Rhetorical Analysis Essay Writing Guide
There’s nothing quite like great oratory. “The divine gift of articulate speech,” as Henry Higgins puts it in My Fair Lady, is one of the things about human society that truly sets us apart. No matter who you are or where you’re from, chances are you’ve been swayed by some great rhetorical arguments in your time.
That being said, analyzing that rhetoric may not be your cup of tea, especially if you have to write an essay on the subject.
Here, then, is a quick guide to help you as you critique speeches and write that A paper.
Plato vs. Aristotle
One could make the argument that the foundations of Western thought stem from two essential foundations—the Judeo-Christian side of things, and the Greco-Roman. Within the Greco-Roman tradition, when we talk about philosophy and criticism, there’s another basic division, one depicted in the famous painting The School of Athens, namely, the divide between Plato and his pupil, Aristotle. The two had very different views on rhetoric, and reading up on some of their basic positions can help make your essay writing that much easier. For Plato’s views on the matter, his dialogue Gorgias represents some of his most well-known and important views on the matter; for Aristotle, seek out his text simply entitled Rhetoric.
When writing any paper, you want to keep these three basic elements in mind, and nowhere is that more apparent than when you’re writing a paper for rhetorical analysis.
Your speaker is usually the rhetorician in question, but keep in mind that you, in writing your essay, are acting as your own “speaker,” and as such, you may need to change your own techniques to suit the needs of two other important elements—your tone and your audience. Consider, for example, a speech by a comedian vs. JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Both are examples of rhetoric, but you can expect a very different tone from the two, as they’re dealing with different subject materials and in a different professional capacity (ie, as a comedian vs. a world leader.) Your tone should usually match accordingly. Likewise, keep your audience in mind. Is the target audience for your paper on the younger or older side? Are you looking to convince people, or simply to inform them? If it’s something historical, like JFK’s speech, or cultured, such as Plato and Aristotle, can you already assume that your audience going in will have a basic knowledge of these men and their achievements; if so, how much, and if not, how much do you need to tell them?
All this and more factors into making an A paper when it comes to rhetorical analysis.