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What Is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

Students may have to write a rhetorical analysis essay.
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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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A type of formal or academic paper, a rhetorical analysis essay analyzes another's work, either written or visual, based on several concepts of rhetoric. These essays not only seek to understand how the author implements various rhetorical tools and techniques to fulfill his or her purpose but also how effective the author is in this goal. Rhetorical analysis essays are often assigned to upper level high school students or lower level college students in an effort to teach them how to critically analyze another's work.

Unlike many other types of essays, rhetorical analyses do not primarily focus on what the author in question is saying but in how he or she is saying it. Therefore, when drafting a rhetorical analysis essay, the writer must not focus on the content of the piece being analyzed but instead on how that content is presented to the reader or viewer. For example, if the article being analyzed is about abortion, whether the article is for or against the legalization of abortion is irrelevant. The writer of the analysis must instead focus on how the author of the article presents his or her case rather than the case itself.

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Normally, to accomplish this the writer asks him or herself questions about the piece. For example, what type of facts does the author present? Does the author commit any fallacies or failures in logical reasoning? Is the tone appropriate to the subject matter and audience? Once the writer answers these questions, he or she can then determine not only how the author attempted to prove his or her point but the overall effectiveness and trustworthiness of the piece.

Like most formal essays, a rhetorical analysis essay consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Introductions for these essays often briefly summarize the article or describe the visual media that will be analyzed. They also may give background on the author or creator of the piece. Introductions must include a thesis statement, generally found at or near the end of the introductory paragraph, which states what the essay plans to prove with regard to the piece it is analyzing.

The body of a rhetorical analysis essay should work to prove the thesis. Determining the audience and purpose of the piece being analyzed is often the first step in these essays. Once audience and purpose are established, writers can take the use of rhetorical techniques, such as the tone, word choice, and use of examples or evidence, into consideration. Strong body paragraphs will use specific examples from the piece being analyzed in order to illustrate points.

When the body is complete, an analysis is only finished once a conclusion is written. A strong conclusion will not just summarize the main points of the essay but will use that summary to prove the thesis was correct. Conclusions to these essay also usually indicate whether the techniques the author used were truly effective.

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