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Essay One: Rhetorical Analysis of a Text

Your first formal essay for the semester will be to write a rhetorical analysis on a text. For this assignment, you should select one of the following texts we’ve read and/or viewed together as a class to analyze rhetorically:

·              “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie => the one I chose

·             “My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant” by Jose Antonio Vargas

·             Donald Trump campaign speech and press release from December 7, 2015

·             “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Lunsford, Ruszkiewicz, and Walters write in Everything’s an Argument, to analyze a text rhetorically means to perform “a close reading of a text to find how and whether it persuades” (91). As we’ve practiced in class, more than discussing in detail what the argument is, your rhetorical analysis should focus on the details of how each text makes its argument and ultimately how effective that argument is. Some things you’ll want to consider are the text’s language, rhetorical situation and context, audience, rhetorical techniques, organization/structure, and purpose (i.e., to convince, to persuade, to propose/call to action, to inform, or to explore).  

You may also want to consider:

·             Ethos—How does the writer establish trust with the audience? How does the writer establish his/her authority to speak on the topic? Does s/he handle the argument fairly or only present one side? Does the biography and background of the writer make him/her more or less credible?

·             Logos—How logical and well supported is the argument? What types of evidence does the author use—quotations, allusions to other texts or historical/cultural references, statistics, laws, step-by-step logical reasoning, narratives/testimonies?

·             Pathos—In what way(s) does the author attempt to connect with his/her audience emotionally? How does s/he use personal stories to make emotional connections? What moments can you pinpoint where the writer is trying to draw out a particular emotion from the audience? Are these emotional appeals effective, ineffective, overplayed? Explain how/why.

·             Opposing arguments—Did the author address counterarguments or alternative points of view? And was s/he effective at fairly engaging with them and shooting them down?

·             Style (word choice, sentence structure, details, imagery, tone/voice)—What are the elements of this author’s style and do they add to the argument or detract from it? If you are looking at a speech, here you may also examine how the speaker presents him/herself.

·             Is there a clear thesis? What is it? Does the author state it explicitly or implicitly? Why do you think s/he made such a choice?

Likely, you will not (and, arguably should not) answer all of these questions in your final paper. It’s up to you to focus on just the ones that you find most relevant to your assessment of your chosen text. You must be sure to ground your analysis in specific examples from the text. This means you will likely quote regularly from the text, analyzing roughly 2–3 quotations or concrete textual examples in each body paragraph.

In addition, while it’s fine to write an analysis primarily focused on the ways a text is rhetorically convincing and effective, you must find at least one point of critique in your chosen text. This point of critique should be discussed in a paragraph of its own, likely near the end of your paper (though it could be you find this fits better elsewhere). This critique could take the form of identifying missed opportunities or places where the writer might expand, develop, or edit down his/her argument; areas of pathos, ethos, or logos that fall short in the text; or other ways you felt the writer failed to make the most of his/her rhetorical situation. Consider the critique the place where you get to voice how you can see the text being improved. Note: Should you be writing an analysis that is focused mostly on negatively critiquing your text, you will need to identify at least one point where the author succeeds rhetorically and spend a paragraph focused on that component.

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