
Selecting an Artefact
Artefact can be thought of as a set of signs that are taken together as creating an interrelated set
Artefact should be interesting. Consider own experiences and influences
Make sure it is appropriate for the method you will be applying
Artefact is the data for the study
Symbol of interest that is capable of generate insight about rhetorical processes
Appropriate for method in two ways
Must contain kinds of data that are the focus of the units of analysis of the method.
Units of analysis focus attention on certain dimensions of an artefact and not others.
Scanning devices for picking up particular kinds of information
Should be something you like or dislike, puzzles or baffles, cannot be explained.
Analysing the Artefact
Each method of criticism has its own procedures for analysing an artefact
Apply units of analysis at this step
o Metaphor analysis: involved in coding artefact for metaphor
Engage in close and systematic analysis of the artefact and become thoroughly familiar with
dimension highlighted by method
Formulating a Research Question
What you want to find out about rhetoric by studying an artefact
o Contribution to rhetorical theory
To create a research question, create a question for which your analysis is the answer
Research questions are about four basic components of communication
o Rhetor. Some questions deal with relationships between rhetors and their rhetoric. Might
be concerned with motive or worldview of the rhetor. "How do cowboy references function
in the rhetoric of politicians?"
o Audience. Concerned with relationship between artefact and audience. The kind of
audience an artefact constructs as its preferred audience, how it functions to facilitate
certain values and beliefs in an audience. "What is the ideal audience constructed by and
for reality TV shows?
o Situation. Deal with relationship between artefact and the situation or context in which the
artefact is embedded. Impact of a situation on an artefact, rhetor's definition of a situation
in an artefact. " How do political leaders define exigencies following a national crisis?" o Message. Most questions deal with the message of the artefact. Specific features of the
artefact that enable it to function in particular ways. Kinds of arguments constructed, types
of metaphors used, key terms used, combination of rhetorical strategies and characteristics
that create a particular kind of artefact. "What are the features of an effective apology?"
1. Avoid broad and generic questions. "How does political rhetoric about war function?" ->
narrow the scope of the question. "What rhetorical strategies do political leaders use to
justify unpopular wars?"
2. Wording of question does not allow exploration and explanation of anything interesting,
yes/no questions. "Do political leaders justify unpopular wars?" -> begin question with
words and phrases like How? In what way? What rhetorical processes? What rhetorical
3. Do not include specific artefact in research question. Question should be larger than the
artefact you are analysing, though some methods are an exception. "How does the NRA
make its ideology palatable to resistant audiences?" -> How do organizations with strong
ideologies construct messages that appeal to normally resistant audiences?"
Writing The Essay
End result of the analysis
Five components: introduction that discusses the research question and its contribution to
rhetorical theory and significance, description of artefact and context, description of method of
analysis, report of the findings of an analysis, discussion of the contribution the analysis makes to
o Orient the reader to the topic, present clear statement of purpose
Identify the research question, usually stated as a thesis statement: "In this essay, I will
explore the functions of reality television shows for their audiences to try to discover the
appeal of such programs."
o Generate interest: suggest they will learn something important, provide information about
other studies that do not provide satisfactory answers.
Description of artefact
o Brief overview or summary of the artefact near the beginning of the essay
Film: when it was released, who directed it, plot summary, major characters,
significant technical features
o Provide context for the artefact within social, political, economic arrangements of which it
Harry Potter: tell about author, number of books in the series, amount of money
generated at box office for films, controversies generated among some religious
o Highlight aspects of the artefact that are most important to your analysis
o Justify why the artefact is appropriate to analyse in order to answer the research question.
Important in historical context, culturally significant, successful in generating money
Description of Method
o Identify method being used, who created it, define key concepts, briefly lay out basic tenets
Fantasy theme: description would include mention of creator (Ernest Bormann),
definition of basic terms (fantasy theme, rhetorical vision), brief explanation of
method's assumptions Report of the findings of the Analysis
o Bulk of the essay
Results of the analysis of the artefact; what you discover from an application of the method
of criticism to the artefact, provide support from data
o Use relevant literature to support ideas
Contribution to rhetorical theory
o Essay ends with discussion of contribution to rhetorical theory
o Contribution is answer to the research question
o Move away from specific artefact to answer question more generally and abstractly
o Contribution likely in one of two ways: identifying new concepts or identifying new
relationships among concepts. Concepts and relationships are two basic elements of
o Concepts are components, elements, or variables the theory is about. Statements of
relationships are explanations about how concepts are related to one another, identify
patterns in the relationship
Rhetorical theory concerning process of credibility: to be credible a rhetor must
demonstrate intelligence, moral character, good will toward the audience. Concepts
are intelligence, moral character and good will, theory posits that all three concepts
contribute to the audience's perspective that the rhetor is credible which is the
statement of relationship.
o Theory of the particular case: make a contribution without moving beyond particular
artefact. Suggests that the analysis of the artefact allows you to suggest a theory that
encompasses the case more fully than the alternatives
Standards of Evaluation for Critical Essays
Standards of evaluation are justification, reasonable inference and coherence
Standards rooted in two primary assumptions:
o Objective reality does not exist. Reality constituted through rhetoric
Critic can know an artefact only through personal interpretation of it. Impossible to be
objective, impartial or removed from the data because values and experiences are
reflected in how you see and write about an artefact.
o Argument made by a critic
o Must offer reasons in support of the claims you make
o Use ample quotations and descriptions
o Must show how you moved from data of the artefact to the claims you are making
o How claims made can be reasonably inferred from the data
Straight lines represent rigidity: visual lack of variation and deviation
o Order, arrange and present findings in a way that is congruent and consistent.
Findings do not contradict one another
o Findings should be equally concrete or abstract, equally specific or general.
The Critical Method
Examines artefacts critically
o Artefacts influence through meanings. Artefacts urge people to act and think in certain