How to Perform Rhetorical Analysis

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How to Perform Rhetorical Analysis

Becoming a critical reader means learning to recognize audiences, writers, points of view and purposes, and to evaluate arguments. In addition to the rhetorical triangle, structure of an argument, and rhetorical appeals, you should look at the following devices used by authors when performing critical analysis. Keep in mind too that these are only some of the devices, and that authors may use other rhetorical devices as well.

Word choice

Denotative language. Words that relate directly to the knowledge and experience of the audience. Includes specialized, precise or familiar words that speak to logic. Specialized terminology from medicine or law speaks to doctors or lawyers. Precise language that shuns emotional coloration appeals to people who use logic and reason, regardless of profession.

Connotative language: Words that relate to deeper, symbolic levels of meaning. It includes social meanings acquired through use and emotional associations. It can also reflect social, racial, political, or religious stereotypes. For example, a writer who refers to liberals as “bleeding hearts” communicates not only her or his own bias, but an expectation that the audience shares this bias.

Tone: can be characterized as the author’s attitude toward the reader or toward the topic.

Formal: Creates a distance between the writer and audience by removing most I’s and you’s, and by using elevated, specialized language. Formal tone suggests a serious, high-minded, probably well-educated audience.

Informal: Introduces the personal. When a writer is informal, the kinds of stories she relates, the way she presents herself, even the words she uses suggest audience attributes by indicating what she expects them to accept.

Irony: Points to discrepancies between what exists and what ought to be. It is a subtle tactic that assumes an audience of careful readers. It implies some sort of discrepancy or incongruity, and it counts on the readers’ ability to understand this discrepancy.

Sarcasm: Also points to discrepancies between what exists and what ought to be. A writer using sarcasm often attacks an argument by saying the opposite of what he means.

Humor: Tactic that plays on social group bias. When we laugh at something, we join with people who are of like minds to laugh at the other—the distorted, the unusual, or the exaggerated.

Point of View

Objective: the writer seems removed from what she writes about. Objective writing uses concrete, unemotional words that relate facts, events, and data. It leads readers to action by appealing to logos and ethos.

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