Tips for Writing a Rhetorical Analysis

Joe the banana slug, grading assistant

  1. Have a thesaurus handy! It’s helpful to see the range of diction available in naming, and what names rhetors actually choose!
  2. Don’t evaluate the argument. Resist the temptation to say, “X does a really good job arguing….” You are an analyst, not a reviewer.
  3. You don’t need to summarize the piece before you analyze it. Your analysis, if clear enough, is sufficient.
  4. Look for accommodation first: whether the author tries to “cozy up” to the audience in the first few paragraphs by agreeing with them on some (usually) minor point: “I can understand why voters would be drawn to Bernie Sanders….” Then look for the “but…” That’s where the accommodation ends.
  5. Sarcasm/irony can also be used as a way to accommodate a resistant reader: it usually confuses them enough to keep them reading. If you find that the beginning of a piece confuses you with its tone or message, it’s probably intentional.
  6. Put quoted words in quotation marks. Example: “Words such as “scot-free,” “stupid” and “risk” are used throughout the piece….”
  7. Watch your own language. Rhetors don’t “explain”: they “assert.” They don’t “show,” they “argue.” When you use words like “explain,” it sounds like you, the analyst, are persuaded!
  8. Remember, the target audience is almost never “everyone.” The TA usually has some “skin in the game,” meaning that they stand to gain or lose something, depending whether or not they believe the rhetoric. Also: the author usually has skin in the game, as well, so think about this, too!
  9. When you cite a loaded word, make sure you break it down: how does the use of this particular word help their argument? How does this metaphor help their argument? How does this allusion help their argument?
  10. Don’t begin your analysis by naming the target audience or thesis. You need to argue inductively (use small pieces of evidence that lead to big conclusions), not make broad claims first. Support your ideas with evidence from the original text!
  11. Don’t worry about an introduction or conclusion in these analyses. It takes up too much time. Jump right in and make your points.
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