Chapter 2 Becoming a Rhetorical Insider

Rhetorical Analysis

Cynthia Kiefer

2.0 Introduction

Image of robot with brain speaking and holding a light bulb to symbolize thinking and speaking.
Thinking by Eucalyp

The purpose of Chapter 2 is to guide you on a path to greater rhetorical awareness and analytic skill development. While Chapter 1 was all about connecting with your rhetorical self, this chapter is about developing and refining your critical thinking, reading, writing, and analysis skills as you explore and critique the ideas of others through rhetorical analysis. The content and related exercises will deepen your knowledge of rhetoric and how to use it to support your own arguments. In this chapter, you will not be writing arguments based on your own opinions and beliefs. In fact, you will be setting aside your perspective on the topics in the practice articles completely while you  learn to apply your rhetorical knowledge to analyze the author’s skill in presenting their argument.

In section 2.1, “Understanding Rhetorical Analysis,” you will learn more about what rhetorical analysis is, how to use rhetorical appeals and the related types of evidence to support an argument or perspective, and how to use rhetorical appeals as lenses to critique an argument as effective, ineffective, or some combination of both. The rhetorical analysis processes and skills presented in this chapter will give you experience and knowledge you need to create and present an argument of your own effectively when you engage with the content and assignments in Chapter 4. Throughout Chapter 2, however, you are using these skills to critique the quality of arguments others make.

Using the rhetorical knowledge and “moves” you learn in this chapter, you will write a rhetorical analysis composition and/or create a presentation demonstrating your skill at breaking down and evaluating the quality of a written editorial and/or a TEDTalk.  In other words, you will compose an argument about the quality of another rhetor’s argument. However, you will not be writing about your own opinion on the topic!

By the end of this chapter, our goal is for you to feel like more of a rhetorical insider with the agency to exercise your critical literacies and achieve your rhetorical goals. When you complete this chapter, you will have the rhetorical knowledge, confidence, and skills to write your own effective and balanced academic argument with your audience in mind and to support it with well-researched, credible evidence, rhetorical appeals, and appropriate rhetorical language.

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, you will learn to:

  1. Define and identify key rhetorical concepts and terms (rhetorical appeals including kairos, pathos, logos, and ethos).
  2. Apply knowledge of the rhetorical appeals to use them as a filter for rhetorical analysis.
  3. Analyze the use of rhetorical language and syntax to convey speaker or writer’s tone and to support or reflect the argument.
  4. Engage in rhetorical discussions with peers.
  5. Apply critical reading strategies.
  6. Compose a rhetorical analysis paper and/or presentation of a TED talk.
  7. Apply feedback from peers, writing tutors, and/or instructors to rhetorical analysis drafts.
  8. Reflect upon your rhetorical growth and as a rhetorical insider.

English 102 Course Competencies

  • Write for specific rhetorical contexts, including circumstance, purpose, topic, audience and writer, as well as the writing`s ethical, political, and cultural implications.  (MCCD #1)
  • Organize writing to support a central idea through unity, coherence and logical development appropriate to a specific writing context. (MCCC#2).
  • Use appropriate conventions in writing, including consistent voice, tone, diction, grammar, and mechanics. (MCCCD#3)
  • Use feedback obtained through peer review, instructor comments, and/or other sources to revise writing. (MCCCD #7)
  • Assess one`s own writing strengths and identify strategies for improvement through instructor conference, portfolio review, written evaluation, and/or other methods. (MCCD #8)
  • Generate, format, and edit writing using appropriate technologies. (MCCCD #9)

2.1 Understanding Rhetorical Analysis

a magnifying glass and three boxes with lines of text to symbolize analysis and close reading.
Analysis by Eucalyp

In this section, you will learn how to conduct a rhetorical analysis, appeal by appeal. The content and practice in this section is core to your understanding of rhetorical appeals and how to use them to perform a rhetorical analysis. After you engage with this content and discuss it with peers, you will begin to see that “writing is a social and rhetorical activity” (Roozen in Adler-Kassner and Wardle 17). Whether you are face-to-face with an author, you are engaging with their ideas and arguments. Similarly, they support their arguments with the words and existing knowledge and evidence provided by those who preceded them.   As you develop your rhetorical awareness and analytical skills, you will see that all communications are socially and rhetorically constructed, usually to influence, inform, or entertain and audience.


The content in this next section is authored by Elizabeth Browning, Western Virginia Community College, from her chapter “Rhetorical Analysis” in Critical Reading, Critical Writing: A Handbook to Understanding College Composition, the updated 2020 version, licensed as CC BY 4.0. I revised and edited some content to align with the content in this textbook and to update or change some readings and edit pronouns, but the text remains largely Ms. Browning’s. The original sections heads were left in place.

For many people, particularly those in the media, the term “rhetoric” has a largely negative connotation.  A political commentator, for example, may say that a politician is using “empty rhetoric” or that what that politician says is “just a bunch of rhetoric.”  What the commentator means is that the politician’s words are lacking substance, that the purpose of those words is more about manipulation rather than meaningfulness.  However, this is a flawed definition, though quite common these days. As you learned in Chapter 1, rhetoric  is more about clearly expressing substance, meaning, and one’s perspective while considering the audience’s wants, needs, and values. rather than avoiding them.

This section will clarify what rhetorical analysis means and will help you identify the basic elements of rhetorical analysis through explanation and example.


Simply defined, rhetoric is the art or method of communicating effectively to an audience, usually with the intention to persuade; thus, rhetorical analysis means analyzing how effectively a writer or speaker communicates her message or argument to the audience.

The ancient Greeks, namely Aristotle, developed rhetoric into an art form, which explains why much of the terminology that we use for rhetoric comes from Greek.  The three major parts of effective communication, also called the Rhetorical Triangle (see Figures 2.1 and 2.3 below), are ethospathos, and logos, and they provide the foundation for a solid argument. As a reader and a listener, you must be able to recognize how writers and speakers depend upon these three rhetorical elements in their efforts to communicate. As a communicator yourself, you will benefit from the ability to see how others rely upon ethos, pathos, and logos so that you can apply what you learn from your observations to your own speaking and writing.

Rhetorical analysis can evaluate and analyze any type of communicator, whether that be a speaker, an artist, an advertiser, or a writer, but to simplify the language in this chapter, the term “writer” will represent the role of the communicator.


Essentially, understanding a rhetorical situation means understanding the context of that situation.  A rhetorical situation comprises a handful of key elements, which should be identified before attempting to analyze and evaluate the use of rhetorical appeals.  These elements consist of the communicator in the situation (such as the writer), the issue at hand (the topic or problem being addressed), the purpose for addressing the issue, the medium of delivery (e.g.–speech, written text, a commercial), and the audience being addressed.

Answering the following questions will help you identify a rhetorical situation:

  • Who is the communicator or writer?
  • What is the issue that the writer (or speaker) is addressing?
    • What is the main argument that the writer is making?
    • What are the key supporting points, reasons, subclaims?
    • On what assumptions (warrants) does the writer base the argument?
  • What is the writer’s purpose for addressing this issue?
    • To provoke, to attack, or to defend?
    • To push toward or dissuade from certain action?
    • To praise or to blame?
    • To teach, to delight, or to persuade?
  • What is the form in which the writer conveys it?
    • What is the structure of the communication; how is it arranged?
    • What oral or literary genre is it?
    • What figures of speech (schemes and tropes) are used?
    • What kind of style and tone is used and for what purpose?
    • Does the form complement the content?
    • What effect could the form have, and does this aid or hinder the author’s intention?
  • Who is 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?

Figure 2.1 A Balanced Argument

Figure 2.1 A Balanced Argument. Diagram of triangle with three rhetorical appeals (logos, pathos, and ethos), each on one side of the triangle.


The Appeal to Ethos

Literally translated, ethos means “character.”  In this case, it refers to the character of a writer or speaker, or more specifically, their credibility.  The writer needs to establish credibility so that the audience will trust them and, thus, be more willing to engage with the argument.  If a writer fails to establish a sufficient ethical appeal, then the audience will not take the writer’s argument seriously.

For example, if someone writes an article that is published in an academic journal, in a reputable newspaper or magazine, or on a credible website, those places of publication already imply a certain level of credibility.  If the article is about a scientific issue and the writer is a scientist or has certain academic or professional credentials that relate to the article’s subject, that also will lend credibility to the writer. Finally, if that writer shows that he is knowledgeable about the subject by providing clear explanations of points and by presenting information in an honest and straightforward way that also helps to establish a writer’s credibility.

When evaluating a writer’s ethical appeal, ask the following questions:

Does the writer come across as reliable?

  • Viewpoint is logically consistent throughout the text
  • Does not use hyperbolic (exaggerated) language
  • Has an even, objective tone (not malicious but also not sycophantic)
  • Does not come across as subversive or manipulative

Does the writer come across as authoritative and knowledgeable?

  • Explains concepts and ideas thoroughly
  • Addresses any counter-arguments and successfully rebuts them
  • Uses a sufficient number of relevant sources
  • Shows an understanding of sources used

What kind of credentials or experience does the writer have?

  • Look at byline or search for credible biographical info
  • Identify any personal or professional experience mentioned in the text
  • Where has this writer’s text been published?


Recognizing a Manipulative Appeal to Ethos

In a perfect world, everyone would tell the truth, and we could depend upon the credibility of speakers and authors. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. You would expect that news reporters would be objective and tell news stories based upon the facts; however, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and Brian Williams all lost their jobs for plagiarizing or fabricating part of their news stories. Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize was revoked after it was discovered that she made up “Jimmy,” an eight-year old heroin addict (Prince, 2010). Brian Williams was fired as anchor of the NBC Nightly News for exaggerating his role in the Iraq War.

Brian Williams
Figure 2.2, Brian Williams at the 2011 Time 100 Gala

Others have become infamous for claiming academic degrees that they didn’t earn as in the case of Marilee Jones. At the time of discovery, she was Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After 28 years of employment, it was determined that she never graduated from college (Lewin, 2007). However, on her website ( she is still promoting herself as “a sought after speaker, consultant and author” and “one of the nation’s most experienced College Admissions Deans.”

Beyond lying about or elaborating upon their own credentials, authors may employ a number of tricks or fallacies to lure you to their point of view. Some of the more common techniques are described in the next chapter. When you recognize these fallacies, you should question the credibility of the speaker and the legitimacy of the argument. If you use these when making your own arguments, be aware that they may undermine or even destroy your credibility.

Exercise: Analyzing Ethos

Choose an article from the links provided below.  Preview your chosen text, and then read through it, paying special attention to how the writer tries to establish an ethical appeal.  Once you have finished reading, use the bullet points above to guide you in analyzing how effective the writer’s appeal to ethos is. If possible, work in small breakout groups to process the ethical appeals in  through the criteria

“Why cancer is not a war, fight, or battle” by Xeni Jordan ( This article appears on CNN and is accessible. (MLA Citation: Jordan, Xeni. “Why cancer is not a war, fight, or battle.” CNN, 21 July 2017,

“Relax and Let Your Kids Indulge in TV” by Lisa Pryor ( If you are locked out from accessing more free views of this article, your college library databases can provide access to the content. The text of this opinion piece can be found in the Major Dailies newspaper database by Proquest. (MLA Citation: Pryor, Lisa. “Relax, Let Your Kids Indulge in TV: [Op-Ed].” New York Times, Jul 04, 2017. )

“Why are we OK with disability drag in Hollywood?” by Danny Woodburn and Jay Ruderman ( If you are locked out from accessing more free views, your college library databases can provide access to the content. This text of this opinion piece can be found in the Major Dailies newspaper database by Proquest. Search for it by authors’ last names and a keyword or phrase from the title. (MLA Citation: Woodburn, Danny, and Jay Ruderman. “Why are we OK with Disability Drag?” Los Angeles Times, Jul 11, 2016.)

(Note: The article’s bibliographic information was added to the author’s original text.)

The Appeal to Logos

Literally translated, logos means “word.”  In this case, it refers to information, or more specifically, the writer’s appeal to logic and reason. A successful logical appeal provides clearly organized information as well as evidence to support the overall argument.  If one fails to establish a logical appeal, then the argument will lack both sense and substance.

For example, refer to the previous example of the politician’s speech writer to understand the importance of having a solid logical appeal.  What if the writer had only included the story about 80-year-old Mary without providing any statistics, data, or concrete plans for how the politician proposed to protect Social Security benefits? Without any factual evidence for the proposed plan, the audience would not have been as likely to accept his proposal, and rightly so.

When evaluating a writer’s logical appeal, ask the following questions:

Does the writer organize their information clearly?

  • Ideas are connected by transition words and phrases
  • Ideas have a clear and purposeful order

Does the writer provide evidence to back their claims?

  • Specific examples
  • Relevant source material

Does the writer use sources and data to back their claims rather than base the argument purely on emotion or opinion?

  • Does the writer use concrete facts and figures, statistics, dates/times, specific names/titles, graphs/charts/tables?
  • Are the sources that the writer uses credible?
  • Where do the sources come from? (Who wrote/published them?)
  • When were the sources published?
  • Are the sources well-known, respected, and/or peer-reviewed (if applicable) publications?

Recognizing a Manipulative Appeal to Logos

Pay particular attention to numbers, statistics, findings, and quotes (expert testimony) used to support an argument. Be critical of the source and do your own investigation of the facts. Remember: What initially looks like a fact may not actually be one.  Maybe you have heard or read that half of all marriages in America will end in divorce. It is so often discussed that we assume it must be true. Careful research will show that the original marriage study was flawed, and divorce rates in America have steadily declined since 1985 (Peck, 1993). If there is no scientific evidence, why do we continue to believe it? Part of the reason might be that it supports the common societal concern about the dissolution of the American family. Or, it could be because one divorce can affect a large number of people, leaving them with the idea that divorce is more prevalent than it is (the availability heuristic at work).

Fallacies that misuse appeals to logos or attempt to manipulate the logic of an argument are discussed in the next chapter in Critical Reading, Critical Writing: A Handbook to Understanding College Composition and Chapter 4 Understanding and Composing Researched Arguments  in this book.


Exercise: Analyzing Logos

The debate about whether college athletes, namely male football and basketball players, should be paid salaries instead of awarded scholarships is one that regularly comes up when these players are in the throes of their respective athletic seasons, whether that’s football bowl games or March Madness.  Proponents on each side of this issue have solid reasons, so we will examine four editorials that take opposing positions and critique the authors’ use of logos in their arguments. Because women’s sports are often left out of this discussion completely, yet are rising in popularity, we should become aware of  perspectives regarding payments or compensation for college women’s sports athletes as well.

This exercise is designed to be completed in pairs, in person, in live online breakout groups, or through another method allowing for discussion.

Each pair will select one of the two sets to analyze.

Each partner within the pair will identify and analyze the use of logos within one of the two articles in their set.

Then each pair will discuss the perspective presented in their editorials and whether the authors used logos effectively or not.

Each partner in the pair should prepare a simple one-sentence claim about their author’s use of logos

Each pair will report out on their individual claims and provide a reflection on the activity,   noting what they learned and any insights they gained from the activity.

Take note: Your aim in this rhetorical exercise is not to figure out where you stand on this issue. Rather, your aim is to evaluate how effectively the writers establish a logical appeal to support their positions, whether you agree with them or not. The goal of rhetorical analysis is to break down the effectiveness of a communicator’s or communication’s argument or point-of-view through the filter of logical appeals and use of rhetorical language.

Editorial Set 1 – Men’s College Sports

Editorial arguing against paying college athletes: Author is historian Taylor Branch. According to his bio on the Time site, Branch is “… a Pulitzer Prize winner [and] is the author most recently of The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Editorial advocating for the payment of college (football) athletes:  Author is journalist and opinion columnist Joe Nocera, according to his bio on Bloomberg.

  • “Joe Nocera: College athletes should be paid.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 Sept, 2020,  (This editorial is based on the editorial Nocera wrote for Bloomberg on Sept. 22, 2020.)

Editorial Set 2 – Women’s College Sports

Editorial from a women’s sports perspective arguing against paying college athletes: Author is Morgan Chall, former Cornell University gymnast and NCAA level competitor.

Editorial advocating for the compensation of female athletes: Author is Patrick Hruby. According to his bio on Linked In, Hruby is “… a Washington, DC-based writer, editor, and journalist who specializes in the intersection of sports and social issues.”

Step 1: Before reading the article, take a minute to preview the text, a critical reading skill explained in Chapter 1.

Step 2: Once you have a general idea of the article, read through it and pay attention to how the author organizes information and uses evidence, annotating or marking these instances when you see them.

Step 3: After reviewing your annotations, evaluate the organization of the article as well as the amount and types of evidence that you have identified by answering the following questions:

  • Does the information progress logically throughout the article?
    • Does the writer use transitions to link ideas?
    • Do ideas in the article have a clear sense of order, or do they appear scattered and unfocused?
  • Was the amount of evidence in the article proportionate to the size of the article?
    • Was there too little of it, was there just enough, or was there an overload of evidence?
  • Were the examples of evidence relevant to the writer’s argument?
  • Were the examples clearly explained?
  • Were sources cited or clearly referenced?
  • Were the sources credible?  How could you tell?

(Note: This practice exercise and the sources analyzed have been changed and/or modified from the original source.)

The Appeal to Kairos

Literally translated,  means the “supreme moment.”  In this case, it refers to appropriate timing, meaning when the writer presents certain parts of her argument as well as the overall timing of the subject matter itself.  While not technically part of the Rhetorical Triangle, it is still an important principle for constructing an effective argument. If the writer fails to establish a strong Kairotic appeal, then the audience may become polarized, hostile, or may simply just lose interest.

If appropriate timing is not taken into consideration and a writer introduces a sensitive or important point too early or too late in a text, the impact of that point could be lost on the audience.  For example, if the writer’s audience is strongly opposed to her view, and she begins the argument with a forceful thesis of why she is right and the opposition is wrong, how do you think that audience might respond?

In this instance, the writer may have just lost the ability to make any further appeals to her audience in two ways: first, by polarizing them, and second, by possibly elevating what was at first merely strong opposition to what would now be hostile opposition.  A polarized or hostile audience will not be inclined to listen to the writer’s argument with an open mind or even to listen at all.  On the other hand, the writer could have established a stronger appeal to Kairos by building up to that forceful thesis, maybe by providing some neutral points such as background information or by addressing some of the opposition’s views, rather than leading with why she is right and the audience is wrong.

Additionally, if a writer covers a topic or puts forth an argument about a subject that is currently a non-issue or has no relevance for the audience, then the audience will fail to engage because whatever the writer’s message happens to be, it won’t matter to anyone.  For example, if a writer were to put forth the argument that women in the United States should have the right to vote, no one would care; that is a non-issue because women in the United States already have that right.

When evaluating a writer’s kairotic appeal, ask the following questions:

  • Where does the writer establish their thesis of the argument in the text?  Is it near the beginning, the middle, or the end?  Is this placement of the thesis effective?  Why or why not?
  • Where in the text does the writer provide her strongest points of evidence? Does that location provide the most impact for those points?
  • Is the issue that the writer raises relevant at this time, or is it something no one really cares about anymore or needs to know about anymore?

Exercise: Analyzing Kairos

In this exercise, you will analyze a visual representation of the appeal to Kairos. On the 26th of February 2015, a photo of a dress was posted to Twitter along with a question as to whether people thought it was one combination of colors versus another. Internet chaos ensued on social media because while some people saw the dress as black and blue, others saw it as white and gold. As the color debate surrounding the dress raged on, an ad agency in South Africa saw an opportunity to raise awareness about a far more serious subject: domestic abuse.

Step 1: Read this article ( from CNN about how and why the photo of the dress went viral so that you will be better informed for the next step in this exercise:

Step 2: Watch the video  (, transcript here) from CNN that explains how, in partnership with The Salvation Army, the South African marketing agency created an ad that went viral.

Step 3: After watching the video, answer the following questions:

  • Once the photo of the dress went viral, approximately how long after did the Salvation Army’s ad appear? Look at the dates on both the article and the video to get an idea of a time frame.
  • How does the ad take advantage of the publicity surrounding the dress?
  • Would the ad’s overall effectiveness change if it had come out later than it did?
  • How late would have been too late to make an impact? Why?


balanced Argument graphic 2
Figure 2.3 An Unbalanced Argument. Diagram of triangle with only rhetorical appeals logos and ethos.

The foundations of rhetoric are interconnected in such a way that a writer needs to establish all of the rhetorical appeals to put forth an effective argument.  If a writer lacks a pathetic appeal and only tries to establish a logical appeal, the audience will be unable to connect emotionally with the writer and, therefore, will care less about the overall argument.  Likewise, if a writer lacks a logical appeal and tries to rely solely on subjective or emotionally driven examples, then the audience will not take the writer seriously because an argument based purely on opinion and emotion cannot hold up without facts and evidence and writer’s ethos to support it.  If a writer’s argument lacks either the pathetic or logical appeal, not to mention the kairotic appeal, then the audience’s sense of writer’s internal ethos will suffer.  All of the appeals must be sufficiently established for rhetors to communicate effectively with their audiences.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the Rhetorical Situation:

  • Identify who the communicator is.
  • Identify the issue at hand.
  • Identify the communicator’s purpose.
  • Identify the medium or method of communication.
  • Identify who the audience is.

Identifying the Rhetorical Appeals:

  • Ethos = the writer’s credibility (internal ethos) and the credibility of sources and quoted individuals (external ethos)
  • Pathos = the writer’s emotional appeal to the audience
  • Logos = the writer’s logical appeal to the audience
  • Kairos = appropriate and relevant timing of subject matter
  • In sum, effective communication is based on an understanding of the rhetorical situation and on a balance of the rhetorical appeals

2.1.2 QUIZ yourself on your understanding and knowledge of the rhetorical analysis content

2.2 using a Critical Reading Process for Rhetorical Analysis of Text  

person with binoculars to symbolize close reading of text
Binoculars by Luis Prado

In this section, you will learn how to break down an opinion-based article (editorial or “op-ed”) through a critical reading and rhetorical reading process.  In the exercise for this section, you will work with other students in small groups (online breakout group or in-class small group of three or four students) who selected the same article you did  to complete the rhetorical analysis graphic organizer and create a rough outline based on your reading. The content and exercises in this section will prepare you to complete one or both of the rhetorical analysis papers at the end of this unit.

2.2.1 Preview and preread the text


Whether you are asked to read or view a text, speech, or a TEDTalk, you want to understand the context in which it occurs. This means you need to identify the author/speaker and research their bio. Knowing the venue in which the selection occurred will give you a better sense of the context surrounding the text. Did it appear in an online newspaper? a print magazine? a personal blog? Does the source itself have credibility as reputable publishing organization? As you preview the text, jot down all the information you can collect about the text before actually reading any of it. This point of this is to ascertain the ethos of the source and/or author and to understand the context and time period in which the article appeared (the rhetorical situation).


Next, skim the article to get a sense of its structure and a gist of the content. As you skim, read the introductory text and author’s or publisher’s note if available, note headings, charts, and any keywords in bolded font, and read the first and last sentences of each section or paragraph.  Finally, if any sources are cited or any explanatory material exists after the text, read that, too. The most important question to ask yourself is: Do I have the background knowledge to understand this text? If you are not sure, read a short description of the issue on Wikipedia, Britannica’s Pro/,  or on your college’s online library reference databases. Prereading is an excellent skill to apply to any text you are reading because it creates a cognitive schema for more fully comprehending new information and detailed information you are encountering in the text.

2.2.2  engage in “During Reading” strategies

Assume you will conduct at least two close readings before coming to conclusions about the argument or writing your rhetorical analysis.  I recommend breaking down your reading in to three close readings, with the second and third readings focused on rhetorical elements and details. In the long run, following this process will save you time and increase your comprehension and the quality of your rhetorical analysis.

First, read closely to identify the main ideas and supporting ideas. Resist the urge to agree or disagree with the argument or ideas presented. Remember, your job here is to first understand and critique the author’s argument through the filter of rhetorical appeals. If you let your own attitudes and beliefs about the topic or argument influence your reading, you may not fully comprehend the author’s argument. As you read, note any terms or phrases that are still not clear to you to investigate after this first in-depth reading. Notice the structure of the text or speech, the transitions from section to section, and the patterns of development the writer uses to develop their ideas.  Consider writing a brief, informal summary of the  argument presented to help you

TIP: Using a graphic organizer to track your second reading annotations can help you stay focused on the exercise and see relationships within the text. A framework for notetaking, whether Cornell Notes or a graphic organizer, can improve your reading comprehension because the key to reading comprehension is practicing a reading process and creating a schema (mental framework) for understanding Downloading and completing this Rhetorical Analysis Graphic Organizer during your second close reading can help you gather evidence for your analysis in a systematic way. If you do not have Word, download the doc and upload it to your Google account. You can convert it to a Google doc by selecting “File” from the menu and  “Save as Google doc.” 

On your second close reading, identify the rhetorical appeals and types of evidence the author uses and keep track of them. Using a graphic organizer designed to help you track of  the evidence and rhetorical language used can help you gather the textual details that will become your evidence in your argument about the effectiveness of the author’s argument. The chart below will help you select evidence that was likely presented to create a certain rhetorical appeal. You will find that some evidence you are selecting will  seem to fall in several appeals, and that is expected. Read the text surrounding the evidence again to help you determine the author’s purpose in providing that evidence or detail.  Some students may end up combining two appeals in their analyses because they are so closely coupled. There is nothing wrong about doing that. For example, you might find that your expert testimony from a scholarly researcher bears direct quoting because of the expert’s strong ethos, but the quote also contains facts and statistics you would classify as logos. If this is a strategy a writer or speaker uses to reinforce their argument, you may end up discussing the rhetorical strength (or weakness, if the source’s ethos is lacking) of this strategy.

Types of Evidence Associated with Rhetorical Appeals
Logos Pathos Ethos Kairos
  • Facts
  • Observations
  • Statistics
  • Research study findings
  • Examples
  • Analogies
  • Personal testimony
  • Personal narrative or vignette
  • Descriptions if they evoke pity, disgust, happiness
  • Examples that elicit emotional reactions in readers/listeners
  • Expert testimony
  • Establishing ethos (credibility) of sources
  • Establishing author ethos
  • Appeals to what is right or moral
  • Appeals of value
  • Details establishing relevance to the current public discourse, societal issues, major events
  • Details or explanations establishing timeliness
  • Details or explanations establishing historical, cultural, and social relevance

On your third close reading, I recommend focusing on rhetorical language and rhetorical devices. I suggest this for several reasons, one of which is the necessity of understanding the argument and how the author uses evidence before you can understand the rhetorical language choices a writer or speaker makes. Using your notes, organizer, or digital or direct annotations on a print out page. As you read, notice language and ideas that stand out to you as you read. and highlight them. Make an annotation to add detail about why that phrasing or use of a figure of speech stood out to you. If you noticed them, they probably have a rhetorical purpose!
Good questions to ask yourself when you are making rhetorical language notations are, How does the author’s rhetorical use of language (the writer’s diction) affect my reading experience? The meaning? Does it “work on” me the way I think the author intended?  Why? Why not?

Most effective rhetors select every word, write every phrase, and craft every sentence intentionally.  How does rhetorical language work to support or advance writer’s purpose in your selected article? That is the question you are answering in your  notes and one you will respond to in your rhetorical analysis practice exercise, paper, or project.

TERMS TO LEARN AND USE IN RHETORICAL ANALYSIS: How does rhetorical language work to support or advance writer’s purpose in your selected article?
  • Connotative words –
    • Denotation (literal definitions)
    • Connotation (associations of a word beyond its literal meaning; for example: cheap vs. frugal; slender vs skinny)
  • Tone (author’s attitude toward topic is conveyed through words.
    • Is the author sincere, bitter, passionate, sarcastic?
    • Does the author’s word choice reflect a positive, ambivalent, or negative attitude about the topic?
    • Which words and phrases convey tone?
  • Slanted phrasing/biased language
    • Does the author use loaded word choice?
    • Is the biased language to make his or her argument?
  • Figures of speech
    • Hyperbole (exaggeration)
    • Understatement
    • Simile – comparison of two dissimilar items , ideas, or people using the term “like” or “as”
    • Metaphor – stating that one idea or thing is another, ( i.e. “love is a rose”) to convey an idea more fully through imagery and comparison)
  • Analogies – an extended comparison between a less familiar idea or an argument and something similar that makes the unfamiliar idea more easily understood or an argumentative point more acceptable.
  • Sensory language (i.e. sight, sound, touch)
  • Syntax (sentence structure)
    • brief, simple for emphasis
    • juxtaposition of ideas
    • repetition
    • Comparison

In the next exercise, you will have the opportunity to apply these reading strategies and practice reading and analyzing a text or other work rhetorically.

Exercise: Reading Rhetorically and Outlining a Rhetorical Analysis


The purpose of this exercise is to bring together the rhetorical analysis skills you have been practicing to learn how to go from critical reading and analysis to writing a thesis statement in which you take a position of the effectiveness of an author’s editorial. In addition, you will learn how to create an essay or presentation outline based on that thesis statement (claim).


Take a moment to consider the list of articles listed at the end of these directions. From this list of current editorials/op-ed pieces, please choose ONE editorial you will use for for this practice assignment.  During this exercise, you will begin applying your critical thinking and reading skills to evaluating the effectiveness of an author’s opinion piece or editorial (“op-ed”). By applying your knowledge of the Aristotelian rhetorical appeals (Links to an external site.) and understanding of how the author uses connotative, descriptive, biased/persuasive, and/or figurative language to persuade an audience, you and your classmates (if you are working in a group) will determine the author’s purpose and the degree to which the author achieves that purpose.

Remember, your job here is not to agree or disagree with the author’s/authors’ message.  While it is difficult to leave your opinions and values aside in order to analyze the author’s/authors’ argument with an open, flexible, and dispassionate mind, that is exactly what is called for here.

  1. Choose one of the articles linked below and download this Rhetorical Analysis Graphic Organizer. (If you do not have Word, download the doc and upload it to your Google account. You can convert it to a Google doc by selecting “File” from the menu and  “Save as Google doc.”)
  2. Also, if your college library provides access to Noodle Tools, consider keeping your annotations, links, and outlines there.) As you read, ask yourself what you know about the issue and what you need to know to fully understand it  Preview your chosen text, and then read and annotate it.
    • Pasting the text in a Google doc, then using the sharing, highlighting, and commenting features to annotate it is a uncomplicated and free way to perform your annotations and work with a group.  Just be careful of violating copyright should you share the text from your Google account in public forums.
    • Or, use apps with some free basic plans like Diigo.
    • Also, if your college library provides access to Noodle Tools, consider keeping your annotations, links, and outlines there.
  3. Next, using the information and steps outlined in this chapter’s section, identify the rhetorical situation in the text based on the following components: the communicator, the issue at hand, the purpose, the medium of delivery, and the intended audience.
  4. Then, identify and analyze how the writer tries to establish the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, logos, and Kairos throughout that text.
  5. Finally, evaluate how effectively you think the writer establishes the rhetorical appeals and defend your evaluation by noting specific examples that you have tracked in your graphic organizer and annotations.
  6. If possible, work with a small group from this point to discuss how to craft the thesis statement and build the outline.
  7. Write a thesis statement with 3-4 specific discussion points to make a claim or qualified about the effectiveness of the writer’s argument.
  8. Use the discussion points to structure the outline content and add, bullet, or list the evidence and examples you will use from the author’s text to support your analytic discussion points.
  9. Reflect on this critical reading, rhetorical analysis, and essay planning process. What do you know or know how to do that you did not before? Would you feel confident writing a rhetorical analysis essay from your rough outline?


CNN : Lynch, Stephen F., Green, Mark, Blumenthal, Richard and Tammy Baldwin. “The veterans who need Congress to act in 2021.” CNN, 3 March2021,

Fox News: Pinto, Frederick. “There’s no vaccine for the social media censorship virus. Here’s the commonsense solution.” Fox News, 29 May 2021,

The Hill : Kirchain, Randolf and Franz-Josef Ulm.  “Climate resilience is the new sustainability.” The Hill, 30 May 2021,

Human Rights Watch“US: Provide Reparations for 1921 ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’: State, City Should Compensate Survivors, Descendants; Adopt Broad Plan.” Human Rights Watch. 29 May 20201,

This assignment lends itself to creating an informal group presentation to the larger group in person, via podcast or vidcast, posted to the course discussion board

2.3 Rhetorical Analysis in popular culture


Since rhetorical analysis is a skill that allows us to more fully understand how language works on us and how we can use language to more effectively to persuade, inform, and/or entertain others, analysis beyond the written text can provide us a sense of how rhetorical analysis helps us understand many modalities of everyday rhetoric. Rhetoric is embedded in any form of communication designed to impact its intended audience and can take any form. For example, common forms of rhetorical messaging can be found in advertising, art,  dance, music, our social media streams, marketing literature, podcasts, videos and other modalities. Even the popcorn scent pumped out to the front gates of Disneyland are meant to evoke memories of warm, familiar times of fun with your family and friends.

Think over sources of opinion, information, or entertainment in popular culture you particularly enjoy and examine the rhetorical elements at play.  For example, consider the rhetorical messaging in music videos, TED Talks, and Youtube and TikTok videos you enjoy watching or the podcasts you enjoy listening to.  Are you drawn by the messaging because of the pathos? Have you had similar experiences as the performer? Are you gathering information by following an interest-based hashtag on Twitter or a thread on Reddit? Or, is your engagement pure entertainment? What does rhetoric look like from your cultural standpoint? Most likely, you have multiple purposes for engaging with the sources and modalities of entertainment and current culture you choose.

Your instructors in your performance classes (see Deb Streusen’s blog on this) and/or other composition courses may have given you a “rhetoric in popular culture” assignment similar to the one below in the past, but it is a good exercise to engage in again with your more in-depth understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical appeals. As you work through your analysis in the exercise below, refer back to the ideas about the dangers and benefits of rhetoric presented in Chapter 1 in Douglas Tappin’s TED Talk “Rethinking Rhetoric.” This is another assignment and activity that can provide provocative and educative class discussions when shared, and it highlights the face that rhetoric is ever-present and at work in our daily lives in both positive and negative or less effective ways.

Exercise: Analyzing Rhetoric in a Music Video or Other Performance

Multimodal Rhetoric Exercise (or assignment): Analyzing Rhetoric in a Music Video or Other Performance

Directions: After watching the example video, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”,  to get a gist of this assignment, please select a music video or other performance and complete a rhetorical analysis of the multimodal aspects of the performance. Take notes on the performance and write a summary and reflection as detailed below.

The prompt for your notetaking is: How do the language and the multimodal elements in this performance reflect or reinforce the performer’s, songwriter’s or other speaker or speakers’ message and purpose? Consider how the visual, auditory, physical, and other sensory elements support or emphasize the message or provide subtle hints from which you infer meaning that might not be overtly stated in the words spoken. If a transcript is provided, access it after you have experienced the performance as intended for further analysis.

Track your notes (visual elements you notice) from the video or other performance following an evidence/interpretation notetaking structure or other two column notetaking method organized as the example below.  Select your evidence based on what you notice as you experience the performance; then do a second round to catch what you missed on the first. For each evidence note, write an interpretation and/or inference explaining how the visual evidence you selected supports or relates to the message of the lyrics and video.

Write a one-page explanation of how rhetorical language, appeals, and other multimodal aspects of the performance influenced or reinforced the message or purpose of the work and add a brief personal reflection paragraph afterwards to explain what you learned or started to think about as a result of this assignment. Prepare this assignment in order to  share with your peers with an informal presentation or discussion board post.

Evidence/Interpretation Notetaker

I saw/heard/read in the “text” . . .

(images, words, placement, sound, objects, colors, fonts, symbolism, mood)


Critically connect or infer meaning with the visual aspect you notice in the video.
(Starters: I wondered about / I made a connection to / I thought)

Extra: Rhetoric is embedded into every cultural and artistic critique you read. After Beyoncé released Lemonade in 2015, the internet was abuzz with discussions over just want she was really saying in the album and video. To see an example of this 2016 critique on Vox (a venue for popular culture issues and critiques), “Beyonce’s Lemonade, explained: an artistic triumph that’s also an economic powerhouse” by Marcus Moore.

2.4 WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Composing a TedTalk Rhetorical Analysis

Image of tablet and pencil to indicate writing assignment.
Edit by Flatart

Writing Prompt

Select a 12-18 minute TED Talk of internet to you and write a formal academic rhetorical analysis essay using a structural rhetorical analysis approach, that is the analysis follows the speaker’s presentation organization. Make an overarching claim about the effectiveness of the speaker’s TED Talk. Support this claim by taking your reader through the major sections of the talk and presenting your supporting evidence (the rhetorical appeals and rhetorical language that most supports your claim) in that  section of  talk. You will also touch on other rhetorical elements used in each section such as images, sounds, speech techniques, and physical actions if they contribute to the rhetorical success or effectiveness of the TED Talk speaker’s argument or point. Ask yourself: What does the speaker want us to think, feel, say, or do and why? Finally, if you want to offer a critique from an audience perspective on a few points, you may embed it within the relevant discussion points.

Exercise: Analyzing and Annotating Your TED Talk


This two part exercise asks you to create a rhetorical “play by play” analysis of your chosen TED Talk and create annotations on the TED Talk transcript. First, you listen and view carefully, jotting down a few notes about

Purpose: To learn how effective speakers use rhetorical strategies, organizational structure, and language to inform, persuade, and/or entertain others.


  • To understand how a speaker’s structure, content, and rhetorical choices engage their audience.
  • To analyze the speaker’s multimodal means of emphasizing or highlighting key points.
  • To critically read the transcript and note rhetorical moves and language choices the speaker makes.

First, generate the content for the paper through notetaking and analysis. 

  • Select a 12-18 minute TED Talk using the drop down menus on the TED page like the screen shot at left.
  • Copy the transcript of the document into the the Google doc.
  • Take notes through both a rhetorical, audience-centric lens (highlight the text and use the comment feature for taking notes)
  • At the end, make a shorter list of the rhetorical appeals, language, and evidence from the TED Talk that you found most compelling to listeners?
  • Reorganize this list to align with their use in a particular part of the speech (i.e. introduction, key points, conclusion)
  • Create discussion points around the rhetorical elements and level of effectiveness for each part of the speech. These discussion points will become the body of your paper.

Second, plan the structure of your essay.

  • Based on the invention work above, create an overarching thesis statement about the effectiveness of the rhetorical elements the speaker employs in this TED Talk.
  • Use your discussion points in a listing or outlining exercise. Remember, for this analysis, track the rhetorical events through the organizational order presented and experienced by the audience.
  • Talk over your ideas for organizing this essay in peer groups, if possible.
  • Begin drafting!


The purpose of this essay assignment is to develop a greater awareness of the structure and rhetorical strategies that support a main idea and/or an effective argument, demonstrate the ability to analyze and critique a popular form and context of speech delivery, and demonstrate your expanding critical reading, writing, and analysis skills.


Your audience for this assignment is your instructor and your classmates (as we will conduct peer reviews). Provide background, explanatory, and or contextual information as needed, especially in the intro so your readers can follow the paper whether they have viewed the video or not.

Assignment Criteria

  • Identifies the rhetorical context:  title, venue, date and its “speaker” ethos
  • Identifies the speaker’s intent or purpose and identifies the speaker’s argument
  • Identifies exigence or relevance of the issue and how it is related to the audience’s wants, values, and needs). Consider if any of these  constraints the speaker to some degree.
  • Identifies the structure and sense of content or argument evolving in the message (usually a beginning, middle, and end)
  • Delivers the rhetorical analysis in the organizational order delivered (as the audience would experience it. (This is a different approach than organizing by appeal as we did in the articles analyses.)
  • Contains analysis of how the speaker uses rhetorical appeals to build/support the argument
  • Contains analyses of how the rhetorical language choices the speaker makes connects the audience with the talk’s message and creates the tone for the speech (shifting tone, formal/informal/figurative language).
    • Questions to guide you in your language analysis:
    • How does the author use diction/word choice to advance his argument, engage the reader, and convey tone (attitude toward the topic)?
    • Is the word choice highly connotative, even biased, hyperbolic, or “loaded?”
  • Does figurative language provide sensory imagery, create tone, create a feeling, or elicit emotion in the reader? How does language affect the reader’s view of the argument?
  • Embeds critique (positive or negative or both) to counter an exception (qualification) to the overarching thesis statement (sometimes you will want to note a shift or where the message or argument breaks down).
  • Reflects standard  academic writing conventions (written in a more formal tone in the third person)
  • Demonstrates careful attention to syntax (sentence structure and variety) and diction (word choice, variety, and phrasing)
  • Contains a Works Cited page and is formatted in MLA format. Cites quoted information in-text from the time stamp in the video.
  • Consists of approx. 1200-1500 words

Relevant English 102 Competencies

  • Write for specific rhetorical contexts, including circumstance, purpose, topic, audience and writer, as well as the writing`s ethical, political, and cultural implications. (MCCD #1)
  • Organize writing to support a central idea through unity, coherence and logical development appropriate to a specific writing context. (MCCCD #2)
  • Use appropriate conventions in writing, including consistent voice, tone, diction, grammar, and mechanics. (MCCCD #3)
  • Integrate sources through summarizing, paraphrasing, and quotation from sources to develop and support one`s own ideas. (MCCCD #4)
  • Use feedback obtained through peer review, instructor comments, and/or other sources to revise writing. (MCCCD #7)
  • Generate, format, and edit writing using appropriate technologies. (MCCCD #8)

2.5 Chapter TAKEAWAYS, Resources, and Sources Cited

Silhouette of a person sitting and thinking.
Thinking by Sagarwala

Key Takeaways from Becoming Rhetorical

Type your key takeaways here.

  • Using rhetorical appeals can either work to support or detract from an author’s or other communicator’s message.
  • Each rhetorical appeal is supported through specific types of evidence.
  • The rhetorical situation and audience’s needs, wants, and values should guide a rhetor’s rhetorical choices.
  • Rhetorical appeals and language should be employed ethically, intentionally, and carefully  by the communicator.
  • Rhetorical appeals should be varied and selected to create a balanced argument.
  • Rhetoric is multimodal and multi-sensory.


Branch, Taylor. “Why Telling the NCAA to Pay Players Is the Wrong Way to Help College Athletes.” Time [Online], 27 March 2019,

Browning, Elizabeth. “Rhetorical Analysis.” in Critical Reading, Critical Writing: A Handbook to Understanding College Composition, Curated and/or composed by the English Faculty at Howard Community College. 2020 Updated Version,

Chall, Morgan. “Female college sports already get short shrift. Paying NCAA athletes will make it worse.” USA Today, 25 March 2021,

Hruby, Patrick. “Women’s Worth: How Female NCAA Athletes Will Profit in the New Era of NIL Rights.” Global Sports Matters, 12 March 2021,

Kirchain, Randolf and Franz-Josef Ulm.  “Climate resilience is the new sustainability.” The Hill, 30 May 2021,

Lynch, Stephen F., Green, Mark, Blumenthal, Richard and Tammy Baldwin. “The veterans who need Congress to act in 2021.” CNN, 3 March2021,

Nocera, Joe. “Joe Nocera: College athletes should be paid.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 Sept, 2020,

Pinto, Frederick. “There’s no vaccine for the social media censorship virus. Here’s the commonsense solution.” Fox News, 29 May 2021,

Streusand, Deb. “Practicing Rhetorical Analysis with Music Videos.” Blogging Pedagogy, 2 April 2021,

“US: Provide Reparations for 1921 ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’: State, City Should Compensate Survivors, Descendants; Adopt Broad Plan.” Human Rights Watch. 29 May 20201,

Sources and Licensing for “Rhetorical Analysis” content in Section 2.0 authored by Elizabeth Browning

CC Licensed Content, Shared Previously

English Composition ILumen Learning, CC-BY 4.0.

English Composition II, Lumen Learning, CC-BY 4.0.

Image Credits

Figure 2.1 “A Balanced Argument,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.

Figure 2.2, “Brian Williams at the 2011 Time 100 Gala,” David Shankbone,  Wikimedia, CC-BY 3.0.

Figure 2.3 “An Unbalanced Argument,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.


Brekke, Kira. “Sarah McLachlan: ‘I Change The Channel’ When My ASPCA Commercials Come On.” Huffington Post. 5 May 2014.

Lewin, Tamar. “Dean at M.I.T. Resigns, Ending a 28-Year Lie.” New York Times. 27 April 2007, p. A1.

Peck, Dennis, L. “The Fifty Percent Divorce Rate: Deconstructing a Myth.” The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. Vol. 20, no.3, 1993, pp. 135-144.

Prince, Richard. “Janet Cooke’s Hoax Still Resonates After 30 Years.” The Root. October 2010.


Media Attributions

  • Thinking by Eucalyp from the Noun Projectnoun_Thinking_2545752
  • Analysis by Eucalyp from the Noun Projectnoun_analysis_3160693
  • Binoculars_Luis Prado
  • noun_edit_2696378
  • noun_Thinking_78.839_Sagarwala


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