Writing a rhetorical analytical essay can seem like a daunting task, but it is a relatively simple process. The art of rhetoric simply refers to the strategies used to persuade an audience. Analysis is the act of looking closely at a subject in order to see how the separate components of that subject fit together. A rhetorical analytical essay is simply an essay that looks at a subject closely and seeks to prove a position taken on this subject through persuasive strategies.
Choosing a Position
The first part of the process is to take a clearly defined position on the subject you are analyzing. This is called a thesis. A thesis is nothing more than an argument that you will prove throughout the essay. For example, if you are analyzing a piece of literature, the thesis is your interpretation of the literature. In a rhetorical essay, you will use several different strategies to prove that your interpretation is sound. Rhetoric refers to the art of persuasion and your thesis or argument will be drawn from your own unique opinion. Your goal is to persuade your audience of that opinion or position; however, the thesis should be presented objectively as a statement. Avoid personal pronouns (I, you, we, us) and conversational tone.
The analysis of the subject on which you are taking a position can be involved but does not have to be difficult. Once you have decided on and clearly stated your thesis, you can begin to analyze the subject. The analysis you gather should support your thesis. One strategy for analysis is to take notes on the subject. As you look closely at your subject, write down any findings that support your thesis.
Once you have gathered and written down findings that support your thesis, choose how to present the information. For a rhetorical analytical essay, this means choosing a persuasive strategy that will reach your audience. You have already defined your purpose for writing (this is directly connected and derived from your thesis); now you must determine who your audience is. This will dictate the kind of appeal, or rhetorical strategy, you employ.
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
Aristotle, in his book Rhetoric, discusses three rhetorical strategies: ethos (ethics), pathos (emotions) and logos (logic).
The appeal to ethos does not necessarily refer to an ethical argument, although it may. It also refers to the author's credibility and authority on the subject being analyzed. With this strategy, you are establishing yourself as an authority on the matter you are analyzing in order to persuade your audience of the legitimacy of your position.
The appeal to pathos is the author's use of the audience's emotional reaction to the arguments used to support the thesis. Imagine a rhetorical essay on proper waste management in seaside towns. One appeal to pathos might be the drastically negative effect refuse or litter may have on wildlife. Your goal would be to appeal to your audience's emotions by describing suffering seagulls and seals.
The appeal to logos is an argument that persuades the audience to see your perspective based on clear, logical arguments. Using cause and effect and if/then statements is one way to appeal to your audience's logic.
Putting It All Together
After you have determined your thesis, audience and rhetorical strategy, you must craft these into an effective essay. Be clear and concise in your writing. Follow your chosen strategy and do not stray from your topic. When you have completed your essay, your position (thesis) on the subject should be clearly explained through the rhetorical strategy used.