Rhetorical Analysis Essay Guide

Although a rhetorical analysis essay isn’t prevalent in academic writing, it still is critical to know how to write this type of essay. A rhetorical analysis essay comprises several components every writer should be aware of. It has peculiar features that require an in-depth analysis to understand how the author attempts to impact the audience. This guide is built to help you get familiar with the fundamental principles of rhetorical analysis and explain the meaning of logos ethos and pathos. Besides, the article analyzes the rhetorical situation, provides structure along with examples, shows common mistakes, and, above all, gives effective tips on how to write a peerless and skillful rhetorical analysis essay.

What is Rhetoric? 

Rhetoric is a term established by Aristotle, a great philosopher and rhetorician. Many people aspire to learn the ropes of rhetoric because it improves the ability to deliver information clearly and efficiently. Rhetoric manifests in various ways, yet it focuses on one ultimate goal: to make the reader or listener believe what the rhetorician is saying in a speech or writing in an essay. 

However simple it might sound, rhetoric is a skill that needs to be polished continuously. And it is for a reason. A proficient rhetorician knows how to convey the message to the reader using language, specific devices, and other rhetorical techniques. Before speaking or essay writing, the orator can evaluate the audience to make sure the information is perceived well. 

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What is a Rhetorical Analysis?

A rhetorical analysis examines a text to determine how rhetoric operates, how ideas are presented, and how the author tries to achieve a goal. Many think that a rhetorical analysis is akin to a summary. But compared to a summary, a rhetorical analysis doesn’t wrap up the content to help other readers understand the text’s main idea. 

Moreover, a rhetorical analysis doesn’t encapsulate the main message. Instead, it attempts to understand how the author’s thoughts affect the audience. The examinator can look at various elements, such as lexicography, morphology, semantics, logical strains, etc.

A rhetorical analysis relies on three pillars, also known as appeals or a rhetorical triangle. An appeal is an attempt to earn the audience’s approval by approaching the readers or listeners from different angles. These appeals are present in every rhetorical analysis, and they are ethos, logos, and pathos.

To learn more about analytical essays in general, read our separate article: How to Write an Analytical Essay.


Ethical appeals are typically used to demonstrate sheer credibility and substantial expertise. When an author makes an ethical appeal, they refer to the ideas the society holds and nurtures. For example, the orator can speak about patriotism, justice, equality, religion, tradition. These appeals are common for the audience, and every listener or reader can relate to such concepts. 

Usually, ethos techniques are used by widely-known people, mainly politicians. They often justify their actions by using ethical appeals, attempting to unveil the principles of morality, i.e., rightness. A good example would be a president talking about vetoing the bill because it has a detrimental effect on minorities. 


Logical appeals tend to be the least biased and the most objective techniques. Upon using these appeals, the rhetorician stays away from prejudice, employs logic, careful words, phrases, and structures, and relies on facts that can be easily checked and confirmed. 

Since logical appeals carry strong proof for statements released, they always rest upon several techniques to deliver the message most effectively. They are comparison, cause and effect thinking, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, exemplification, elaboration, coherent thought. 

A few fields utilize logical appeals on a daily basis. They are the academic community and branches of forensic studies. A forensic linguist talking about phonetic aspects of a defendant to confirm the charges brought against the latter and using logical appeals to persuade the jury is a good example of logos.


Pathetical appeals are those related to emotions and attempt to evoke the desired feelings to persuade the audience. Usually, they are anger, sorrow, bliss, happiness, the feeling of victory and joy, rage, etc. Humans are susceptible creatures, and because of this, pathetical appeals are effective, allowing the speaker to accomplish their goal. For example, using epic battle music can be an excellent example of justifying the country’s decision to send troops to another state. 

Additionally, pathos can manifest in the form of expressive descriptions of historical events, places, and distinct imagery. But what is among the most effective pathetical appeals is the use of eloquent vocabulary when sharing a personal story with the audience. For example, an anti-abortion campaign may leverage the feeling of anguish by creating ads and using emotional-laden vocabulary.

What is the rhetorical situation?

Before writing a rhetorical analysis essay and looking for any of the mentioned components of a rhetorical triangle, you have to examine and identify the rhetorical situation thoroughly. Undoubtedly, the orator can use ethos, logos, and pathos interchangeably. However, it is essential to evaluate the following attributes to figure out why the orator used a specific rhetorical device in their paper. By analyzing them, you can comprehend the rhetorical situation and understand its concepts and aims.


The audience is what the rhetorician is interested in the most. Every speaker or writer carefully assesses the audience before voicing the message. So it would be reasonable for you to do the same. Before delving into analyzing rhetorical devices and writing an essay, think about content consumers. Your rhetorical analysis should ask the following questions to learn more about the audience and its typical individual:

  • To whom does the author try to reach out? 
  • It may be challenging to find this information. However, knowing the original source can shed light on the author’s aspirations and help you write a rhetorical analysis essay. For example, if you analyze a politician’s speech, look for newspapers. Once you can identify whether the speech or interview was published in a leftist or rightist news agency, you can determine whether the audience is Democrat or GOP voters.
  • How old is the typical consumer?
  • What ethnic background do they have?
  • What are their interests?
  • In what context does the audience get the information?


The author is the progenitor of a paper or speech. It can be a single individual or a group of people. It is imperative to define the author’s background, identity, authority, and level of engagement in the topic. Asking the following questions will make your rhetorical analysis effective and help gather solid information about the text creator:

  • Does the author (a person, organization, a group of people who releases a collective statement) have substantial expertise in the area to let them speak about the subject and provide an argument?
  • What values does the author follow, and are they related mostly to the topic? If not, does the author have a different, additional set of values? Do they contradict the subject?
  • To what extent is the author dedicated to the topic? 


The text’s primary purpose goes jointly with the author’s intentions. The writer or speaker chooses the topic and an argument for a reason. Regardless of whether they start a new subject or continue to elaborate on an existing one, they have their motivations to do so. What are they? Does the author intend to announce, inform, provoke, or stimulate the audience to take specific actions? If you can’t tell at once, posing these questions will bolster your rhetorical analysis:

  • What does the orator strive to achieve with their text or main argument?
  • Why did the author choose this topic?
  • What actions is the author anticipating the audience to take?


Behind any essay, speech, statement, or ad is the setting. Background plays a significant role in text creation. It determines what linguistic devices will be used (to make the entire performance more proficient or more straightforward) and what tone will be set. 

To fully understand the rhetorical situation of the text and write a comprehensible rhetorical analysis essay, make sure to answer the following questions; they will help you get aware of the setting and what role it played in the entire speech or written text:

  • Suppose an author is a group of people. Did they come up with a deliberate decision and follow a common argument, or did the entire discussion resemble polemics and opposing thoughts? If people emphasized different concepts, what were they? 
  • If there was a discussion, how much time would it take to develop? (can help identify the intensity of debate)
  • Was there something that served as a turning point for the author to voice it and stick to it during a speech?


Although a rhetorical analysis essay rests upon the author and the way they convey the message to the target audience, it is still crucial to determine key points the orator is addressing to the reader or listener. It will help get a clear picture of the rhetorical situation, which, in turn, will help write a rhetorical analysis essay. Try to identify the central points the author walks around. Look at these questions when carrying a rhetorical analysis:

  • What are the most repeated words and phrases in the text? Do they correlate with the topic? 
  • What message does the rhetorician try to deliver? What is their argument? What aspects does it touch upon?
  • How many messages does the orator point out? If there are more than several, are they linked, or are they completely different? Do they deny one another?


Numerous ways to deliver the message exist. The author may decide to create the message and an argument and distribute them in the form of an image, speech, written paper, song, video, and so on. Whether the creator uses this or that method, it is critical to establish why they used a specific medium to convey the argument. To define the rhetorical situation, make sure to answer these questions:

  • Does the chosen format deliver the message successfully and make an argument convincing? 
  • What is obtained by using a particular medium?
  • What are the quirks of a certain medium? In other words, why is it better for delivering the message and stating the argument than other mediums or formats?

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

First and foremost, a rhetorical analysis essay has a thesis in the first place to let the audience know the points the writer will develop within the paper. Second, the thesis statement is often followed by an outline to cast the flow of ideas presented in the essay. Then comes a common for every essay introduction, followed by a summary of the original work. After that comes the main part and the conclusion. 

To learn more about writing essays in general, we encourage you to read our full 12-step guide: How to Write an Essay.


Once you determine a research question and read the text carefully, write a thesis statement. Make sure to decide on the elements of a rhetorical triangle you will rely on. Certainly, you can use the three of them in your essay, but ensure defining the primary. A thesis must not describe the orator’s message and the main argument. Instead, it should argue the most critical rhetorical features of the text and their impact on the audience. 

Example 1: Through vivid description and diverse vocabulary, Barack Obama makes a robust statement and encourages students to pursue higher degrees and apply for scholarships and grants. 

Example 2: Since Masharov and Fischer (2006) provide authentic evidence, carry out research, and are careful in their statements, their arguments are very compelling, accurate, and scientifically backed up.


An outline is a backbone of a rhetorical analysis essay. It allows you to see the big picture of your paper and follow the right structure. Such a layout can be written in various ways. Here, we provide a typical outline for a rhetorical essay:

  • Thesis
    • Through vivid description and diverse vocabulary, Barack Obama makes a robust statement and encourages students to pursue higher degrees and apply for scholarships and grants.
  • Introduction
    • An introductory paragraph with background information on the topic: The President’s talk with students on education at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.
  • Summary
    • The President of the United States talked with students about education and tuition fees. Barack Obama emphasized the role of higher degrees and motivated students to enroll in courses. He raised concerns about tertiary education and advised students to fill out FAFSA reports to cover their education.
  • Body Paragraph
    • The President stressed on annual salaries of those who have obtained a community college degree.
    • By including how much graduates earn, he employed pathetical appeals to evoke specific emotions.
    • The analysis established that the speech evoked the desired emotions, as the target audience applauded the President and revealed its confirmation. Potential readers can experience the same.
  • Body Paragraph
    • Barack Obama talked about the loan system and its amount before and during his office.
    • He strengthened his position as the president by stating how many billions of dollars in loans students take and adding vivid vocabulary.
    • He succeeded in his intentions, which revealed applause and gratitude from students and other people that attended the meeting. Any reader and/or viewer can experience the same feelings.
  • Conclusion
    • Restating the thesis statement
    • Recapitulation of key elements and rhetorical appeals, in this case, the use of pathos.
    • Closing sentence and reflection about the impact of the text. The President’s success in using vivid vocabulary to evoke emotions.

If you want to learn more about creating outlines for essays, please consider reading our another guide: How to Write an Outline for an Essay.


The main function of the introduction is to lead to your arguments provided in the thesis. Usually, it starts with giving background information. As we stated in the outline, background information was related to the President’s talk on education. This information helps the reader understand the argument’s pertinence and the essay in its entirety.


In this section, you summarize your core text. It must be brief and neutral, showing the text’s purpose and major points. You write a summary so that the audience can comprehend the context of your rhetorical analysis essay.


The paper’s body paragraphs analyze rhetorical techniques. These body paragraphs conduct rhetorical analysis and appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) and look into the rhetorical situation. Each body paragraph carries one message. Before writing the body, do rhetorical analysis and identify the author, audience, message, medium, etc. 


Aside from restating a thesis, the conclusion provides focal points of the entire rhetorical analysis essay and comments on the essence of the author’s rhetoric appeals and techniques. 

The following table will assist you in brainstorming rhetoric techniques and developing a thesis. Answering the questions will speed up your rhetorical analysis essay writing:

What the Rhetorician DoesWhy the Rhetorician Does It
The orator’s central idea.Why did the orator stress this concept?
What is the primary purpose? To convince, evoke emotions, pan, etc.Why is it central?
Who is the speaker’s target audience?What is the reason for addressing this audience precisely?
How are the ideas arranged? Are they built chronologically, or are there any digressions? Can you spot deductive or inductive thinking?What is the goal of conveying the message this way? Why did the rhetorician use this strategy?
What language did the author use within their speech? Did it have elements of informal language? Perhaps, some slang, colloquial language, or other specific words pertinent to the region or the audience’s occupation?Why did the speaker use such devices? What purpose did they carry?
Is the author’s sentence structure ordinary or peculiar? Are sentences long or short? Are they filled with sophisticated grammar structures? Are they imperative, exclamatory, or declarative?Why did the author use such sentences? Did they help achieve the goal?
Does the author rely on quotations or any type of conversation, dialog?Why does the orator employ them in their text?
Do you believe the speaker and their techniques used in the text?Why do you believe them?
Does the orator try to impact your emotional state?Why do they do that? Did they succeed?
What does your rhetorical analysis say about the author?Why does the author follow such techniques?

The Pitfalls of Rhetorical Essays 

A rhetorical analysis essay has its pitfalls. However, knowing and avoiding them can assist you in writing a coherent essay with a clear flow of ideas. Here are the most common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Vague structures and lack of proof: Saying “The author believes that B is right” doesn’t prove anything. Be plausible and provide reasons. “The author believes that B is right because…” is a better structure for a rhetorical analysis essay.
  • Obvious and superficial ideas: The inability to dig deeper and find worthwhile ideas will make your paper mediocre. Spend more time learning the text and trying to find concepts that are hard to spot.
  • Weak explanation: If you analyze the author’s appeals, try to completely reveal why these are ethos, logos, or pathos. Provide clear examples and make sure they are accurate and valid.
  • Speaking on your own: Although you write the rhetorical analysis essay, avoid including first-person pronouns. Your essay should be formal and neutral.
  • Writing about everything and nothing in particular: Adding too many ideas will make your essay general, clumsy, and boring. For example, take two appeals and explore them in a broader scope within two paragraphs.

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Final Rhetorical Writing Tips 

Aside from caveats, it would be reasonable to point out the most effective tips for writing a rhetorical essay. Following them will accelerate the writing process and prompt you to write a flawless and cohesive essay. 

  • Separate voices: When writing a rhetorical essay, you rely on the source and include the author’s thoughts and statements. But apart from that, you must not forget to write your interpretations and whether you agree with the text. As was said, you can’t use personal pronouns in this essay. Alternatively, write in a passive voice or use other structures in an active voice when analyzing.
  • Narrow down summary: Summaries are often optional. But when they are mandatory, ensure making them as compressed as possible. Avoid retelling the text in detail. Instead, write several sentences and remain on the surface.
  • Assess the work and its peculiarities: Typically, students forget to do an analysis of the work and find out how the author delivered the message. You are evaluating the text and means used to persuade the recipient, not the subject matter.
  • Write clear references: You will include many examples from the text in your essay, so make sure to use proper citations to distinguish your explanations from original statements. Also, don’t forget to cite your references at the end of your rhetorical analysis essay and give credit to the author.
  • Remind the reader of the rhetorical situation: Of course, your rhetorical analysis essay has to consider every element of the rhetorical situation. Although you don’t have to add all of them in essay writing, it is crucial to include several items, including the purpose and medium. 


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