Rhetorical Analysis 1: Analyzing a Text

UPDATE: I’ve posted a sample essay on this blog. Check it out here.

Introduction

We’ve talked in class about rhetoric, a word that is often defined as “the art of communicating effectively” or sometimes “the art of persuasion.” This is an assignment where you’ll practice analyzing someone else’s rhetoric–that is, the strategies someone else used while communicating.

Specifically, you’ll ask yourself 3 main questions about a text:

  1. “What is this author trying to accomplish with this piece of writing?”
  2. “What strategies does the author use as he or she tries to have an effect on an audience?”
  3. “How effective were the author’s strategies?”

Assignment

Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical strategies used by an author of an online article that was primarily designed to persuade.

The article you analyze must be something that you found through Twitter. (You’ll prove this by supplying me with a link to the tweet that led you to your chosen article. See below for technical details on how to link to a specific tweet.) If you’ve already “followed” all the authors whose work we’ll read in class, you can find an article simply by reading the tweets in your feed, looking for one that has a link to an outside source, and then judging whether or not the outside source is primarily designed to be persuasive. But if you don’t find anything there that looks interesting, feel free to follow anyone else who you think is more likely to post links to online persuasive articles you find interesting.

See the Tips section below for advice on what rhetorical strategies you might want to write about.

Additionally, your essay must cite the article you discuss in two ways: the first time you mention the title of the article, you must link to the article itself (like this: “How Well Has The Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?”). Secondly, you must include a Works Cited or References section at the bottom of your post (depending on whether your major discipline uses MLA or APA format). In this Works Cited or References section, you must also include a formal citation of the website. For example, in MLA format the above article would look like this in a formal citation:

Sullivan, Margaret. “How Well Has the Times Advanced a Story That It Didn’t Break?” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 22 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Aug. 2013.

If you don’t know how to formally cite a webpage, a good place to start is the Purdue OWL’s pages on MLA format and/or APA format.

There is no length requirement. Write enough to reflect this assignment’s importance to your final grade (see “Assessment,” below). Show me that you’ve carefully considered the author’s strategies and judged their effectiveness.

Submission

You’ll write this essay as a new post on your blog. It must be posted publicly before class begins on Friday, September 6. Once it’s posted, you don’t need to do anything else; I’ll be able to visit your blog to see it.

On Wednesday, September 4, we’ll spend the day discussing drafts of each other’s work. Therefore, you must bring a printout of a complete draft to class that day (for a completion grade in the Small Assignments category).

Assessment

This essay is worth 10% of your final grade. It will be assessed using a rubric that breaks down your success at communicating quality ideas, evidence, organization, and sentence style. (For a pdf of the rubric I’ll use, click here.)

You’ll post your essay on your blog, but the content of your essay will still follow many conventions of academic essays. Think of this assignment as a merging of the two genres.

Specifically, I expect your post/essay to follow these guidelines:

  • As in most academic essays, please use strong organization, including logically ordered paragraphs, clear topic sentences, and a sense that you are purposefully guiding readers toward a conclusion you understand.
  • As in most academic essays, support your claims with evidence. For instance, if you want to suggest that the author’s word choice implies that she is writing for an audience of people who already agree with her, you may find it helpful to quote the parts of her article that prove your point.
  • As in most blog posts, you don’t need to start with a formal academic heading listing our class or my name or the date. After all, I already know whose blog belongs to whom, and WordPress automatically records the date you publish your post.
  • As in most blog posts, you may use links to guide your readers to outside pages that seem pertinent to your discussion.

Technical Considerations

Linking to a Specific Tweet

On Twitter, every tweet mentions how long ago the tweet was published. In the image below, look for the “3h” in the upper right of the tweet, meaning it was tweeted 3 hours ago:

If you click that timestamp on any tweet, you’re taken to a unique page where all you’ll see is that tweet. For instance, if I click the “3h,” I’m taken to this page:

From here, I can copy the url (the “http” stuff in the web browser’s address bar) and paste it somewhere else, allowing someone else to browse directly to this tweet.

In your essay, I’d like you to paste that url into the very top of your post. That way, I’ll be able to see what tweet led you to the article you decided to write about for this project.

Linking to Outside Pages

In WordPress, you can highlight any group of words and make that group a clickable link. Here’s how:

1) While editing your post, highlight the words that you want to make a link. (It’s common practice to not highlight any spaces before or after the words you want to link.)

2) Click the button that looks like a chain. (Get it? It’s a link.) (This button won’t be clickable until you highlight some words first.)

3) In the box that pops up, paste the url of a website that you want readers to go to when they click those words. Be sure that this url includes http:// at the beginning.

4) Click save. While you’re editing the article, the link won’t work yet, but when you preview or publish your post, it should work just fine.

Tips

  • You should assume that your audience (me and the rest of the class) has never read your article. Therefore, it makes sense to give some background information about where this article was published, what sort of site it seems to be, what you can find out about the author, and what ongoing argument this piece seems to be a part of, if any. (In rhetorical terms, all of these things could be called a description of the rhetorical situation of the author.)
  • Focus most of your essay on the strategies that you see the author making as he or she tries to persuade an audience on the topic. Some examples:
    • Does the author use humor to try to make the article fun to read, or is the piece serious and somber?
    • Does the author draw attention to his or her credentials in an effort to win over skeptical audiences?
    • Does the author tell any stories that seem designed to affect the audience’s emotions, like a sob story?
    • Does the author use statistics or rely on outside sources (like scholarship, statistics, news stories, etc.) to help make his or her point?
    • Additionally, see this excellent list for a few more things that are commonly included in a rhetorical analysis: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/pedagogy/rhetorical%20analysis%20heuristic.htm. Feel free to discuss the answers to any of those questions in your essay.
  • You don’t have to include all of these things–just the ones that make most sense to you as you write your analysis.
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2 thoughts on “Rhetorical Analysis 1: Analyzing a Text

  1. Pingback: A whirlwind first week… | Rhetoric 351, Fall 2013

  2. Pingback: How to Print a Draft from WordPress | Rhetoric 351, Fall 2013

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