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 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.
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 paragraph 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.