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:
- Determines whether the text is meant to be persuasive or informative,
- Argues that the text is effective or ineffective, and
- 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 with 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?
A textual analysis is usually assigned in connection to a prompt. This prompt can relate to elements of the text such as structure, main ideas, and evidence. You might see prompts that ask you to compare and contrast two works, discuss a theme, or explain the significance of textual elements like setting or voice. The first step you should take when writing a textual analysis is to read the text closely several times. While reading, I find it helpful to highlight or underline main ideas, and points that relate the question I’m being asked. I might even use different colors to indicate different topics or ideas. Also, feel free to make notes as you read, whether on the text itself or in a separate location, I find that this really helps me to remember the thoughts I had while reading, and gives me something to build off of when I begin to write.
When writing your response look back at places you highlighted or that jumped out at you from the text that seemed important or relevant to the prompt. Use these as examples when analyzing the text, but try not to use direct quotes too often. When I write this kind of analysis, a lot of the time I find myself just summarizing the text without connecting it back to my point. Remember that it’s not necessary to summarize everything that happened in the text, only include information that helps support your idea. For each piece of evidence you pull from the text, make sure to explain why it is important by connecting it to the topic or prompt. This is a great way to make your argument clearer, and, at the same time, it can help you to weed out textual information that you do not need.
A few other things to keep in mind are that your textual analysis should focus on the text, do not add your own opinions and avoid using first person. Make sure that the parts of the text that you refer to in your analysis address the prompt directly, and that when direct quotations are used that they are put in quotation marks.
A personal narrative is, basically, an essay written about a personal experience. Most of the time, personal narratives are written in the first person and sound a lot like a story, which means that they aren’t as formal as the other papers your professor assigns. In a personal narrative, you have the freedom to be creative and explore your writing style, so writing one can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging if you don’t know where to begin. That’s where I come in.
Starting is the Hardest Part
Or it can be anyway, especially with a personal narrative. It can be hard to decide what to write about, especially if you haven’t been given any guidelines. The trick that I use to narrow down the possibilities is to keep the page requirement in mind while I brainstorm. This can really help to narrow down the possibilities, after all not all experiences can be condensed down into two pages, nor can they all be stretched to eight. If the paper you are writing is longer, avoid choosing an experience that you do not remember very well, or that lacks detail. On the other hand, if the paper is shorter, avoid experiences that are too elaborate, or long, because when you go to write the narrative it may end up so packed with detail that it becomes confusing to the reader. Make sure that the experience you choose is appropriate for the length of the paper.
When writing the narrative make sure that the opening paragraph, in some way, tells the reader the general subject of the story. I like to think of the traditional fairytale beginning “Once upon a time in a land far, far away” as a reminder of what type of information to include. “Once upon a time” reminds me to mention when the story takes place, and “in a land far, far away” reminds me to include a setting for the story. Next, most fairytales mention the main character and give the reader an idea of what problem they will be facing in the rest of the story. These are also good pieces of information to include in your introduction.
In the body paragraphs, be sure to structure the story, and to add interest by including details (especially sensory details; colors, textures, smells, etc.), dialogue, and using figurative language. For example, instead of telling the reader “She had been crying”, show them what you mean by including sensory details, “Her eyes were puffy and red, and every now and then she sniffed audibly”. Other details like colors and smells can really help to build a scene, but make sure not to add so much detail that it overwhelms the reader. Give details to the things that are most important to the story. For example, you might mention the color of someone’s shirt if it gets ruined later on, or you might explain the colors and smells of the county fair to create an atmosphere. Using details in the right places can help to guide your story by making it clear to the reader which parts are the most important. It is also important to make sure that the reader understands how you felt about the experience when it was happening. You can do this by explaining what you were thinking throughout the story and why. Make sure that your narrative is clear, and that readers can come away from the story knowing what happened and how you felt about the experience.
Wrapping it Up
In your conclusion, summarize what happened in the story and the impact it had on you. What kind of experience was it? You may also want to include how you feel about the experience now. What are your thoughts on the experience now that you have reflected on it?
Written By: Eylina S.