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Tackling Rhetorical Analysis Questions

Updated on April 30, 2013

Rhetorical Analysis: a Key Skill for Higher Level Writing

Rhetorical analysis is a core component of college level writing and also of the college prep curriculum. The premise of rhetorical analysis is this: In order to write well, you need to think like a writer -- and how better to do that than to study the work of both accomplished and not so accomplished writers?

It's not enough to describe the arguments or the theme of a piece of writing; you also need to study the writer's decision making process. One example is word choice. You might ask yourself why, out of the myriad possibilities, the writer selected a particular phrase. (For example, does the phrase have positive or negative connotations or bring particular images to mind?)

Organizational strategy is another area to examine. Why, out of the many hooks a writer could have chosen, did he opt for a particular flashback or scene?

Also of importance are issues of voice and 'person'. Why did the author choose to write in first person... or in third? (In the case of a professional essayist, these choices are seldom random.)

Rhetorical analysis is closely tied to writer's purpose, what she want the readers to feel or do when they have finished the piece. An awareness of audience and tone is also key. The writer may select different arguments -- as well as different words -- if she is targeting high school students, as opposed to, say, professors.

This page is about tackling rhetorical analysis questions... and constructing your own.

Rhetoric: the Basics

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

The word 'rhetoric' refers to the language of argument or persuasion. It's also the name of a work written thousands of years ago by Aristotle. Aristotle asserted that a person could persuade others using one or more of the following techniques: ethos (an appeal based on the writer's own credibility, authority, or integrity), pathos (an appeal to emotion), and logos (an appeal to logic).

More complex and sophisticated writing choices often have at their roots these three very basic appeals. For instance, when writers select words with positive or negative connotations, they can be attempting to sway the reader's emotions.

On some tests, for instance the AP, one needs a command of the terminology of rhetorical analysis. On the CLEP, it's not as important that you have detailed knowledge of the vocabulary of rhetoric as it is that you can to evaluate the effectiveness of a writer's choices. But understanding the basics of logic, emotion, and credibility can help you stay focused on the most important idea: Evaluating a writer's choices is fundamentally tied to understanding his purpose.

Practice By Reading... - And Answering Basic Rhetorical Analysis Questions

Read the following essay and answer the most basic of rhetorical analysis questions: How does the writer make his argument?

Organizational Strategies: Another Theme of Rhetorical Analysis Questions

Effective writers choose an organizational strategy that is appropriate for their subject matter and thesis. Read the following composition and identify the organizational strategy this writer uses.

More Sample Rhetorical Analysis Questions - And Practice Passages

You can pick out a sample essay and challenge yourself by going through some of these questions. Some questions are applicable to many different texts.

Timed Test
Timed Test

Tips For Timed Rhetorical Analysis Questions

You'll do better on rhetorical analysis questions if you familiarize yourself with sample questions beforehand. In addition, practice the following test taking strategies:

Skimming: If you're tackling rhetorical analysis questions on a timed test, don't waste time reading the passage word for word at the onset. Skim read to get a sense of the 'big picture' -- focusing primarily on the purpose, but giving some thought also to such issues as audience and tone. (You may find that it is actually easier to glimpse the 'big picture' when you skim -- focusing perhaps on the introduction and the beginning sentence of each paragraph. Try it and see how it works for you.)

Rereading: Reread sections more carefully as necessitated by individual questions.

Use of context clues: If the question references a particular line or sentence, you may not find all the information you need in that sentence. Try looking at the sentence above as well.

Mastering Rhetorical Analysis... and Getting a Jump Start on College

Hoping to test out of lower division college courses? The AP English Language and Composition exam requires a 40 minute rhetorical analysis essay. Those who opt for the CLEP Composition exam demonstrate competence by answering multiple choice rhetorical analysis questions. 25% of the multiple choice section on both the CLEP Composition and CLEP Composition Modular are rhetorical analysis. (The CLEP Composition does require two essays, but both are argumentative; the "Modular" exam does not have a specific essay requirement, but some colleges do have a separate essay requirement.)

The best way to prepare is to enroll in a rigorous English course or to put aside time on a regular basis to study essays. Start your study at an appropriate level and move forward from there. For those who have the basics, though, there are some tips for saving time.

A Visual Look at Rhetorical Analysis

This video looks analyzes the effectiveness of print media in a more visual context.

Thoughts to Share? - A little rhetoric of your own perhaps?

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    • kislanyk profile image


      6 years ago from Cyprus

      Really a thorough discussion and resource on rhetorical analysis. Like somebody else also said, it does bring back some memories from my high school days.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You've included some good resources here. Thanks!

    • james g pete profile image

      james g pete 

      7 years ago

      The video, Rhetorical Analysis, was pretty good. However, it brought up, for one, the training of a lawyer, how a lawyer might prepare for closing argument, arguing for what?

      Arguing for whichever side decides to hire him. Where then is truth? Thus, we revile the lawyer more than a rhetorician simply because they make more money.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This brings back so many memories of high school for me. I competed on the speech team and analyzed important historical speeches for competition. Not your average volleyball player, I know, but I had fun :)

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very interesting lens and topic. This is something all writers should know and learn more about. Well done!

    • CCGAL profile image


      7 years ago

      I love lenses that teach me or make me think. Wish I could give this one ten thumbs up.


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