Rhetorical Analysis Tools
Rhetorical Analysis: An Introduction
“It’s a rhetorical question.” Surely we have all heard and used this expression, but what does it really mean? A rhetorical question is one that is posed when the speaker does not expect a direct reply, he or she is posturing, strategizing, setting the listener up to be influenced or persuaded. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are subjected to countless messages every day that attempt to influence or persuade us in different ways. An advertisement could convince us that we need a new vehicle through rhetorical strategies, just as a significant other could convince us through the same that we need to take out the garbage.
In order to understand the machinations of daily modern life, it is imperative to have a grasp of the techniques and intentions that underpin the myriad messages we encounter every day. Rhetorical analysis is a way of interpreting and understanding texts by examining the devices and patterns that the text includes. Rhetorical analysis is multifaceted and highly transferable – it can be used to analyze a speech, just as it can be used to analyze an advertisement.
Contextualizing Rhetorical Analysis
Rhetorical analysis is used to determine how an author communicates a certain message. By performing a rhetorical analysis, students are looking at the strategies an author uses to construct and disseminate their message. To determine what the REAL intent of a speech, or how the speaker chose to emphasize or de-emphasize certain ideas, rhetorical analysis is used to consider the words chosen, their distribution, their location, and their relationship to one another.
Many universities and other institutions publish useful information on this subject on the web, as it is a common and useful form of essay writing. Please see the following links for more information on the subject:
- University of British Columbia Writing Centre – this site provides explanatory information and a sample analysis
- North Carolina State University – this site provides examples and contra-examples of rhetorical analysis
- Brigham Young University – this site provides excellent key questions that can be answered within a rhetorical analysis
On-line Rhetorical Analysis Tools
Below are links to a selection of rhetorical analysis tools available on-line. These tools form the basis of several of the alternative assignments available to you through the Communication Studies Media Lab. On-line rhetorical analysis tools:
- tend to help people determine the frequency of use of different words, phrases, themes, etc.;
- some tools will look at the co-occurrence of words, phrases, etc.;
- some of them will graph or map the results.
Rhetorical analysis tools are a terrific resource for deconstructing messages and drawing conclusions about their intention and composition. Whether or not you choose to complete the alternative assignments, exploring on-line rhetorical analysis tools is a worthwhile activity as it can broaden your understanding of message content and composition.
Note that each tool has its own tutorial and/or tools available within the site; your tutor is available to work with you on any challenges that might arise.
TAPoR Textual Analysis
Includes examples of textual analysis and explains the nature and purpose of such analyses.
A tutorial complete with screen shots is available through their website (sponsored by McMaster University)
Includes co-concurrence feature that allows users to identify and analyze the relationships between frequently occurring words. This tool can produce graphical representation of information produced. Multifaceted and engaging, this tool makes use of three different tools for text analysis; as described graphically on the site:
- Co-occurrence = identification of word associations
- Thematic analysis = identification and mapping of themes within a text
- Comparative analysis = compared two sets of textual data
Rhetorical Analysis: Exemplars
There is a veritable wealth of examples of rhetorical analysis available on-line. This approach to essay writing and contextualizing information is highly transferable; it can be used to analyze literature, political speeches, advertisements, films, etc. In a media-saturated world, a wide variety of tools for deconstructing messages is advantageous. As rhetorical analysis looks at how messages are constructed, it is a particularly useful approach within a contemporary context where we are challenged by multiple messages every day.
Please see the links below for examples of this type of analysis and deconstruction.
Iowa State University
A sample rhetorical analysis deconstructing Anne Roiphe's "Confessions of a Female Chauvinist Sow" essay, which first appeared in the magazine New York in 1972.
University of British Columbia (UBC)
A sample rhetorical analysis deconstructing George Bush’s letter to Saddam Hussein.
The University of Arizona
A sample rhetorical analysis deconstructing Angel & Woolf’s 1996 article “Searching for Life on Other Planets.”
Offers excerpts from rhetorical analyses including Hitler’s rhetoric during the First Word War; also addresses several significant rhetorical techniques.
Please contact your tutor if you have any questions in this respect and/or would like more examples of rhetorical analyses before you start your own.