Rhetorical Analysis: Guidelines

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Rhetorical Analysis
ENG 2001
Jeff Garrison

Background:
In contrast with assignments that ask you to figure out what a text means (textual analysis), this assignment, a rhetorical analysis, asks you to analyze how a text works on readers and how a writer’s choices persuade or convince readers to accept the writer’s perspective. Some texts are more clearly rhetorical than others: argumentative essays, political debates, and advertisements, for example, are clearly intended to persuade someone to think or act in a particular way. All texts, however, even novels, poems, and reports are inherently rhetorical -- that is, they seek to persuade readers to accept a particular viewpoint on a topic or on the world. Any text can be analyzed rhetorically to discover something about how and why it works on its audience because every text is created for a particular rhetorical situation, meaning that writers construct texts based on assumptions concerning audience, purpose, and context for the writing. The persuasive elements of texts can be analyzed by considering various aspects of a text’s rhetorical situation: its intended audience, the writer’s purpose for writing it, the context in which it was written, and the choices a writer has made to reach an audience most persuasively. Each element of the rhetorical situation—audience, writer, purpose, and context--is in relationship with every other element, and a change in one part of the rhetorical situation changes the others. A change in audience, for example, affects all other aspects of the rhetorical situation. (Consider how differently you might tell the same story to three different audiences: your best friend, your grandmother, and the president of the US. You would naturally adjust your tone, word choice, details of the story to highlight or leave out, etc, depending on which of these three audiences you are talking or writing to and why you are telling the story to one of them on a particular occasion.) The...
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