How to Write a Rhetorical Criticism Paper

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Rhetorical criticism is the study of the symbols and artifacts that define the world around us. These symbols, including texts, performances, art, speeches, film and even advertisements, stand as a reflection of our culture, and rhetorical criticism analyzes what these symbols mean and how they communicate that meaning to their audience. Through a reading and writing process that incorporates description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation, rhetorical criticism studies the relationships among a symbol, its author and its audience to deepen our understanding of it.

Things You'll Need

  • Symbol
  • Context information
  • Writing materials

Prewriting

  • Select a specific symbol. Read or analyze your symbol closely, taking notes as you go along.

  • Research the context surrounding your symbol. Consider the social, cultural and economic context, as well as the author's intent and the response of its intended audience.

  • Identify any problems or "puzzles" you find within the symbol. These puzzles are generally related to contradictions or disjunctions among the symbol, its audience and its author.

  • Propose a solution that solves the puzzle you discovered.

Format and Structure

  • Present the text, the context and the puzzle you discovered in the previous Steps. Illustrate the puzzle, and then persuade your reader to believe that there is a problem with previous readings or interpretations of the symbol. Utilize the text and context to support your argument.

  • Provide a clear and convincing thesis statement in two or three sentences. Summarize the puzzle, pose a difficult rhetorical question and present your solution.

  • Present your solution in three or four pages. Make a persuasive argument that this solution solves the "puzzle" you discovered.

  • Restate your thesis and provide a summary of the symbol and what you've discovered through your close reading and analysis of it. Present new questions for your reader to contemplate.

Tips & Warnings

  • Be specific with your symbol. Rather than examining an entire film, select a specific scene. Rather than examining the political career of a member of Congress, select a single speech. The more specific you are with your symbol, the more time and space you'll have to expand and deepen your analysis of the puzzle it presents.
  • Both your puzzle and solution should come from a close reading of the symbol and its context. Other resources should only be supplemental.
  • Be clear and assertive. Avoid terms that indicate hesitation and uncertainty, including might, sort of, kind of and maybe.
  • Constructing a rhetorical critique takes a great amount of thought and therefore requires a greater amount of time to construct. Give yourself at least a week to read, brainstorm, write and edit your paper.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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