When engaging in critical writing, the ability to analyze rhetoric is essential. At its root, rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and identifying and understanding rhetorical devices used in texts can help you engage critically with and respond to the arguments presented.
A rhetorical analysis can be helpful in a variety of ways. It can help explain the impact of persuasion in different contexts, analyze the structure of various arguments, and evaluate an argument’s effectiveness.
Rhetorical analysis can also provide insights into writers and speakers' methods to persuade their audiences and how those audiences respond to persuasive messages. Plus, by analyzing the effectiveness of other texts, you can apply those same lessons to improve the effectiveness of your writing.
We will discuss the components of rhetorical analysis along with keywords and concepts to keep in mind.
We will also provide instructions and tips on how to write a rhetorical analysis and examples to help you become an expert by the end of this post. And though we’ll focus this post on analyzing works of fiction, these same concepts can be used to analyze any type of written—or even spoken—text.
When we break down these words, we get the following:
Rhetoric: the art of persuasion
Analysis: examining something to understand the parts of the whole better
So, a rhetorical analysis is a type of essay that breaks down and examines a written work to understand what the author wanted to persuade the audience to feel/believe/do and identifies the techniques and structure the author used to convey the message.
Scribbr tells us that rhetorical analysis focuses not only on the use of appeals and other devices used to achieve the author’s goals but also on how effectively those goals were presented and how the work affects the audience. The thoughtful analysis will reveal the audience is as vital in this communication as the author.
We will go through several keywords and concepts you will find when working to craft your rhetorical analysis.
The “situation” of analyzing rhetoric involves considering the context surrounding both the writing and the reading and how that context impacts the presentation and interpretation of the subject.
To help consider context fully, you’ll often see the acronym SOAPS provided as a handy outline for creating a rhetorical analysis. This will help the essayist remember to consider the elements of speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, and subject, so let’s look at those elements now.
The speaker is the “voice” of the piece, the author or narrator who tells the story. It’s essential to identify who’s speaking so that you can better interpret what they’re trying to say.
The occasion refers to when and where the text takes place. In fiction, this could include what period and geography the characters inhabit.
But, in addition to the micro considerations of the occasion within the piece, there is also a macro consideration. For instance, don’t think only about the story setting, but where was it written, and when?
Is that important to the story that was told? Ask yourself what first prompted the author to write the piece–world events or something happening in their personal life, perhaps.
All of this helps inform the occasion.
The audience refers to whom the author is speaking in their text. You could tell the same basic story of events to both grade schoolers and young adults, but you would present the story very differently.
The purpose refers to the author’s reasoning or intention in writing. What does the author want you to do, think, or feel?
What is the piece about? Is there a deeper meaning layered beneath the obvious plot or topic?
The SOAPS acronym can make remembering the key components of a rhetorical situation easier and serves as an excellent guideline when first learning to draft rhetorical analyses. Still, you may also come across other closely related terms and considerations.
The medium refers to how the audience consumes the material. In this post, we are focusing on how to write a rhetorical analysis for fiction novels. However, the same process could be used to analyze work created in any medium, such as a magazine, advertisement, website, infographic, movie, etc.
Part of analyzing a text is recognizing the structure of how the author makes their arguments. This can include identifying the claim, support, and warrant being used. Scribbr provides the following meanings:
Very simply, this is what the author wants the audience to believe.
This is the appeal, the author's evidence to convince the audience to believe in the claim.
A general assumption is linking the support with the claim. This is often unspoken (or unwritten), but it underlies the foundation of the author’s evidence.
Remember that rhetoric is all about using language to persuade. Scholars as far back as Aristotle have taught writers and speakers the importance of using three different appeals to move their audiences. These appeals—ethos, pathos, and logos—are considered the rhetorical triangle.
Greek for the character, ethos persuades by building credibility, relying on the good character and trustworthiness of the speaker.
This is Greek for suffering or experience, and pathos appeals to the audience’s emotion, often by using examples common to many, thereby raising empathy in readers.
Logos is Greek for word and focuses on appealing to the reader’s intelligence. Well-reasoned arguments and lots of supporting data are hallmarks of this type of appeal.
For further details, the University of Louisville’s Writing Center has an informative PDF outlining these concepts.
Before writing your rhetorical analysis, you must be intimately familiar with the text you’re analyzing.
Once you have found the text, read it over several times to clearly understand what is being said. Think about any questions you had over scenes and characters.
You can also take notes while reading to review and remember details easily to make things easier. Do any additional research needed to help you with your evidence.
What does the author want the reader to believe, and what appeals are they using to persuade? Look for evidence of logos, pathos, and ethos. These are great starting points to help you dive deeper into the material and start reflecting on areas you would like to discuss in your paper.
Now that you’ve examined the appeals, it’s time to analyze how the writer uses them. This will help you understand how confident choices can help better persuade the audience.
Think about the style choices or details the author includes in their work. Which key moments would you use to support your arguments later on?
Analyze and reflect on the material you consumed when you gathered information. If you also take time to write notes, the analysis can be a more straightforward process as you review themes, questions, or a direction you want to focus on with your rhetorical analysis. But remember, your analysis is not to say whether you agree or disagree with the author’s position on the topic, but only how effectively they presented their arguments.
Start reflecting on questions that will help you answer and think about scenarios. Silva Rhetoricae offers an impressive list of questions to get you started in the right direction. A few basics are:
After the preparation, it’s time to write. While a rhetorical analysis may be a particular kind of essay, it still follows the same basic process as every other essay/paper you’ve likely written: tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it, and tell them what you said.
You only get one chance to make an excellent first impression, right? Like choosing the perfect outfit for the first day of school or first date, the introduction is your essay’s first impression, and you’ll want to start with a solid hook to keep people reading. Then you’ll end your introductory paragraph with a thesis statement—a single sentence that summarizes what your essay will be about.
Have you heard of the classic hamburger reference when learning how to write an introductory essay?
The introduction and conclusion are the buns, and the body—the middle paragraphs of the essay—is the patty and all the fixings. This is the primary focus of your rhetorical analysis, where you’ll share the supporting points you have for your thesis.
Share examples from the text that support your thesis; point out the author's specific appeals for persuasion; be detailed in your explanations rather than vague generalities.
Typically, you will present each point as a separate paragraph. One standard format is the five-paragraph essay. Since you’ll need an introduction and a conclusion, that will leave you three paragraphs for the essay's body.
Of course, it could be longer, especially if you analyze a reasonably complex text with many supporting points. But use caution before making an essay any shorter than five paragraphs, as you never want your arguments to appear rushed or lacking in support.
Your conclusion is the part of your rhetorical analysis where you share the main takeaway from your essay. Essentially, you are summarizing the information of the supporting points you shared through the paper, where everything ties back to your original thesis. Typically, the last sentence of the conclusion is related to the hook you made in your introduction.
Wrap up all the relevant points and information in your rhetorical analysis, but don’t add new information to a conclusion. Including information not mentioned in the essay’s body could confuse the reader. Worse, you risk undermining your analysis by adding something that might somehow contradict an earlier point and weak your argument.
If you need to write your rhetorical analysis (and you probably do, since you’re reading this), here are some reading selections that could make for compelling essays:
Again, a rhetorical analysis is a specific type of essay, but the same basic writing rules will apply.
Double-check your analysis by proofreading it for spelling or punctuation errors. This will further help ensure your argument is clear and concise to the reader.
In other words, make sure your arguments and thoughts flow together.
When writing your rhetorical analysis, be sure to maintain a clear and consistent argument throughout. This means considering carefully the overall structure of your writing and how your essay comes together.
For instance, if you make a thesis statement arguing something, you don’t want to share an example in your body text that contradicts your argument. This will confuse the reader and weaken the assertion you made with your thesis.
Once you’ve finished writing the essay, take a break from it for a while, then read it with fresh eyes. Or, better yet, let someone else read it for you to make sure it makes sense.
Try to use a wide range of words and phrases to make your writing more exciting and engaging. Using a mix of vocabulary will help add variety to your work and make it more enjoyable to read.
If you find yourself repeating the exact words and phrases throughout your analysis, you can use tools such as a thesaurus to help make different word choices. But, you must ensure you fully understand the word before using it, which means understanding its definition and its accepted usage. Nothing will cost you credibility faster than trying to use “fancy” words only to discover they were not used appropriately.
Another way to add variety to your rhetorical analysis is using transition words. Transition words will help lead your reader smoothly through your essay, allowing them to absorb the information more easily.
Plagiarism can get you into a lot of trouble, and it’s also just rude. Be sure to cite any references and resources you are using within your essay.
Pro-tip: If you’re a student submitting this for school, citing your sources is not the only consideration; you must cite them correctly.
Double-check what format your teacher, TA, or professor is looking for. MLA? APA? Something else entirely? Each has unique style requirements, so make sure you know what’s expected.
Pick a title relevant to what the rhetorical analysis is.
Consider keywords or concepts you would like to share with the reader to ensure they understand the message. The title could be related to the source text or your thesis statement. Also, remember that it’s often easier to choose a title after the essay is finished, so don’t let the lack of a name stop you from writing.
Literature (all art, really) essentially exists outside of time, or maybe in “forever” time.
Whatever happens in the book is always what will happen, no matter how many times you read it or how much time passes between those readings.
For this reason, any literary analysis should be written in the present tense. (Lady Macbeth dies, not died.) Of course, as with most things, there is the occasional exception, but present tense is generally the way to go.
Also, even though this is your analysis of a piece of literature, the essay should appear objective and well-reasoned rather than simply a random opinion. For this reason, it’s essential to use a third-person point of view rather than the first (or second) person.
Avoid words such as:
Use third-person pronouns that include:
To see everything put together into a complete rhetorical analysis, check out this example shared by St. Louis Community College.
Rhetorical analysis is a powerful tool for engaging critically with texts and arguments. By understanding the methods writers and speakers use to persuade their audiences, you can appreciate the text more deeply, better understand the impact of persuasion in different contexts, and use it as a guide to better prepare your writing.
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How to write a rhetorical analysis is part of an ongoing series on how to write different formats of content. It includes but is not limited to tutorials on:
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