Many of you have asked me this very question about any number of things — usually your assignment. You do this because you are conscientious students, grade grubbers, people pleasers, or any combination thereof. With rhetoric, and specifically rhetorical analysis, there really is no one “right” way to do something, no “right” answer. There are, however, many wrong ones and I know you are simply trying to avoid them. So, here:

Rhetorical analysis is just listing what rhetorical strategies an author or speaker uses. FALSE.
Rhetorical analysis is about finding three exactly perfect examples of exactly three devices the speaker or author uses. Again, FALSE. Rhetorical analysis is some mystical process whereby the analysisyzer uncovers the hidden key of rhetoric buried in the work. FALSE. FALSE. FALSE. (epizeuxis)

Rhetorical analysis involves exploring and explaining (read: analyzing) how the author or speaker presents his or her argument and persuades the audience to accept it. It includes what he or she does — the bending, tweaking, and manipulating of language, images, and ideas — but it goes beyond this. Far, far beyond this. Analysis means to make an argument about an argument. Analysis means to prove how a certain device, technique, strategy, or tactic does what you say it does in the text at hand. What the effect of a given rhetorical thingy is, and why it is effective in this particular circumstance. So JFK uses antimetabole when he delivers the famous “ask not what your country can do for you…” line, so what? Given the circumstances, the occasion for this argument (EAA Ch1) and the purpose of the speaker, why might he have selected to deliver this line, using these words in this way? Why is it effective? How does that do anything for the audience? How does that do anything to propel his argument? Exploring and answering these questions is analysis.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m certainly not suggesting that you list a bunch of questions. That isn’t the assignment. That isn’t analysis, though it is an internal (usually) process of it. You should arrive at statements: conclusions. You, an “analysisyzer”, to repeat the faux word I used above, are tasked with making claims about the text in question. Explaining how.

HOW. It’s all about the how.

Also, I get an F for FORGETTING vocab again this week. Still, I maintain that learning 5 words is a simple task and learning the definitions (officially) on Thursday still provides enough time to prepare for a quiz the following Monday.  So it’s on like Donkey Kong.

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