Rhetorical Analysis

In this post, I’ll be breaking down one of the most common types of papers we see come into the Writing Center in the fall, rhetorical analysis, and I’ll be giving you some tips and tricks along the way to help you as you write and revise. To start let’s go over what a rhetorical analysis actually is.

A rhetorical analysis is an essay that focuses on determining what a writer is trying to do through their writing and then analyzes how well the author accomplishes this goal.

This means that a rhetorical analysis:

  1. Determines whether the text is meant to be persuasive or informative,
  2. Argues that the text is effective or ineffective, and
  3. Explains why

After reading through the text you are going to analyze, a good place to start is with identifying the thesis statement. The thesis statement tells the reader what the rest of the work is going to be about. Usually you can find it near then end of the first paragraph or section, but sometimes it can be a little trickier than that. Try looking out for key phrases like “This article will discuss” and statements that list the main support for the topic. Once you have identified what the writer is writing about and why they are writing, you can begin to analyze their effectiveness. Often this is done by identifying the use of rhetorical devices in the writing. The rhetorical devices that are discussed the most are ethos, pathos, and logos. To remember which one is which, I like to think of Ethos as Ethics, Pathos as Personal, and Logos as Logic.

Ethos uses credibility to persuade the reader. Try thinking about why the reader should believe the author’s work. Are they an expert on the topic? What kind of experience do they have that relates to the topic (if any)? Do they use credible sources?

Think about it this way, if you were to go out and hire someone to bake a cake, who would you choose? You might go to a bakery and have a professional (or expert) make the cake. Or you might choose someone who just has experience with baking cakes, especially if they are following a trusted recipe. But you probably wouldn’t choose someone who had never baked a cake before in their life, even if they were following that same recipe. In this same way we can look at the credibility of authors and their sources.

Pathos appeals to the reader’s emotions. Think about how the author wants the audience to feel about the topic. Which areas of the text make you feel this way the most?  Advertisements are great examples of emotional appeals.

Think about commercials you have seen for organizations that provide support for children in impoverished countries or neglected animals. These commercials create a feeling of sadness and sympathy that persuade the viewer to donate.

Logos appeals to the reader’s sense of logic. The author uses factual evidence to support their claim and to persuade the reader. Think about what proof the author is providing, this includes data, statistical evidence, historical precedents, relevant examples, and cause and effect relationships. Does their argument make sense?

You see logos in commercials that claim “4 out of 5 doctors recommend…” and PSAs that use statistical evidence to reinforce their message; “Don’t text and drive” becomes a more convincing argument when it is paired with the number of deaths that have been caused by distracted drivers.

Other things that are important to consider while writing a rhetorical analysis include audience, situation, and tone. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Who is the audience of this piece?
  • Why did the author choose this audience?
  • Does the author connect to the audience and how?
  • Are they using language that is understandable and appropriate for the situation?
  • What is the tone of the piece?
  • How does this tone help the author achieve their goal?


written by Eylina S.



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