3.1 Rhetoric

[1]In this chapter, we will examine rhetoric. Rhetorical analysis/criticism analyzes the symbolic artifacts of discourse — the words, phrases, images, gestures, performances, texts, films, etc. that people use to communicate. Rhetorical analysis shows how the artifacts work, how well they work, and how the artifacts, as discourse, inform and instruct, entertain and arouse, and convince and persuade the audience; as such, discourse includes the possibility of morally improving the reader, the viewer, and the listener. Rhetorical criticism studies and analyzes the purpose of the words, sights, and sounds that are the symbolic artifacts used for communication among people.

What is called “rhetorical criticism” in the Speech Communication discipline is often called “rhetorical analysis” in English. Through this analytical process, an analyst defines, classifies, analyzes, interprets, and evaluates a rhetorical artifact. Through this process, a critic explores, by means of various approaches, the manifest and latent meaning of a piece of rhetoric thereby offering further insight into the field of rhetorical studies generally and into an artifact or rhetor specifically. Such an analysis, for example, may reveal the particular motivations or ideologies of a rhetor, how he or she interprets the aspects of a rhetorical situation, or how cultural ideologies are manifested in an artifact. It could also demonstrate how the constraints of a particular situation shape the rhetoric that responds to it. Certain approaches also examine how rhetorical elements compare with the traditional elements of a narrative or drama

A rhetorical analysis considers all elements of the rhetorical situation–the audience, purpose, medium, and context–within which a communication was generated and delivered in order to make an argument about that communication. A strong rhetorical analysis will not only describe and analyze the text but will also evaluate it; that evaluation represents your argument. The rhetorical situation identifies the relationship among the elements of any communication–audience, author (rhetor), purpose, medium, context, and content. The time, place, and public conversations surrounding the text during its original generation and delivery should also be considered; the text may also be analyzed within a different context such as how a historical text would be received by its audience today.

Rhetorical Analysis Questions

  • Description: What does this text look like? Where did you find the text? Who sponsored it? What are the rhetorical appeals? When was it written?
  • Analysis: Why does the author incorporate these rhetorical appeals?  How would the reception of this text change if it were written today, as opposed to twenty years ago? What is left out of this text and why? Should the weight of the appeals used be shifted and why or why not?
  • Evaluation: Is the text effective? Is the text ethical? What might you change about this text to make it more successful within its context?

  1. 3.1 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with minor edits and additions from Critical Thinking by Andrew Gurevich which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


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