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Essay Questions About Rhetoric

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics: a Few Interesting Ideas


Rhetorical analysis essays are simply essays which analyze what a writing is trying to do in his or her text. Or, a rhetorical analysis analyzes a writer’s major argument throughout their essay or how the writer tries to persuade their audience, to change their thinking about a subject.

So basically, you are trying to do something like the following:

“How Amy Tan tries to change the mind about Chinese-American’s students conceptions of Americans in their audience.”

Strategies

First, look up a lot of “how to” procedures for writing a rhetorical analysis essay. Like all essays, this essay will have an introduction, a thesis statement, like the one above, a body of evidence, which supports your thesis by continuously pointing to evidence in the text which proves your thesis, and a conclusion.

What makes a rhetorical analysis essay actually easier is that you are being tasked to analyze the words of someone else, not simply provide your own words, right? So you are going to have solid, reliable quotes to work into that support your thesis with evidence for your thesis so that you can prove that you are right.

For example, in the thesis statement on an Amy Tan essay above, you will want to look for solid evidence from the text that proves and demonstrates how Amy Tan explains conceptions of Chinese-American’s perceptions of American.

The Rhetorical Triangle

All rhetorical essays should use a three-fold “triangulated” approach –

  1. First, identify the author’s purpose (their thesis)
  2. Analyze their audience
  3. Spot their rhetorical strategies for proving their thesis.
  4. Recognize the target audience

Great Topics for Rhetorical Analysis Essays

To get ideas for your topic, first look in your textbook for essays that you might analyze. Look for simple essays with an obvious purpose.

  1. Analyze an essay that says technology improves education
  2. Analyze an essay that says technology distracts us from learning all we can.
  3. Analyze the work of an author that does not agree with our immigration laws in this country.
  4. Analyze the work of an author who supports and embraced immigration in America.

If all Else Fails

Look up two things on the internet that will help you here. “How to Write Rhetorical Analysis Essay” handouts, and “Great topics for rhetorical analysis essays.” Both of these will help you to accomplish your goals and write a unique and powerful essay.

One of the very best close reading strategies I teach is questioning using Costa’s levels; however, students sometimes need to build familiarity with what effective questions actually look like. They need to internalize them. They need to use them regularly. Asking the right questions can move struggling students beyond pedestrian summary into the realm of effective analysis with little other instruction. It brings to mind the Alexandra K. Tenfor quotation: “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”

To this end, I’ve been working on compiling a list of rhetorical analysis questions to help students think critically. While I’ve used “text” for the sake of consistency, you could easily substitute “speech” or “visual.” (Same with “author” and “speaker.”) The questions are organized by the acronym I use for analysis, PASTA+SOS. (Pasta sauce!) Enjoy!

Purpose

  1. What is the rhetorical situation?
  2. What events or occasions created a need or opportunity for this text?
  3. What is the cultural context for this text?
  4. What is the author’s intention?
  5. How does the author’s relationship with the audience limit or support the purpose?
  6. Does this text effectively meet its purpose?

Audience

  1. Who is the primary audience for this text?
  2. Who is the secondary audience for this text?
  3. What values does the audience hold that the author seeks to appeal to?
  4. What is the audiences’ relationship to the subject of the text?
  5. How does the author anticipate the audience’s needs?
  6. How does the author anticipate the audience’s response?
  7. What are the experiences shared by the author and the audience?
  8. What are the values shared by the author and the audience?
  9. How might the audience perceive the author’s intention?
  10. Does the author make assumptions about the audience that hinder the argument?

Subject

  1. What is the central idea or assertion of the text?
  2. What are the principle kinds of arguments used?
  3. What are the principle lines of reasoning (logic) used?
  4. How does the author appeal to emotion?
  5. How does the author appeal to reason?
  6. Is the data used to support the argument qualitative or quantitative?
  7. Is the data used to support the argument reliable?
  8. Is the data used to support the argument valid?
  9. What background information is provided to help the audience understand the subject? Is it adequate?

Tone

  1. What are 2-3 words that describe the tone of the text?
  2. Are there shifts in tone? (From ____ to ____)
  3. At what point(s) do(es) shift(s) in tone occur?
  4. What is the function of the shift(s) in tone?
  5. What is the effect of the tone at the beginning of the text?
  6. What is the effect of the tone at the middle of the text?
  7. What is the effect of the tone at the end of the text?
  8. How does the tone impact the author’s credibility?
  9. How does the tone impact the audience’s reception of the message?
  10. What is the overall effect of the tone?

Author’s Bias

  1. How does the author present him/herself?
  2. Is the author speaking on behalf of another entity?
  3. What is the author’s stake in the message? (Why is this message important to the author?)
  4. How does the author establish credibility?
  5. Does the author seem knowledgeable?
  6. Does the author seem fair?
  7. How does the author treat people who disagree?
  8. How does the author treat people who agree?
  9. Does the author use stereotypes?
  10. Does the author reveal prejudice?
  11. What are the author’s professional affiliations? How might they impact the argument he/she makes?
  12. What are the author’s personal affiliations? How might they impact the argument he/she makes?
  13. How does the author’s reputation influence the reception of his/her message?
  14. How might the author have insight into the subject that the audience doesn’t have?
  15. How might the author’s understanding of the subject be limited?

Structure and Organization

  1. What is the arrangement of the argument? (Classical, Rogerian, other) OR How is the work organized?
  2. What rhetorical methods are used to develop the argument? (problem/solution, cause/effect, narration, etc.)
  3. Does the organization of the text complement the subject?
  4. Does the organization of the text complement the purpose?
  5. How does the conclusion reinforce or extend the purpose?
  6. How does the conclusion involve the audience?
  7. What concepts are repeated? How does this develop the argument?
  8. What information do the longest sentences in each paragraph convey? How do they develop the argument?
  9. What information do the shortest sentences in each paragraph convey? How do they develop the argument?
  10. Is the argument inductive or deductive?
  11. If concessions are made, where in the organizational structure do they occur? What is the effect of their placement?

Style

  1. What is the point of view?
  2. What patterns exist in the author’s word choice?
  3. What patterns exist in the author’s sentence structure?
  4. Does the text tend to be concise or verbose? How does this impact the conveyance of meaning?
  5. Is the author’s approach to central idea objective or subjective?
  6. How does the author use diction to emphasize information that supports the argument?
  7. How does the author use diction to minimize information that detracts from the argument?
  8. How does the author use syntax to emphasize information that supports the argument?
  9. How does the author use syntax to minimize information that detracts from the argument?
  10. What rhetorical devices are used? What is their effect?
  11. Is the language formal or informal? How does this meet/not meet the audience’s needs?
  12. Does the author use satire? What is its effect?
  13. Does the author omit but imply key words, phrases, or ideas? What effect does this have on the meaning of the text?
  14. Are the descriptions/images concrete or abstract? How does this contribute to the argument?

If you’re an ELA teacher, you might like the game I made based on these questions. I wrote about it in this post, which also includes a freebie just for my blog readers.

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Published by rhetorstoolbox

I'm a high school English teacher with a passion for teaching AP Language and Composition. I believe in curiosity, passion, collaboration, and critical thinking. View all posts by rhetorstoolbox

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