OER Writing Resources


OER Writing Resources

Rhetorical Analysis

Detail of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King Jr.'s phrase '. . . until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.'

Some writers, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or John Lennon, crafted such powerful messages that their words literally became monuments.

Detail of Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama, designed by Maya Lin
(Markuskun at English Wikipedia)

Rhetorical analysis refers to the process of analyzing a text, a given source, or an artifact. The text, source, or artifact may be in written form or in some different form of communication. The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to take into consideration the purpose, audience, genre, stance, and media/design of the given rhetorical situation. In other words, the analysis explores not only what everything means in the given source (content), but also why the author wrote about it (purpose), who the author is (background), how the piece is organized (structure), where and/or when it was published (forum), and the intended message (topic).

A rhetorical analysis is one of the more challenging assignments in any writing class. Students often confuse a rhetorical analysis with a critical analysis because both assignments work to analyze a text. A rhetorical analyzer reserves judgment on whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the topic presented. A critical analysis, on the other hand, invites the analyzer to comment on how “good” or “bad” the content of the text is.

The process of completing a rhetorical analysis requires the use of different rhetorical strategies: critical reading, effective communication, persuasive appeals, argumentation, and avoidance of logical fallacies. These specific strategies are discussed in depth in the remainder of this unit.

The purpose of a rhetorical analysis is to engage in critical thinking with the intention of effectively communicating an intended message to a predetermined audience. In order to successfully determine the intended message of a particular text, a good question to guide your analysis is, “How did the author craft his or her argument?”

Rhetoric is a term that is widely used in many forms, and by itself it can mean a great many things. Some use the term in association with political rhetoric to name the voice, stance, and language that becomes the nature of politics. Rhetoric can be thought of as the way in which you phrase what you are saying and the forces that impact what you are saying. At its very core, rhetoric is the ability to effectively communicate an intended message, whether it is through argumentation, persuasion, or another form of communication.

Picture of a John Lennon Memorial plaque with the line 'There are places I remember all my life,' which was written by John Lennon.
Picture of the full John Lennon Memorial with three standing plaques, saying, from left to right, 'There are places I remember all my life,' 'All these places had their moments with lovers and friends,' and 'In my life I've loved them all.'

Lyrics from "In My Life" by the Beatles, John Lennon Memorial, Durness, Scotland

[Top] (Nick Bramhall, Flickr, cc by-sa 2.0)
[Bottom] (Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons, cc by-sa 3.0)