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Rhetorical Analysis Project

Genre: Rhetorical Analysis in an Academic Essay format
Audience: Educated, curious readers
Length: 750-1000 words

We’ve been practicing a method known as a rhetorical précis: a highly structured summary that explicates what a writer is arguing (claim), how she does it (strategy), why she does it (purpose/exigency), and for what intended audience. Your first major writing assignment in this class is a rhetorical analysis, which draws on those skills in an extended format: show us the rhetorical purpose and structure of an argument based on its rhetorical strategies and features.

In our case, your challenge is to analyze any persuasive piece from this week’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times. If you identify another persuasive essay elsewhere in the Sunday paper — and they do appear in the Sunday Magazine, the Style section, Business, etc. — feel free to run it by me as an alternative.

Support your points with references to rhetorical appeals (SMH 8d), drawing on direct quotes, references to tone, and other rhetorical features found in the text, especially those related to exigency, main claims, strategy, purpose, and audience.

Background: St. Martin’s e-Handbook:

Due Dates:

  • Weeks Two and Three: Rhetorical précis (5)
  • Week Three: Preview Rhetorical analysis
  • Thursday, 9/28: Annotated article
  • Tuesday, 10/3: Rhetorical Analysis draft #1
  • Thursday, 10/5: Rhetorical Analysis, draft #2
  • Thursday, 10/10: Rhetorical Analysis, draft #3

Rhetorical Reading & Analyzing

Some notes on rhetorical reading and analyzing that we can refer to as needed this week and next, with the goal of creating some critical distance from the texts we are reading and analyzing:

  • Paying sensitive and mindful attention to the issue or content (“what”), the methods of influencing readers (“how”), the writer’s rhetorical purpose (“in order to”), and the relationship that writers establish — or do not establish — with readers.
  • How would you characterize the writer’s proximity to the issue?
  • What is at stake — where is the stasis — in the issue?
  • What does the writer seem to value? Does she assume that we share those values?
  • What is the writer’s attitude toward us?
  • How would you characterize the writer’s tone?
  • How does the writer establish credibility?
  • What kind(s) of appeals does the writer seem to be depending on — ethos, pathos, logos?
  • How much of your own biases, assumptions, experiences, and ideology affect your ability to read for meaning and for comprehension?

SMH 8b Thinking critically about argument

Although critical thinking has a number of complex definitions, it is essentially the process by which you make sense of all the information around you. As such, critical thinking is a crucial component of argument, for it guides you in recognizing, formulating, and examining arguments.
Several elements of critical thinking are especially important.
Asking pertinent questions. Concentrate on getting to the heart of the matter. Whether you are thinking about others’ ideas or about your own, you will want to ask the following kinds of questions:
  • What is the writer or speaker’s agenda—his or her unstated purpose?
  • Why does this person hold these ideas or beliefs? What larger social, economic, political, or other factors may have influenced him or her?
  • What does he or she want the audience to do—and why?
  • What are the writer or speaker’s qualifications for making this argument?
  • What reasons does he or she offer to support the ideas? Are they good reasons?
  • What are the underlying values or unstated assumptions of the argument? 
  • What sources does the writer or speaker rely on? How current and reliable are they? What agendas do these sources have? Are any perspectives left out?
  • How do media and design appeal to the audience? Study the visual and audio aspects of the argument, including the use of color, graphics, and multimedia techniques. What do they contribute to the argument?