Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Assignment Brief

For your own rhetorical analysis, take on one of the following: a written essay (from this book or elsewhere, such as a magazine or blog), an image, an advertisement, or even a film. Examine the text closely—with a particular posture toward analysis. Consider the main argumentative moves and apply the following questions:

  1. Who is the audience? Can you tell me? If it’s not clear by the language and nature of the argument, consider the publication.
  2. Where was it published? What organization wrote, supports, or sponsors the publication?
  3. What is the main claim (or thesis)? What type of claim is it? In other words, what is the argument working toward? Does it seek to make the audience evaluate the worth of something (claim of value); believe in the past, present, or future condition (fact); or want to do something (claim of the policy)? Every argument has some line of reasoning—premises that walk the audience toward the main claim.
  4. What individual premises are asserted?
  5. How do they lead to the main claim?
  6. What premises are unstated? What points does the reader fill-in?
  7. How does the argument tap into shared values (courage, peace, honor, trust, personal responsibility, knowledge)?
  8. How does the argument prompt a certain feeling (fear, anger, hope, regret)?
  9. How does the argument call on basic human needs (safety, belonging, actualization)?
  10. How does the argument refer directly to the writer’s own experience or wisdom?
  11. How does the argument rely on allusions, scenarios, illustrations, anecdotes, personal testimony, facts, or statistics?
  12. How do the specific forms of example or evidence function in the overall argument?
  13. How do they support the main claim or serve within an appeal?
  14. In what ways does the argument engage opposition? Or how does opposition shape the premises of the argument?
  15. Does the argument engage one major opposing position or does it take on several?
  16. Does the argument dismantle the assumptions or values operating in an opposing position? Or does it just refute some factual claim?
  17. Does the argument grant value to another position?
  18. Does it qualify its own claims?
  19. What assumptions do you detect?
  20. What does the argument assume, but not necessarily state, about the topic—or about people, institutions, life, social norms, and so on?
  21. Do those assumptions point to any underlying values?
  22. Does the argument, for instance, rest on the notion that progress, or freedom, or creativity, or responsibility, or equality, is inherently good?

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