In general terms, an analysis essay breaks down a text (a letter, speech, ad, video, painting, billboard, etc.) into its constituent parts (language choice, metaphors, images, colors, tone of voice, use of examples/evidence, shapes, etc.), analyzes these parts, and uses them to better understand the text’s reflection of, and effect on, its audiences. A rhetorical analysis—the type being assigned to you—does the same sort of work, taking into consideration the specific rhetorical situation (the call to write) the text responds to and the rhetorical concepts that you learned about in chapter 2 of The Call to Write.
An effective rhetorical analysis brings to light some feature or features of a text, calling attention to details that other readers might not notice or know how to interpret. An analysis project asks you to think deeply and carefully, moving beyond what is self-evident about a text in order to probe, ask questions, and look for explanations that will help you understand it in a more robust way than you would have previously. Usually, analysis projects encourage you to do this deep thinking with the help of some particular perspective. For this assignment, you will use a rhetorical perspective to guide your analysis of a text of your choosing. The rhetorical concepts covered in this lesson are tools that you can use to examine your text closely.
A rhetorical analysis examines and explains how an author (or artist) responds to a specific call to write. That is, rhetorical analyses use specific evidence from a written, verbal, or visual text (such as a letter, speech, advertisement, video, painting, billboard, etc.) to establish a generalization (thesis) about the text’s rhetoric (in short, how it persuades, educates, or moves its audience by employing rhetorical appeals, using good reasons, responding to the situation at hand, etc.).
As you plan and draft your analysis, consider your classmates as your audience: a group of people who are also learning how to conduct rhetorical analysis. Your goal will be to help them better understand and appreciate the text you have chosen by demonstrating how it responds to a particular call to write.
Guidelines for Choosing Your Text for Analysis
The first step in this assignment is to choose a text for analysis. You will want to find a written, visual, or oral text (a piece of writing or other composed object, like those listed above) you find interesting—one that strikes you as being clever, engaging, surprising, creative, or edgy. You may choose a contemporary or historical text, one that is well-known or relatively obscure. The text should have a purpose that you can identify fairly easily: to persuade, educate, entertain, etc. Here are some additional considerations:
Length matters. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by selecting a long or overly complex text for analysis. Keep in mind that your analysis will involve explaining the context from which the text is created and reflecting upon the writer’s specific compositional choices. Identifying these choices and explaining their importance in your essay requires attention to detail and careful contemplation, not hasty observations. A single-panel advertisement or a short opinion essay in your local newspaper is the sort of text that often works well for this assignment.
Choose an accessible and shareable text. You will need to send me a copy of the text for approval and include a copy of it with your rough and final drafts. So you will need to choose a text that can be sent as an attachment or viewed online.
Consider context. The more accurately you can identify the context from which the text emerges (the contemporary or historical moment, the issue or need the text responds to, the place of the text’s publication or distribution, the addressed audience), the more information you will have that can inform your analysis. Most of your analysis essay should focus on analyzing the text. (This isn’t an exercise in writing a history paper or debating an issue!) Nevertheless, understanding the context of a rhetorical situation to some degree typically leads to a more well-informed and interesting rhetorical analysis.
What Your Analysis Should Include
Your analysis should explain how a text works rhetorically for a specific purpose and as part of a rhetorical situation.
As you begin your analysis, you will want to ask yourself questions such as the following:
- Who is the intended audience for this text?
- What is the context from which this text emerges? What specific problem, issue, or need does it address?
- What is the text’s major claim or goal?
- What parts of the text indicate, or offer evidence for, that claim or goal?
- What genre has the writer chosen and why does that genre seem to be a fitting or poor choice?
- What appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) does the author use?
- What parts of the text indicate, or offer evidence for, the use of these appeals?
If you are analyzing a visual text, also consider the following:
- where you look first (and why)
- how the visual text makes its point or claim
- what details are in the foreground and the background (and why)
How You Should Arrange Your Analysis
Page 53 of the textbook provides one strategy for organizing the sections of your analysis. This list is helpful, but resist the urge to use this strategy as a simple template (creating a paragraph for each section). Instead, focus on developing your essay into three general sections:
A beginning: this section will probably include an introduction/overview, some background information about the text, and enough of a description to orient your reader to the text you are analyzing and make a claim about the purpose or aim of the text.
A middle: (the heart of your analysis where you make observations about the text and explain how these observations shed light on the text’s response to the rhetorical situation.
An ending: this section is where you conclude your analysis, perhaps making a judgment about the text’s rhetorical effectiveness.
Chapter 4 in the textbook and Lesson 5 in the course commentary will provide you with additional guidance in arranging your essay. Please note: throughout the body of your essay, you should use specific examples from your chosen text to support your claims.
Your rhetorical analysis should analyze a text, not simply describe it. In other words, the analysis should shed light on the text by using the rhetorical concepts introduced in this unit.
The analysis should use specific examples from the chosen text to support the observations and claims that you make in your essay. It should demonstrate attention to detail and depth of thought.
Your essay should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. These portions of the essay should fulfill the needs and anticipations of readers and enhance the meaning of your essay.
Your essay should have a title—strive for one that is meaningful and/or creative.
The final length of this assignment is 3—4 pages (950—1,300 words). Your final submission should be word-processed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides. Please use 12-point, Times New Roman font.