Rhetorical Analysis

1 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R


WHAT IS A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS? An essay where RHETORIC (persuasive discourse) is analyzed (broken into its constituent parts and examined to see how these parts function and contribute to the whole text) in order to

understand how a text works to move an audience to accept the RHETOR’S (writer/speaker) position. Your focus should be on how you see the rhetor using persuasion within the text.

Note that pure or muddled configurations of the following do not constitute rhetorical analysis:

summarizing the text, responding to the text, or defining the ARTISTIC PROOFS (persuasive appeals identified by Aristotle) and identifying them within the text without analysis of how they work

individually and symbiotically.

WHAT IS MEANT BY RHETORICAL SITUATION? This phrase refers to the dynamic created when a rhetor composes a text for an audience for a

specific purpose, frequently represented as the RHETORICAL TRIANGLE.




















The content of the document or

speech. The argument and how

it is structured and supported.

Logos resides in the text.

The writer or speaker who is

creating and/or delivering it to the

audience. The rhetor’s character

influences the text’s reception.

Ethos resides with the rhetor.

The intended recipient(s) of the

text. Connecting with them on an

emotional level can impact the

persuasiveness of a text. Pathos

resides with the audience.

The rhetor’s motivation for

communicating with the

audience. What the rhetor

wants the audience to do

upon receiving the message.

Purpose drives rhetoric.





2 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

ARTISTIC PROOFS EXPLAINED, AT LENGTH Aristotle, taxonomist extraordinaire, liked to categorize things and organize them hierarchically.

He did this with the natural world (example: subdividing living things into two categories: animals

and plants and then grouping within those categories by similarity, e.g. all vertebrates over here,

all invertebrates over here). He also did this with rhetoric. In fact, he wrote a book on rhetoric,

titled Rhetoric. In this treatise, he identifies various rhetorical appeals or distinct ways of making

a text persuasive. He refers to them as ETHOS (character), PATHOS, (emotion) and LOGOS (reason).

ALL ABOUT ETHOS Ever notice how most speeches begin with someone introducing the speaker? And not just the

speaker’s name, but a little biography that may also appear in an expanded form on the printed

or online program. Similar blurbs appear in a lot of anthologies and textbooks. Before the

reprinted selection, the editor includes a note about the author. Even TED Talks on Youtube

include information about the speaker when you click on “More.” This background information is

not fluff; its inclusion is a strategic decision intended to shape how you perceive the speaker,

which influences how you receive the message. Ethos is the appeal based on who the rhetor is.

The above examples demonstrate EXTRINSIC ETHOS, which means that the audience’s knowledge of the rhetor’s character is established independent of the text. Sometimes you will know

something about the rhetor, should their reputation precede them; sometimes the organizers

may provide some background information for the less famous. Any information you know about

the rhetor that inclines you to hear this person out or otherwise shapes your opinion of the

rhetor—prior to actually hearing or reading the text—contributes to the rhetor’s EXTRINSIC ETHOS.


Ethos can also be INTRINSIC, which means the character of the rhetor is expressed through the

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. . . . It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.”

Aristotle, Rhetoric

SIGNS OF EXTRINSIC ETHOS  EXPERTISE: How extensive is the rhetor’s knowledge of the issue?  CREDENTIALS: Has the rhetor earned degrees or certifications to show their proficiency?  EXPERIENCE: How much related experience does the rhetor have?  HONORS & AWARDS: Has the rhetor been recognized for contributions to the field?





3 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

text alone. Many times you may know nothing about a speaker prior to listening to the speech.

Yet, as you listen you begin to feel like you know this person or at least something about this

person, and this familiarity may make you more receptive to the speaker’s message. Anything

you learn about the rhetor that creates the impression that this person is sincere,

knowledgeable, reliable, and well-intentioned—that you didn’t know until you heard or read the

text—establishes the rhetor’s INTRINSIC ETHOS.


Whether extrinsic or intrinsic, ethos relies on the premise that the audience is more likely to

accept the rhetor’s argument and act accordingly when the rhetor is perceived to be credible.

In this proof, Aristotle identified three categories to determine a rhetor’s credibility:

GOOD SENSE (phronesis), GOOD CHARACTER (arete), and GOOD WILL (eunoia).


Anything that makes the impression that this person is qualified to speak on the topic and worth

listening to contributes to strengthening the rhetor’s ethos.


ALL ABOUT PATHOS You know those movies, the ones where the good guys are facing insurmountable odds and are

looking all kinds of dejected and the naysayers won’t quit their naysaying? And then, the leader

stands and delivers an impassioned, morale boosting speech set to an epic score that inspires


competent level-headed

informed experienced



virtuous trustworthy

moral genuine


committed to the greater good

no conflicts of interest unbiased or discloses



SIGNS OF INTRINSIC ETHOS  PREPARATION: How does the rhetor show the time and effort put into crafting the text?  KNOWLEDGE: How does the rhetor demonstrate the extent of their knowledge?  COUNTERARGUMENTS: How does their handling of alternate viewpoints establish


 PRESENTATION: How does the presentation tell you something about who the rhetor is?





4 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

them to overcome their fears and bravely face their foes. Sometimes they emerge victorious.

Think any sports movie ever (“clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” -Friday Night Lights). Sometimes they meet a tragic but glorious end. Think 300 (HA-OOH). What makes these

speeches so powerful? It’s PATHOS, the appeal to the emotions of the audience that moves us.

As Aristotle observed, people are emotional creatures whose judgment can be influenced by how they feel more than what they think. Knowing this, rhetors strategically target the emotions of their audience. On a deeper level, the rhetor doesn’t just want the audience to feel hopeful or fearful or proud or outraged; rather the rhetor wants to connect with the audience emotionally. The rhetor wants to evoke in the audience the same emotions the rhetor is experiencing. It’s like Braveheart. When William Wallace rides before his fellow Scots proclaiming that the English may take our lives but they will never take our freedom, they feel the force of his fierce conviction and follow him into battle. An effective tactic for incorporating pathos is through storytelling. Rhetors tell stories about the past (e.g. the “Gettysburg” speech from Remember the Titans). They tell stories about the present (e.g. the “this is your time” speech from Miracle). They tell stories about the future (e.g. the “people will come” speech from Field of Dreams). These stories reflect their audience’s values and tap into their desires. The high school football players are moved by their coach’s story of the long reach of slavery touches them. The US Olympic hockey players can see themselves winning against the statistically superior Soviets because that’s how their coach sees them. Imagining a future of folks yearning for the peace of the past, Terrance moves Ray to risk financial ruin by keeping his baseball field because he longs for such peace, too. Witnessing these scenes, we, too, are swept up in the emotions evoked by these narratives. The imagery, the repetitions, the charged language all work to make us involved in the story. WE ARE MARSHALL. WE ARE SPARTA, WE FEW, WE HAPPY FEW, WE BAND OF BROTHERS. WE COULD BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY. This is the power of pathos.

“Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgments when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts.”

Aristotle, Rhetoric

SIGNS OF PATHOS  STORYTELLING: anecdotes, histories, hypotheticals, etc.  VIVID IMAGERY: metaphors, similes, and descriptions that engage the senses  REPETITION: key words, themes, or motifs that recur for maximum impact  LOADED LANGUAGE: emotionally charged phrases intended to make an impression  TONE: the attitude the rhetor creates (humorous, angry, concerned, etc.)




5 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

ALL ABOUT LOGOS “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Maybe you’ve heard this quote before? Possibly from the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes or maybe from the equally famous Vulcan, Spock? Luckily, you don’t need to be a Sherlockian or Trekkie to appreciate a good quote from imaginary logicians. But is it good

logic? Well, let’s say it is a good representation of a form of logic known as REDUCTIVE LOGIC. In this form of logic, answers to questions are determined by a process of elimination. However, the success of this process depends upon the accuracy of the list of alternatives you are eliminating, which can be compromised by incomplete information. While it may work for Sherlock and Spock, Aristotle (add “Father of Logic” to his long list of accolades) holds to a

higher standard when it comes to an appeal based on logical reasoning, or LOGOS.

Logic, for Aristotle, was a subject of formal study that focused on the reasoning used to form and evaluate arguments. For an argument to be persuasive, the reasoning must be free of

flaws. One way to determine whether a form of reasoning is flaw-free form is DEDUCTION, the form of logic Aristotle emphasized in his writings. Deductive reasoning works from general to specific. In this top-down approach, you start from a universal rule or law and apply it to a particular

case. For a CONCLUSION (answer/argument) to be VALID (legit), the PREMISES (assumptions) must be true. If the conclusion is valid, the premises were true, and the resulting argument is SOUND.

To explain this concept, Aristotle formulated another concept: the SYLLOGISM. A syllogism is made of two premises (one major and one minor) and one conclusion. In a valid syllogism, the conclusion is drawn from the premises. For example:






If both premises are true, then by necessity the conclusion must also be true. If you have no cause to doubt the major or minor premise, and the conclusion follows these premises, then you

“Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”

Aristotle, Rhetoric

General Truth or Universal LawMAJOR PREMISE

• All great detectives have a crime-solving method.

Particular Case Applicable to Universal LawMINOR PREMISE

• Sherlock Holmes uses a reductive method of solving crimes.

Drawn from PremisesCONCLUSION

• Sherlock Holmes is a great detective.




6 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

have to accept the conclusion as valid and the reasoning as sound. Another!





This syllogism has all the requisite parts placed in the correct order, but is the conclusion valid? It seems to make sense, right? Turns out that the conclusion is not valid as there is a problem with the minor premise. Yes, Spock identifies as a Vulcan, but he is also half-human and that is

not accounted for in the premises. The conclusion is INVALID because the premises are not true, ergo the reasoning is UNSOUND. Behold, the powers of deductive reasoning in syllogistic form! But, wait. “What if I don’t have a universal law or general truth to work from?” you ask. Excellent

question. You use INDUCTION. With inductive reasoning, you move from particular cases to extrapolate a general truth. This bottom-up approach is based on observation and inference. Basically, you notice something happening under certain circumstances and determine it’s a pattern. From this, you infer that there must be something governing this pattern and set out to prove what that universal law or general truth may be. The conclusion may not be definite like a deductive one, but it is highly probable and reliable until new information comes to light.

An inductive argument can be STRONG or WEAK, based on the quality of the evidence. If the argument is strong, the conclusion is COGENT. Conclusions derived from weak arguments based on faulty premises are UNCOGENT. Time to make another example out of Sherlock Holmes:

So, is this use of inductive reasoning strong? Is the conclusion cogent? To determine the relative strength or weakness, we must look at the evidence. Is the sample too few? Has it left out pertinent examples of cases where the method was used but the crime went unsolved?

General Truth or Universal LawMAJOR PREMISE

• All Vulcans are logical.

Particular Case Applicable to Universal LawMINOR PREMISE

• Spock is a Vulcan.

Drawn from PremisesCONCLUSION

• Spock is logical.

Observation of PatternsEVIDENCE

•Sherlock Holmes solved the “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” and “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” using the same crime-solving method.

Inferred from EvidenceCONCLUSION

• If he continues to use his method, he will likely continue to solve crimes successfully.




7 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

Were there any deviations or departures from the method in cases included or omitted? If you have grounds to question the inductive premise, then the reasoning is weak and the conclusion is uncogent. Let’s revise the example based on these considerations:




Notice the conclusion has not changed. But is it cogent now? Yes. The better the evidence, the stronger the argument. Strong arguments yield cogent conclusions and reflect correct reasoning, making the argument persuasive. Yay, Induction! All of this foray into formal logic is to provide you with the basics to talk about how logical reasoning works within a text. It’s not enough to say that what the rhetor says makes sense. You need to show how the rhetor makes sense—or fails to make sense—within the text, to demonstrate how the formulation of an argument appeals to the intended audience. This means considering the internal consistency of the argument (from claim to method of reasoning to evidence) to evaluate whether the text is persuasive to the audience.


HINT: if you detect the presence of one or more FALLACIES (flawed reasoning), then the rhetor is using logos poorly (accidental fallacies) and /or is using ethos poorly (deliberate fallacies).

ABOUT THOSE FALLACIES Fallacies can be both logical and rhetorical and are divided into two categories: FORMAL FALLACIES and INFORMAL FALLACIES. With a formal fallacy, the logical form used to construct a deductive argument is incorrect. The premises may be true, the conclusion may be true, but the logical

reasoning is invalidated because the conclusions don’t proceed from the premises in the way

suggested by the logical form or syllogism. For an informal fallacy, the reasoning is invalidated

because of defects in form and content. Both formal fallacies and informal fallacies come in

several categories with multiple subfallacies within them.

SIGNS OF LOGOS  THESIS: claims, arguments, and conclusions  GROUNDS: underlying support for claims, such as definitions or theories  METHODS: design of the study, the methodology used, justification for this approach,

and explanation of methods used to collect data

 EVIDENCE: statistical data, facts, expert testimony, citations from authorities, examples (real or hypothetical), analogies (literary or historical), or personal anecdotes

 REASONING: key words (like because, therefore, hence, thus) that indicate logic

Observation of Patterns EVIDENCE

• From 1921-1927, Sherlock Holmes employed his reductive method of crime-solving for all 12 of his cases with a 100% success rate.

Inferred from EvidenceCONCLUSION

• If he continues to use his method, he will likely continue to solve crimes successfully.




8 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

One common fallacy is the FALSE DILEMMA (aka FALSE DICHOTOMY, BLACK-WHITE, EITHER/OR) fallacy. In this kind of fallacy, two options are presented as the only viable alternatives when in point of fact

there may be many more. The omission of alternatives may be accidental (due to ignorance) or

intentional (due to malice). Beyond restricting options to the chosen two, the rhetor presents

them as being mutually exclusive. You can have a side of bread or chips. No mention of apple.

No option of selecting both bread and chips. Perhaps another example?








In this example, the major premises is formulated as a false dilemma. The phrase either/or

stipulates that Spock’s disposition determines whether he is Vulcan or Human. If he possesses

the Vulcan trait and not the trait defining humanity, then he cannot be Human. The inverse is

also true for the major premise. If Spock were defined by his emotionality then he cannot be

Vulcan, according to the logic of this syllogism. However, the major premise fails to consider

alternatives. There is no option that addresses the notion that Vulcan/Human hybrids can

display traits associated with both sides of their parentage. And hey, Humans can be logical.

After all, formal logic was invented by humans. Remember Aristotle?


There’s also a problem with the minor premise. Spock may be known for valuing logic and

suppressing emotion, but he is not devoid of emotions altogether. The deliberate omission of

Spock’s emotional complexity from the premise because it would undermine the desired

conclusion is an instance of another common fallacy, called the SUPPRESSED EVIDENCE fallacy. With all these flaws, the logical reasoning is invalidated even though the conclusion is true. Strictly

speaking, Spock is not Human. One more!






General Truth or Universal LawMAJOR PREMISE

•Spock is either logical like a Vulcan or emotional like a Human.

Particular Case Applicable to Universal LawMINOR PREMISE

•Spock is logical.

Drawn from PremisesCONCLUSION

•Spock is not Human.

Observation of Patterns EVIDENCE

• I know five die-hard Trekkies and they all were disappointed with Star Trek Into Darkness.

Inferred from EvidenceCONCLUSION

• Star Trek Into Darkness is loathed by all Star Trek fans.




9 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

One example, two fallacies. The conclusion is uncogent because it is based on a weak

argument. The gap between 5 fans and all fans is too immense to support such a sweeping

conclusion. It is a HASTY GENERALIZATION because the sample size is too small to be representative of the entire Start Trek fandom. The degree of negativity between disappointment and loathing

is also problematic as it is not supported by the evidence. Overstating or overemphasizing a

point is called the FALLACY OF EXAGERRATION. If the rhetor diminished or downplayed the point, they would be guilty of the FALLACY OF LACK OF PROPORTION.

Fallacies result from a mixture of ignorance and deceitfulness. Try not to be either through

education (learn how logic works and familiarize yourself with common fallacies) and ethical

behavior (commit to fair and transparent argumentation).


OKAY, I GET RHETORIC, BUT HOW DO I WRITE THIS PAPER? A working knowledge of rhetoric, the rhetorical situation, and the artistic proofs is essential to writing a rhetorical analysis, but the essay won’t write itself. You need to apply this knowledge to a text. The process of application coincides with the planning, prewriting, and drafting stages of writing. It will likely emerge during revision, as well, when you are adding, deleting, and reorganizing material. PLEASE NOTE: The following steps outline the process of analyzing rhetoric; they shouldn’t be mistaken for an outline of your essay. So, follow the steps in order, but don’t write a paragraph about how you did each of them and call it a rhetorical analysis (it’d be a process analysis).

STEP 1: SELECT If you have the option, select an appropriate text – something primarily intended to persuade, not solely inform or entertain. A persuasive text calls the audience to action. Buy this. Vote for me. Change this. Reject that. Convict her. Free yourself. For your first time analyzing rhetoric, choose a text designed to be heard (a speech) or read (a piece of writing). Visual and multimedia texts are rhetorically rich, but requires an advanced understanding of how rhetoric operates in these kinds of media.

STEP 2: STUDY Once you have your text, go over it a lot. Look up the definitions of any terms you find unfamiliar. Study it. Know this text inside and out. Recite it in your sleep. When you are deeply familiar with its content (what it says), direct your attention to its rhetoric (what makes it persuasive). Study the rhetorical situation: who wants whom to do what for which purpose? TIP: don’t get sidetracked by the content of the argument. Your task is not to summarize, respond, or argue. Your focus needs to be on analysis and evaluation of rhetoric.

STEP 3: IDENTIFY Mindful of rhetoric, go through the text again and identify passages that seemed designed to move the audience to action. Determine which artistic appeals are evident in these passages by checking for signs of ethos, pathos, and logos. Color-code to your heart’s content (green = ethos, red = pathos, blue = logos).

EXAMINE THE MARKED-UP DRAFT. Which color is most prominent? Which color seems underutilized? How does the rhetor move through the different colors? Are the colors clustered (all the greens in one location, all the reds, etc.)? Are some passages multicolored?




10 | K E A N U N I V E R S I T Y W R I T I N G C E N T E R

STEP 4: ANALYZE Identification is the beginning, not the end, of analysis. You need to be able to tell your ethos from your pathos, but you need to go beyond that to examine how they operate in the text.

LOOK AT EACH USE OF ETHOS. How is the rhetor establishing credibility? What is the cumulative impact of the rhetor’s attempts to show good sense, good character, and good will?

LOOK AT EACH USE OF PATHOS. Where does the rhetor speak not as an expert but as a person? In these moments, how does the rhetor imbue the message with emotions? How strong are the emotions? How does this expressive sharing connect the rhetor to the audience?

LOOK AT EACH USE OF LOGOS. How is logical reasoning demonstrated throughout the text? Is it valid and sound or strong and cogent? Do fallacies masquerade as logical reasoning? How does the argument itself move the audience to act as the rhetor wishes?

STEP 5: EVALUATE You’ve identified the presence of rhetorical appeals and analyzed how they are used in the text. Congratulations! You are prepared to move into the final step, evaluation. For this, you make a

CLAIM (assertion of something that can be proved or at least argued) about how the RHETOR (speaker/writer) uses RHETORIC (persuasive discourse) with respect to the RHETORICAL SITUATION (relationship between rhetor, text, and audience informed by purpose). In essence, you make a judgment call about the quality of the rhetoric. This judgment becomes your thesis that you develop by crafting an analytical argument supported by evidence from the text, which is enhanced by your thorough understanding of how rhetoric works. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

STEP 6: WRITE & REVISE With a working thesis in place, you are ready to begin the process of forming your thoughts into a draft. Whether you prefer a concept map, web, list, or formal outline, impose some structure onto your ideas, arranging your main points and supporting evidence in way that reveals connections between ideas. When it comes to organizing the essay, don’t feel locked into writing about ethos, pathos, and logos in that order. Aristotle explains the artistic proofs in this order, but you can rearrange them as needed to best develop your thesis. If the dominant appeal used in the text is pathos, analyze pathos first. Keep writing. Get feedback. Revise.

TIPS FOR WRITING/REVISING A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS (AKA WHAT NOT TO DO)  NO SUBSTITUTIONS: Don’t cop-out by switching out the assignment you are tasked with

(analysis of rhetoric) for an easier or more familiar task (summary, response, argument, or literary analysis).

 NO BANALITIES: Avoid unoriginal, overused, and underperforming phrases, like “The rhetor uses ethos, pathos, and logos to persuade the audience.” Of course, the rhetor does. That is not in question. The question is how the rhetor uses them.

 NO TAUTOLOGY: Don’t make circular claims, such as “The rhetor uses pathos to appeal to the emotions of the audience.” That is the equivalent of saying “The rhetor uses

pathos to use pathos.” And, yeah, it’s a fallacy called BEGGING THE QUESTION.  NO INCOMPLETES: Don’t set up an analysis but fail to deliver it, as in “The rhetor uses

loaded language to appeal to the audience’s emotions.” Which emotions? How do the rhetor’s words evoke it? Why is this an effective use of pathos considering the audience and purpose?

"Looking for a Similar Assignment? Get Expert Help at an Amazing Discount!"