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Tips For Writing Your Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 11:37

Use the traditional 5-paragraph structure as a guide or starting place, but do not become encumbered by it.  A 5 paragraph version of this essay might look like this:

  1.  Introduction
  2. Logos
  3. Ethos
  4. Pathos
  5. Conclusion

In a 5-7 page paper, a structure like this will result in extremely long paragraphs.  Try thinking in terms of sections rather than paragraphs.  For example:

  1.  Introduction—describe the series and episode, lead up to an argument that indicates the most important argumentative strategies
  2. Logos—identify one major claim in the episode and the most important reasons
  3. Logos—evaluate the episode’s use of objective evidence in support of those reasons
  4. Ethos—analyze the way the “experts” on the show enhance their credibility
  5. Pathos—analyze the way the contributor’s affect (displays of emotions, statements about self) provides an emotional appeal
  6. Pathos—analyze the way visual elements appeal to aesthetics
  7. Consequences—explore the implications of what the argument is doing.  Is it likely to be accepted by its intended audience?  What consequences might acceptance of this argument have for the audience? 
  8. Conclusion—Revisit your thesis and wrap up the essay with a few final evaluative remarks about the place of this series/episode in our culture.

 

End your introduction with a clear thesis statement and begin each paragraph with a clear topic sentence.  Make sure that these address the specific ways in which appeals are functioning in the episode.  Avoid generic statements that could apply to anything.   Examples:

  • Bad:  “Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition uses a lot of pathos.”
  • Better:  “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s excessive use of pathos undermines its message because interviews feel staged and contrived.
  • Best:  “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s excessive use of pathos may ultimately feel staged, artificial, and manipulative to certain audiences, undermining its argument that the objectives of the show are genuinely benevolent. 

 Write a conclusion that goes beyond restatement of the thesis by considering possible consequences.  The conclusion of a paper is often the hardest paragraph to write.  Most students resort to a simple restatement of the thesis followed by a series of generic statements that don’t say much.  Treat the conclusion as your opportunity to speculate and hypothesize without really making a completely new argument.   Example:

  • “Through its use of pathos and compelling visual evidence showing the condition of the house and block before and after the renovations, Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition is at least effective in arguing that the changes made will benefit the family and the community.  It is possible that viewers will become more aware of and sympathetic toward the problems affecting distressed families in poor neighborhoods or disaster areas throughout the country, but it remains to be seen whether or not the show actually encourages anyone to go out and help people.  The escapist qualities of the show allow the viewer to participate in philanthropic activities vicariously and may make some feel absolved from having to take any real action other than tuning to ABC.”    

(Notes:  advances a kind of editorial argument that really can’t be proved and therefore isn’t appropriate in a body paragraph.  It is instead designed to get the audience of the paper to “think” about the implications of the analysis provided in the body of the paper.)

Maintain a fairly objective tone by considering the audience for which this show is intended.  While your own responses to the show may provide a good place from which to start, the key to good analysis is imagining a audience larger than yourself.  Don’t treat your own reactions (or even those of your select group of friend or your classmates) as normative or universal.  For example, consider the fact that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a show that is noted for being “family friendly,” therefore suitable for younger children.             

Avoid polemical language and unqualified statements of opinion or preference.  This may seem obvious but is a trap many impassioned writers fall into.  Example:

  • “This show is brainwashing our children.”

Avoid ambiguous language and throwaway sentences.  If you’re unsure about the clarity or relevance of a sentence, try looking at it out of context and see if a reader could possibly tell what you are specifically referencing.  Examples:

  • “One aspect is emotion.”
  • “Another appeal that they use is ethos.”