What is a Rhetorical Analysis?

What is a Rhetorical Analysis?

What is a rhetorical analysis? This is a question that most students ask when required to write rhetorical analysis essays. Rhetorical analysis simply entails a critical examination of a work in order to unearth the rhetorician’s inner-workings in the work. The goal of rhetorical analysis is to examine how the author makes arguments instead of how he/she argues. The focus is on rhetorical features of the work- edu/writingcenter (rhetorical-analysis.pdf). These include the goal of writing, target audience, situation of the author, the claims made and the provided evidence. While highlighting these features, a rhetorical analysis work shows the way an argument attempts to persuade readers.

To know what is rhetorical analysis first know what it entails

Rhetorical analysis is simply a type of writing that demonstrates how one understands the way a piece communicates meanings and messages. This writing entails breaking down a piece into several parts. When a work is broken down into several parts, giving insights about the overall strategies that the author has used in an attempt to persuade the readers becomes easy. Usually, you do not give value judgment of the piece while doing a rhetorical analysis- owl.english.purdue.edu.

Rhetorical analysis sample

While doing a rhetorical analysis, you must read the work first while performing both against grain and with grain reading. With grain reading implies that you “believe” in what the writer tells you. You simply do not question the author. Against grain reading implies that you challenge the techniques and claims of the author. As such, you should read the work severally and critically in order to identify the techniques used and the claims made by the author. Also make notes and mark examples that you can use in illustrating or supporting your points in rhetorical analysis.

With grain reading

Here is an example of with grain reading of the Indians essay by Jane Tompkins- public.asu.edu:

In with grain reading, a brief summary of the main argument of the author is constructed in order to orient your reader with the main points that will be made in the rhetorical analysis. In the summary, the main points of the author are presented in a simple and neutral manner as follows:

“In the “Indians” article by Jane Tompkins, the author attempts to identify the “truth” of the encounter of Puritan-Native Americans in North America through a comparison of different historical accounts. The author ultimately concludes that although the worldview that the person who writes an account determines history, moral relativism cannot be accepted as a stance for serious events in history. Tompkins structures the essay in form of a personal narrative by laying out research process, analyzing and summarizing academic sources. This essay leads readers via an academic history’s analysis that ranges from the 1960s to the 1970s while alternately sympathizing and criticizing with Native Americans as well as the primary colonists’ texts. Ultimately, this essay has a conclusion that calls on the academicians to look for competing historical accounts and bringing them together to show what really happened “as per what appears plausible and reasonable”.”

Against grain reading

In this reading, you evaluate how the way readers see is controlled by the author. This implies that you look for instances where the author employs words that have certain connotations. You also evaluate how the author has used certain words to create a specific style or tone.


“Tompkins tries to present her process for conducting research as objective. She depicts to the readers the way she has systematically consulted different historical accounts including primary sources of the colonists and analyses of historians from different thought schools. However, readers can ultimately see Tompkins’ research process via her perspective. This is the point that she arrives at implicitly towards the end of the essay. This insight is highlighted by the use of the first person in the article. For instance, Tompkins says, “I didn’t care about having real exemplars and their interference with what I knew”. Attention is drawn to the reality that her approach of the research was influenced by personal feelings.”

Aspects of rhetorical analysis

Perhaps, when answering the question, “what is a rhetorical analysis”, you should also know what the aspects of a rhetorical analysis are.

They include:

  • The audience

Rhetorical analysis considers who the work is intended for. For instance, in the Tompkins essay case, academicians are the target audience although she uses a simplified language to ensure that the work has a larger audience that includes the general readers and undergraduate students.

  • Claims

Rhetorical analysis notes the claims of the author and where he/she has made them. The basis of the claim is usually objective facts. However, the author can interpret them differently in order to make an argument. There are fact claims, value claims and policy claims.

  • Refutations and concessions

Rhetorical analysis examines the work to determine if the author has provided enough evidence to support the claim. Concessions are the acknowledgements that there are other perspectives with merit. Refutations entail arguing in support of the position of the author.

Rhetorical appeals

You cannot give a detailed answer to what is a rhetorical analysis without mentioning rhetorical appeals. Basically, rhetorical analysis evaluates three major appeals.

These are:

  • Ethos: This refers to the way an author creates a credible persona. Here, you analyze how the author tries to establish authority or credibility.
  • Logos: These are logical appeals. Here, you analyze how an argument’s logic is established by the author.
  • Pathos: These are emotional appeals. While doing a rhetorical analysis, you look for places where the author engages emotionally with the reader.

Writing a rhetorical analysis

In the introduction, rhetorical analysis includes a description or summary of a text and establishment of the necessary context that enables readers to comprehend a rhetorical analysis. This context can include the biological information of the author.


While writing your rhetorical analysis, you can take any of the following approaches:

  • Summarize the work’s main argument
  • Break down the argument into simple sections
  • Identify the main points that support the main argument or thesis

You can also do the following:

  • Identify the main argument or thesis
  • Identify the main argument’s theme
  • Find the main argument and parts that match their themes

When using either of these approaches, the aim is to analyze how the thesis or main argument is constructed and supported by evidence. After this, you can identify how the author uses pathos, ethos and logos as well as rhetorical devices or tropes.

How to write a rhetorical analysis that exhibits professionalism

A professional rhetorical analysis has to be highly precise and academic. A rhetorical analysis’ strength depends on how the analysis is written. A formal tone should be used so that readers can see that you are really knowledgeable about the topic. Additionally, the analysis ought to have a logical flow and organization so that readers can follow it with ease. The text should also be discussed logically.

Guidelines of a good rhetorical analysis

What is a rhetorical analysis and what should it indicate to the readers? This is a common question among students.

A good rhetorical analysis should show the following:

  • The main argument or arguments of the work or text
  • The organizational structure that the author uses
  • The perceived or intended audience
  • The writing style that the text uses in making the work more appealing
  • How the author establishes himself or herself as an authority or expert on a topic or subject

Any rhetorical analysis aims at analyzing the goal of the author as well as strategies that have been used in achieving the purpose- tutorial.ncsu.edu (Rhetorical Analysis.pdf). As such, the effects of a text on the readers are considered by the analysis while determining if the author has succeeded in persuading the audience. To perform a rhetorical analysis, you need to note and comprehend the way readers are persuaded by the writer. You also need to be proficient in constructing arguments while resisting any faulty argument that other writers make.


Good rhetorical analysis adheres to certain conventions- cstudies.ubc.ca.

These include:

  • Analyzing the text in simple present tense
  • Enclosing the titles of the essay with quotation marks
  • Using “the audience” or “the reader” in reference to you. Avoid first person viewpoints
  • Supporting every claim that you make with relevant textual evidence such as paraphrases and direct quotations

However, the instructor can give you specific conventions that you should follow while handling the project.

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