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Notebook 2.1: Rhetorical Analysis


What is rhetoric?

The term rhetoric often gets a bad rap.  It has become associated with trickery and manipulation.  We often hear it used in conjunction with the criticism of untrustworthy politicians or lawyers.  But rhetoric itself, is not subversive or malevolent. Rhetoric, simply put, is any communication that has the goal of affecting the opinions or perceptions of an audience.  So, rhetoric is very closely linked to the concepts of argument and persuasion.

In this unit you will be asked to read a variety of texts and to analyze the rhetorical situations in which those texts reside. The rhetorical situation includes elements such as audience, purpose, appeals, credibility and evidence.

English 1302 Learning Outcomes addressed in this unit:

  • Analyze, interpret, and evaluate a variety of texts for the ethical and logical uses of evidence.
  • Write in a style that clearly communicates meaning, builds credibility, and inspires belief or action.


This is the core reading for this unit. You will need to read and understand the information in this lesson in order to complete the assignments in this unit.  When you finish you should know the following aspects of the rhetorical situation:

  • Text
  • Author
  • Audience
  • Purpose
  • Setting
  • Logos
  • Ethos
  • Pathos

Notebook 2.2: Visual Analysis


The rhetorical situation applies to a variety of different “texts.”  In fact, we can use the term “text” to apply to images, songs, and films in addition to written texts.

While the purpose of a rhetorical analysis remains the same when dealing with an image, some of the elements of the situation are different.  For one, you wouldn’t spend time discussing the author’s tone or attitude, but you might explore the mood of the image as conveyed by the colors, composition or subject matter.

The following lesson is a brief primer on visual rhetoric.  It is followed by journal 2.2 that will allow you to practice writing your own visual analysis.


Evaluating an Argument that Includes Visuals and Words

What is the basic argument? What is the claim, the position, or the point of view proposed in the text you are examining?

What seems to be the purpose of this argument? Is it asking you to do something? To think differently about something?

Who is the target audience? How do you know?

What genre of visual is it—a poster? A cartoon? A public service ad? Commercial? Photograph? Billboard?

Where does this argument appear?

Is there anything in the image or words that surprises you, makes you laugh, makes you think differently?

What visual elements help you read the argument? Is there juxtapositioning? Visual metaphors? Visual evidence?

What else do you know about this visual? Does it remind you of something else? Is it a common logo or symbol?

Are there any words? Are they used to state the main argument or to support the argument made by the visual?

From p. 398 of Picturing Texts by Faigley, et. Al. 2004 W.W. Norton