When it comes to learning how to write a rhetorical analysis, it may seem a difficult task for beginners, but once you know the tricks and tips, you will be writing like an expert in no time.
What Is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?
As you may know, different literary works are written with the sole purpose to persuade readers in the validity of the author’s ideas and point of view. There are a variety of strategies and literary and rhetorical devices that help authors’ reach this goal; and this is exactly what you will have to deal with while working on your rhetorical analysis essay.
So, what is the definition of a rhetorical analysis? In a nutshell, a rhetorical analysis is the process of measuring how successful the author was in persuading, informing, or entertaining their audience. There are thousands of writing strategies used to analyze modern, as well as historical, texts, but note that in any rhetorical analysis essay you must identify the writing style of the author and their point of view. This requires analyzing the author’s methods of persuasion (words and phrases that the author creates) and how effective they are to readers.
Rhetorical Analysis Essay Prompt
What is the point of rhetorical analysis? Typically, when assigned with this type of task, students are provided with specific prompts that explain the purpose of the task and specify the areas to pay attention to.
Here is an example of a basic rhetorical analysis essay prompt: “Write a 2-3 page rhetorical analysis essay on the assigned text. You will be asked to complete several different tasks: (1) summarize the text’s key argument/claim/purpose and (2) explain how this argument was put together.
As you read the assigned text, consider how the author uses:
- Different rhetorical strategies (pathos, ethos, logos)
- Reasoning, evidence, and examples to support their main ideas
- Persuasive or stylistic elements”
As you can see from the prompt, the main purpose of this task is to define, analyze, and discuss the most important rhetorical features of the assigned text.
Rhetorical Analysis Strategies
There are three universal methods of persuasion—also called rhetorical strategies. To handle the task, you need to have a good understanding of these strategies and their use.
So, what are the 3 rhetorical strategies? Let’s define each and look closer at their key attributes:
The ethos rhetorical device is what establishes the author’s credibility in a literary piece. Simply put, the skillful use of this strategy is what helps readers determine whether or not a particular author can be trusted on a specific matter. Credibility is defined by the author’s expertise, knowledge, and moral competence for any particular subject. According to Aristotle, there are three categories of ethos: arete (virtue, goodwill), phronesis (useful skills & wisdom), and eunoia (goodwill towards the audience).
For example, when the author of a book is a well-known expert in a specific subject, or when a product is advertised by a famous person – these are uses of ethos for persuasion.
According to the pathos literary definition, this Greek word translates to “experience,” “suffering,” or “emotion” and is one of the three methods of persuasion authors are able to use to appeal to their readers’ emotions. In a nutshell, the key goal of this strategy is to elicit certain feelings (e.g. happiness, sympathy, pity, anger, compassion, etc.) in their audience with the sole goal of persuading them of something. The main goal is to help readers relate to the author’s identity and ideas.
Some of the common ways to use pathos in rhetoric are through:
- Personal anecdotes, etc.
Just to give you an example, when you see an advertisement that shows sad, loveless animals and it asks you to donate money to an animal shelter or adopt an animal – that’s clear use of emotional appeal in persuasion.
According to the logos literary definition, this word translates from Greek as “ground,” “plea,” “reason,” “opinion,” etc. This rhetorical strategy is solely logical; so, unlike ethos or pathos that rely on credibility or emotions, the logos rhetorical device is used to persuade readers through the use of critical thinking, facts, numbers and statistics, and other undeniable data.
For example, when the author of a literary piece makes a statement and supports it with valid facts – that’s logos.
These three strategies: logos, ethos, and pathos play an essential role in writing a rhetorical analysis essay. The better you understand them, the easier you will be able to determine how successful the author of the assigned text was in using them. Now, let’s take a look at how to start.
Rhetorical Analysis Topics
To write an excellent rhetorical analysis essay, a student first needs to pick a compelling topic. Below are some of the best tips to consider for choosing a topic that engages the audience:
- Focus on your interests. The main trick for writing a top-notch paper is to focus on a topic that you are genuinely interested in. Plenty of students make the huge mistake of picking topics that are promising and trending, but not engaging to them. Such an approach can make rhetorical writing even more of a challenge. But, if you decide to deliberate your interests and write about something that really engages you, the writing process will become much more pleasant and simple.
- Pick a topic you are familiar with. Another helpful trick is to choose a subject that reflects your knowledge. Picking something entirely unfamiliar to you can get you stuck even before you begin writing. Keep in mind that this academic paper requires you to make a thorough analysis of an author’s writing and evidence-building style, and the more well-versed in a particular topic you are, the easier it will be to handle the analysis.
- Do some background research. When choosing a topic, it is vital to ensure that that topic will have a broad enough scope, and enough information, for you to conduct your research and writing. Therefore, it is crucial that you do some background research prior to choosing a specific topic. To do this, you can create a list of topics that seem captivating to you. Then, take your time to research the available information from the chosen topics and pick the one that is not only engaging, but also offers good research and analysis opportunities. Also, be sure to take notes on the topic’s most important points when doing background research. These notes will come in handy later.
- Ask your instructor for advice. If you have already outlined the most interesting topics and done your background research on them but still cannot make up your mind, it will be a good idea to get suggestions from your instructor. Ask your instructor to look through your list to advise you on the most suitable subject.
Following the tips described above, you should be able to find a topic that is both interesting and promising. to give you a few ideas to think about, let’s look at a list of good rhetorical analysis topics:
Easy Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics
- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech
- “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
- Symbolism in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”
- “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
- The Use of Symbolism in the “Harry Potter” Series
- “Witches Loaves” By O’Henry
- The Main Themes in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
- Chief Joseph’s “Surrender Speech”
High School Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics
- Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
- “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
- The Main Themes in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
- The Use of Symbolism in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”
- “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer
- The Central Idea in “An Enemy of the People” by Henrik Ibsen
- Symbolism in Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves”
- Sam Berns’ “My Philosophy for a Happy Life” Speech
- “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
College Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics
- The Main Themes in “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
- “Antigone” by Sophocles
- Rhetorical analysis of Macbeth
- “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The “Every Man a King” Speech by Huey Pierce Long
- “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
- The Literary Devices Used by William Shakespeare
- “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller
- Rhetorical Analysis of “The Phantom of the Opera” Movie
- Analysis of Poe’s Poetry in “The Raven”
2020 Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics
- Analysis of Beyonce’s Speech to the Class of 2020
- “Profiles in Corruption” by Peter Schweizer
- Pink’s VMA Speech about Acceptance
- “The Price Of Inequality” By Joseph Stiglitz
- The Main Themes in Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”
- “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” TED Talk Speech by Tim Urban
- Rhetorical Analysis of the 2020 Commencement Speech by Barack Obama
- “Cri De Coeur” By Romeo Dallier
- Feminism in Oprah’s Golden Globes Speech
- President Donald Trump’s Latest Speech
How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis: Step-by-Step
Step 1: Read and analyze the text
Writing a rhetorical analysis essay starts with reading and analyzing the assigned text. As you begin reading, take notes of valuable information that will help you simplify the analysis process.
Step 2: Identify the author’s strategies
Here are the questions you should consider while reading that you can try to answer later in your analysis:
- Who is the author and who was their intended target audience?
- What was the purpose of writing the speech/project?
- Does the setting have any importance or connection to the main message(s)? If so, why did the author choose that specific context?
Having these questions in mind will make it easier to analyze the author’s strategies once you start writing. At the very least, these questions give you a template to work off of and will help you understand the author’s methods of persuasion.
Step 3: Look for persuasive tactics used by the author
The ingredients for persuasion, as Aristotle called them, can be broken down into three categories: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Example: Thousand years of history has taught us that war never changes.
In every Advanced Placement (AP) English exam (where rhetorical analysis essays are commonplace), the literary prompt for your essay will contain examples of at least one of the three persuasive methods. After using the background info to help guide you, it should not be too difficult to figure out which tactic the speaker used.
If you are supposed to create your own topic, here are some rhetorical analysis essay topics you can use;
- Discourse in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Persuasive strategies used in “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury” given by Queen Elizabeth I
- Analysis of the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
- Rhetorical strategies of Samuel L. Jackson’s monologue in Pulp Fiction
Now that you know what to look for let’s move on to the outline.
Rhetorical Essay Outline
To write a top-notch paper, a student needs to have a deep understanding of rhetorical devices and strategies. Furthermore, it is vital that you can identify and analyze their use in specific literary works. An additional factor that matters when analysing a text is proper structure—a good rhetorical analysis essay should be well-structured and organized.
Keep in mind that organizing your rhetorical analysis essay is not the most important thing to consider; the most important thing is to make sure you address the specific demands of your particular writing task. Therefore, it‘s not obligatory to follow any standard essay structure; there are numerous ways to begin your rhetorical analysis outline correctly.
If it’s better for you to follow the structure provided by your professor. If they don’t provide a required structure for your essay, you can always use the 5-6 paragraphing style. Here is our advice for your outline:
- Make sure to read, analyze, and make notes before beginning your outline.
- Write the main points of your essay in your outline and add evidence to support them.
- Create a thesis statement that encompasses your main points and addresses the purpose of the author’s writing.
If you have the main ideas to support your thesis and have evidence to back them up in your outline, the writing will be easier. You can also use our rhetorical analysis essay outline template to get a better grasp of writing your paper. Remember that the intro-body-conclusion format never changes.
In a rhetorical analysis essay, the way to gain the reader’s trust is by showing the reader that you’ve read and fully understand the assigned text. When writing the introduction, make it short and informative.
To start, briefly summarize the passage you’ll include in your essay in your own words; it will prove to the reader that you understand the central message of the text.
Next, you can briefly mention the persuasive styles used by the author, and their effect.
Lastly, formulate your opinion into a well-crafted thesis statement. It should address the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Your rhetorical analysis thesis statement usually comes at the end of your introductory paragraph.
Remember that your introduction is your chance to intrigue the reader about the content you’ll touch upon later in the text.
After giving the reader some perspective, it’s time to do some critical analysis. A large part of your time will be focused on creating informative body paragraphs. In the body, explain the methods the author used to inform, persuade, and entertain the reader.
- If the author used persuasive language, then say that he/she used persuasive language.
- If the author used sympathetic language, explain it and use quotes for proof.
Keep in mind that all writing should be consistent and have a clear structure. It’s wise to have different paragraphs explaining the author’s strategies, rather than jamming everything together.
When identifying the author’s writing strategies, answer the following questions:
- How does this strategy work?
- How is the strategy working in the example?
- Why did the author use a specific approach for this audience?
- How did the strategy make the audience feel, react or respond?
A couple of other things that should be taken note of within the body paragraphs are shifts in tone and diction. Don’t forget always to use proper citations in your work. In literature, the MLA format is commonly used for citations.
After writing your detailed, well-cited body paragraphs, conclude your essay. Like most other types of essays, summarise what you’ve previously elaborated on. Talk about how the author’s words have changed the opinion of their audience, or if they’ve had a significant impact on society.
In the final sentence of your rhetorical analysis conclusion, you can provide an impactful concluding statement that demonstrates the importance of the author’s writing or how its strategies have helped shape history.
Let’s look at a sample rhetorical analysis essay outline on the topic of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech to break down each part of this work in detail.
1. Introduction: Rhetorical Précis:
- Name of author, appositive phrase about the author and their genre to establish credibility & authority, and title of their work (followed by the date in parenthesis); a rhetorically accurate verb (such as “assert,” “argue,” “suggest,” “imply,” “claim,” etc.); and a THAT clause containing the major assertion (thesis statement) of the work.
Example: “Martin Luther King Jr., one of America’s most notable activists and spokespeople and a leader of the civil rights movement, in his most iconic speech “I Have a Dream” (1963) argues that racism should end in the USA.”
- An explanation of how the author develops and/or supports the thesis, usually in chronological order.
Example: “In his speech, Martin Luther King Jr. develops and supports his ideas by referring to pivotal documents in US history, including: the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Constitution. He also invokes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and refers to historical events such as the abolition of slavery.”
- A statement of the author’s apparent purpose, followed by an “in order” phrase.
Example: “In the speech, the author calls for civil rights in order to drive attention to the problem and stop discrimination by race.”
- A description of the intended audience and the relationship the author establishes with the audience
Example: “The speech is intended for a large audience, basically, the entire American nation, and the author establishes a relationship of equality among the entire audience by claiming that we all are “God’s children.”
2. Body Paragraph #1:
- Topic sentence/transition: “(author’s last name) begins with/by…(make your claim about what strategy you see working—address the purpose/prompt)”
Example: “King begins with a powerful statement about the abolition of slavery.”
- Provide a specific example to support the idea: provide EXPLICIT textual support woven into your comments to support your claim. Thoroughly discuss all strategies used in the beginning section, supported by text.
Example: “He says “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” and completes his point with a metaphor, claiming that this event “came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their (slaves) captivity.”
- Discussion of how examples support the idea: Connect the strategy back to your main claim/thesis/the purpose.
Example: “Making this statement, King uses several different techniques: voice merging, prophetic voice, and dynamic spectacle to indicate the urgency of the matter.”
3. Body Paragraph #2:
- Topic sentence/transition: “After (an idea) the author moves to (another idea)” Connect an idea from the last sentence of the previous paragraph to the first sentence of this paragraph to show how the strategies build upon each other.
Example: “After emphasizing the iconic nature of the abolition of slavery, King makes a counter statement – “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” to drive attention to the problem that still exists.”
- Provide examples to support your claim.
Example: “King develops his idea by providing real-life examples that support his claim – “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” He emphasizes the lack of economical and civil rights that have faced African Americans – “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” – and urges the wrongfulness of this discrimination: “the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”
- Discussion of how the example supports the idea: Connect the strategy back to your main claim/thesis/purpose.
Example: “Finally the author uses pathos to appeal to the audience’s feeling with a statement – “And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
4. Last Body Paragraph:
- Topic sentence/transition: “To close the essay/speech, (author)…” or “Concluding the argument he/she …” – Connect an idea from the last sentence of the previous paragraph to the first sentence of this paragraph to show how the strategies build upon each other.
Example: “Concluding the argument, King further relies on pathos, stating that “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment” to appeal to the people’s consciences.”
- Provide examples to support your claim.
Example: “The speaker appeals to the nations’ conscience and urges them to stand for a change – “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
- Discuss how the example supports the idea: Connect the strategy back to your main claim/thesis/purpose.
Example: “The author invokes the audience’s feeling of compassion and summarizes his point by stating that “there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.”
- Restate your thesis.
Example: “The King’s speech emphasizes the importance of putting an end to racial discrimination”
- Reflect upon the examples and main ideas in the body paragraphs, the significance of these strategies, AND how they are linked to your thesis.
Example: “Throughout the speech, King relies on a variety of rhetorical strategies and devices, including ethos, pathos, and logos. He shares facts and examples, relies on logic, and appeals to the audience’s emotions to convey his message. Additionally, he uses different speaking techniques, such as voice merging, prophetic voice, and dynamic spectacle, to empower the effect of his speech.”
- State if these were effective in conveying the claim/thesis/purpose.
Example: “Martin Luther King Jr. is a skilled spokesperson who utilizes a variety of rhetorical devices to persuade the audience and he definitely succeeds in this endeavor.”
- Closing thoughts – close out the main purpose of the text being analyzed.
Example: King’s “I Have a Dream” is one of the most iconic, point-turning speeches in the history of the USA.”
Here is a rhetorical analysis essay template / scheme of the outline described above:
- Rhetorical Précis
- Thesis statement
- Topic sentence/transition
- An example that supports the main idea
- A discussion of how the given example supports the idea
- Restatement of the thesis statement
- Reflection on the ideas and examples provided in the body
- Explanation of how the strategies used by the author were effective in conveying his or her thesis/claim/purpose
Writing Tips to Follow
- The author’s methods of persuasion (examples of ethos, logos, & pathos)
- The style of writing used (formal or informal English; specific terms, logical flow, spelling/punctuation)
- The original target audience (business people, professors, etc.)
- The tone, chosen by the author (it may vary from the pressing/casual to humorous/sarcastic)
Discern the goal of the passage:
Find out why the author chose those methods of persuasion, style of writing, and tone with the target audience.
- How do the rhetorical methods help the writer achieve the primary purpose of the passage?
- Why did the writer choose these methods to persuade the target audience for that specific occasion?
- Focus your summary on the literary techniques and persuasive strategies used by the author.
Steps to Polish Your Rhetorical Analysis
Here are 7-steps you can take to help you with proofreading and editing, which can immensely impact the quality of your writing.
It’s always important to check for any spelling or punctuation errors in your writing—avoid abbreviations.
This is a punishable offence in all forms of educational institutions.
- Make sure to cite anything you reference correctly.
- For coursework, it’s possible to use an online plagiarism checker like Copyscape or Grammarly to make sure you haven’t plagiarised anything.
Using a wide range of different words will help show a full understanding of the passage being analyzed. While studying, refer to a Thesaurus to expand your vocabulary for better results.
It’s always good to have transitions between paragraphs. Don’t jump from statement to statement. Instead, lead the reader through your essay with smooth transitions.
Make sure to write in the present tense to avoid confusion for your readers; it keeps your paper straightforward and easy to follow.
While analyzing the passage, write your paper as if you’re responding to the passage. A rhetorical analysis paper is like a reflection of the text. Analyze the writer’s rhetorical style, but keep it natural and offer your thoughts and opinions.
First impressions count. Try to use a captivating title that sticks out from the rest. Make sure the title is relevant to your work.