Writing a Rhetorical Analysis Discovering the Secret Agenda
Aristotle, whom we refer to as the Father of Modern Rhetoric, recognized that writing (or speech) does not exist in a vacuum. There is, first and foremost, a messenger (writer or speaker), with an agenda all his own; next, there is a receiver (reader or listener) for whom the message is tailored; and finally there is the message (either a text or a speech), created for a specific audience. Aristotle’s idea may be represented as follows:
In order to communicate her message persuasively, the writer needs to understand her audience, and to actively envision them—to anticipate their needs. She then has to determine what methods she will use to communicate her ideas. This is called determining rhetorical stance, i.e., determining the relationship that will exist between the writer and the reader.
One important determination is what TONE (or PERSONA) to adopt. Will the writer’s tone be formal or informal? Will the writer come across as a superior or as an equal, as an onlooker or as a participant, as an expert or as a concerned citizen, etc.? The writer makes such determinations because he has an agenda. Why would he adopt a conversational tone? Why would he take a formal approach? Why would he present himself as an expert? How might he present the same material (a) to a middle school student, and (b) to a college student?
What are some of the methods that a writer uses to establish an informal tone? Simple vocabulary Contractions First and second person pronouns What are some of the methods that a writer uses to establish a formal tone? Complex vocabulary Academic jargon Absence of contractions Third person pronouns Establishing Tone
The Three Appeals There are essentially three ways of persuading (appealing to) an audience: 1.Emotion 2.Logic / Reason 3.Credibility Of these three methods, the least honest method is the emotional appeal, and the most honest is the logical. However, a good academic paper will reflect all three, with logic at its core. In an academic paper it is important, when using the three appeals, to be scrupulously honest and to avoid logical and emotional fallacies. - Pathos - Logos - Ethos
There are, of course, numerous methods which writers use to win over a reader, or to draw her into the text in an effort to persuade her to accept the writer’s point of view. What are some of these methods?
Understanding, as we now do, the meaning of “rhetorical stance,” we are equipped to analyze a piece of writing. Thinking back to the Aristotelian Triangle, think in terms of the Writer, the Reader, and the Text.
WRITER Who is the writer? What are her personal biases? Is she a conservative or a liberal? Is she qualified to address her topic? What qualifies her (degree, experience)? Is she honest? READER Who is the intended reader? How do you know? Why has this reader been targeted? What is expected of the reader? TEXT How is the text tailored to its readers? Which of the three appeals is used? What rhetorical methods are employed? Why? Is the text effective? Rhetorical Analysis
If I were to write an analysis of a short article, I would structure it as follows: Introduction – A general judgment of the work, including a thesis statement. Writer – Background and observations about the writer and her agenda. Readers – General observations about the intended readers, why they have been targeted, and what the writer expects of them. Text – How the writer has appealed to the readers, the tone she has adopted, and what methods she has used to manipulate their thinking, with specific examples and comments. Conclusion--A summary of my findings, with specific judgments about the article and its effectiveness.
Your Assignment: Select a newspaper or magazine article that argues a position and then analyze the rhetorical situation. Use the sample rhetorical analysis (see handout) as a guide—not as a rigid model. How you organize your analysis will depend in part on the writing you choose and in part on the decisions you make about how to arrange the parts of your analysis. You will present your essay in standard MLA format.
PowerPoint Presentation by Mark A. Spalding, BA, MEd, MA (2009). The End