How to Write a Great Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Topics and Tips

How to Write a Great Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Topics and Tips
Rhetorical analysis is not a nasty virus or a name of the hottest band. It’s an assignment that can bring you lots of grief if you’ve never encountered it before. While not overly complicated, it differs from most other paper types and can drag your grade down. To avoid low grades and failing classes, let’s go over the basics of how to write a rhetorical analysis essay step by step.

So what is a rhetorical analysis essay?

Rhetorical analysis is not a summary, book report, or critique. Therefore, do not summarize the main points of the primary source and call the paper done. You also shouldn’t limit your essay to listing the aspects of the source you don’t like.

This academic paper focuses on why the author employed particular appeals and devices and whether her choice delivered the desired idea to the readers successfully. Analysis requires breaking the whole into smaller chunks to make the task easier.

In simpler terms, your rhetorical analysis essay should answer the question:

Why did the author use particular rhetorical tools and what made them (in)effective?

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics

At first glance, rhetorical analysis paper seems one and same with literary analysis essay, but they differ. The latter breaks down a well-known work of literature, be it “Hamlet”, “1984”, or “Lord of the Flies”. The former suggests the analysis of a nonfiction piece, written or otherwise. With this in mind, let’s go over a few fun topics for your rhetorical analysis. We include the list to tickle your imagination and get you inspired, so feel free to alter, rewrite, and combine our suggestions as you see fit.
  • Speech, presentation, or debate. If you major in Political Science, Law, or Business, choose the most inspiring speech you have encountered and analyze it in your paper. It can be an election campaign debate, trial closing speech, Oscar acceptance speech or even an old product presentation by Steve Jobs. You can also use the worst example of public speaking as your focus. This way you can outline all the mistakes the author made and suggest how to improve the performance.
  • Newspaper or journal article. You can choose among scientific peer-reviewed journals in your field, the best analytical publications, and tabloids, depending on what you are going for. If you enjoy professionally written articles, go for New York Times, Washington Post, or The Telegraph. Alternatively, you can analyze a BuzzFeed post on which potato side dish matches your personality. Research paper is also an acceptable topic for your rhetorical analysis essay, just be sure you understand the science and methodology before you break down the article.
  • Marketing and advertising copy or video. This type of content is easier to analyze, as its purpose is clear, so you only need to explain why a particular ad or email newsletter was effective or ineffective in making you buy the product. Besides the content of the advertisement, pay attention to the media through which it is delivered, as well as timing, and target audience. Such an essay will be an excellent exercise for Marketing and Business majors.
  • Educational, motivational, and entertaining content. TED Talks, Khan Academy, and other online platforms provide multiple options for your rhetorical analysis. Browse your YouTube subscription feed and choose the latest video by your favorite blogger. By breaking down their performance, you might find a new appreciation for the art or finally unsubscribe from the channels filling your feed with trash.
As you see, any piece of content may be the subject of rhetorical analysis. With your head still buzzing with endless possibilities, let’s jump straight into the mechanics of the writing process.


How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

First, read, watch, or listen to the primary source. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to ensure you understand its smallest nuances and can summarize the work without prompts. Once you familiarize yourself with the primary source, the hard work begins.

Questions to Answer When You Read (Watch or Listen)

Grab a pen and paper and jot down your answers to these questions. Your notes will help you when you move to outlining and writing.
  • What is the purpose of the piece? Does it persuade, criticize, or do something else?
  • Does the writer successfully achieve the purpose of the piece?
  • What is the intended audience of the work?
  • How are the main ideas and points arranged?
  • What rhetorical devices does the author employ? Why them? Are they effective?
  • What parts of the primary source are the most powerful and the weakest?
Besides listing your answers to these questions, note the excerpts from the primary source you can quote to back up your claims. Find at least three examples for every rhetorical appeal and technique. Even if you don’t end up using them all of them, they will help you understand the work better.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline Options

Introduction, body, and conclusion are three irreplaceable parts of all papers, and rhetorical analysis essay is no exception. The first passage is where you set the stage, introduce the topic to the readers, provide background information. The thesis statement is the core of the opening passage and the paper as a whole, so do not proceed with writing until you have at least a rough draft of the thesis.

Body paragraphs are where things get confusing and convoluted fast. To avoid unnecessary rambling and make your writing streamlined and cohesive, decide on the body structure before writing. There are multiple ways to organize the information you wish to share:
  1. By chronological order. This way you discuss each technique or appeal as it appears in the primary source. It is the easiest approach, and it works perfectly for well-structured pieces. You’ll have to choose several of the most impactful devices the author uses to keep your paper within the word limit.
  2. By appeal type. This way you can group all instances of the author using logos, pathos, and ethos into separate passages. As a result, you’ll get a neat 5-paragraph essay with a logical structure.
  3. By the impact of the rhetorical technique. For this approach, create a list of the most prominent devices used and rank them according to their impact. Discuss several techniques, going from the least to the most effective. Though the most demanding time and effort-wise, this structure is the most likely to get an extra credit from the professor.
The final passage is where you repeat your thesis and connect it to the bigger picture. In your final paragraph, explain why the primary source's idea matters, how it ties back to the real-world problems. You can also include a personal opinion on the primary source, or provide a recommendation for the audience.

Writing and Editing Cycle

Writing is agonizing and painful if you struggle with every word and turn of phrase. To speed up the process, think of writing as an iterative process. First, dump everything you can on paper as quickly as possible, without going back to clear mistakes and missing commas. After a short break, go over the text like an editor and improve the flow, shuffle ideas around until you are happy with the interim results. Repeat this cycle as many times as necessary to complete the paper.

You’ll notice that proofreading is not a part of the iterative writing process. There is no sense in getting rid of typos and errors between the cycles as you might end up scratching whole passages or sentences. Leave proofreading and formatting for last when you are 100% satisfied with the result. Use professional writing software or get a grammar nazi among your friends to perform a spell check, otherwise, you’ll have to go over the essay at least three times on your own, and there is still no guarantee you’ll be able to catch all mistakes.

Now you know everything important on how to write a rhetorical analysis essay and what topics to choose. Put our advice into practice and get a high grade. However, if you have no time or patience for in-depth analysis, there is a shortcut you could take. All you need to do is reach out and place an order. Our writers can complete your assignment in a matter of hours while you enjoy the free time you desperately need to get through high school and college with your sanity intact.

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