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Rhetoric is the study of how writers and speakers use words to influence an audience. A rhetorical analysis is an essay that breaks a work of non-fiction into parts and then explains how the parts work together to create a certain effect—whether to persuade, entertain or inform. You can also conduct a rhetorical analysis of a primarily visual argument such as a cartoon or advertisement, or an oral performance such as a speech. In this handout we will use the word rhetorician to refer to the author of a speech or document or to the creator of an advertisement, cartoon, or other visual work.
A rhetorical analysis should explore the rhetorician’s goals, the techniques (or tools) used, examples of those techniques, and the effectiveness of those techniques. When writing a rhetorical analysis, you are NOT saying whether or not you agree with the argument. Instead, you’re discussing how the rhetorician makes that argument and whether or not the approach used is successful. Artistic and Inartistic Proofs
An artistic proof is created by the rhetorician and encompasses the appeals, canons, and most of the techniques given below. An inartistic proof is a proof that exists outside the rhetorician such as surveys, polls, testimonies, statistics, facts, and data. Either type of proof can help make a case. Appeals
An appeal is an attempt to earn audience approval or agreement by playing to natural human tendencies or common experience. There are three kinds of appeals: the pathetic, the ethical, and the logical.
The pathetic appeal invokes the audience’s emotion to gain acceptance and approval for the ideas expressed. (Note that in this context, the word “pathetic” has none of the negative connotations associated with it in other contexts but refers only to the ability to stir emotions.) In a pathetic appeal, rhetoricians tap a reader’s sympathy and compassion, anger and disappointment, desire for love, or sadness to convince the audience of their argument. Effective rhetoricians can create these feelings in an audience even if the feeling wasn’t there before.
Ex. TV commercials asking viewers to sponsor a third world child appeal to the viewer’s compassion and instinct to protect the innocent.
The ethical appeal uses the writer’s own credibility and character to make a case and gain approval. Rhetoricians use themselves and their position as an “expert” or as a “good person” to give their argument presence and importance. An everyday example of this is a minister, rabbi, priest, or shaman—individuals who are followed because they have established themselves as moral authorities. Writers using ethos may offer a definition for an obscure term or detailed statistics to establish their authority and knowledge.
Ex. A speaker from the American Heart Association visiting a kinesiology class to talk about healthy lifestyle choices is a practical example of ethos.
The logical appeal uses reason to make a case. Academic discourse is mostly logos-driven because academic audiences respect scholarship and evidence. Rhetoricians using logos rely on evidence and proof, whether the proof is hard data or careful reasoning.
Ex.1 In his Divine Watchmaker argument, William Paley employs logical comparison to prove that something as complex as life and our world could not have occurred by chance.
Ex.2 Toothpaste commercials like to appeal to logos by citing statistics and using scientific language to describe the process of preventing cavities.
Remember that a single document, speech, or advertisement can make all three appeals. Rhetoricians will often combine techniques in...
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