Rhetorical analysis

The central question in a rhetorical analysis is: “What is the intention of the writer/speaker – and does the text help achieve this intention?” All the other parts of the analysis, are just ways to answer this question.

…the purpose of the text analysis [is] to find out whether the text is good or not. However, we can’t just say, >>I don’t like this text. It’s not good.<< We have to argue our case: >>This text is not very good because its purpose is to tell me what the Renaissance was, but it spends more time telling me how difficult it is to read Shakespeare.<< Thus, our criteria for saying what makes the text good or less good have to be clear and quite specific. (Quist 2009, p. 8)

Analysing the rhetorical situation

Before you can understand the text and whether it is good, you have to understand the situation around the text. Why is it written? What is the writer’s intention? In order to figure this you you analyse the rhetorical situation with the rhetorical pentagon.


Analysing the text

Once you know the rhetorical situation of the text – and what the writer’s intention is, you can then analyse the text itself. In order to do this you look at three different levels.

  1. What features or rhetorical devices are there in the text?
  2. What qualities do the features give the text? (E.g. clear/unclear, vivid, funny, helpful, boring, pedagogical, persuasive, difficult to understand, serious, beautiful)
  3. What is the function of the features?


Other useful terms for analysis

In order to know what kind of features to look for there are a number of terms that may be useful to know in your analysis.
– Persona
– Primary/secondary audience
– Sponsorship effect
– Forms of appeal (Pathos, logos and ethos)
– Rhetorical devices (there are a ton of different ones)
— Direct address: The use of ‘you’, ‘your’, ‘we’, ‘our’, etc. draws the reader into the context.
— Imperative form: this results in a personal appeal to the reader.
— Repetition: Using a certain phrase or idea several times makes it stand out.
— Imagery: Conveying ideas with similes, metaphors, etc. makes the language more vivid and therefore memorable.
— Contrast: the presentation of two opposites creates a stronger effect.
— Rhetorical questions: this kind of question is meant to stress a point rather than elicit an answer.
— Exaggeration: This can help to show strength of feeling.

Read more:

– Quist, Nanna Flindt (2009). On Purpose – Rhetorical Analysis of Non-fiction. Gyldendal.

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