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Writing your Rhetorical Analysis Paper: some Tips to Guide you

Rhetorical analysis papers are a common type of assignment for college writing classes, although many new students find they have not encountered anything like it before. I always tell students that the main thing to remember for a rhetorical analysis paper is not so much what the author is saying, but why and how the author is saying it.

The risk students run, when writing these kinds of papers, is that they never get beyond a simple summary. It’s not enough to note that the author gets emotional or that he lists numbers to back his point. You need to pay attention to the ways that the author uses emotional language to stir similar feelings in the reader, uses numbers to provide overwhelming evidence, or cites credible sources to support claims.

Typically, when analyzing an author’s rhetoric, we refer to his use of logos, pathos, and ethos. Put simply, logos addresses logical appeals, pathos addresses emotional appeals, and ethos addresses appeals to credibility. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that these three appeals formed the basis of effective arguments, illustrating their mutually supportive roles as a triangle:

When writing your paper, a very simple way to approach it is to use the five-paragraph model (introduction, three body paragraphs, conclusion). You can use the introduction to introduce briefly the original essay and three rhetorical techniques you see the author using to persuade his audience. Then, each body paragraph will expand on one of these three techniques. The most basic approach would be to have one paragraph each for the author’s use of logos, pathos, and ethos.

Alternatively, you could organize each paragraph around a passage you found noteworthy. Either way, you need to provide plenty of textual evidence to support the claims you make about the author’s use of rhetoric.

Be warned, though, that many college professors dislike the five-paragraph model, so you may need to do more to impress her enough to get an “A”. In my own classes, a paper that stuck to the above template might not earn more than a “C” for adequately meeting expectations.

Ultimately, the devil is in the details. Provide quotations, but more importantly be sure to elaborate on why these quotations are significant in your own words. College professors love papers in which students go on and on about an author’s use of language, so keep milking those quotations until you cannot find anything more to say about them.

Finally, vary your language. Do not keep saying repeatedly that the author uses pathos. It is fine to start with that in a draft, but be sure to go back and find some fresher language. Your pathos paragraph should begin with a sentence that effectively says, “Here is my pathos paragraph,” but you ultimately want to disguise it in a way that comes across individually and naturally. Maintain a conversational tone and say what you find most important or interesting about your subject.