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Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example Picture Of Gas

To do:
I'd like to see more generalizing/overview like approaches to this page; the huge lists are intimidating and probably not ultimately useful for getting a broader understanding of the topics. Try to structure the page so that the information is better integrated and consolidated. --Mattbarton.exe (talk) 20:10, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

Overview of Rhetorical Analysis[edit]

A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS REFERS TO THE PROCESS OF ANALYZING A TEXT, GIVEN SOURCE OR ARTIFACT. The text, source, or artifact may be in written form or in some different sort of communication. The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to take into consideration the purpose, audience, genre, stance, and media/design of the given rhetorical situation. In other words, the analysis explores not only what everything means in the given source (content), but also why the author wrote about it (the purpose), who the author is (background), how the piece was organized (structure), where and/or when it was published (forum), and the intended message conveyed to the audience (topic).

A rhetorical analysis is one of the more challenging assignments in any writing class. Students often confuse a rhetorical analysis with a review because both assignments work to analyze a text. However, a rhetorical analysis reserves judgment on whether they agree/disagree with the topic presented. A review, of course, invites the reviewer to critique how "good" or "bad" the content of the text is. The PROCESS of completing a rhetorical analysis requires the use of different rhetorical strategies. These strategies are: critical reading, strategies for effective communication, persuasive appeals, argumentation, and avoidance of logical fallacies. These specific strategies are discussed in depth throughout the remainder of this page.

The PURPOSE of a rhetorical analysis is to engage in critical thinking with the intention of effectively communicating an intended message to a predetermined audience. In order to successfully determine the intended message of a particular text a good question to guide your analysis is: how did the author craft his/her argument?

Rhetoric is a term that is widely used in many forms, and by itself can mean a great many things. Some use the term in association with political rhetoric, to name the voice and stance, as well as the language that becomes the nature of politics. Rhetoric can be thought of as the way in which you phrase what you are saying, and the forces that impact what you are saying. At its very core RHETORIC IS THE ABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE AN INTENDED MESSAGE, whether it is via argumentation, persuasion, or another form of communication.

Critical Reading[edit]

Critical reading is the first step in a rhetorical analysis. In order to make a reasonable and logical analysis, you need to apply critical reading skills to a text, given source, or artifact that you intend on analyzing. For example, when reading, you can break the whole text down into several parts. Then, try to determine what the writer is attempting to achieve with the message they are conveying to a predetermined audience; then work to identify the writing strategies s/he is using. Once the text, artifact or given source has been thoroughly analyzed you can determine whether the intended message was effectively communicated.

Reading critically does not simply mean being moved, affected, informed, influenced, and persuaded by a piece of writing; it is much more than that. It refers to analyzing and understanding of how the writing has achieved its effect on the audience. Some specific questions can guide you in your critical reading process. You can use them in reading the text, and if asked to, you can use them in writing a formal analysis. In terms of engaging in critical reading, it is important to begin with broad questions and then work towards asking more specific questions, but in the end the purpose of engaging in critical reading is so that as an analyzer you are asking questions that work to develop the purpose of the artifact, text, or given source you are choosing to analyze.

The following is a list of suggested questions that you may find useful for when you engage in critical reading. However, you do not need to apply all of these questions to every text, artifact, or given source. Rather, you may use them selectively according to the specific reading at hand. The main questions listed below are considered to be broad in nature; with the questions listed via bullet points underneath the broad questions are meant to get at more the specific details of the intended message. Please remember that this is simply one method for getting you started on reading (and then writing) more critically.


What is the subject?

  • Does the subject bring up any personal associations? Is it a controversial one?

What is the thesis (the overall main point)?

  • How does the thesis interpret the subject? If asked, could you summarize the main idea?

Who is the intended audience?

  • What values and/or beliefs do they hold that the writer could appeal to?

What is the tone of the text?

  • What is your reaction to the text, emotional or rational (think of pathos)? Does this reaction change at all throughout the text?

What is the writer's purpose?

  • To explain? Inform? Anger? Persuade? Amuse? Motivate? Sadden? Ridicule? Attack? Defend?
  • Is there more than one purpose? Does the purpose shift at all throughout the text?

What methods does the writer use to develop his/her ideas?

  • Narration? Description? Definition? Comparison? Analogy? Cause and Effect? Example?
  • Why does the writer use these methods? Do these methods help in his/her development of ideas?

What pattern does the author use for the arrangement of ideas?

  • Particular to general, broad to specific, spatial, chronological, alternating, or block?
  • Does the format enhance or detract from the content? Does it help the piece along or distract from it?

Does the writer use adequate transitions to make the text unified and coherent?

  • Do you think the transitions work well? In what ways do they work well?

Are there any patterns in the sentence structure that make the writer's purpose clear to you?

  • What are these patterns like if there are some? Does the writer use any fragments or run-on sentences?

Is there any dialog and/or quotations used in the text?

  • To what effect? For what purpose is this dialog or quotations used?

In what way does the writer use diction?

  • Is the language emotionally evocative? Does the language change throughout the piece? How does the language contribute to the writer's aim?

Is there anything unusual in the writer's use of punctuation?

  • What punctuation or other techniques of emphasis (italics, capitals, underlining, ellipses, parentheses) does the writer use?
  • Is punctuation over- or under-used? Which marks does the writer use where, and to what effect?

Are there any repetitions of important terms throughout the text?

  • Are these repetitions effective, or do they detract from the text?

Does the writer present any particularly vivid images that stand out?

  • What is the effect of these images on the writer's purpose?

Are there any tropes--similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, comparisons, contrasts, etc. that are employed by the writer?

  • When does he/she use them? For what reason(s)? Are those devices used to convey or enhance meaning?

Are there any other devices such as humor, wordplay, irony, sarcasm, understatement, or parody that are used in the text?

  • Is the effect comic relief? Pleasure? Hysteria? Ridicule?

Is there any information about the background of the writer?

  • Is the writer an acceptable authority on the subject? How do you know?

Basic Rhetorical Strategies for Effective Communication[edit]

After engaging in a critical analysis or reading of your intended artifact, text, or given source, the next step in the process of completing an effective rhetorical analysis is to discuss your discoveries. For the purposes of writing, when we refer to rhetoric, we often talk about it as the art of persuasion or the ability to communicate effectively. There are many different strategies a communicator may employ to effectively communicate his/her message to his/her intended audience. While the rhetorical strategies for effective communication are discussed in terms of writing about your findings, pertaining to your rhetorical analysis, it should be noted that these rhetorical strategies can be employed during the critical analysis or reading portion of your rhetorical analysis project.

Below is a table that breaks down some rhetorical strategies, what they mean, and how to analyze them critically. This table can be used when rhetorically analyzing a text or artifact or when you begin the process of writing about your findings. The purpose of this table is to provide a breakdown of rhetorical strategies and how one can identify them in a message.

EXEMPLIFICATIONProvide examples or cases in pointAre there examples -- facts, statistics, cases in point, personal experiences, interview quotations -- added to the essay?
DESCRIPTIONDetail sensory perceptions of a person, place, or thingDoes a person, place, or object play a prominent role in the essay?
NARRATIONRecount an eventAre there any anecdotes, experiences, or stories in the essay? Process analysis: Explain how to do something or how something happens. Does any portion of the essay include concrete directions about a certain process?
COMPARISON AND CONTRASTDiscuss similarities and differencesDoes the essay contain two or more related subjects? Does it evaluate or analyze two or more people, places, processes, events, or things? Are there any similarities and/or differences between two or more elements?
DIVISION AND CLASSIFICATIONDivide a whole into parts or sort related items into categoriesDoes the essay reduce the subject to more manageable parts or group parts?
DEFINITIONProvide the meaning of terms you useIs there any important word in the essay with many meanings and is defined or clarified?
CAUSE AND EFFECT ANALYSISAnalyze why something happens and describe the consequences of a string of eventsDoes the essay examine past events or their outcome? Does it explain why something happened?
REPETITIONThe constant use of certain wordsWhy, with all words at her disposal, does the writer choose to repeat particular words?
COUNTERPOINTSContrasting ideas such as black/white, darkness/light, good/badDoes the writer acknowledge and respond to counterpoints to her position?
IMAGERYLanguage that evokes one or all of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smellDoes the essay use any provocative language that calls upon readers’ senses?
METAPHOR AND SIMILEA figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by “like” or “as”Does the essay make connections between things to make a point or elicit an idea?
STYLE, TONE, AND VOICEThe attitude a writer takes towards a subject or character: serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, tongue-in-cheek, solemn, objectiveWhat tone does the essay have? How does the writer portray herself? What choices does she make that influence her position?
ANALOGYThe comparison of two pairs that have the same relationshipAre there any comparisons made by the writer to strengthen her message?
FLASHBACKA memory of an event in the past
HYPERBOLEExaggeration or overstatementDoes the writer make any claims that seem extreme?
PERSONIFICATIONGiving human qualities to animals or objectsIs something without conscience thinking or talking?
IRONYAn expression or utterance marked by deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning, often humorousDoes the writer really support her own assertions? Does she seem to be claiming the opposite you expect her to claim?
OXYMORONA contradiction in terms such as “faithless devotion,” “searing cold,” “deafening silence,” “virtual reality,” “act naturally,” “peacekeeper missile,” or “larger half”Do any of the writer’s terms seem to obviously clash?
PARADOXReveals a kind of truth which at first seems contradictory; Red wine is both good and bad for usDo any contradictions used in the essay contain some grain of truth?
SYMBOLISMUsing an object or action that means something more than its literal meaning; A skull and crossbones symbolize death.Does the writer seem to assert that a thing has meaning outside of the obvious?
PARODYAn exaggerated imitation of a style, person, or genre for humorous effect.Do any contradictions used in the essay contain some grain of truth?
SARCASMUsing an object or action that means something more than its literal meaning; A skull and crossbones symbolize deathDoes the writer seem to assert that a thing has meaning outside of the obvious?
SATIRELiterary tone used to ridicule or make fun of human vice or weakness, often with the intent of correcting, or changing, the subject of the satiric attackDoes the writer’s humor aim to fix its target?
DICTIONAn author's choice of wordsWhy, with all words at her disposal, does the writer choose to use those particular words?
PARALLELISMThe use of identical or equivalent constructions in corresponding clausesAre there any syntactic similarities between two parts of a sentence?

Persuasive Appeals[edit]

The persuasive appeals, or what could also be known as the rhetorical triangle, were developed by Aristotle to ensure effective communication, and are a cornerstone within the field of Rhetoric and Writing. It is common to see the three persuasive appeals depicted as the points of a triangle because like the points of triangle they each play a role in the ability to hold the message together. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher that believed all three of these rhetorical appeals were needed to effectively communicate an intended message to a pre-determined audience. Aristotle's three rhetorical appeals are: Logos, Ethos, and Pathos; they are discussed in detail throughout the remainder of this section.


Logos is most easily defined as the logical appeal of an argument. It relies on logic or reason and depends on deductive and/or inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning begins with a generalization and then applies it to a specific case. The generalization you start with must be based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence. Inductive reasoning takes a specific representative case, or facts, and then draws generalizations or conclusions from them. Inductive reasoning must be based on a sufficient amount of reliable evidence. In other words, the facts you draw on must fairly represent the larger situation or population. Both deductive and inductive reasoning are discussed more in depth further down on this page.

Example of Logos: Say that you are writing a paper on immigration and you say "55,000 illegal immigrants entered this country last year, of those, only 23,000 did it legally." There is obviously something wrong here. Although saying 55,000 immigrants were "illegal" makes for an impressive statistic, it is apparently not correct if you admit that 23,000 of these people immigrated legally. The actual number of illegal immigrants would then be only 32,000, a significantly lower number. The purpose of this example is to demonstrate how having logical progression to an argument is essential in effectively communicating your intended message.


Ethos is the appeal to ethics, the use of authority to persuade an audience to believe in their character. And while ethos is called an ethical appeal, be careful not to confuse it solely with ethics; it encompasses a large number of different things which can include what a person wears, says, the words they use, their tone, their credentials, their experience, their charge over the audience, verbal and nonverbal behavior, criminal records, etc. Ethos gives the author credibility. It is important to build credibility with your audience because without it, readers are less inclined to trust you or accept the argument presented to them. Using credible sources is one method of building credibility. A certain amount of ethos may be implied solely from the author's reputation, but a writer should not rely only on reputation to prop up his/her work. A sure way to damage your ethos is by attacking or insulting an opponent or opposing viewpoint. The most effective ethos should develop from what is said, whether it is in spoken or written form. The most persuasive rhetoricians are the ones that understand this concept.

Example of Ethos: To elaborate, the construction of authority is reflected in how the rhetorician presents herself, what diction she uses, how she phrases her ideas, what other authorities she refers to, how she composes herself under stress, her experience within the context of her message, her personal or academic background, and more. In academia, ethos can be constructed not only by diction, tone, phrasing, and the like, but by what the rhetorician knows. A works cited page reflects this. It says: this author has read these sources, and knows their contents. And if those sources are relevant, reputable, and well regarded, the author has just benefited from that association. At the same time, authors want to make sure they properly introduce their sources within their writing to establish the authority they are drawing from.


Pathos is the appeal to passion, the use of emotion to persuade readers’ or listeners’ opinions in a rhetorical argument. Pathetic appeals (the use of pathos) are characterized by evocative imagery, description, visuals, and the like to create within the reader or listener a sense of emotion: outrage, sorrow, excitement, etc. Pathos is often easily recognizable because audiences tend to know when what they hear or read swells emotion within their hearts and minds. Be careful to distinguish between pathos as a rhetorical vehicle to persuade using emotion and the logical fallacy “appeal to pity” (discussed more in depth further down the page). Both use emotion to make their point, but the fallacy diverts the audience from the issue to the self while the appeal emphasizes the impact of the issue.

Although argument emphasizes reason, there is usually a place for emotion as well. Emotional appeals can use sources such as interviews and individual stories to paint a moving picture of reality, or to illuminate the truth. For example, telling the story of a specific child who has been abused may make for a more persuasive argument than simply stating the number of children abused each year. The story provides the numbers with a human face. However, a writer must be careful not to employ emotional appeals which distract from the crux of the debate, argument, or point trying to be made.

Example of Pathos: A good example of pathos is in public services announcements. Some of the most popular include drug warnings: A woman is at the stove in the kitchen with a skillet. She holds up an egg and says, “This is your brain.” She cracks the egg into the skillet where it immediately begins to cook. “This is your brain on drugs.” Or the more recent billboards cautioning against (meth)amphetamines which show an attractive young person juxtaposed against a mug-shot of the same person at a later date but with pustules, open sores, missing teeth, unkempt hair, acne, running makeup, and any other assortment of detrimental and hideous signs of the drug’s ruinous capabilities. Audiences are not meant to pity these individuals; rather, the audience is meant to reel in horror at the destruction meth can cause to a person in a short amount of time. In this case, horror or shock is the emotional tool rhetoric wields to persuade. It should be noted that people with acne, unkempt hair, or other traits listed are not necessarily uncommon—in fact, these traits can be found in vast numbers of high school students; the traits are merely shown in conjunction with the normative “before” picture to elicit the desired emotion. Either of the pictures alone would not be rhetorically effective, it is only by placing them together that the audience is passionately moved.



A deductive logical argument is one that works from the top to the bottom. It begins with what is known as a "major premise," adds a "minor premise," and attempts to reach a conclusion. A major premise is a statement that names something about a large group, a minor premise takes a single member, and the conclusion attempts to prove that because this single member is a part of the larger group, they must also have the trait named in the original statement. For example:

MEN ARE TALL - a major premise as it works with a large group of people
BOB IS A MAN - a minor premise as we hear about only one individual of that group
BOB IS TALL - we attempt to make a conclusion based upon what we have already been told

Now, if it is true that men are tall, and that Bob is a man, then we can safely infer that Bob must be tall. However, beware the logical fallacy. Though it may be true that in certain cultures men are, on average, taller than women, certainly this is not always the case. Being that our major premise is not altogether true, we can now say that this argument is flawed. Furthermore, we might ask what our definition of "tall" is. Tall is different if we are talking about the average population, or basketball players. Also, what is a man? Do transgendered individuals count? We see that the problem becomes far more complex the more we look into it.


As some would argue that a deductive argument works from the top down, toward a conclusion, some comment that an inductive argument works from the bottom up. This is mildly misleading. What is meant by this is that an inductive logical argument begins with a firm affirmation of truth, a conclusive statement. By getting the audience to agree with this statement, the argument moves to the next "logical" step. It proceeds in this manner until the argument has led you from one seemingly reasonable conclusion to another that you may not have originally agreed with. Take the following as an example. Move through the argument slowly, making sure you understand and agree with each step in the process (and please forgive the religious content, you'll come to see it is irrelevant anyway).

The human soul is inherently free. This is its very nature. We are confined to our mortal, earthly bodies, but our souls must be kept free, or the nature of the soul is entirely negated. If one chooses to believe in a soul, they can only believe that it embraces this (vague idea of ) freedom.

At conception, a child is given a soul. Some may argue that it is not until birth, but if those very same persons are pro-life, they confuse their arguments. Thus, if someone is pro-life, and believes in a soul, they must believe in the freedom of that soul, and also accept that the soul is granted upon conception.

A soul cannot die. By the same means by which it is free over the body, a soul claims immortality while the body decomposes and is ruined. To deny that a soul is immortal is again to deny the very essence of a soul. Thus, if someone is pro-life, and believes in a soul, they must believe in the freedom of that soul, the immortality of the soul, and also accept that the soul is granted upon conception.

A soul cannot be born. It is immortal and cannot die, it is not earthly, it forever exists, and cannot be born. There are tales in Greek mythology of Athena’s birth, yet she bounds from her father’s head a fully decorated woman. She was not born. She existed previously, as Milton writes the Son in Paradise Lost. If one accepts the Bible’s teachings, there can be no reincarnation, another form of birth, a rebirth. Thus, if someone is pro-life, and believes in a soul, and does not accept reincarnation, they must believe in the freedom of that soul, the immortality of the soul that is always and forever (which cannot be born and cannot die), and also accept that the soul is granted upon conception.

A soul being always an essence, and not being able to be reincarnated, can only exist outside of the body, somewhere, until the act of conception occurs. That soul must then be placed in the body that was forever intended to receive it, as it belongs nowhere else. The soul is fated to that one body. Thus, if someone is pro-life, and believes in a soul, and does not accept reincarnation, namely a practicing Catholic, they must also believe in the freedom of the soul, and in the concept of fate. Fate, however, completely opposes the idea of freedom. One cannot then believe in a soul, for it immediately enforces a belief if fate which directly negates the belief in the soul. If our actions are written in a Divine plan, we are not free to make our own choices. Every action has been scripted.

Do not worry, it must be that you were meant to read this.

A sample inductive argument by Ben Doberstein.

Having seen this, some might say that the argument defeats Catholicism from an atheist standpoint. Others might find that it argues for the secularization of religion. Still, there are ways in which it supports Catholicism at the same time. Though the argument might seem as if it is disagreeing with the Catholic religion, and some would agree that it is, we must always be looking for the logical fallacy. Upon closer inspection, you may notice that all this argument truly does, in one reading of the text, is to explain the complexity of God through the mind of a human. Catholicism has argued since the beginning that God is impossible to fully explain using the conceptions of man. In that way, this argument only supports that conclusion. Be aware that there will be logic fallacies hidden in almost every argument. If there is more than one side to an argument, such as in religious or political debates, it is most likely because the argument is impossible to prove. Hence, there will be a logical fallacy present.

Logical Fallacies[edit]

Logical fallacies, often referred to by their Latin name “non sequitur” (which translates to “it does not follow”), are powerful tools in logic and rhetoric. When an arguer is able to identify her opponent’s fallacious positions, she can point them out and expose a weakness. She undermines her opponent’s position. Arguers comfortable with fallacies have an easier time avoiding them, thus making their positions more tenable. Missteps in logic can be confusing for students: sometimes a fallacy will be called by its Latin name, other times they will be referred to by a synonym; some are clumped together, and others are overly specific. For example: “Argument against the person” is often called an “Ad hominem” argument; a “Complex question” can be referred to as a “Loaded question”; “Appeal to the people” occasionally loses its distinction between direct and indirect (referred to only as “Bandwagon fallacy”); and “Begging the question” many times implies only its aspect of circular reasoning and not the other aspects. However, more important than agreeing on a name is the recognition of these non sequiturs. While a logician might dedicate her life to this topic, as a student you are expected only to avoid fallacies in your own writing and identify them in others’.

The following is a fairly comprehensive table of fallacies, and its purpose if for you to use a reference to ensure that you do not create a logical fallacy as your are writing about your discoveries throughout your rhetorical analysis. Having said that, this table can be used for more than just the completion of a rhetorical analysis; rather this table could be used as a reference for any argument or persuasion you are attempting to effectively communicate to an intended audience.

APPEAL TO FORCEArguer threatens reader/listenerIf you don't agree with me, I will beat you up.
APPEAL TO PITYArguer elicits pity from reader/listenerIf you don't pass me in this course, I will get kicked out of school and have to flip burgers the rest of my life.
DIRECT APPEAL TO THE PEOPLEArguer arouses mob mentalityThe terrorists came from the middle east. Our only course of action is to turn it into a parking lot.
INDIRECT APPEAL TO THE PEOPLEArguer appeals to the reader/listener's desire for security, love, respect, etc.Of course you want to read my book, it's what all the intellectuals read.
ABUSIVE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PERSON (AD HOMINEM)Arguer verbally abuses the other arguerYou're a moron; therefore your point is invalid.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PERSON (AD HOMINEM)Arguer presents the other arguer as predisposed to argue in this wayOf course you'd say I need braces; you're a dentist. (Anyone may be able to note I need braces.)
CONSISTENCY ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PERSON (TU QUOQUE)Arguer presents other arguer as a hypocriteHow can you tell me not to drink and drive when you did it last weekend? (Note: don't drink and drive.)
ACCIDENTGeneral rule is applied to a specific case it was not intended to coverAmericans are entitled to freedom of speech, so you cannot arrest him for yelling "fire" in the theater. (Note: don't yell "fire" in the theater.)
STRAW MANArguer distorts opponent's argument and then attacks the distorted argumentOur campus is "dry" and doesn't allow alcohol. Obviously the administration is composed of a bunch of puritans who don't speak for the majority and can be ignored.
MISSING THE POINTArguer draws conclusion different from that supported by the premisesCollege education costs are rising exponentially; therefore we should reduce the number of years needed to obtain a degree.
RED HERRINGArguer leads reader/listener off trackPeople continually talk about the negative effects of tobacco, but did you know that the Native Americans used to smoke tobacco? Many Native American folk remedies are still used today in holistic medicine.
APPEAL TO UNQUALIFIED AUTHORITYArguer cites untrustworthy authorityMy sixteen year old cousin Billy said that there was no moon landing, and he wants to be an astronaut, so it must be true.
APPEAL TO IGNORANCEPremises report that nothing is known or proved, and then a conclusion is drawnThere is no way of disproving the existence of God, therefore he exists. Or, conversely: There is no way of proving the existence of God, therefore he doesn't exist.
HASTY GENERALIZATIONConclusion is drawn from atypical sampleMrs. Dobson's Rottweiler bit a neighbor boy; therefore all Rottweilers are violent dogs.
FALSE CAUSEConclusion depends on nonexistent or minor causal connectionEvery time I change the channel, my sports team scores. Therefore, any time I want my team to score, I need only change the channel
SLIPPERY SLOPEConclusion depends on unlikely chain reactionIf Americans' rights to bear arms is taken away, foreigners will view the country as weak and disarmed and attack, easily crushing our crippled defenses and enslaving our nation to submit to their will and whim.
WEAK ANALOGYConclusion depends on defective analogyMy cousin Billy is just like Yao Ming, he is tall and loves basketball; therefore he will be a pro ball player just like Yao Ming.
BEGGING THE QUESTIONArguer creates the illusion that inadequate premises are adequate by leaving out key premises, by restating the conclusion as a premise, or by reasoning in a circleOf course animals have rights, just look at how they're being treated.
COMPLEX QUESTIONMultiple questions are concealed in a single questionHave you stopped sleeping with your secretary?
FALSE DICHOTOMY"Either/or" statement that hides additional alternativesEither you buy Axe body spray or you risk not attracting the ladies. Obviously you want to attract the ladies, so you will buy Axe body spray.
SUPPRESSED EVIDENCEArguer ignores important evidence that requires a different conclusionOf course that child can't practice medicine, he is only a boy. (If said child is Doogie Howser.)
EQUIVOCATIONConclusion depends on a shift in meaning of a word of phraseA squirrel is a mammal; therefore a large squirrel is a large mammal.
AMPHIBOLYConclusion depends on the wrong interpretation of a syntactically ambiguous statementJohn rode his bike past the tree with a helmet. (The tree has a helmet?)
COMPOSITIONAttribute is wrongly transferred from parts to wholeBleach and ammonia individually are strong chemical cleaners; therefore if I mix them I will have a stronger chemical cleaner. (This produces various lethal gases, which would be foolish to do)
DIVISIONAttribute is wrongly transferred from whole to partsOur campus is over one hundred years old; therefore every building on campus is over one hundred years old.

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"Part 1" of the Norton Field Guide to Writing covers the concept of "Rhetorical Situations" (1-17).

Whenever we write, whether it's an email to a friend or a toast for a wedding, an English essay or a résumé, we face some kind of rhetorical situation. We have a purpose, a certain audience, a particular stance, a genre, and a medium to consider--and often as not a design. All are important elements that we need to think about carefully. (1)

This concept is usually covered in English 101, and you can review "Part 1" if you need to refresh your understanding. In what follows below, we're going to cover what are called the "three rhetorical appeals." 

What is Rhetoric?

Before we can understand the ways in which the rhetorical appeals work, we must first understand what rhetoric is.


There are many commonly-used definitions, but for our purposes "rhetoric" refers to all of the following:

  • The art of persuasion, and
  • The study of the art of persuasion, and
  • An individual act of persuasion.

In the work we'll do in our rhetorical analysis, there are 2 parties to be concerned with:

  1. The rhetor: the party that is attempting to persuade, and
  2. The audience: the party that is the target of persuasion.

We will consider ourselves to be a 3rd party: the observer. We're not being persuaded. We're not persuading. We're just observing the interaction between the rhetor and the audience.

Example A woman pulls her car up to the Starbucks drive-through, and before she can even order her large cup of coffee, the voice on the other end of the speaker says, "Thank you for choosing Starbucks! May I interest you in a low-fat apple-banana bran muffin this morning, paired with a tall skinny soy latte?" Who is the rhetor in this situation? It's the Starbucks employee, because that's the person trying to persuade someone. Who is the audience? It's the woman in the car, because she's the person the rhetor is trying to persuade. What is the act of persuasion taking place? The Starbucks employee is attempting to persuade the woman to buy a muffin and a pricey coffee drink. What would a rhetorical analysis of this situation be like? An observer--such as yourself--would consider the rhetor, the audience, and the rhetoric that is being used by the rhetor in an attempt to persuade the audience. The observer would analyze the rhetoric--in this case, using the framework of the three rhetorical appeals (explained below)--and then explain their analysis in an essay. Has the rhetor made effective use of rhetoric in trying to persuade the audience? Why or why not?

Mistakes to avoid It's important for you to remember that rhetorical analysis requires you, the observer, to refrain from being a part in what's going on between the rhetor and the audience. You are the silent third party. It is not your job to decide if you are persuaded by the rhetor. Instead, it's your job to decide if the audience would be persuaded by the rhetor. Sometimes you have a very specific idea of who the audience is, but sometimes you just have a very general idea.

Three Rhetorical Appeals

"Of the [modes of persuasion] provided through speech there are three species: for some are in the character of the speaker, and some are in disposing the listener in some way, and some in the argument itself, by showing or seeming to show something" --Aristotle, On Rhetoric, 1356b (trans. George A. Kennedy)

In other words, Aristotle argues that there are three elements to the art of persuasion:

  • ethos: The rhetor is perceived by the audience as credible (or not).
  • pathos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by making them feel certain emotions.
  • logos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by the use of arguments that they will perceive as logical.

We call these three elements rhetorical appeals. It's not necessary for every act of persuasion to make use of all three appeals. Often, however, there is some element of each. In academic writing, ethos and logos are given more respect than pathos. An essay that relies primarily on pathos, with little use of ethos or logos, is unlikely to be perceived by an academic audience as persuasive. Below, each of these appeals is explained in more detail.


The use of ethos is called an "ethical appeal." Note that this is very different from our usual understanding of the word "ethical." "Ethos" is used to describe the audience's perception of the rhetor's credibility or authority. The audience asks themselves, "What does this person know about this topic?" and "Why should I trust this person?" There are two kinds of ethos:

  • extrinsic (the character, expertise, education, and experience of the rhetor), and
  • instrinsic (how the rhetor writes or speaks).

When we discuss the ethos of the rhetor, we decide whether it is strong or weak. We might use a phrase like, "His extrinsic ethos is strong because…" or "His intrinsic ethos is strong, but his extrinsic ethos is weak…"

Examples of extrinsic ethos:Sports: If you are a successful professional basketball player--like Michael Jordan, for example--talking about basketball to other pro athletes, then your ethos is strong with that particular audience even before you open your mouth or take pen to paper. Your audience assumes you are knowledgable about your subject because of your experience. Now, if you are instead a baseball player talking about basketball, then your extrinsic ethos is not as strong because you haven't been played pro basketball, but you're still a professional athlete and know something about that kind of life. However, if you are a college professor of English, then your extrinsic ethos is likely to be pretty weak with your audience. They might just assume that you know nothing about basketball or about professional sports. Change your audience around, however, and the ethos of each hypothetical rhetor might change. An audience of pre-school kids, for example, would have no idea who Michael Jordan is, and so his extrinsic ethos would be weaker with that audience than with the audience of other pro athletes.

Examples of intrinsic ethos:Sports: Let's say you're that professional basketball player mentioned above, and you start to address your audience when suddenly you stutter and mumble, you use the wrong sports terminology (or you mispronounce that terminology), and you stare at your shoes the entire time you're talking. Suddenly your overall ethos takes a nose-dive with your audience, and you become less persuasive. They conclude that regardless of your experience, the way you're expressing yourself reveals that you are not someone to be taken seriously. At the other extreme, let's say you're that hypothetical English professor, and you speak with confidence and use all of the correct sports-based terminology. You look around at the faces of your audience as you speak and project your voice to the back of the room. Your overall ethos, which was weak to begin with because the audience was skeptical of what an English professor would know about their sport, suddenly gets stronger. It gets stronger because your intrinsic ethos goes up in the eyes of your audience. The way that a rhetor speaks or writes will also affect ethos. Intrinsic ethos is strong when the rhetor expresses himself or herself confidently and intelligently, using language that is appropriate for the audience.

Mistakes to avoid First, you should always remember that when you are engaged in rhetorical analysis, it's not your job to decide if you perceive the rhetor as credible or authoritative. Instead, you must evaluate how the audience is likely to perceive the rhetor. Second, do not confuse the strategy of "Testimony and Authority" (see below, under "Logos") with ethos. When a rhetor uses information from someone else as a source to support their argument, that's an example of logos: it's the strategy of "Testimony and Authority." Students sometimes confuse the two because in both cases, the credibility and authority of the person speaking (or writing) is important. However, there's an important difference. When the rhetor is known by the audience to be experienced and an expert on the topic, their extrinsic ethos is strong. When the rhetor cites someone else who is experienced and an expert, that's an example of logos, because the rhetor is using the strategy of testimony and authority.


The use of pathos is called a "pathetic appeal." Note that this is very different from our usual understanding of the word "pathetic." "Pathos" is used to describe the rhetor's attempt to appeal to "an audience's sense of identity, their self-interest, and their emotions." If the rhetor can create a common sense of identity with their audience, then the rhetor is using a pathetic appeal. So if that college English professor above mentions having played basketball in high school and convinces the audience that she or he was pretty good, then not only does that fact strengthen the rhetor's ethos, it also makes a pathetic appeal. (This is also why so many politicans will open their speeches with "My fellow Americans..." This is why many of them use the phrase "My friends..." so much when speaking to audiences.) "Pathos" most often refers to an attempt to engage an audience's emotions. Think about the different emotions people are capable of feeling: they include love, pity, sorrow, affection, anger, fear, greed, lust, and hatred. If a rhetor tries to make an audience feel emotions in response to what is being said or written, then they are using pathos.

Example Let's say a rhetor is trying to convince an audience of middle-class Americans to donate money to a hurricane relief fund. The rhetor can make pathetic appeals to an audience's feelings of love, pity, fear, and perhaps anger. (The extent to which any of these emotions will be successfully engaged will vary from audience to audience.)

    • "Love" will be felt if the audience can be made to believe in their fundamental connections to other human beings.
    • "Pity" will be felt if the plight of the homeless hurricane victim can be made very vivid to the audience.
    • "Fear" will be felt if the audience can be made to imagine what they would feel like in that homeless victim's place.
    • "Anger" will be felt if the audience realizes how little has been done by those who are resonsible for helping.
    If the rhetor works all of these things together properly (and also doesn't screw up ethos and logos), then the audience is more likely to be persuaded.

Mistakes to avoid The emotions we're talking about here are emotions that might be felt by the audience, not emotions felt by the rhetor. If a rhetor is clearly angry about the topic being addressed, for example, that should not be taken as a pathetic. However, if the rhetor is clearly trying to make the audience feel angry, then that should, in fact, be considered a pathetic appeal. And whether or not the audience does, in fact, feel the emotions in question, the observer can still recognize when the rhetor is using a pathetic appeal. Sometimes, the pathetic appeal is weak (meaning it probably won't succeed). Sometimes, the pathetic appeal is strong (meaning it probably will succeed).


The use of logos is called a "logical appeal." A statement does not have to be considered logical to be a logical appeal. As an observer, you can recognize that the rhetor is attempting to use logos to persuade the audience, but that recognition doesn't mean the rhetor is succeeding. We use the term logos to describe what kind of rhetorical appeal is being made, not to evaluate whether or not an appeal makes sense to us (as observers) or to the audience being addressed. "Logos" is the use of the strategies of logic to persuade your audience. If an statement attempts to persuade the audience by making a reasonable claim and offering proof in support of that claim (rather than by trying to make them feel certain emotions, or by making them perceive the speaker as credible), then that statement is a logical argument.

Mistakes to avoid When you are engaged in rhetorical analysis, you are an observer of the interaction between the rhetor and the audience. So it's not your job to decide whether or not an argument is logical. Instead, it's your job to decide whether or not an argument will be perceived by the audience as logical.

There are many ways of making logical arguments. Here are a few common strategies:

Cause or consequence

A claim about one thing causing another, or one thing being caused by another.

Example:Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases being produced by humankind.

 Example:The current economic crisis was caused primarily by deregulation of the financial industry.

Example:If the government gets involved in providing health insurance to the American people, we will see a sharp decline in the quality of our medical care.


A claim about the qualities of one thing using a comparison about another thing.

Example:The ozone layer of the atmosphere is like the outer layer of skin on the human body, and if it goes away, planet Earth will be in a lot of pain.Going to that class is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Example:"George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise." (Al Gore,1992 Vice Presidential Debate)

Example:That candidate is what we call a post turtle. Imagine you're driving along a country road and you see a turtle up on top of a fence post. He doesn't know how he got there. He doesn't know what he's doing there. And he has no idea what to do next. (Seethis entryat Snopes.com)

Testimony and authority

A claim that involves citing the opinion of someone other than the rhetor, someone respected by the audience.

Example: 4 out of 5 Dentists surveyed would recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum (Trident Gumadvertisement).

Example:The leading U.S. military commanders in Iraq say the surge strategy is working.

Example:How bad is the current financial mess? According to Alan Greenspan, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, it's "the type of wrenching financial crisis that comes along only once in a century"("Greenspan").


A claim about the meaning or nature of something.

Example: The president is a socialist.

Example: Marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

Example: Last year's Super Bowl game was extremely boring


A claim using deductive logic involving a major premise, a minor premise, and conclusion. This is a move from the general to the specific.

Example: Nuclear power plants generate dangerous nuclear waste, the new power plant they're planning to build in our community is a nuclear power plant. So the new power plant will be dangerous.

Example: Republicans favor deregulation. John McCain is a Republican, so he will pursue a policy of deregulation if elected.

Example: Democrats like to "tax and spend." Barack Obama is a Democrat, so he's going to raise our taxes if elected.

Support a generalization with examples

A claim using inductive logic, where a general statement about something is backed up by specific examples.

Example: In thesecond presidential debateof 2008, Senator John McCain emphasized his own good judgment in this way: "And I am convinced that my record, going back to my opposition from sending the Marines to Lebanon, to supporting our efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia and the first Gulf War, and my judgment, I think, is something that ... I'm willing to stand on."

Example: In the second presidentail debate of 2008, Senator Barack Obama argued that the United States should maintain good relations with other nations in order to make the best use of our own military resources in a time of economic constraint. He then illustrated his general statement with this specific example: "Let's take the example of Darfur just for a moment. Right now there's a peacekeeping force that has been set up and we have African Union troops in Darfur to stop a genocide that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. We could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us, but we can only do it if we can help mobilize the international community and lead."

Combining all 3 rhetorical appeals

Seldom is any one statement an example of only one appeal.

"I have to tell you that if you don't stop smoking, you're going to die, " said the doctor to her patient.

This statement combines all three appeals:

  • Extrinsic ethos: the rhetor--a doctor--is an expert on the subject
  • Pathos: attempting to make the audience feel fear
  • Logos: using the strategy of "Cause or Consequence"


Let's review what we covered above: Rhetoric is defined for our purposes as

  • The art of persuasion, and
  • The study of the art of persuasion, and
  • An individual act of persuasion.

In the work we'll do in our rhetorical analysis, there are 2 parties to be concerned with:

  1. The rhetor: the party that is attempting to persuade, and
  2. The audience: the party that is the target of persuasion.

We will consider ourselves to be a 3rd party: The observer. We're not being persuaded. We're not persuading. We're just observing the interaction between the rhetor and the audience. The rhetorical appeals are the three elements to the art of persuasion as defined by Aristotle

  • ethos: The rhetor is perceived by the audience as credible (or not).
  • pathos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by making them feel certain emotions.
  • logos: The rhetor attempts to persuade the audience by the use of arguments that they will perceive as logical.

Remember, it's not necessary for every act of persuasion to make use of all three appeals. Often, however, there is some element of each. In academic writing, ethos and logos are given more respect than pathos. An essay that relies primarily on pathos, with little use of ethos or logos, is unlikely to be perceived by an academic audience as persuasive.


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