A rhetorical essay analyzes the argument behind a piece of writing and the tactics the author uses to support and advance it. They are not limited exclusively to written prose; you can also analyze music videos, advertisements, commercials and other media. Typically, rhetorical essays are built around the rhetorical triangle, an illustration of the interactions between the author, audience, subject matter and context of a text, as well as what the piece reveals about human nature and society.
According to Alissa Cooper of Glendale Community College, the introduction should provide basic information about the text through a brief summary of its contents for the benefit of readers who are unfamiliar with it. You can also describe the rhetorical situation, or the events that surrounded its creation. If you're analyzing a cigarette commercial from the 1960s, you might discuss how the health risks of smoking had not been fully exposed, making it a more acceptable choice than today. Your introduction should also contain a clear, specific thesis statement that outlines the text's argument and how the author supports his claims.
Ethos is a persuasive strategy where the author illustrates his credibility, trustfulness and reliability. As you examine your chosen document, you can identify ethos by looking at how the author asserts his credentials or attempts to win the audience's trust. You can then use specific examples of where ethos occurs and analyze how they change the reader's perception of the author. For example, many over-the-counter prescriptions use testimonies from doctors to discuss the benefits of the product. Because a doctor is a trusted authority, many audiences view his endorsement as credible.
Pathos is a rhetorical appeal where the author attempts to engage the audience's emotions and values. The Purdue Online Writing Lab states that authors often evoke emotional appeal by sharing personal anecdotes or telling stories of people who have dealt with a problem or issue. In this part of your essay, you can analyze how the author reveals his argument through emotional language or stories. If you're analyzing an editorial about the need for gun control, the author might use the story of a victim of a shooting to show the needless and preventable loss of life.
The next section of your essay can describe the author's use of logos, the appeal to an audience's need for a logical sequence of ideas. This includes making claims that are supportable and reasonable, often through strong research and reliable sources. You can write about how the author logically advances his argument, what research he uses and the overall reasoning behind his ideas. For example, public service announcements for causes like poverty in third-world countries often give statistics about the number of people who are homeless or go without basic needs. This information can often motivate viewers to support the organization.
As with any essay, your conclusion should do more than simply summarize the author's use of rhetorical appeals. Instead, it should round out the content by providing something for readers to think about as they finish the paper. Carson suggests discussing the argument's strengths and weaknesses before providing an overall assessment. You can also discuss what the text reveals about the values, morals and commonly held beliefs of society. For example, a commercial for luxury cars could illustrate our desire for convenience, comfort and creating a persona through possessions.
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