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How to Use Rhetorical Questions in Essay Writing Effectively

Adela B.

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How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay–Examples & Template

example of a rhetorical question in an essay

What is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

A rhetorical analysis essay is, as the name suggests, an analysis of someone else’s writing (or speech, or advert, or even cartoon) and how they use not only words but also rhetorical techniques to influence their audience in a certain way. A rhetorical analysis is less interested in what the author is saying and more in how they present it, what effect this has on their readers, whether they achieve their goals, and what approach they use to get there. 

Its structure is similar to that of most essays: An Introduction presents your thesis, a Body analyzes the text you have chosen, breaks it down into sections and explains how arguments have been constructed and how each part persuades, informs, or entertains the reader, and a Conclusion section sums up your evaluation. 

Note that your personal opinion on the matter is not relevant for your analysis and that you don’t state anywhere in your essay whether you agree or disagree with the stance the author takes.

In the following, we will define the key rhetorical concepts you need to write a good rhetorical analysis and give you some practical tips on where to start.

Key Rhetorical Concepts

Your goal when writing a rhetorical analysis is to think about and then carefully describe how the author has designed their text so that it has the intended effect on their audience. To do that, you need to consider a number of key rhetorical strategies: Rhetorical appeals (“Ethos”, “Logos”, and “Pathos”), context, as well as claims, supports, and warrants.

Ethos, Logos, and Pathos were introduced by Aristotle, way back in the 4th century BC, as the main ways in which language can be used to persuade an audience. They still represent the basis of any rhetorical analysis and are often referred to as the “rhetorical triangle”. 

These and other rhetorical techniques can all be combined to create the intended effect, and your job as the one analyzing a text is to break the writer’s arguments down and identify the concepts they are based on.

Rhetorical Appeals

Rhetorical appeal #1: ethos.

Ethos refers to the reputation or authority of the writer regarding the topic of their essay or speech and to how they use this to appeal to their audience. Just like we are more likely to buy a product from a brand or vendor we have confidence in than one we don’t know or have reason to distrust, Ethos-driven texts or speeches rely on the reputation of the author to persuade the reader or listener. When you analyze an essay, you should therefore look at how the writer establishes Ethos through rhetorical devices.

Does the author present themselves as an authority on their subject? If so, how? 

Do they highlight how impeccable their own behavior is to make a moral argument? 

Do they present themselves as an expert by listing their qualifications or experience to convince the reader of their opinion on something?

Rhetorical appeal #2: Pathos

The purpose of Pathos-driven rhetoric is to appeal to the reader’s emotions. A common example of pathos as a rhetorical means is adverts by charities that try to make you donate money to a “good cause”. To evoke the intended emotions in the reader, an author may use passionate language, tell personal stories, and employ vivid imagery so that the reader can imagine themselves in a certain situation and feel empathy with or anger towards others.

Rhetorical appeal #3: Logos

Logos, the “logical” appeal, uses reason to persuade. Reason and logic, supported by data, evidence, clearly defined methodology, and well-constructed arguments, are what most academic writing is based on. Emotions, those of the researcher/writer as well as those of the reader, should stay out of such academic texts, as should anyone’s reputation, beliefs, or personal opinions. 

Text and Context

To analyze a piece of writing, a speech, an advertisement, or even a satirical drawing, you need to look beyond the piece of communication and take the context in which it was created and/or published into account. 

Who is the person who wrote the text/drew the cartoon/designed the ad..? What audience are they trying to reach? Where was the piece published and what was happening there around that time? 

A political speech, for example, can be powerful even when read decades later, but the historical context surrounding it is an important aspect of the effect it was intended to have. 

Claims, Supports, and Warrants

To make any kind of argument, a writer needs to put forward specific claims, support them with data or evidence or even a moral or emotional appeal, and connect the dots logically so that the reader can follow along and agree with the points made.

The connections between statements, so-called “warrants”, follow logical reasoning but are not always clearly stated—the author simply assumes the reader understands the underlying logic, whether they present it “explicitly” or “implicitly”. Implicit warrants are commonly used in advertisements where seemingly happy people use certain products, wear certain clothes, accessories, or perfumes, or live certain lifestyles – with the connotation that, first, the product/perfume/lifestyle is what makes that person happy and, second, the reader wants to be as happy as the person in the ad. Some warrants are never clearly stated, and your job when writing a rhetorical analysis essay is therefore to identify them and bring them to light, to evaluate their validity, their effect on the reader, and the use of such means by the writer/creator. 

bust of plato the philosopher, rhetorical analysis essay

What are the Five Rhetorical Situations?

A “rhetorical situation” refers to the circumstance behind a text or other piece of communication that arises from a given context. It explains why a rhetorical piece was created, what its purpose is, and how it was constructed to achieve its aims.

Rhetorical situations can be classified into the following five categories:

Why was a text written or a cartoon drawn? Does it want to inform someone? Instruct a certain audience? Entertain a specific group of people? 
Who will read/see this (or read/saw it in the past) and be influenced by it/motivated to do something?
What type of writing/advertisement/communication is this?
What views does the piece represent? How do these views fit into the situation the writer was in at the time or the reader is in now?
What forms, means, and techniques does the piece use to communicate with its audience?

Asking such questions when you analyze a text will help you identify all the aspects that play a role in the effect it has on its audience, and will allow you to evaluate whether it achieved its aims or where it may have failed to do so.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

Analyzing someone else’s work can seem like a big task, but as with every assignment or writing endeavor, you can break it down into smaller, well-defined steps that give you a practical structure to follow. 

To give you an example of how the different parts of your text may look when it’s finished, we will provide you with some excerpts from this rhetorical analysis essay example (which even includes helpful comments) published on the Online Writing Lab website of Excelsior University in Albany, NY. The text that this essay analyzes is this article on why one should or shouldn’t buy an Ipad. If you want more examples so that you can build your own rhetorical analysis template, have a look at this essay on Nabokov’s Lolita and the one provided here about the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter of Anne Lamott’s writing instruction book “Bird by Bird”.

Analyzing the Text

When writing a rhetorical analysis, you don’t choose the concepts or key points you think are relevant or want to address. Rather, you carefully read the text several times asking yourself questions like those listed in the last section on rhetorical situations to identify how the text “works” and how it was written to achieve that effect.

Start with focusing on the author : What do you think was their purpose for writing the text? Do they make one principal claim and then elaborate on that? Or do they discuss different topics? 

Then look at what audience they are talking to: Do they want to make a group of people take some action? Vote for someone? Donate money to a good cause? Who are these people? Is the text reaching this specific audience? Why or why not?

What tone is the author using to address their audience? Are they trying to evoke sympathy? Stir up anger? Are they writing from a personal perspective? Are they painting themselves as an authority on the topic? Are they using academic or informal language?

How does the author support their claims ? What kind of evidence are they presenting? Are they providing explicit or implicit warrants? Are these warrants valid or problematic? Is the provided evidence convincing?  

Asking yourself such questions will help you identify what rhetorical devices a text uses and how well they are put together to achieve a certain aim. Remember, your own opinion and whether you agree with the author are not the point of a rhetorical analysis essay – your task is simply to take the text apart and evaluate it.

If you are still confused about how to write a rhetorical analysis essay, just follow the steps outlined below to write the different parts of your rhetorical analysis: As every other essay, it consists of an Introduction , a Body (the actual analysis), and a Conclusion .

Rhetorical Analysis Introduction

The Introduction section briefly presents the topic of the essay you are analyzing, the author, their main claims, a short summary of the work by you, and your thesis statement . 

Tell the reader what the text you are going to analyze represents (e.g., historically) or why it is relevant (e.g., because it has become some kind of reference for how something is done). Describe what the author claims, asserts, or implies and what techniques they use to make their argument and persuade their audience. Finish off with your thesis statement that prepares the reader for what you are going to present in the next section – do you think that the author’s assumptions/claims/arguments were presented in a logical/appealing/powerful way and reached their audience as intended?

Have a look at an excerpt from the sample essay linked above to see what a rhetorical analysis introduction can look like. See how it introduces the author and article , the context in which it originally appeared , the main claims the author makes , and how this first paragraph ends in a clear thesis statement that the essay will then elaborate on in the following Body section:

Cory Doctorow ’s article on BoingBoing is an older review of the iPad , one of Apple’s most famous products. At the time of this article, however, the iPad was simply the latest Apple product to hit the market and was not yet so popular. Doctorow’s entire career has been entrenched in and around technology. He got his start as a CD-ROM programmer and is now a successful blogger and author. He is currently the co-editor of the BoingBoing blog on which this article was posted. One of his main points in this article comes from Doctorow’s passionate advocacy of free digital media sharing. He argues that the iPad is just another way for established technology companies to control our technological freedom and creativity . In “ Why I Won’t Buy an iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either) ” published on Boing Boing in April of 2010, Cory Doctorow successfully uses his experience with technology, facts about the company Apple, and appeals to consumer needs to convince potential iPad buyers that Apple and its products, specifically the iPad, limit the digital rights of those who use them by controlling and mainstreaming the content that can be used and created on the device . 

Doing the Rhetorical Analysis

The main part of your analysis is the Body , where you dissect the text in detail. Explain what methods the author uses to inform, entertain, and/or persuade the audience. Use Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle and the other key concepts we introduced above. Use quotations from the essay to demonstrate what you mean. Work out why the writer used a certain approach and evaluate (and again, demonstrate using the text itself) how successful they were. Evaluate the effect of each rhetorical technique you identify on the audience and judge whether the effect is in line with the author’s intentions.

To make it easy for the reader to follow your thought process, divide this part of your essay into paragraphs that each focus on one strategy or one concept , and make sure they are all necessary and contribute to the development of your argument(s).

One paragraph of this section of your essay could, for example, look like this:

One example of Doctorow’s position is his comparison of Apple’s iStore to Wal-Mart. This is an appeal to the consumer’s logic—or an appeal to logos. Doctorow wants the reader to take his comparison and consider how an all-powerful corporation like the iStore will affect them. An iPad will only allow for apps and programs purchased through the iStore to be run on it; therefore, a customer must not only purchase an iPad but also any programs he or she wishes to use. Customers cannot create their own programs or modify the hardware in any way. 

As you can see, the author of this sample essay identifies and then explains to the reader how Doctorow uses the concept of Logos to appeal to his readers – not just by pointing out that he does it but by dissecting how it is done.

Rhetorical Analysis Conclusion

The conclusion section of your analysis should restate your main arguments and emphasize once more whether you think the author achieved their goal. Note that this is not the place to introduce new information—only rely on the points you have discussed in the body of your essay. End with a statement that sums up the impact the text has on its audience and maybe society as a whole:

Overall, Doctorow makes a good argument about why there are potentially many better things to drop a great deal of money on instead of the iPad. He gives some valuable information and facts that consumers should take into consideration before going out to purchase the new device. He clearly uses rhetorical tools to help make his case, and, overall, he is effective as a writer, even if, ultimately, he was ineffective in convincing the world not to buy an iPad . 

Frequently Asked Questions about Rhetorical Analysis Essays 

What is a rhetorical analysis essay.

A rhetorical analysis dissects a text or another piece of communication to work out and explain how it impacts its audience, how successfully it achieves its aims, and what rhetorical devices it uses to do that. 

While argumentative essays usually take a stance on a certain topic and argue for it, a rhetorical analysis identifies how someone else constructs their arguments and supports their claims.

What is the correct rhetorical analysis essay format?

Like most other essays, a rhetorical analysis contains an Introduction that presents the thesis statement, a Body that analyzes the piece of communication, explains how arguments have been constructed, and illustrates how each part persuades, informs, or entertains the reader, and a Conclusion section that summarizes the results of the analysis. 

What is the “rhetorical triangle”?

The rhetorical triangle was introduced by Aristotle as the main ways in which language can be used to persuade an audience: Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, Ethos to the writer’s status or authority, and Pathos to the reader’s emotions. Logos, Ethos, and Pathos can all be combined to create the intended effect, and your job as the one analyzing a text is to break the writer’s arguments down and identify what specific concepts each is based on.

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Rhetorical Analysis: A Comprehensive Guide

Rhetorical Analysis: A Comprehensive Guide

A rhetorical analysis essay is a part of the AP English Language and Composition exam. Due to its unorthodox purpose, rhetorical analysis can be hard to master at first. This article will help you understand what a rhetorical analysis essay is, learn about main rhetorical analysis strategies, and find out how to write a rhetorical analysis.

What is a rhetorical analysis?

As you can probably guess, a rhetorical analysis is a type of analytical essay. Alongside a synthesis essay and argument essay, it is included in the free response section of the AP English exam.

Unlike most essays, a rhetoric analysis does not aim to persuade the audience. Instead, it presents a thorough study of a text’s rhetoric. The writers are expected to carefully examine a given text, deduce the author’s intention, and analyze whether it was achieved and by which means.

Rhetorical analysis strategies

To write a rhetorical analysis essay, you should read the presented text and divide it into several different components. Then, by analyzing these components and how they intertwine together to create a cohesive message, you can uncover how exactly the author managed to express their ideas in the text.

Generally, a rhetorical essay focuses on persuasive texts. The authors of these texts always employ common devices and approaches to convince their audience. That’s why the basis of any rhetorical essay is dissecting rhetorical analysis strategies that the author applied.

There are three main strategies used in rhetoric:

  • Ethos . Ethos refers to a strategy where the author presents themselves as a figure of authority in their domain. This may include mentioning the author’s achievements to prove they have expertise on a subject.
  • Pathos . This strategy aims to evoke strong emotions in the audience. If an author sounds inspirational or impassioned, it is a clear sign they use the pathos strategy.
  • Logos . The logos strategy appeals to the logical side of the audience. It is one of the most common ways to persuade a reader in academic writing as it involves dissecting evidence and using trusted sources to sway the audience.

These rhetorical analysis strategies act as a guide for rhetorical essay writers. Knowing them will help you better understand what you should look for before starting your analysis.

Rhetorical analysis outline

Like other academic essays, a rhetorical analysis consists of three main parts: introduction, main body, and conclusion.

  • The introduction of a rhetorical analysis should help the readers understand what the essay is going to be about or, rather, whom. In this part, you can focus on informing the audience about the subject of your analysis and its author. After this comes your thesis statement. In a rhetorical analysis thesis, you should express your argument about the author’s use of rhetorical devices and whether they had the intended effect.
  • The main body of your essay should be dedicated to examining these devices and rhetorical analysis strategies. Each paragraph should cover a separate point and include evidence.
  • The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis provides a brief overview of the arguments and ties them back to the essay thesis.

By following this rhetorical analysis outline, you can craft a cohesive essay worth the highest marks.

How to write rhetorical analysis essays: a step-by-step guide

It is easy to learn how to write a rhetorical analysis when you know what to do. Let’s explore the steps you need to take to write a perfect rhetorical analysis.

Step 1. Study the text

The obvious first step during your writing process should be reading the given text. The entirety of your essay will hedge on this text, so consider thoughtfully reading it and marking everything you think may be useful for your analysis.

Step 2. Create a plan

While we have already covered the basic outline of a rhetorical analysis, this step involves a more in-depth approach. Write down which topics will be covered in each paragraph of your paper. This is where you can also note which evidence can be used in your arguments. The following questions can help you formulate your outline:

  • What was the author’s intention?
  • Does the author use any rhetorical analysis strategies or devices to support their purpose?
  • Does the author make any mistakes in using any of the strategies or devices? How can you detect it?
  • What could the author have used to convey their message more effectively?

Step 3. Introduce the topic

At this point, you can start your essay by crafting the introduction. Talk about the author and what kind of text you will analyze. At the end, add your thesis statement that will indicate what you will be examining in your paper.

Step 4. Provide evidence

In the main body, you need to use examples from the text to illustrate your arguments. This is where you should apply your plan. Note that each paragraph is dedicated to a separate component of the text. So if you want to elaborate on the author’s approach to following the logos strategy, make sure to separate it from your analysis of the pathos strategy.

Step 5. Finish your essay

Restate your thesis in different words and give a quick recap of all the evidence you provided. After you are finished, reread your essay and make necessary corrections if needed.

Summary: rhetorical analysis essay

Rhetorical essays are some of the most difficult academic essays for writing. To craft a well-done rhetorical analysis, you must possess a keen knowledge of the art of rhetoric and how it can be applied to writing contemporary texts.

If you still struggle with how to write a rhetorical analysis, give a try to essay generator Aithor . Aithor is a state-of-the-art text generator that helps students and academics from all fields with academic writing. Use Aithor to create a rhetorical essay outline, assist in writing, or generate an example of how a perfect rhetorical analysis essay should look like.

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Rhetorical Analysis Sample Essay

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Not Quite a Clean Sweep: Rhetorical Strategies in

Grose's "Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier”

A woman’s work is never done: many American women grow up with this saying and feel it to be true. 1 One such woman, author Jessica Grose, wrote “Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier,” published in 2013 in the New Republic, 2 and she argues that while the men recently started taking on more of the childcare and cooking, cleaning still falls unfairly on women. 3 Grose begins building her credibility with personal facts and reputable sources, citing convincing facts and statistics, and successfully employing emotional appeals; however, toward the end of the article, her attempts to appeal to readers’ emotions weaken her credibility and ultimately, her argument. 4

In her article, Grose first sets the stage by describing a specific scenario of house-cleaning with her husband after being shut in during Hurricane Sandy, and then she outlines the uneven distribution of cleaning work in her marriage and draws a comparison to the larger feminist issue of who does the cleaning in a relationship. Grose continues by discussing some of the reasons that men do not contribute to cleaning: the praise for a clean house goes to the woman; advertising and media praise men’s cooking and childcare, but not cleaning; and lastly, it is just not fun. Possible solutions to the problem, Grose suggests, include making a chart of who does which chores, dividing up tasks based on skill and ability, accepting a dirtier home, and making cleaning more fun with gadgets. 5

Throughout her piece, Grose uses many strong sources that strengthen her credibility and appeal to ethos, as well as build her argument. 6 These sources include, “sociologists Judith Treas and Tsui-o Tai,” “a 2008 study from the University of New Hampshire,” and “P&G North America Fabric Care Brand Manager, Matthew Krehbiel” (qtd. in Grose). 7 Citing these sources boosts Grose’s credibility by showing that she has done her homework and has provided facts and statistics, as well as expert opinions to support her claim. She also uses personal examples from her own home life to introduce and support the issue, which shows that she has a personal stake in and first-hand experience with the problem. 8

Adding to her ethos appeals, Grose uses strong appeals to logos, with many facts and statistics and logical progressions of ideas. 9 She points out facts about her marriage and the distribution of household chores: “My husband and I both work. We split midnight baby feedings ...but ... he will admit that he’s never cleaned the bathroom, that I do the dishes nine times out of ten, and that he barely knows how the washer and dryer work in the apartment we’ve lived in for over eight months.” 10 These facts introduce and support the idea that Grose does more household chores than her husband. Grose continues with many statistics:

[A]bout 55 percent of American mothers employed full time do some housework on an average day, while only 18 percent of employed fathers do. ... [W]orking women with children are still doing a week and a half more of “second shift” work each year than their male partners. ... Even in the famously gender-neutral Sweden, women do 45 minutes more housework a day than their male partners. 11

These statistics are a few of many that logically support her claim that it is a substantial and real problem that men do not do their fair share of the chores. The details and numbers build an appeal to logos and impress upon the reader that this is a problem worth discussing. 12

Along with strong logos appeals, Grose effectively makes appeals to pathos in the beginning and middle sections. 13 Her introduction is full of emotionally-charged words and phrases that create a sympathetic image; Grose notes that she “was eight months pregnant” and her husband found it difficult to “fight with a massively pregnant person.” 14 The image she evokes of the challenges and vulnerabilities of being so pregnant, as well as the high emotions a woman feels at that time effectively introduce the argument and its seriousness. Her goal is to make the reader feel sympathy for her. Adding to this idea are words and phrases such as, “insisted,” “argued,” “not fun,” “sucks” “headachey,” “be judged,” “be shunned” (Grose). All of these words evoke negative emotions about cleaning, which makes the reader sympathize with women who feel “judged” and shunned”—very negative feelings. Another feeling Grose reinforces with her word choice is the concept of fairness: “fair share,” “a week and a half more of ‘second shift’ work,” “more housework,” “more gendered and less frequent.” These words help establish the unfairness that exists when women do all of the cleaning, and they are an appeal to pathos, or the readers’ feelings of frustration and anger with injustice. 15

However, the end of the article lacks the same level of effectiveness in the appeals to ethos. 16 For example, Grose notes that when men do housework, they are considered to be “’enacting “small instances of gender heroism,” or ‘SIGH’s’—which, barf.” 17 The usage of the word “barf” is jarring to the reader; unprofessional and immature, it is a shift from the researched, intelligent voice she has established and the reader is less likely to take the author seriously. This damages the strength of her credibility and her argument. 18

Additionally, her last statement in the article refers to her husband in a way that weakens the argument. 19 While returning to the introduction’s hook in the conclusion is a frequently-used strategy, Grose chooses to return to her discussion of her husband in a humorous way: Grose discusses solutions, and says there is “a huge, untapped market ... for toilet-scrubbing iPods. I bet my husband would buy one.” 20 Returning to her own marriage and husband is an appeal to ethos or personal credibility, and while that works well in the introduction, in the conclusion, it lacks the strength and seriousness that the topic deserves and was given earlier in the article. 21

Though Grose begins the essay by effectively persuading her readers of the unfair distribution of home-maintenance cleaning labor, she loses her power in the end, where she most needs to drive home her argument. Readers can see the problem exists in both her marriage and throughout the world; however, her shift to humor and sarcasm makes the reader not take the problem as seriously in the end. 22 Grose could have more seriously driven home the point that a woman’s work could be done: by a man. 23

Works Cited

Grose, Jessica. “Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier.” New Republic. The New Republic, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.

  • Article author's claim or purpose
  • Summary of the article's main point in the second paragraph (could also be in the introduction)
  • Third paragraph begins with a transition and topic sentence that reflects the first topic in the thesis
  • Quotes illustrate how the author uses appeals to ethos
  • Analysis explains how the quotes show the effective use of ethos as noted in the thesis
  • Transition and topic sentence about the second point from the thesis
  • Quote that illustrates appeals to logos
  • Analysis explains how the quotes show the effective use of logos, as noted in the thesis
  • Transition and topic sentence about the third point from the thesis
  • Quotes that illustrate appeals to pathos
  • Analysis explains how the quotes show the effective use of pathos, as noted in the thesis
  • Transition and topic sentence about fourth point from the thesis
  • Quote illustrates how the author uses appeal to ethos
  • Analysis explains how quote supports thesis
  • Transition and topic sentence about fourth point from thesis
  • Conclusion returns to the ideas in the thesis and further develops them
  • Last sentence returns to the hook in the introduction

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How to Use Rhetorical Questions in Your Speech

A rhetorical question is a common rhetorical device where a question is asked by a speaker, but no answer is expected from the audience . This distinguishes it from explicit verbal audience interaction where a speaker asks a question, and then waits for a response or calls on someone to answer it.

You are certainly aware of this technique, but are you aware that you can use a rhetorical question in at least nine different ways ? No? Read on!

This article identifies nine ways to use rhetorical questions, and provides examples throughout.

  • Speech Quotations
  • Rhetorical Questions
  • Triads (the Rule of Three)
  • Parallelism

Strategies when asking rhetorical questions

Like other speech techniques, rhetorical questions can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the needs of the speaker and the speech.

It is rarely necessary to ask a rhetorical question; there is nearly always another way to convey the same idea without using a question. But rhetorical questions, like other rhetorical devices, add variety and interest to a speech.

Here are nine strategies that can be fulfilled (often in combination) with a carefully crafted rhetorical question:

1. Engage the audience to think with a rhetorical question.

The most popular use of a rhetorical question is to engage your audience to think. If your entire speech is a series of statements, your audience may passively listen  and absorb little. On the other hand, you can make them active participants in your speech by inviting them to think about your arguments. This is most effective if they are asked to think about an issue from a fresh perspective.

For example, suppose you are delivering a goal achievement seminar. While many people feel that external forces prevent them from realizing their goals, you might engage your audience to think about their self-defeating behaviors:

Setting goals is easy, but achieving them isn’t. How are you sabotaging yourself?

2. Invite your audience to agree with you by asking a rhetorical question.

To persuade your audience, they must see you as credible . One way to build credibility is to convince your audience that you are similar to them and share their beliefs. One way to do this is by asking a rhetorical question where the answer has the audience agreeing with you, perhaps even nodding their head in agreement.

For example, suppose you are speaking at a networking event for working mothers, and you represent a local health spa:

Given how hard you work — both at the office and at home — don’t you deserve a day at the spa?

[When your audience silently answers “Yes, I do deserve that”, the effect is that they see themselves as more similar to you.]

3. Stir emotions by asking a rhetorical question.

Effective speakers know how to stir audience emotions. Rhetorical questions do this by making the audience a partner in your emotional statements . Instead of delivering one-way emotional statements, you can involve your audience more emotionally by hooking them with a rhetorical question.

For example, suppose you are at a political rally. Instead of saying:

They’ve never done anything to help us.
What have they ever done to help us?

The latter version is stronger, because it triggers an emotional response by having the audience thinking “Nothing! They’ve done nothing!”

4. Emphasize a previous statement with a rhetorical question.

Rhetorical questions can be used as an exclamation point on a preceding statement. While the preceding statement may be a factual statement, a rhetorical question forces your audience to think hard about it .

For example, suppose you are speaking out against gang violence in your community:

17 of our sons and daughters have already died in gang-related crime. How many will it take before we act?

5. Invoke misdirection with a rhetorical question.

Careful use of misdirection in a speech is an effective way of generating audience surprise , and this results in them being active participants. One form of misdirection is when you make a statement which leads in one direction, and then follow it up with a statement that pulls in the opposite direction.

For example, suppose you are trying to motivate your sales department:

Financial analysts in our industry predict that sales are going to be down next year. But does that prediction apply to us? [… and then you go on to show why it does not…]

In the above example, the rhetorical question followed a contrasting statement. But this pattern can be reversed with the rhetorical question preceding a contrasting statement. For example:

Why would anyone care about the polling data, when it has proven to be inaccurate in the past? The primary reason is that polling firms have been using entirely different methods this time…

6. Ask and answer a rhetorical question your audience may be thinking.

Thorough audience analysis will reveal many questions that members of your audience may have. Rather than waiting to address these questions following your speech (e.g. in a Q&A session), you can address them in the body of your speech by asking the question and immediately answering it.

For example, imagine that you are speaking to a new parents’ support group:

As a new parent, you often wonder: What can I do to give my child an intellectual jump start? The answer is reading aloud to them every day.

Or, consider another example:

Why is it important to exercise our right to vote? Voting is a duty of active citizenship!

7. Answer a question with another rhetorical question.

A common technique to answer a question (either one you have raised, or one coming from your audience) is to respond with a rhetorical question. This is done when the two questions (the one you were asked, and the one you responded with) have the same answer (typically, either “yes” or “no”).

For example:

Will we win the contract? Is the sky blue?

The obvious answer to the second question is “yes”, and this implies the answer to the first is also “yes”.

Do you think we should give up on our school and close it? Do pigs fly?

This time, the obvious answer to the second question is “no”, and this implies the answer to the first is also “no”.

Beware when using this technique as it can sound cliche to your audience. If you can, make the second question fresh and unique to your audience.

8. Ask a series of rhetorical questions to highlight divergent thoughts.

When speaking about a particularly complex issue, one technique that reinforces this complexity is to ask a series of questions which, if answered, would all point in different directions.

How can we stop bullying in school? Is the answer to educate the bullies? Or educate those being bullied? Do we need more supervision on playgrounds? How about stricter penalties for offenders? […]

A series of questions like this might be used in the opening of a speech, while the body of the speech might follow up on the individual questions one by one.

9. Ask a series of rhetorical questions to highlight convergent thoughts.

A series of rhetorical questions can also be used in situations where, if the questions were answered, all of the answers would point in the same direction. This technique is a variation on repetition and could be used to emphasize a point repeatedly.

Who has turned around our club and made it prosperous? Who is tireless in her devotion to this club? Who is our undisputed leader? Of course I am speaking of our club president Laurelle who we honor here today.

What do you think?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I really do want to hear what you think. Please add a comment to share your ideas about how to use rhetorical questions.

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Thanks, Andrew, for this incredibly helpful article on using the rhetorical question. Already incorporated one of your suggestions in a speech I am writing.

This is really a set of useful tips. And all the articles coming in this series are useful and effective tips and inputs. Thank you for sharing all these valid points and eye openers.

Thanks Andrew – that’s a very thorough and thought-provoking look at rhetorical questions. I never realised there was so much to them!

What do you think are the *limits* of their use, though? I ask because I once attended a talk where (to my mind) the speaker *overused* rhetorical questions. From a listener’s viewpoint, that felt frustrating because it was as though the speaker repeatedly asked for dialogue, only to move on without waiting for our answers. So the talk was a monologue just *masquerading* as dialogue.

In what ways, then, might a presenter attempt to judge when they had the “right” number of rhetorical questions in their talk, compared with real questions or other techniques? I wonder if there should be at least as many real questions as rhetorical questions, to maintain balance. What do you think?

I agree that rhetorical questions can be overused, but I don’t think one can give a general rule about what the “right” number or ratio is. It depends wildly on the purpose and nature of the presentation.

For example, in his TED talk, Ken Robinson used rhetorical questions 26 times (as part of his personal speaking style), and doesn’t ask any questions where he expects a response from the audience.

It would be good if there was *some* guideline people could fall back on – if not mathematical, maybe something like “ask a couple of trusted colleagues their opinions about the rhetorical questions in your talk”. Or “keep only the rhetorical questions you’d use in a one-to-one conversation”. That second one sounds like a promising rule of thumb, but I’ll continue to think about a guideline that might work. Thanks for the Ken Robinson link – it’s really useful to consider a real example like that. Like you, the 1st time I watched Ken’s talk, I didn’t really notice all the rhetorical questions. But now I’m aware of them, they’re quite obtrusive, which to me rings alarm bells. So *if* he uses them as part of his regular style, I think someone who listened to a couple of his talks would quickly start to be distracted by them. Also, such wide use lessens their power. Anyway, thanks again for sparking this line of thought on a useful speech technique. I’m a lot more aware of the uses for rhetorical questions now!

Extremely good points and well-articulated. The use of the rhetorical question is far more powerful than most speakers realize so your article gives excellent advice.

from Paris, France

Andrew —

You have a GREAT site which I just found.

I preparing a contest speech at Toastmasters in Paris and was looking for some writing advice – and found your wonderful site. Keep up the good work. Joy,

if you ask a topic question and you prepared for the answer in speech way , it will be consider it a question and answer? like they did in pageant. they already a topic question and they prepared a answered in speech formed.

Very helpful! I’m strategically commencing a defence for gross misconduct for an employee and this will be a unique and suprising approach. My thought is to ask initially if the employee is guilty and then answer that he is but not guilty because…….here, I will commence my mitigating evidence. I will try to introduce other rhetoricals throughout…..very good, thanks!

Thank you for your help Andrew, but I have a question. If I am trying to write a persuasive speech, which one of these methods should I use? I looked through them all and found that all of them were really interesting and intriguing. Please answer soon.

With great thanks, Henry

Hi. The things which you have share about is really interesting and useful.

It is a great tool. Thanks for doing it. Edna

I’m not sure if this is another category or fits in with one of the 9 mentioned, but I use rhetorical questions to force a point.

“So Johny has a key to the house. he regularly takes food from the kitchen. He’s been a bully at school. The principle has had him in his office because he’s threatening people.

And you think it’s not reasonable that he stole money off the counter?”

What is answer of “that is good for the customer”(make it a rhetorical question)help me to understand

Thank you we looked through this in our classroom in our high school.

Do you happen to have any info on how to write one for a photography paper?

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AP English Language and Composition: Sample Rhetorical Analysis and Synthesis Questions

April 9, 2024.

AP English Language Sample Rhetorical Analysis and Synthesis Questions

The Rhetorical Analysis and Synthesis Essays are two of the three essays you’ll need to write as part of the AP English Language and Composition Exam . Read on for a sample of each, as well as tips for how to answer them. 

AP English Language and Composition: Sample Rhetorical Analysis Question

Read the following passage published back in 1967 by The New York Times. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the structure of the passage and the use of language help convey the writer’s views.

Sample Question Instructions:

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that may establish a line of reasoning.
  • Select and use evidence to develop and support the line of reasoning.
  • Explain the relationship between the evidence and the thesis.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical situation.
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating the argument.

Americans and Western Europeans, in their sensitivity to lingering problems around them, tend to make science and progress their scapegoats. There is a belief that progress has precipitated widespread unhappiness, anxieties, and other social and emotional problems. Science is viewed as a cold mechanical discipline having nothing to do with human warmth and the human spirit. 

But to many of us from the nonscientific East, science does not have such repugnant associations. We are not afraid of it, nor are we disappointed by it. We know all too painfully that our social and emotional problems festered long before the age of technology. To us, science is warm and reassuring. It promises hope. It is helping us at long last gain some control over our persecutory environments, alleviating age-old problems—not only physical but also, and especially, problems of the spirit.

Shiraz, for example, a city in southern Iran, has long been renowned for its rose gardens and nightingales; its poets, Sadi and Hafiz; and its mystical, ascetic philosophy, Sufism. Much poetry has been written in glorification of the spiritual attributes of this oasis city. And to be sure, Shiraz is a green, picturesque town, with a quaint bazaar and refreshing gardens. But in this “romantic” city thousands of emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded men, women, and children were, until recently, kept in chains in stifling prison cells and lunatic asylums. 

Every now and again, some were dragged, screaming and pleading, to a courtyard and flogged for not behaving “normally.” But for the most part, they were made to sit against damp walls, their hands and feet locked in chains, and thus immobilized, without even a modicum of affection from their helpless families and friends, they sat for weeks and months and years—often all their lives. Pictures of these wretched men, women, and children can still be seen in this “city of poetry,” this “city with a spiritual way of life.” 

It was only recently that a wealthy young Shirazi who, against the admonitions of his family, had studied psychology at the University of Tehran and foreign universities, returned to Shiraz and after considerable struggle with city officials succeeded in opening a psychiatric clinic, the first in those regions. After still more struggle, he arranged to have the emotionally disturbed and the mentally retarded transferred from prison to their homes, to hospitals, and to his clinic, where he and his staff now attend them. 

They are fortunate. All over Asia and other backward areas, emotionally disturbed men and women are still incarcerated in these medieval dungeons called lunatic asylums. The cruel rejection and punishment are intended to teach them a lesson or help exorcise evil spirits. 

The West, still bogged down in its ridiculous romanticism, would like to believe that emotional disturbances, dope addiction, delinquency are all modern problems brought on by technological progress, and that backward societies are too spiritual and beautiful to need the ministrations of science. But while the West can perhaps afford to think this way, the people of backward lands cannot. . . . 

. . .The obstacles are awesome, the inertia too entrenched, the people’s suffering too anguished, their impatience too eruptive. Moreover, the total cultural reorganizations such as Asia and Africa are undergoing inevitably engender their own temporary dislocations and confusions. But their goals, the direction, remain constant. We are on the move, however awkwardly at first, to a saner, better world.

How to Answer the AP English Language and Composition Rhetorical Analysis Question

Go back to the original question, which asks you to analyze two features of the passage: (1) its structure, or organization, and (2) its language. The first aspect is fairly specific. As you read the passage, you need to observe what the author discusses first, second, third, and so on. Your essay should explain not only the order of ideas but the reasons the author may have chosen that order. 

The second part of the question is more general. It invites you to analyze the use of language, which may include the author’s choice of words (diction), syntax (word order), figures of speech, use of evidence (such as statistics or logical reasoning), sentence structure, rhythm, sound, tone, or just about any other characteristics of style and rhetoric you choose. 

Although the question directs you to write about two different aspects of the passage, the essay itself should be unified. That is, a good essay should not consist of, say, two disparate paragraphs, one exclusively devoted to structure and another to language. Rather, the essay should include material that shows the interrelationship of structure and language in the passage and how those elements contribute to the meaning and effect of the passage. This might be covered in a separate paragraph, or it could be woven into the overall fabric of the essay. 

Before you begin to write, read the passage at least twice: once for an overview and once as you write your analysis. You may notice early on that the opening paragraph contains generalizations about Westerners’ concepts of science and progress. Then the author contrasts the Western view of science and progress with the Eastern view. Immediately, you see that the author, by using the first-person pronoun (as in “many of us”) is speaking from the perspective of an Easterner. Consequently, his discussion of Eastern views is apt to come across as more well-informed, more authoritative, perhaps more personal. 

To support his position, the author gives an extended example—the city of Shiraz—to illustrate just how different the East is from the West. The description and vivid images of Shiraz memorably convey the idea that the “spiritual way of life” has a side to it that many Westerners don’t know about. This is the heart of the passage. The use of quotation marks around “romantic” and “city of poetry” is meant to point out the discrepancy between the idealized and real versions of Shiraz. 

Nearing the end, the author reiterates his initial contrast between West and East, with emphasis on the East. The last paragraph offers a generalized statement about conditions in Asia and Africa, reminding the reader of the contrast made at the very beginning of the passage. Tying the end to the beginning of the passage creates a sense of unity—a desirable feature in any piece of writing.

AP English Language and Composition: Sample Argument Question

The following paragraph is adapted from Mirror for Man, a book written by anthropologist Clyde Kluckhorn in the middle of the twentieth century. Read the passage carefully. Then, write an essay that examines the extent to which the author’s characterization of the United States holds true today. Use appropriate evidence to support your argument. 

Sample Question Instructions: 

  • Respond to the prompt with a thesis that may establish a line of reasoning. 
  • Select and use evidence to develop and support the line of reasoning. 
  • Explain the relationship between the evidence and the thesis. 
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the rhetorical situation. 

Technology is valued as the very basis of the capitalistic system. Possession of gadgets is esteemed as a mark of success to the extent that persons are judged not by the integrity of their characters or by the originality of their minds but by what they seem to be—so far as can be measured by their wealth or by the variety and material goods which they display. “Success” is measured by their investments, homes, and lifestyles— not by their number of mistresses as in some cultures.

How to Answer the AP English Language and Composition Argument Question

Whether you agree, disagree, or have mixed views on the content of the passage, your job is to write a convincing argument that expresses your opinion. Initially, the word argument may suggest conflict or confrontation. But rest assured that your essay need not be combative. Rather, make it a calmly-reasoned explanation of your opinion on a debatable subject. Your goal is to persuade the reader that your opinion, supported by examples, facts, and other appropriate evidence, is correct. 

If you have strong feelings about the topic, of course you should state them in your essay. But express them in calm, rational language. Be mindful that the essay should not be an emotional rant for or against the issue. 

Consider first whether you agree with Kluckhorn’s definition of “success.” Is it, as Kluckhorn asserts, measured by income and material possessions? Or do you think that a more accurate standard of success in today’s America should be determined by less tangible criteria—things such as happiness or self-respect? Or do you stand somewhere in between those two extremes? 

The actual position you take on the issue is less crucial than your ability to support it fully by drawing from your knowledge, background, experience, or observation. Regardless of your position, be sure to include more than one example. An argument that relies on a single example, however compelling, will fall flat. 

In the prompt, Kluckhorn’s notion of success seems to refer broadly to American society. Resist responding in kind. That is, a short essay shouldn’t focus on the whole of society but only on an identifiable segment—perhaps college-educated professionals or urban, blue- collar Americans. The point is that a narrowly focused essay on a limited topic will always turn out better than one that tries to cover too much ground in just a few paragraphs.

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Rhetorical Analysis

Sample rhetorical analysis essay.

Student essay is used with permission.  It was originally submitted double-spaced with no extra spaces between the lines, featured proper MLA pagination, and 1/2″ paragraph indents.  The writing assignment asks for an argument about how several rhetorical elements work together to create a functioning whole in a given chapter of Michael Shermer’s 2004 book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule .

Liana Monnat

English 101

Instructor: Joshua Dickinson

October 16, 2016

Michael Shermer Successfully Proves That Humans Can Be Good Without God

            In his chapter entitled “Can We Be Good Without God?” Michael Shermer’s objective is to prove that one does not need to be religious to be capable of moral behavior.  Shermer has, in his previous four chapters, taken care to establish ethos by demonstrating that he is an open-minded and intelligent fellow.  Judging by his use of vocabulary, he assumes his readers are also intelligent people, with whom he attempts to develop a connection through his intermittent use of humor.  Shermer has already proved that his arguments are well-supported by large quantities of evidence, which lets his audience know that what he is saying is inherently trustworthy.  Taking all of this into consideration and having carefully analyzed this chapter, the reader is compelled by logic to agree with Shermer that one can have religion without morality, and morality without religion.

Shermer begins his fifth chapter with an appeal to pathos.  He describes to readers the massacre perpetrated at Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (141).  His description of the event along with a photograph of the black-clad, angry-looking murderers gives the reader a glimpse of the terror that must have been experienced by those unfortunate enough to have been present at the massacre.  In building up to proving his argument, Shermer appeals to readers’ ability to reason by showing that outside influences do not cause a person to behave immorally.  He explains that in the aftermath of the event, many theories were put forth to rationalize the cause of Harris and Klebold’s murderous rampage.  Included in these causes were use of prescription drugs, cult or gang influence, a fatherless home, homosexuality, and exposure to violence in video games (143-144).  Shermer uses logic to point out that none of these causes were relevant, particularly the idea that video game violence may have been the cause.  He makes mention of several newspapers that make such a claim, but dismisses the articles as having been written by “wannabe social commentators” and “ad hoc social scientists” and lacking in evidence (143).  Shermer shows how ridiculous the notion of video games being the causal factor is by relaying testimony of other players of violent games.  They all point out that they have not been driven to violence by their gaming habits (143).  By presenting these testimonies, he appeals to our common sense and ability to reason as intelligent individuals to realize that if video games caused people to behave violently, all gamers who played violent games would exhibit violent behavior, which is certainly not the case.  Shermer has thus far proved to readers that outside influences do not cause a person to abandon their morality.

Having logically dismantled the previous cases, Shermer turns his focus to the subject of gun control.  He quips that those in favor of more gun control took advantage of the Columbine massacre by “squawking for more legislation” (146).  His use of the word ‘squawking’ brings chickens to mind, and the great amount of noise they produce at the slightest provocation.  I believe creating this visual was probably the intent behind his humorous choice of words.

Liberal gun control advocates thoroughly ridiculed, Shermer notes that conservatives answered the call for more gun control by insisting that guns were not the problem.  The problem, as conservatives saw it, was the evil souls of the people who used them to commit evil deeds (146).  I feel that Shermer purposefully saved mentioning the gun control issue for last because it deals with the ideas of evil, morality, and religion.  He has taken much care in the preceding chapters to make it clear that he does not believe that evil exists, and that morality is not a product of religion.  The issue of gun control seems a well-chosen topic from which to begin his argument of how morality is a thing separate from religion.

The first example of evidence Shermer offers in his argument is an excerpt from a letter read by Congressman Tom DeLay.  He uses the excerpt to bring to readers’ attention an argument that is commonly made to explain violent acts.  It implies that as science provides evidence for questions that people once looked to religion to answer, people no longer feel obligated by a higher power to behave morally (147).  Shermer disputes this argument by describing the case of another perpetrator of a school shooting.  Rumors of the perpetrator being an atheist were quickly dispelled by the family priest, whose explanation was that the boy was a sinner but not an atheist, to which Shermer sarcastically quips “Thank God for that” (147).  This remark demonstrates his disgust that the priest would imply that being a Christian murderer was less offensive than being an atheist.  With this evidence, Shermer has supported his argument and demonstrated to his audience that religious people do not necessarily have morals.

For Shermer’s next move, he takes into consideration the opinions of several credible people who believe that morality is impossible without religion.  He utilizes quotes from the 103rd archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Pious XI, and the deeply religious Dostoyevsky who all fervently insist that religion is absolutely necessary for morality (149-150).  Shermer then includes the religious views of Laura Schlessinger, his one-time colleague.  He immediately diminishes her religious credibility by referring to her as a “self-appointed religious authority” (150). This implies to readers that although she is considered a ‘religious authority’ her opinions should not be taken too seriously.   He points out that although Schlessinger claims to have grown up lacking morals due to an atheistic upbringing, she admits that her parents still managed to instill her with some degree of morality (151).  This admission helps support his idea that non-religious people can have morals, but is the only part of Shermer’s paragraphs about Schlessinger that appear to be relevant to his argument.  He continues on about her, however, and it becomes apparent to readers that Shermer once admired her work but was taken aback by her conversion to Judaism.  He further weakens her authority by poking fun at her, and readers (this reader, at least) cannot help but wonder if he only included these paragraphs about Schlessinger because he is still disgruntled about her defection from his cause.

Shermer has, through several quotes from religious authorities, demonstrated to his audience that religious people are adamant that religion is necessary for moral behavior.  In an effort to prove that they are wrong, he refutes the claims of these authorities by serving up examples of religious people that committed atrocities while zealously practicing their religion.  His go-to example is Hitler and the annihilation of the Jews in Germany.  He illustrates for readers the religious fervor of Hitler by quoting him as saying “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator.  By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work” (qtd. on 153).  By strategically using this quote, Shermer is proving to readers that not only did Hitler commit mass murder, he did so in the Lord’s name.  This example, more than any other, is meant to show that religion and morality are not related.

In perhaps his most convincing argument that one need not be religious to behave morally, Shermer gets personal.  He asks readers the question “What would you do if there was no God?” (154).  Now the reader must contemplate the point Shermer has been trying to make, but on an intimate level.  He forces one to admit that if it was learned that God did not exist, the vast majority of people would continue to behave morally.  Most people would not, free from fear of eternal reprisal, proceed to pillage, rape, and commit murder.  After this degree of self-examination, it would be illogical to disagree that morality is not a creation of religion.

In his chapter “Can We Be Good Without God?”, Shermer successfully proves that we can indeed be good without God.  He appealed to readers’ emotions by describing the nightmare that was the Columbine massacre and led his audience to logically conclude that no outside influences caused the perpetrators’ behavior.  Through the strategic use of quotes and examples, Shermer effectively demonstrated that contrary to the beliefs of religious authorities, deeply religious people are capable of behaving extremely immorally.  Shermer ingeniously substantiated his point by asking readers to ponder what their own behavior might be like without God holding them accountable for their actions.  I feel that this was his most convincing piece of evidence in support of his argument, it is hard to deny his logic when applying it to oneself.  It can be assumed that most readers would continue to behave morally, and would agree with Shermer that we can be good without God.

Shermer, Michael. “Can We Be Good Without God?”  The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat,

Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule.   Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2004, pp.141-156.

  • Sample Rhetorical Analysis Essay (MLA Format). Authored by : Liana Monnat. Provided by : Jefferson Community College. Located at : . Project : ENG 101. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

Rhetoric and Composition/Rhetorical Analysis

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. -- ( ) 20:10, 11 December 2008 (UTC)

  • 1 Overview of Rhetorical Analysis
  • 2 Critical Reading
  • 3 Basic Rhetorical Strategies for Effective Communication
  • 4 Persuasive Appeals
  • 5 Argumentation
  • 6 Logical Fallacies

Overview of Rhetorical Analysis

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 their 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

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 they are 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 their ideas?

  • Narration? Description? Definition? Comparison? Analogy? Cause and Effect? Example?
  • Why does the writer use these methods? Do these methods help in their 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 the writer 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

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 their message to their 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.

EXEMPLIFICATION Provide examples or cases in point Are there examples -- facts, statistics, cases in point, personal experiences, interview quotations -- added to the essay?
DESCRIPTION Detail sensory perceptions of a person, place, or thing Does a person, place, or object play a prominent role in the essay?
NARRATION Recount an event Are 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 CONTRAST Discuss similarities and differences Does 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 CLASSIFICATION Divide a whole into parts or sort related items into categories Does the essay reduce the subject to more manageable parts or group parts?
DEFINITION Provide the meaning of terms you use Is there any important word in the essay with many meanings and is defined or clarified?
CAUSE AND EFFECT ANALYSIS Analyze why something happens and describe the consequences of a string of events Does the essay examine past events or their outcome? Does it explain why something happened?
REPETITION The constant use of certain words Why, with all words at her disposal, does the writer choose to repeat particular words?
COUNTERPOINTS Contrasting ideas such as black/white, darkness/light, good/bad Does the writer acknowledge and respond to counterpoints to her position?
IMAGERY Language that evokes one or all of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell Does the essay use any provocative language that calls upon readers’ senses?
METAPHOR AND SIMILE A 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 VOICE The attitude a writer takes towards a subject or character: serious, humorous, sarcastic, ironic, satirical, tongue-in-cheek, solemn, objective What tone does the essay have? How does the writer portray herself? What choices does she make that influence her position?
ANALOGY The comparison of two pairs that have the same relationship Are there any comparisons made by the writer to strengthen her message?
FLASHBACK A memory of an event in the past
HYPERBOLE Exaggeration or overstatement Does the writer make any claims that seem extreme?
PERSONIFICATION Giving human qualities to animals or objects Is something without conscience thinking or talking?
IRONY An expression or utterance marked by deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning, often humorous Does the writer really support her own assertions? Does she seem to be claiming the opposite you expect her to claim?
OXYMORON A 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?
PARADOX Reveals a kind of truth which at first seems contradictory; Red wine is both good and bad for us Do any contradictions used in the essay contain some grain of truth?
PARODY An exaggerated imitation of a style, person, or genre for humorous effect. Do any contradictions used in the essay contain some grain of truth?
SYMBOLISM Using 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?
SATIRE Literary 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 attack Does the writer’s humor aim to fix its target?
DICTION An author's choice of words Why, with all words at her disposal, does the writer choose to use those particular words?
PARALLELISM The use of identical or equivalent constructions in corresponding clauses Are there any syntactic similarities between two parts of a sentence?

Persuasive Appeals

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:

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.

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

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 FORCE Arguer threatens reader/listener If you don't agree with me, I will beat you up.
APPEAL TO PITY Arguer elicits pity from reader/listener If 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 PEOPLE Arguer arouses mob mentality The terrorists came from the middle east. Our only course of action is to turn it into a parking lot.
INDIRECT APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE Arguer 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 ( ) Arguer verbally abuses the other arguer You're a moron; therefore your point is invalid.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL ARGUMENT AGAINST THE PERSON ( ) Arguer presents the other arguer as predisposed to argue in this way Of 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 ( ) Arguer presents other arguer as a hypocrite How can you tell me not to drink and drive when you did it last weekend? (Note: don't drink and drive.)
ACCIDENT General rule is applied to a specific case it was not intended to cover Americans 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 MAN Arguer distorts opponent's argument and then attacks the distorted argument Our 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 POINT Arguer draws conclusion different from that supported by the premises College education costs are rising exponentially; therefore we should reduce the number of years needed to obtain a degree.
RED HERRING Arguer leads reader/listener off track People 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 AUTHORITY Arguer cites untrustworthy authority My 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 IGNORANCE Premises report that nothing is known or proved, and then a conclusion is drawn There 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 GENERALIZATION Conclusion is drawn from atypical sample Mrs. Dobson's Rottweiler bit a neighbor boy; therefore all Rottweilers are violent dogs.
FALSE CAUSE Conclusion depends on nonexistent or minor causal connection Every 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 SLOPE Conclusion depends on unlikely chain reaction If 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 ANALOGY Conclusion depends on defective analogy My 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 QUESTION Arguer 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 circle Of course animals have rights, just look at how they're being treated.
COMPLEX QUESTION Multiple questions are concealed in a single question Have you stopped sleeping with your secretary?
FALSE DICHOTOMY "Either/or" statement that hides additional alternatives Either 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 EVIDENCE Arguer ignores important evidence that requires a different conclusion Of course that child can't practice medicine, he is only a boy. (If said child is Doogie Howser.)
EQUIVOCATION Conclusion depends on a shift in meaning of a word of phrase A squirrel is a mammal; therefore a large squirrel is a large mammal.
AMPHIBOLY Conclusion depends on the wrong interpretation of a syntactically ambiguous statement John rode his bike past the tree with a helmet. (The tree has a helmet?)
COMPOSITION Attribute is wrongly transferred from parts to whole Bleach 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)
DIVISION Attribute is wrongly transferred from whole to parts Our campus is over one hundred years old; therefore every building on campus is over one hundred years old.

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example of a rhetorical question in an essay

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Rhetorical Questions in Essays

High school English teachers often tell their students that using rhetorical questions in their formal essays is ineffective and a waste of space.

But how or when is a rhetorical question in an academic essay effective? And how does one use a rhetorical questions effectively?

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Rhetorical questions in argument

The author in this model essay never answers or presents counterarguments to his many rhetorical questions. So why would the author choose to conclude a paragraph and write this essay in the form of questions? By allowing, inviting, and 'opening up' to counterarguments, counterclaims, and rebuttals, don't questions weaken or worsen an argumentative essay?

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2 Answers 2

In asking a question in this manner, the author uses (or tries to use!) rhetorical questions . The author does not expect a response - indeed, such a response is not possible, because the responder has way to insert himself or herself into the piece. These questions are not meant for "allowing, inviting, and 'opening up' to counterarguments." It appears the author's intent is to ask questions that (to the author) have obvious answers in a way to engage the reader more.

Rather than looking at an artificial, bad example, it would be more helpful to look at a canonical good example: the speech given by the Corcyrean Envoy at Sparta prior as told by Thucydides . In the opening of the speech, the envoy effectively makes use of several rhetorical questions.

James Kingsbery's user avatar

In the piece you're referring to, I see four questions. The two in the first paragraph aren't rhetorical questions. The second question there is a clarification of the first, and the first is setting up an ostensibly stronger claim than the claim to be proved, on the idea that if you prove the stronger claim, you thereby prove the weaker claim as well. It's not a rhetorical question because the writer proceeds to attempt to answer the question. Similarly with the question in the third paragraph: the writer raises this question as a possible objection to the argument he's presenting, and proceeds to answer the question to rebut that possible objection. The question at the end of the second paragraph is the only rhetorical question in the piece. Rhetorical questions are questions that are not intended to be answered (and that the writer doesn't proceed to try to answer). They pose a question with a seemingly obvious answer in order to use that implied answer as a step in their argument. They can be effective argumentative tactics in persuasive writing in general, but I always discouraged them when teaching philosophical writing because the gold-standard of clarity in an argument is having all the premises of an argument stated explicitly. Dan Dennett advises to always try answering rhetorical questions (similar to his advice to always have a "ding" go off in your mind when you come across the words "of course," "obviously," etc. in an argument), to guard against arguments sneaking in unquestioned assumptions.

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example of a rhetorical question in an essay

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Anatomy of an AI Essay

How might you distinguish one from a human-composed counterpart? After analyzing dozens, Elizabeth Steere lists some key predictable features.

By  Elizabeth Steere

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Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in 2022, educators have been grappling with the problem of how to recognize and address AI-generated writing. The host of AI-detection tools that have emerged over the past year vary greatly in their capabilities and reliability. For example, mere months after OpenAI launched its own AI detector, the company shut it down due to its low accuracy rate.

Understandably, students have expressed concerns over the possibility of their work receiving false positives as AI-generated content. Some institutions have disabled Turnitin’s AI-detection feature due to concerns over potential false allegations of AI plagiarism that may disproportionately affect English-language learners . At the same time, tools that rephrase AI writing—such as text spinners, text inflators or text “humanizers”—can effectively disguise AI-generated text from detection. There are even tools that mimic human typing to conceal AI use in a document’s metadata.

While the capabilities of large language models such as ChatGPT are impressive, they are also limited, as they strongly adhere to specific formulas and phrasing . Turnitin’s website explains that its AI-detection tool relies on the fact that “GPT-3 and ChatGPT tend to generate the next word in a sequence of words in a consistent and highly probable fashion.” I am not a computer programmer or statistician, but I have noticed certain attributes in text that point to the probable involvement of AI, and in February, I collected and quantified some of those characteristics in hopes to better recognize AI essays and to share those characteristics with students and other faculty members.

I asked ChatGPT 3.5 and the generative AI tool included in the free version of Grammarly each to generate more than 50 analytical essays on early American literature, using texts and prompts from classes I have taught over the past decade. I took note of the characteristics of AI essays that differentiated them from what I have come to expect from their human-composed counterparts. Here are some of the key features I noticed.

AI essays tend to get straight to the point. Human-written work often gradually leads up to its topic, offering personal anecdotes, definitions or rhetorical questions before getting to the topic at hand.

AI-generated essays are often list-like. They may feature numbered body paragraphs or multiple headings and subheadings.

The paragraphs of AI-generated essays also often begin with formulaic transitional phrases. As an example, here are the first words of each paragraph in one essay that ChatGPT produced:

  • “In contrast”
  • “Furthermore”
  • “On the other hand”
  • “In conclusion.”

Notably, AI-generated essays were far more likely than human-written essays to begin paragraphs with “Furthermore,” “Moreover” and “Overall.”

AI-generated work is often banal. It does not break new ground or demonstrate originality; its assertions sound familiar.

AI-generated text tends to remain in the third person. That’s the case even when asked a reader response–style question. For example, when I asked ChatGPT what it personally found intriguing, meaningful or resonant about one of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, it produced six paragraphs, but the pronoun “I” was included only once. The rest of the text described the poem’s atmosphere, themes and use of language in dispassionate prose. Grammarly prefaced its answer with “I’m sorry, but I cannot have preferences as I am an AI-powered assistant and do not have emotions or personal opinions,” followed by similarly clinical observations about the text.

AI-produced text tends to discuss “readers” being “challenged” to “confront” ideologies or being “invited” to “reflect” on key topics. In contrast, I have found that human-written text tends to focus on hypothetically what “the reader” might “see,” “feel” or “learn.”

AI-generated essays are often confidently wrong. Human writing is more prone to hedging, using phrases like “I think,” “I feel,” “this might mean …” or “this could be a symbol of …” and so on.

AI-generated essays are often repetitive. An essay that ChatGPT produced on the setting of Rebecca Harding Davis’s short story “Life in the Iron Mills” contained the following assertions among its five brief paragraphs: “The setting serves as a powerful symbol,” “the industrial town itself serves as a central aspect of the setting,” “the roar of furnaces serve as a constant reminder of the relentless pace of industrial production,” “the setting serves as a catalyst for the characters’ struggles and aspirations,” “the setting serves as a microcosm of the larger societal issues of the time,” and “the setting … serves as a powerful symbol of the dehumanizing effects of industrialization.”

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AI writing is often hyperbolic or overreaching. The quotes above describe a “powerful symbol,” for example. AI essays frequently describe even the most mundane topics as “groundbreaking,” “vital,” “esteemed,” “invaluable,” “indelible,” “essential,” “poignant” or “profound.”

AI-produced texts frequently use metaphors, sometimes awkwardly. ChatGPT produced several essays that compared writing to “weaving” a “rich” or “intricate tapestry” or “painting” a “vivid picture.”

AI-generated essays tend to overexplain. They often use appositives to define people or terms, as in “Margaret Fuller, a pioneering feminist and transcendentalist thinker, explored themes such as individualism, self-reliance and the search for meaning in her writings …”

AI-generated academic writing often employs certain verbs. They include “delve,” “shed light,” “highlight,” “illuminate,” “underscore,” “showcase,” “embody,” “transcend,” “navigate,” “foster,” “grapple,” “strive,” “intertwine,” “espouse” and “endeavor.”

AI-generated essays tend to end with a sweeping broad-scale statement. They talk about “the human condition,” “American society,” “the search for meaning” or “the resilience of the human spirit.” Texts are often described as a “testament to” variations on these concepts.

AI-generated writing often invents sources. ChatGPT can compose a “research paper” using MLA-style in-text parenthetical citations and Works Cited entries that look correct and convincing, but the supposed sources are often nonexistent. In my experiment, ChatGPT referenced a purported article titled “Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ and the Gothic’s Creation of the Unconscious,” which it claimed was published in PMLA , vol. 96, no. 5, 1981, pp. 900–908. The author cited was an actual Poe scholar, but this particular article does not appear on his CV, and while volume 96, number 5 of PMLA did appear in 1981, the pages cited in that issue of PMLA actually span two articles: one on Frankenstein and one on lyric poetry.

AI-generated essays include hallucinations. Ted Chiang’s article on this phenomenon offers a useful explanation for why large language models such as ChatGPT generate fabricated facts and incorrect assertions. My AI-generated essays included references to nonexistent events, characters and quotes. For example, ChatGPT attributed the dubious quote “Half invoked, half spontaneous, full of ill-concealed enthusiasms, her wild heart lay out there” to a lesser-known short story by Herman Melville, yet nothing resembling that quote appears in the actual text. More hallucinations were evident when AI was generating text about less canonical or more recently published literary texts.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I know that AI-generated text in other formats or relating to other fields probably features different patterns and tendencies . I also used only very basic prompts and did not delineate many specific parameters for the output beyond the topic and the format of an essay.

It is also important to remember that the attributes I’ve described are not exclusive to AI-generated texts. In fact, I noticed that the phrase “It is important to … [note/understand/consider]” was a frequent sentence starter in AI-generated work, but, as evidenced in the previous sentence, humans use these constructions, too. After all, large language models train on human-generated text.

And none of these characteristics alone definitively point to a text having been created by AI. Unless a text begins with the phrase “As an AI language model,” it can be difficult to say whether it was entirely or partially generated by AI. Thus, if the nature of a student submission suggests AI involvement, my first course of action is always to reach out to the student themselves for more information. I try to bear in mind that this is a new technology for both students and instructors, and we are all still working to adapt accordingly.

Students may have received mixed messages on what degree or type of AI use is considered acceptable. Since AI is also now integrated into tools their institutions or instructors have encouraged them to use—such as Grammarly , Microsoft Word or Google Docs —the boundaries of how they should use technology to augment human writing may be especially unclear. Students may turn to AI because they lack confidence in their own writing abilities. Ultimately, however, I hope that by discussing the limits and the predictability of AI-generated prose, we can encourage them to embrace and celebrate their unique writerly voices.

Elizabeth Steere is a lecturer in English at the University of North Georgia.

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  1. Rhetorical Questions in Essays: 5 Things you should Know (2024)

    example of a rhetorical question in an essay


    example of a rhetorical question in an essay

  3. Rhetorical Question: Definition, Use, and Examples

    example of a rhetorical question in an essay

  4. Sample Rhetorical Analysis Essay

    example of a rhetorical question in an essay

  5. Rhetorical Question

    example of a rhetorical question in an essay

  6. Learn How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay on Trust My Paper

    example of a rhetorical question in an essay


  1. Rhetorical example (Needs Work)

  2. Essay: Your Rhetorical Self

  3. Rhetorical Analysis Essay Review

  4. TOEFL Reading Rhetorical Purpose Questions

  5. Dan Dennett Refutes Noam Chomsky! #shorts

  6. The Rhetorical Analysis Essay


  1. How to Write Rhetorical Questions in an Essay [EXAMPLES]

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  2. Rhetorical Question Examples and Definition

    What is a rhetorical question? These rhetorical question examples show they can have an obvious answer or none at all. They make a point or make you think.

  3. How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay-Examples & Template

    Rhetorical appeal #2: Pathos. The purpose of Pathos-driven rhetoric is to appeal to the reader's emotions. A common example of pathos as a rhetorical means is adverts by charities that try to make you donate money to a "good cause". To evoke the intended emotions in the reader, an author may use passionate language, tell personal stories ...

  4. How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay in 6 Steps

    How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay in 6 Steps. Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Sep 2, 2021 • 3 min read. In a rhetorical analysis essay, a writer will examine the rhetoric and style of another author's work. If you want to write your own rhetorical analysis essay, we've developed a step-by-step guide to lead you through the ...

  5. Rhetorical Analysis: A Comprehensive Guide

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  6. Rhetorical Analysis Sample Essay

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  7. How to Use Rhetorical Questions in Your Speech

    Here are nine strategies that can be fulfilled (often in combination) with a carefully crafted rhetorical question: 1. Engage the audience to think with a rhetorical question. The most popular use of a rhetorical question is to engage your audience to think. If your entire speech is a series of statements, your audience may passively listen and ...

  8. What Is Rhetoric? Definition, Examples, and Importance

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  9. PDF Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Thesis Statements

    A strong thesis statement for a rhetorical analysis is NOT… A broad, simple statement of your topic A statement of facts or statistics A summary of the author's essay you are analyzing A statement of what you're going to do in the essay Examples of weak rhetorical analysis thesis statements:

  10. PDF Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

    These are just a few examples of what these appeals look like. When you begin to form your analysis, sometimes it can be beneficial to start with some prewriting activities. You can think of your rhetorical analysis as a culmination of three goals you should achieve: Discussion of the goal or purpose of the piece you are analyzing

  11. AP English Language and Composition: Sample Rhetorical Analysis and

    Read on for a sample of each, as well as tips for how to answer them. AP English Language and Composition: Sample Rhetorical Analysis Question. Read the following passage published back in 1967 by The New York Times. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the structure of the passage and the use of language help convey the writer's views.

  12. rhetorical questions

    Asking questions in order to chide, to express grief, or to inveigh. Stirring others by one's own vehement feeling (sometimes by means of a rhetorical question). The asking of multiple questions successively (which would together require a complex reply). Reasoning (typically with oneself) by asking questions.

  13. Sample Rhetorical Analysis Essay

    Sample Rhetorical Analysis Essay. Student essay is used with permission. It was originally submitted double-spaced with no extra spaces between the lines, featured proper MLA pagination, and 1/2″ paragraph indents. The writing assignment asks for an argument about how several rhetorical elements work together to create a functioning whole in ...

  14. Basic Questions for Rhetorical Analysis

    What is the form in which it is conveyed? What is the structure of the communication; how is it arranged? What oral or literary genre is it following? What figures of speech (schemes and tropes) are used? What kind of style and tone is used and for what purpose?

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    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 ...

  16. PDF Rhetorical Analysis of a Speech

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    The best rhetorical questions help the writer transition through the line of reasoning, especially when writing something more complex than the dreaded five-paragraph-essay. For example: an essay about why I love Disney world that resets each body paragraph to discuss a new aspect of WDW shows no line of reasoning.

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    1. In asking a question in this manner, the author uses (or tries to use!) rhetorical questions. The author does not expect a response - indeed, such a response is not possible, because the responder has way to insert himself or herself into the piece. These questions are not meant for "allowing, inviting, and 'opening up' to counterarguments."

  19. 40 Unique Rhetorical Analysis Essay Topics

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  21. PDF Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

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  22. Examples Of Rhetorical Questions In Night By Elie Wiesel

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