ENGL 112 Study Guide - Nuclear Arms Race, Christian Culture, Cuban Missile Crisis
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Writing a Rhetorical Analysis
Professors often ask their students to write a rhetorical analysis or a critical response to a text
that is important to the content of the course. The purpose of this module is to teach students
how to write an effective rhetorical analysis. This module defines the terms rhetoric and
rhetorical analysis. It provides a template for a rhetorical analysis/critical response and model
analyses for a text-book chapter, an article from an academic journal, and a public lecture or
presentation, because these are common writing assignments in many college and university
courses. This module also discusses and explains one type of a response to a text of special
interest to students: how professors evaluate student writing.
Rhetoric is the art of using language to fulfill a purpose for a particular audience. In its
simplest form, rhetoric is your email to or your conversation with your smart friend:
Please, Jay, can you help me study chem tonight? I really need to get a good grade in this
course! Love you!
Embedded in these words is a clear purpose directed towards a specific audience. It makes an
emotional appeal, which helps fulfill its purpose and which is, again, appropriate for its reader.
If the audience changed, so too would the tone, style, and content of the text ; and the emotional
appeal might disappear completely.
May I come by your office some time this week, at your convenience, to get some advice
on how I might best prepare for the Chemistry 209 mid-term exam on the 15th? I want to
do well in your course.
Thank you, Alice Dodgson.
A rhetorical analysis is a response to and a discussion, commentary , and assessment of the
effectiveness, or lack thereof, of a written or a spoken text. Also known as a critical response, a
rhetorical analysis is the act of applying the principles of critical thinking to a text. A rhetorical
analysis usually focuses on the question implicit in our definition of rhetoric:
Does this text have a clear purpose, expressed in language appropriate for its audience?
A rhetorical analysis of that email to your smart friend would praise its succinct statement of
purpose; its polite, if somewhat urgent and emotional tone; and its appropriately informal style,
directed as it is to a friend. A rhetorical analysis of the email to the professor would do the same,
noting that the style is appropriately, polite, formal, and composed, respecting, again, the reader
to whom it is directed.
A rhetorical analysis is not a summary (see Essentials of Academic Writing, page xx) or a
paraphrase (see Essentials of Academic Writing, page xx) though implicit in the analysis there
would certainly be a summary/paraphrase of the text. A rhetorical analysis is more: a
constructively critical assessment of the extent to which a text is effective in communicating its
The rhetorical analysis is a common, indeed a ubiquitous academic writing assignment.
Professors often ask their students to read, analyze, respond to, review a chapter from the course
text book or an article in an academic journal or a public lecture.
A Template for a Rhetorical Analysis
A rhetorical analysis will assess, evaluate, discuss, comment on the effectiveness of a text in
establishing a purpose and communicating that purpose to its target audience. What makes
communication—rhetoric—effective? What makes writing and/or speaking good? If we
brainstormed answers to these questions, our list would include:
A clear purpose
Good research sources
A clear thesis
Clear and effective projection
If we then tried to organize our list into a clearer system of main headings and sub-headings,
we would establish the four key principles of effective rhetoric:
Effective Rhetoric Is Informative
Valid, perhaps original ideas
Effective Rhetoric Has Substance
One or any combination of examples, details, definitions, anecdotes, comparisons,
contrasts, causes, effects, develop each paragraph’s topic sentence sufficiently
Effective Rhetoric is Clear
Good organizational structure
Uses cohesive ties/ transitional words/phrases between and among sentences and
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are standard
Effective Rhetoric Has Style
Rhythm and flow in sentence structure
Diction/vocabulary appropriate for target audience
Figurative language used, if and when appropriate
A good rhetorical analysis will assess the extent to which the speaker or writer has composed
and presented a text that meets these four criteria. It would be begin by providing the context of
the text (author, title, place of publication) and by reiterating the text’s main idea or thesis. In its
body, it would comment on each of the four criteria, perhaps in four discrete paragraphs. In its
conclusion, it would summarize the body and present a cumulative and a summative assessment
of the text’s effectiveness. Our rhetorical analysis template, then, would look like this:
Title: A Rhetorical Analysis of XXXX
Context and thesis
An assessment of the quality, efficacy, intelligence of ideas, insights, information presented in
the text. Do we learn something important by reading or listening to this text?
An assessment of the extent to which ideas are developed, using examples, details, anecdotes,
comparisons, contrasts, causes, effects; extent to which information is supported, where
necessary, by research. Does the author/speaker provide us with enough information?
An assessment of the extent to which text is well-organized, is cohesive, uses transitions
effectively between and among sentences and paragraphs, uses proper grammar, spelling,
punctuation. Is it easy enough to understand what the speaker/writer is saying?
An assessment of the extent to which sentence structure, diction, figurative language, rhythm,
flow (style) are appropriate for the audience for whom the text was composed. Is the text
readable—does it sustain our attention?
Professors often ask their students to write a rhetorical analysis or a critical response to a text that is important to the content of the course. The purpose of this module is to teach students how to write an effective rhetorical analysis. This module defines the terms rhetoric and rhetorical analysis. This module also discusses and explains one type of a response to a text of special interest to students: how professors evaluate student writing. Rhetoric is the art of using language to fulfill a purpose for a particular audience. In its simplest form, rhetoric is your email to or your conversation with your smart friend: I really need to get a good grade in this course! Embedded in these words is a clear purpose directed towards a specific audience. It makes an emotional appeal, which helps fulfill its purpose and which is, again, appropriate for its reader.