Part 4: Rhetorical Modes

16 Rhetorical Analysis

What is a Rhetorical Analysis?

A Rhetorical analysis begins with the examination of the content and the style of the author. A rhetorical analysis is an examination of the topic, purpose, audience, and context of a piece of text.  A text can be written, spoken, or conveyed in some other manner.

Sometimes, the best way to learn how to write a good argument is to start by analyzing other arguments. When you do this, you get to see what works, what doesn’t, what strategies another author uses, what structures seem to work well and why, and more.

In the paragraphs that follow, you will learn about analyzing arguments for both content and rhetorical strategies. The content analysis may come a little easier for you, but the rhetorical analysis is extremely important. To become a good writer, we must develop the language of writing and learn how to use that language to talk about the “moves” other writers make.

When we understand the decisions other writers make and why, it helps us make more informed decisions as writers. We can move from being the “accidental” writer, where we might do well but are not sure why, to being a “purposeful” writer, where we have an awareness of the impact our writing has on our audience at all levels.

The ultimate goal of a rhetorical analysis is twofold:

  1. to analyze how well the rhetorical elements work together to create a fitting response, and
  2. to evaluate the overall effectiveness of that response.

To examine that goal, there are a couple of approaches that can be made in writing an analysis. The first is to ask some basic questions.

  1. How has the place affected the writing?
  2. How have the rhetorical elements (rhetorical appeals) affected the writing?
  3. Do the means of delivery, genre,  or medium impact the audience?

As you begin, search your answers for an idea that can serve as your claim or thesis. For example, you might focus on the declared goal—if there is one—of the creator of the text and whether it has been achieved.

You might evaluate how successfully that creator has identified the rhetorical audience, shaped a fitting response, or employed the best available means.

Or you might focus on the use of the rhetorical appeals and the overall success of their use.

Whether or not you agree with the text is beside the point. Your job is to analyze how and how well the text’s creator has accomplished the purpose of that text.

  1. HOW is the analysis of the parts
  2. HOW WELL is the overall evaluation

Thinking Rhetorically

A book entitled The Rhetorical TraditionAs a part of thinking rhetorically about an argument, your professor may ask you to write a formal or informal rhetorical analysis essay. Rhetorical analysis is about “digging in” and exploring the strategies and writing style of a particular piece. Rhetorical analysis can be tricky because, chances are, you haven’t done a lot of rhetorical analysis in the past.

To add to this trickiness, you can write a rhetorical analysis of any piece of information, not just an essay. You may be asked to write a rhetorical analysis of an ad, an image, or a commercial.

The key is to start now! Rhetorical analysis is going to help you think about strategies other authors have made and how or why these strategies work or don’t work. In turn, your goal is to be more aware of these things in your own writing.

When you analyze a work rhetorically, you are going to explore the following concepts in a piece:

  • Audience
  • Purpose
  • Style or Voice
  • Ethos
  • Pathos
  • Logos

You will be thinking about the decisions an author has made along these lines and thinking about whether these decisions are effective or ineffective.

Types of Argument

Just as there many types of essays you will write in college and many types of writing in general, argumentative essays come in many forms as well. There are three basic structures or types of an argument you are likely to encounter in college: the Toulmin argument, the Rogerian argument, and the Classical or Aristotelian argument. Although the Toulmin method was originally developed to analyze arguments, some professors will ask you to model its components. Each of these serves a different purpose, and deciding which type to use depends upon the rhetorical situation: In other words, you have to think about what is going to work best for your audience given your topic and the situation in which you are writing.


Toulmin Argument

Stephen Toulmin photograph
Stephen Toulmin [photograph]. Retrieved from

The Toulmin method, developed by philosopher Stephen Toulmin, is essentially a structure for analyzing arguments. But the elements for analysis are so clear and structured that many professors now have students write argumentative essays with the elements of the Toulmin method in mind.

This type of argument works well when there are no clear truths or absolute solutions to a problem. Toulmin arguments take into account the complex nature of most situations.

There are six elements for analyzing, and, in this case, presenting arguments that are important to the Toulmin method.

These elements of a Toulmin analysis can help you as both a reader and a writer. When you’re analyzing arguments as a reader, you can look for these elements to help you understand the argument and evaluate its validity. When you’re writing an argument, you can include these same elements to ensure your audience will see the validity in your claims.


A flow chart demonstrates the organization of a Toulmin structure. The central piece is "Warrant." Connected to that at the top are "Claim" and "Data", which are also connected to one another. Beneath "Warrant" are "Backing" and "Rebuttal," which are attached to each other as well as Warrant. To the left is "Qualifier," which only attaches to Warrant.
Toulmin, S. (1969). The Uses of Argument, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from [accessed April 2011]


The claim is a statement of opinion that the author is asking her or his audience to accept as true.


There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on dangerous car accidents.


The grounds are the facts, data, or reasoning upon which the claim is based. Essentially, the grounds are the facts making the case for the claim.


The National Safety Council estimates that 1.6 million car accidents per year are caused by cell phone use and texting.


The warrant is what links the grounds to the claim. This is what makes the audience understand how the grounds are connected to supporting the claim. Sometimes, the warrant is implicit (not directly stated), but the warrant can be stated directly as well. As a writer, you are making assumptions about what your audience already believes, so you have to think about how clear your warrant is and if you need to state it directly for your audience. You must also think about whether or not a warrant is actually an unproven claim.


Being distracted by texting on a cell phone while driving a car is dangerous and causes accidents.


The backing gives additional support for the claim by addressing different questions related to your claim.


With greater fines and more education about the consequences, people might think twice about texting and driving.


The qualifier is essentially the limits to the claim or an understanding that the claim is not true in all situations. Qualifiers add strength to claims because they help the audience understand the author does not expect her or his opinion to be true all of the time or for her or his ideas to work all of the time. If writers use qualifiers that are too broad, such as “always” or “never,” their claims can be really difficult to support. Qualifiers like “some” or “many” help limit the claim, which can add strength to the claim.


There should be more laws to regulate texting while driving in order to cut down on some of the dangerous car accidents that happen each year.


The rebuttal is when the author addresses the opposing views. The author can use a rebuttal to pre-empt counter-arguments, making the original argument stronger.


Although police officers are busy already, making anti-texting laws a priority saves time, money, and lives. Local departments could add extra staff to address this important priority.



Toulmin Infographic



Aristotelian Argument


The Aristotelian or classical argument is a style of argument developed by the famous Greek philosopher and rhetorician, Aristotle. In this style of argument, your goal as a writer is to convince your audience of something. The goal is to use a series of strategies to persuade your audience to adopt your side of the issue. Although ethospathos, and logos play a role in any argument, this style of argument utilizes them in the most persuasive ways possible.

Of course, your professor may require some variations, but here is the basic format for an Aristotelian, or classical, argumentative essay:

  1. Introduce your issue. At the end of your introduction, most professors will ask you to present your thesis. The idea is to present your readers with your main point and then dig into it.
  2. Present your case by explaining the issue in detail and why something must be done or a way of thinking is not working. This will take place over several paragraphs.
  3. Address the opposition. Use a few paragraphs to explain the other side. Refute the opposition one point at a time.
  4. Provide your proof. After you address the other side, you’ll want to provide clear evidence that your side is the best side.
  5. Present your conclusion. In your conclusion, you should remind your readers of your main point or thesis and summarize the key points of your argument. If you are arguing for some kind of change, this is a good place to give your audience a call to action. Tell them what they could do to make a change.

For a visual representation of this type of argument, check out the Aristotelian infographic below.



Aritstotelian Infographic

Rogerian Argument

Carl Rogers
[Carl Rogers sketch]. Retrieved from

When most of us think of arguments, we think about winners of arguments and losers of arguments. Arguments, even sometimes academic arguments, can be strong and forceful. An Aristotelian or classical argument is a strong, “this is my assertion and here’s why I am right” kind of argument. But that kind of argument isn’t going to work in all situations. When your audience is a really difficult one in the sense that you know your audience isn’t going to completely agree with your side of the issue, it can be a good idea to try to find a middle ground. The Rogerian argument finds that middle ground.

Based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers (pictured on the right), a Rogerian argument focuses on finding a middle ground between the author and the audience. This type of argument can be extremely persuasive and can help you, as a writer, understand your own biases and how you might work to find common ground with others.

Here is a summary of the basic strategy for a Rogerian argument, and the infographic on the following page should be helpful as well.

  1. In your essay, first, introduce the problem.
  2. Acknowledge the other side before you present your side of the issue. This may take several paragraphs.
  3. Next, you should carefully present your side of the issue in a way that does not dismiss the other side. This may also take several paragraphs.
  4. You should then work to bring the two sides together. Help your audience see the benefits of the middle ground. Make your proposal for the middle ground here, and be sure to use an even, respectful tone. This should be a key focus of your essay and may take several paragraphs.
  5. Finally, in your conclusion, remind your audience of the balanced perspective you have presented and make it clear how both sides benefit when they meet in the middle.

For a visual representation of this type of argument, check out the Rogerian infographic below.

Rogerian Infographic

Types of Argument Activity

This interaction will give you a chance to practice what you have learned about the different types of argument and when it might be most appropriate to use one type over another. Read the scenarios and, then, choose a rhetorical style. You will be told if you are correct or not, and which type of argument would work best in that scenario, and why.

After completing this activity, you may download or print a completion report that summarizes your results.

Analyze This

You have learned about some of the most common organizational structures for academic arguments and learned about the benefits of each one—as well as when it might be best to use each one.

Before you begin working with your own academic argument structure, it might be helpful to review another academic argument for its organizational structure.

In the following video, watch as one student analyzes a traditional academic argumentative essay (Cheap Thrills: The Price of Fast Fashion), one that most closely follows the Aristotelian structure.

See It in Practice

Although there are many options for organizing your argument, understanding these three basic argumentative types can help you make a good decision about which type of argument would work best given your topic and audience.

Watch as our student writer makes notes and comes to a decision about which type of argument she’ll use as she works with a controversial topic and a potentially difficult audience.

Thinking About Content

An open book, notebook, and penContent analysis of an argument is really just what it seems—looking closely at the content in an argument. When you’re analyzing an argument for content, you’re looking at things like claims, evidence to support those claims, and if that evidence makes sense.

The Toulmin method described in this learning area is a great tool for analyzing the content of an argument. In fact, it was developed as a tool for analyzing the content of an argument. Using the different concepts we learn in the Toulmin model, we are able to examine an argument by thinking about what claim is being made, what evidence is being used to support that claim, the warrants behind that evidence, and more.

When you analyze an argument, there is a good chance your professor will have you review and use the Toulmin information provided in the Excelsior OWL.

However, the lessons you have learned about logical fallacies will also help you analyze the content of an argument. You’ll want to look closely at the logic being presented in the claims and evidence. Does the logic hold up, or do you see logical fallacies? Obviously, if you see fallacies, you should really question the argument.


Basic Questions for a Rhetorical Analysis

What is the rhetorical situation?

  • What occasion gives rise to the need or opportunity for persuasion?
  • What is the historical occasion that would give rise to the composition of this text?

Who is the author/speaker?

  • How does he or she establish ethos (personal credibility)?
  • Does he/she come across as knowledgeable? fair?
  • Does the speaker’s reputation convey a certain authority?

What is his/her intention in speaking?

  • To attack or defend?
  • To exhort or dissuade from certain action?
  • To praise or blame?
  • To teach, to delight, or to persuade?

Who makes up the audience?

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What values does the audience hold that the author or speaker appeals to?
  • Who have been or might be secondary audiences?
  • If this is a work of fiction, what is the nature of the audience within the fiction?

What is the content of the message?

  • Can you summarize the main idea?
  • What are the principal lines of reasoning or kinds of arguments used?
  • What topics of invention are employed?
  • How does the author or speaker appeal to reason? to emotion?

What is the form in which it is conveyed?

  • What is the structure of the communication; how is it arranged?
  • What oral or literary genre is it following?
  • What figures of speech (schemes and tropes) are used?
  • What kind of style and tone is used and for what purpose?

How do form and content correspond?

  • Does the form complement the content?
  • What effect could the form have, and does this aid or hinder the author’s intention?

Does the message/speech/text succeed in fulfilling the author’s or speaker’s intentions?

  • For whom?
  • Does the author/speaker effectively fit his/her message to the circumstances, times, and audience?
  • Can you identify the responses of historical or contemporary audiences?

What does the nature of the communication reveal about the culture that produced it?

  • What kinds of values or customs would the people have that would produce this?
  • How do the allusions, historical references, or kinds of words used place this in a certain time and location?


Sample Rhetorical Analysis

Seeing rhetorical analysis in action is one of the best ways to understand it. Read the sample rhetorical analysis of an article. If you like, you can read the original article the student analyzes: Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either).

Time to Write

Purpose:  This assignment will demonstrate the understanding of Rhetorical Analysis and Preliminary Research. This assignment will connect to the course competencies of writing for specific rhetorical contexts, using appropriate conventions in writing, an



This assignment frames the topic, purpose, audience, and context for the approved research topic from Research Prospectus 1.

At this time you will utilize two or three sources as in-text citations and on the References.

Choose a single source (selection) for rhetorical analysis that meets the following criteria.

  • Is the text responding to an opportunity to make a change? (Does it look at solving a problem?)
  • What is the rhetorical opportunity for change?
  • How is it identified?
  • How is it connected to your research proposal topic?

After you have selected a text, read it carefully, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of a rhetorical analysis is twofold: (1) to analyze how well the rhetorical elements work together to create a fitting response, and (2) to assess the overall effectiveness of that response. Then, write answers to the following questions, citing material from the text itself to support each answer:

Are the available means anchored to the writer’s place?

  1. Who created the text? What credentials or expertise does that person or group have? Why is the creator of the text engaged with this opportunity? Is this an opportunity that can be modified through language? What opinions or biases did the person or group bring to the text?
  2. What is the place (physical, social, academic, economic, and so on) from which the creator of the text forms and sends the response? What are the resources of that place? What are its constraints (or limitations)?
  3. Who is the audience for the message? What relationship is the creator of the text trying to establish with the audience? What opinions or biases might the audience hold? How might the audience feel about this rhetorical opportunity? And, most important, can this audience modify or help bring about a modification of the rhetorical opportunity? How?

Do the available means include the rhetorical elements of the message itself?

  1. Identify the rhetorical elements of the message itself. In other words, where and how does the person or group employ the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos? How are credentials, goodwill, or good sense evoked to establish ethos? How is evidence (examples, statistics, data, and so forth) used to establish logos? And how is an emotional connection created to establish pathos? Keep in mind that the rhetorical appeals can sometimes overlap.
  2. What kind of language does the creator of the text use? Is it plain or specialized, slang or formal? How does the choice of language reveal how the person or group views the intended audience?

Do the available means deliver a message in a genre and medium that reaches the audience?

  1. Is the intended audience for the text a rhetorical audience? Draw on evidence from the text to support your answer.
  2. If the audience is a rhetorical one, what can it do to resolve the problem?
  3. Does the response address and fit the rhetorical opportunity? How exactly? If not, how might the response be reshaped so that it does fit?
  4. Is the response delivered in an appropriate medium that reaches its intended audience? Why is that medium appropriate? Or how could it be adjusted to be appropriate?
  5. Can you think of other responses to similar rhetorical situations? What genre is commonly used? Does the creator of this text use that genre? If not, what is the effect of going against an audience’s expectations?

Now that you have carefully read the text and answered all of the questions, you are ready to write your rhetorical analysis. How does your analysis of the use of the available means reveal

  1. How well the rhetorical elements work together to create a fitting response to an opportunity for change?
  2. How effective the response is?

As you begin, search your answers for an idea that can serve as your claim or thesis. For example, you might focus on the declared goal—if there is one—of the creator of the text and whether it has been achieved. You might assess how successfully that creator has identified the rhetorical audience, shaped a fitting response, or employed the best available means. Or you might focus on the use of the rhetorical appeals and the overall success of their use.

Whether or not you agree with the text is beside the point.

Your job is to analyze an essay, examining how, and how well, the text’s creator has accomplished the purpose of that text.


Key Grading Considerations

  • Standard Structure
    1. The intro provides context for the rest of the paper
    2. The thesis is explicit, specific, and clear
    3. The thesis is analytical in nature
    4. The conclusion recasts the thesis and provides cohesion to the whole paper
  • Rhetorical Triangle & Appeals
    1. Source text is thoroughly and effectively contextualized with well-supported analysis
      1. structure
      2. rhetorical triangle (audience, author, purpose)
      3. and rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, pathos)
    2.  focus is on an analysis (not a summary or the author’s own ideas of the issue)
  • Cohesion & Flow
    1. Smooth flow of ideas ordered in a logical sequence that effectively guides the reader
    2. Each paragraph has a well-supported clearly-stated main point
    3. The topic sentences focus on analysis
    4. There is an effective use of transitions.
  • Uses the Rhetorical Triangle to Target the Audience
  • Language Use & Mechanics
  • Fully in APA Format





Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

English 102: Journey Into Open Copyright © 2021 by Christine Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book