Rhetorical criticism is the study of the symbols and artifacts that define the world around us. These symbols, including texts, performances, art, speeches, film and even advertisements, stand as a reflection of our culture, and rhetorical criticism analyzes what these symbols mean and how they communicate that meaning to their audience. Through a reading and writing process that incorporates description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation, rhetorical criticism studies the relationships among a symbol, its author and its audience to deepen our understanding of it.


Written language is a common and interesting focus of criticism.
Written language is a common and interesting focus of criticism.

Select a specific symbol. Read or analyze your symbol closely, taking notes as you go along.

Research the context surrounding your symbol. Consider the social, cultural and economic context, as well as the author's intent and the response of its intended audience.

Identify any problems or "puzzles" you find within the symbol. These puzzles are generally related to contradictions or disjunctions among the symbol, its audience and its author.

Propose a solution that solves the puzzle you discovered.

Format and Structure

Present the text, the context and the puzzle you discovered in the previous Steps. Illustrate the puzzle, and then persuade your reader to believe that there is a problem with previous readings or interpretations of the symbol. Utilize the text and context to support your argument.

Provide a clear and convincing thesis statement in two or three sentences. Summarize the puzzle, pose a difficult rhetorical question and present your solution.

Present your solution in three or four pages. Make a persuasive argument that this solution solves the "puzzle" you discovered.

Restate your thesis and provide a summary of the symbol and what you've discovered through your close reading and analysis of it. Present new questions for your reader to contemplate.