by Andrew Klebahn
Knowing how to approach a Rhetorical Analysis essay begins with understanding what it is. In a rhetorical analysis essay, we seek meaning and comprehension in a nonfiction passage by directing our focus on the author’s rhetorical choices in grammar strategies, patterns of speech, and in juxtaposition to other writings. Here, we are looking at two presidential speeches to seek how the writer makes rhetorical choices to develop a defensible argument that achieves purpose, and/or conveys a message. Now, if this is your first time hearing the term “rhetorical choices” and you don’t know what that is, we covered it on Chapter 8: Other Stylistic Variations—Repetition, “repetition provides links between our sentences and paragraphs.” (Kolln, 29) Many types of rhetorical choices are usually conveyed through a verb like repetition because it is a common rhetorical choice. We will examine how two speeches use repetition of a certain word with the juxtaposition/contrast of things.
Sometimes rhetorical grammar strategies begin broad before they focus on a specific message, so it could create an enemy, or maybe flattering their audience, or criticizing their audience. Or possibly the author is trying to justify something. These are all choices as well. It is very important to use active verbs when conveying what the author is doing. Start thinking about the body paragraphs. When writing a rhetorical analysis essay, you need to plan to have evidence and commentary. Evidence can be a direct quote, meaning that you directly quote from the passage. In which case, you want to embed these quotes instead of just dropping them into the body paragraph of your essay. Remember to work your quote into a sentence.
You also want to make sure to use a shorter quote, preferable a word or phrase instead of a complete sentence. Sometimes, students will choose longer quotes because he or she think it’s going to make their essay look longer and therefore better. That’s not actually the case. According to our textbook, “repetition when it has no purpose…it gets in the reader’s way: Then we call it redundancy.” (Kolln, 29) To avoid redundancy, you can also include a paraphrase for your evidence. A paraphrase is something, you take from the writer’s words and you put reword it into your own words.
Evidence is important because it enables you to engage with your text. Remember to limit your evidence so that you have more commentary than evidence. Commentary is going to be your Rhetorical Analysis. It’s how you explain the significance of the evidence to help prove your thesis. This is your insight into the text with your own original thoughts. Think about why the author’s word choice in repetition. Why did the author make that word choice for that audience on that occasion? When developing your commentary, remember to keep asking yourself why and how to explain the intentions behind it. Also, it helps to think about the grammar structure too. Authors write with deliberate intention, so we want to examine possible explanations.
The next step: Finding patterns in repetition for cohesion and style. When writing a rhetorical analysis, repetition is only one of the multiple elements of the rhetorical situation. A speech will have repetition unlike an article which will have less repetition. We are going to look at two presidential speeches from two different periods of time to examine the exigence or catalyst that prompted the speech. I want to you think about the questions: Are they speaking because a certain event happened? Are they responding to a letter that they received? What could be the exigence? Why?
Since we talked about looking for elements of the rhetorical situation, here is a example of how you could break down a speech. Now, please keep in mind that for the purposes of this demonstration, I was looking at the word choice he used in the first paragraph.
President Kennedy’s Speech
[We] shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. (Kolln, 128) Notice the style of repetition is called asyndeton—removing conjunctions from a series for dramatic effect. Looking at the rhetorical choices made by President Kennedy removed the conjunctions to try to connect to the rhetorical situation.
What is the rhetorical situation? Keep in mind that it is important to look for potential evidence of the rhetorical choices you intend to write about, however underlining too many lines may clutter the passage into redundancy. If you might be wondering, what am I looking for? Remember you are searching for rhetorical choices. You should be asking yourself, “What is the writer doing with this style of repetition?” Is the style of repetition working together to identify as asyndeton or another style of repetition? Second, we want to begin looking for evidence in the grammar structure within the repletion for evidence in your essay. When writing an essay, I recommend that you Cite one phrase, that bromide quote that you really liked.
Now that we have identified how to find patterns of repetitions for evidence and commentary, let’s discuss comparing and contrasting. Let’s take examine a presidential speech President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on December 7, 1941. Let’s identify and discuss the rhetorical situation together in the following excerpt.
 Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
 The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
FDR is quick to establish Japan is the enemy. We easily and quickly identify what he’s doing, and why he’s using these specific words. FDR is using the opportunity for strong verbs—rhetorical choices. Remember, one of the goals of rhetorical analysis is to examine a rhetorical choice in relation to the rhetorical situation. In this speech, think about purpose and ultimate goal of asking Congress to declare war. Why is he starting the speech this way? Given that he wants them to declare war, why is he making this choice of creating an enemy at the very beginning of the speech? Remember to follow the line of reasoning so your line of reasoning is a logical progression of ideas, a writer needs to be convincing. FDR uses a line of reasoning to structure his speech to convince Congress to declare war. FDR’s line of reasoning follows a repetition of “intentional and deliberate”. This style of repetition is called isocolon—same structure and length. (Kolln, 129) The repetition is in a very particular way, so that it pertains to rhetorical choices as well.
One of the tips I give my students is to divide the passage into chunks or sections. Search for a transition or change in topic where one section begins and another one ends. For example it may be a change in topic or a change in rhetorical choice—verb. The tone will change in juxtaposition. If you can divide up the passage in this way then you are following the author’s line of reasoning. This technique makes writing a rhetorical analysis of a scavenger hunt. Sometimes I see students trying to write a rhetorical analysis essay. And they’re, “oh, I see repetition. It’s in the beginning, the middle and the end.” And then they write a whole paragraph about repetition. Keep in mind, this is not necessarily wrong, however, this is not the same as looking at the line of reasoning to figure out how the author starts, continues, and concludes.
Including the line of reasoning can lead to a stronger essay, however, it doesn’t mean that you can’t reference the repetition for expressing the things chronologically as opposed to just searching for different rhetorical choices. So after you annotate the Introduction and then the rhetorical grammar strategy, find the patterns and divide them into sections for comparing and contrasting, the next step is to create a conclusion.
Now that you’re able to write a rhetorical analysis essay more quickly because you have a sense of direction, let’s start thinking about your thesis. When creating a defensible argument, what are you trying to prove? I encourage my students to plan to include two pieces of evidence and commentary prove their point. Aiming for at least two layers of evidence and commentary because one layer of evidence and commentary is not very convincing. There is an element of argument to rhetorical analysis. Remember, you are trying to prove your thesis, so you want to be able to develop your ideas in a comprehensible line of reasoning. Oftentimes, if a paragraph only has only one evidence, it’s quite underdeveloped. So focus on how you can use evidence and commentary to truly prove your defensible argument. One of the biggest struggles my students have is when they divide a passage into sections, “I don’t know how to write about three or four different choices all at once.” Remember, rhetorical choices don’t operate in isolation, they operate in repetition because they work together.
If rhetorical choices work together, first ask yourself, “what choices do I notice?” Looking back at my demonstration of FDR’s speech, notice that he had some aggressive word choice. FDR also listed different places that were attacked by the Japanese and there was repetition.
FDR repeated the word “attacked”. He also repeated the word “deliberate.” Those repetition of words are major rhetorical choices. And If I was writing an essay on FDR’s speech, that is what I want to talk about. First, I would begin by asking myself, “what is FDR doing by making these rhetorical choices in repetition?” Well, in broad terms. All of these repetitions point to FDR’s attempt to create a common enemy, so that will become my main idea. This is my essay’s focus instead of focusing on just repetition or just the list of repetitive words. I would try to focus on trying to prove the main idea of his speech by creating a common enemy. So once I’ve settled on my main idea, then I need evidence and commentary to prove it. So I have two layers or two quotes for evidence and commentary here. In the first layer we have the evidence of “sudden and deliberate.” That’s the word choice that I want to analyze. Second is the commentary. Does my rhetorical analysis explain why he makes that rhetorical and repetitive word choice? Finally is my second layer of evidence, that he lists different locations in order to prove that Japan was guilty.
- What choices do I notice in the first portion of FDR’s speech?
- Aggressive word choice, listing, repetition.
- What is FDR doing by making these choices in this section?
- Creating a common enemy.
MAIN IDEA: FDR creates a common enemy.
EVIDENCE: “sudden” and “deliberate”
REPETITION: This word choice emphasizes that the attack on Pearl Harbor was premeditated and the US was innocent. Given that the American public had not wanted to enter WWII prior to this, FDR’s word choice appeals to Congress’ sense of patriotism and justice, as they would likely want vengeance for the attack.
EVIDENCE: list of locations.
JUXTAPOSITION: By listing the other locations that Japan attacked, FDR furthers his point that the attack was not an accident. Demonstrating the deliberate nature of the attack will make Congress more receptive to FDR’s ultimate call to action: to declare war on the Empire of Japan.
INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH TIPS
- CONTEXT. Use information from the passage or prompt but write it in your own words. Think about the big picture.
- DEFENSIBLE THESIS: Include specific rhetorical choices and the purpose/argument/ message. ( include specific verbs for rhetorical choice)
I’m going to be honest. The more I’ve taught, the more I’ve changed my mind about how I want my students to write an introduction paragraph. When I first started teaching, I gave my students the advice that I received when I was in high school. “Think about the introduction as an inverted triangle. Start broad and funnel down to specific. Try to come up with a universal truth that starts your essay, not a rhetorical question, not a quote. Not a shocking fact, just a universal truth.” After you compose a universal truth, think of or create your context and your thesis. To be defensible, you need to have a claim that you can prove defensible does not mean sophisticated. Say “the author uses repetition” and detail in order to pattern of logic, and then write about the purpose. That is a defensible rhetorical analysis essay. We now have two rhetorical choices and we have a defined purpose. However, there are better ways to phrase it with some practice. Think about including rhetorical choices that best represent the most accurate verbs, and then really think about the true purpose message or argument of the actual passage.
Kolln, Martha, and Loretta S Gray. Rhetorical Grammar : Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. Eighth ed., Pearson Education, 2017.
Yu, Lumeng. “The Great Communicator: How FDR’s Radio Speeches Shaped American History.” History Teacher, vol. 39, no. 1, Nov. 2005, pp. 89–106. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.tamusa.idm.oclc.org/10.2307/30036746.