Chapter 4

Rhetorical Analysis

In Chapters 1-3, you learned how to research and “map” a variety of perspectives on a particular topic of controversy. Starting with Chapter 4, you will explore the individual tools that authors use to construct their viewpoints. This is the process we call rhetorical analysis.

Rhetorical Analysis

Put simply, a rhetorical analysis explains how a text strives to persuade its intended audience. 

Eric Dieter and Ashley Miller, who have taught rhetoric courses at UT, emphasize the importance of identifying the target audience in their video, “Rhetorical Analysis Introduction."

The Rhetorical Triangle is another way of thinking about how arguments are connected to their author and audience. Here’s a video tutorial from the University of Richmond about it. Note that the video uses the classical terms ethos, pathos, and logos to refer to reasons to trust, feel, and believe.

Identifying the Audience

An audience is a group of people who share values, interests, and other experiences. Audience members also tend to share identity markers related to their race, class, gender, age, ability, level of education, sexual preference, and citizenship status.

As Sarah Morehouse explains in this video from SUNY Empire State College, you can determine a text’s intended audience by understanding how the text is constructed. (Generally, you will pay less attention to unintended audiences that also consume the text.)

Major publications like The New York Times and TIME have media kits, which are documents that explain a publication's intended audiences to potential advertisers. For most publications, you can find these by clicking on links that say things like "Advertising" or "Advertise with us."

Practice matching advertisements to intended audiences by playing this game from the American Social History Project.

Identifying the Situation

After identifying a text’s author and audience, you will strive to reconstruct its situation—specifically, its history and exigence. By history, we mean the past events that have given rise to the controversy. By exigence, we mean the reason the author has found it necessary to address the controversy at this particular point in time.

The research you conducted in Unit 1 should help you identify the history and exigency of the text you will analyze in greater detail in Unit 2. You may want to conduct additional research using the search engines and databases introduced in Chapter 1.