Generating Ideas for Your Rhetorical Analysis

SOURCE: Excerpt below from John D. Ramage et al.’s “Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings”

To develop ideas for your essay, you might choose to follow the steps listed below. There are 7 proposed steps to help get you started, followed by a “How to do it” suggestion.

Step 1 : Familiarize yourself with the article you are analyzing.

How to do it : Read your article several times.
Divide it into sections to understand its structure.

Step 2 : Place the article in its rhetorical context.

How to do it : Follow the strategies in Chapter 2 and use the “Questions for Rhetorical Analysis” on pages 155–157.

Step 3 : Summarize the article.

How to do it : Follow the steps in Chapter 2 on pages 34–36. You may want to produce a longer summary of 150–200 words as well as a short, one-sentence summary.

Step 4 : Reread the article, identifying “hot spots.”

How to do it : Note hot spots in the article—points that impress you, disturb you, confuse you, or puzzle you.

Step 5 :  Use the “Questions for Rhetorical Analysis” on pages 157–159.

How to do it : Choose several of these questions and freewrite responses to them.

Step 6 :  From your notes and freewriting, identify the focus for your analysis.

How to do it : Choose several features of the article that you find particularly important and that you want to discuss in depth in your essay. Identify points that will bring something new to your readers and that will help them see this article with new understanding. You may want to list your ideas and then look for ways to group them together around main points.

Step 7 : Write a thesis statement for your essay.

How to do it : Articulate your important points in one or two sentences, setting up these points clearly for your audience.

In finding a meaningful focus for your rhetorical analysis essay, you will need to create a focusing thesis statement that avoids wishy-washy formulas such as, “This argument has some strengths and some weaknesses.” To avoid a vapid thesis statement, focus on the complexity of the argument, the writer’s strategies for persuading the target audience, and the features that might impede its persuasiveness for skeptics. These thesis statements articulate how their writers see the inner workings of these arguments as well as the arguments’ contributions to their public conversations.

Lopez’s angle of vision, although effectively in sync with her conservative readers of the National Review, exaggerates and distorts her case against these reproductive advances, weakening her ethos and the value of her argument for a wider audience. [This is the thesis we would use if we were writing a stand-alone essay on Lopez.]

In his New Yorker article “The Pay Is Too Damn Low,” Surowiecki adopts an angle of vision empathic to low-wage workers rather than owners; by linking an increase in minimum wage with other liberal causes such as universal health care, investment in infrastructure, and establishing European-style safety nets, Surowiecki appeals to his liberal audience but may alienate the business community by under-representing economic arguments opposing the minimum wage.

To make your rhetorical analysis of your article persuasive, you will need to develop each of the points stated or implied in your thesis statement using textual evidence, including short quotations. Your essay should show how you have listened carefully to the argument you are analyzing, summarized it fairly, and probed it deeply.

Organizing Your Rhetorical Analysis

The organization plan below provides a possible structure for your rhetorical analysis.


• Present the kairos of the article
• Engage reader’s interest in the issue of the article
• Indicate your interest and investment
• Present a thesis with three–four rhetorical points about the article you will analyze in depth

Summary of Argument

• Briefly present the claim and main points of the article you are analyzing to help readers understand your analysis
• [Possibly include the summary of the article in your introduction]

Rhetorical Analysis

• Explain, develop, and discuss the rhetorical points in your thesis, examining the author’s rhetorical strategies
• Use examples and quotations from the article’s argument you are analyzing to make your points clear to your readers


• Wrap up your analysis
• Perhaps mention the stakes or importance of this article’s contribution to the public conversation on this issue

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