Writing Center

Rocking that Rhetorical Analysis

By: Rachel R., Writing Tutor

You enter the classroom chatting with your friend, but as you take a seat and look to the board, you groan. There are three words written in a crisp, clear, cursive: Rhetorical Analysis Paper. Ugh. Why do professors insist on making you write rhetorical analyses?! You always have to talk about those three things... What are they again? Logos, ethos, and pathos? You always get those mixed up... Your professor talks about writing the paper during class, but you leave still feeling the tension creep into your shoulders. You think to yourself that this is not going to be a fun paper to write.

Fear not, fellow college student! The dreaded rhetorical analysis paper is not as daunting as it may seem. And, developing the ability to analyze a text will help you in virtually every class you take. Many of the methods you use for writing other papers come into play for rhetorical analyses as well, so don't think you're starting from scratch. Let's go through some tips for preparing to write one of these types of analyses.


Selecting Your Text and Topic

Just like when you pick a topic for a research paper, when you pick a text and topic to use for your rhetorical analysis, you need to make sure they are neither too broad nor too narrow. Unless you are writing your own book, you probably don't want to pick an entire book as your text. On the other hand, even if you're analyzing a text that seems short, you still need a specific focus concerning that text. You can use a book, story, article, speech, or video clip as your text, but you can't just stop at summarizing your text. For example, you may be looking at the speaker's argument, or you may be want to focus on a specific recurring element in the text.


Speaker and Audience

It is critical to know who the speaker of your text is and what audience they are trying to reach through the text. The speaker is usually the author of the text or the character who is talking. The audience is the person or group of people to whom the text is addressed. Remember, every choice that the speaker makes in the text is supposed to be tailored to their audience. They do this tailoring by effectively using rhetorical appeals within logos, ethos, and pathos.


Logos, Ethos, and Pathos

These three little words are foundational for rhetorical analyses, but it is easy to get them confused. So, here's a brief explanation of each:

Logos- Think logic. This includes elements of the text such as factual information, statistics, history, and the logic behind cause/effect, etc. It also includes the organization and structure of the text. How does the speaker transition from one idea to the next within the text?

Ethos- Think authority. What evidence is in the text that proves the speaker has the authority to even say anything about the topic? Are they an expert? Do they use the appropriate language? How does the speaker create a starting point from which they can discuss the topic with the audience?

Pathos- Think emotion. You know the words sympathy and empathy. What does the speaker do to evoke either of these reactions from their audience? Do they use specific, descriptive language to appeal to their audience in their writing?

Final Tips

  1. When I go to write a rhetorical analysis, I always focus on two important words: Why? and How? Why did the author make these choices in their text? How are those choices effective or not effective?
  2. Logos, ethos, and pathos are lenses to help you analyze the text to answer those questions. They're not there to make your life more difficult; they're a tool to help you.
  3. When making your thesis, keep these two previous points in mind. Remember that a thesis must be arguable and specific, so use those points to figure out what you want to say about the text for your rhetorical analysis.
  4. Small elements of the text can have a bigger impact than you may think at first. Even the speaker's choice of a particular word can affect the text. Don't be afraid to look at little elements!
  5. Don't panic. A rhetorical analysis often looks at how the speaker uses logos, ethos, and pathos to make an effective argument for their audience. By keeping this in mind, you'll be rocking your rhetorical analyses in no time!


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