How to Write a Smart Rhetorical Analysis Essay


You cannot escape it any longer. Your essay is due a week from today. (Thank goodness for homework apps, or you would have completely forgotten about it!)

Remembering that you have to write an essay is only half the battle, though. Now you have to figure out how to write it.

I know you don’t have a lot of time to waste, so let’s cut to the chase. Here’s how to write a smart rhetorical analysis essay in 4 basic steps.

What Is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

rhetorical analysis essay
“WHAT IS THIS?…” by A-Dawg13, (CC BY 3.0)

In its simplest terms, a rhetorical analysis essay breaks down another author’s piece of writing to examine how smaller parts work together to create a larger effect, such as to persuade, to inform, or to entertain an audience.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Let’s look at it another way.

A rhetorical essay is like an engine. All the parts must work together in order for the engine run correctly.

If you’re not mechanically inclined, think of it as a recipe. All ingredients blend together to make a delicious dessert. (I don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly hungry for red velvet cupcakes.)

rhetorical analysis essay
“Red Velvet Cupcakes” by Benson Kua, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

So how exactly do you write a rhetorical analysis essay? Here’s how.

4 Steps to Write a Smart Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Your grades will thank you.
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Step 1: Read!

I know this sounds obvious, but it’s a crucial step. You cannot write a smart rhetorical analysis if you skim through a piece of writing that you’re supposed to be analyzing. Take the time to read it once or twice to understand the main point and the author’s key arguments.

Step 2: Ask a lot of questions

When you’re writing a rhetorical analysis, you’re trying to get inside the writer’s head. You want to understand his or her writing inside and out. You want to know what makes the writing tick.

To do this, you need to start asking questions.

Here are some examples:

  • What is the thesis (or focus) of this piece of writing?
  • Is the author’s purpose to persuade, to inform, or to entertain?
  • Does the author use ethos, logos, or pathos to persuade?
  • Is the intended audience general readers, professionals, college students, or children?
  • What is the author’s writing style? Does the author use formal or informal language? Does the author use slang or jargon?
  • Is the tone serious, casual, sarcastic, condescending, or funny?
  • How does the author use structure to make an impact? How do word choices affect the writing? How does the order of ideas, punctuation, or sentence structures affect the writing?

After you’ve answered these questions (and maybe some others that aren’t listed here), ask yourself two very important final questions:

  • How does the author incorporate these rhetorical choices to achieve his or her purpose?
  • Why does the author make these specific rhetorical choices?

A Word of Caution – As you’re taking notes about how and why the writer does what he or she does, make sure you’re actually analyzing. Don’t confuse summary with analysis. A rhetorical analysis is not a summary.

Here’s an example of a summary: In his “How Early Is Too Early?” article, Sanchez uses humor in an attempt to persuade readers that the school day should start at 8:00 a.m.

This example simply tells readers about the article and summarizes the key points. It does not explain how humor is used or whether the author uses humor successfully to persuade his audience.

Here’s an example of a rhetorical analysis: In his “How Early Is Too Early?” article, Sanchez attempts to use stories of sleeping students and groggy teachers to persuade readers that the school day should begin at 8:00 a.m. These examples, though mildly entertaining, provide no conclusive evidence as to why the school day should start at a later time.

See the difference? This example examines the strategy used by the author (humor) and analyzes whether the strategy is effective in achieving the author’s purpose (to persuade readers).

Okay, you’ve read the piece of writing once, twice, maybe even three times. You’ve asked (and answered) a lot of questions about the writing. Now what?

It’s time to put your ideas into essay form.

rhetorical analysis essay
“Lonely at the top” by Guyon Moree,  (CC BY 2.0)/Text added

Step 3: Turn your notes into a rhetorical analysis essay

Your grades will thank you.
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This step-by-step guide starts with the introduction and thesis then moves to the body paragraphs and ends with the conclusion. We all know this is how the final product will end up, but it doesn’t mean you have to write in that order.

You might begin with a thesis statement, draft a few ideas, and scrap them all in order to revise your thesis statement and start with completely different ideas. That’s fine. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get started.

It doesn’t matter in which order you choose to actually complete the steps below. As long as your paper ends up in a traditional essay format, you’re golden.

Introduction and thesis statement

An introduction to a rhetorical analysis essay is a bit different than other essays. You’re not trying to open with a snappy hook to grab readers’ attention.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis introduction is to provide the basic information of the writing you’re analyzing.

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Tell your readers the title, author, and purpose of the writing you’re analyzing within the first line or two of your introduction


Your first line might look something like this: In her article, “The Student Loan Debt Trap,” Kala Robinson argues that students are unfairly burdened for a lifetime due to their enormous student loan debts.

Develop the introduction by adding more details about the writing, and as you would with other academic essays, wrap up your introduction with a thesis statement.

In a rhetorical analysis essay, your thesis statement should make a point about the article and the author’s arguments and/or style choices.

You might include whether the author’s arguments are convincing, whether the tone is effective or perhaps too informal, sarcastic, or condescending, or whether the author achieves her purpose.

Here’s a thesis statement example: Robinson’s use of statistics, real-life examples, and emotional appeals provide a strong argument for the need to eliminate student loans.

Yeah, this all sounds pretty formal and academic, but you’re writing an academic essay!

Once you’re satisfied with your thesis statement, move on to the body of the paper.

Body (analysis)

The body of the paper is where you’ll truly begin to analyze the contents, style, and arguments of the piece.

Remember those questions you asked yourself and those notes you took in Step 2? Now’s the time to put them to use.

Using your notes as reference, move through the writing you’re analyzing and examine the key rhetorical strategies the author uses.

Don’t try to discuss every miniscule point. Choose a few of the strongest and most important to include in your paper.

In other words, if you think the author uses excellent statistics to support her argument in the first half, include this as your first point of analysis in the body of your essay.

If, in the second half, the author’s argument falls apart because she simply doesn’t offer any current, real-life scenarios, mention that as the next point in your paper.

Don’t forget to use specific examples and word choices to support your arguments. Don’t try to take the easy way out. Take the time to look up the exact words and arguments the author uses.

Keep in mind that your rhetorical analysis doesn’t have to be all positive or all negative. Mix the good with the bad (and maybe even the ugly).

After you’ve worked your way through the piece of writing, picking out the key points you want to analyze, you can finally (yes, finally!) move to the conclusion.


The conclusion for a rhetorical analysis essay is pretty standard stuff. Wrap up your key ideas and refer to the main points of your paper.

Here’s what a rhetorical analysis conclusion might look like: Ultimately, even though a handful of Robinson’s statistics are slightly outdated, the use of these statistics combined with real-life examples provides a strong argument. She further emphasizes her point, and through her use of emotional appeals, compels readers to fully understand and sympathize with the unfair burden so many college graduates face as they attempt to repay their student loans.

Not so bad, was it?

Need some more examples to help ensure you’re on the right track before jumping into the final step? Check out these rhetorical analysis essay examples:

Feeling better about moving forward with your essay now? Let’s get to revising!

Step 4: Revise

rhetorical analysis essay

Imagine these guys are your professors, and this is the reaction they have to your rhetorical analysis essay. Not what you were hoping for, was it?

This is exactly the reaction you might get if you try to write your paper a few hours before it’s due, and you don’t spend any time revising.

Having to revise doesn’t mean your paper sucks. It means you care enough about your writing to do your best work. After all, almost no one writes the perfect paper on the first try.

Revision strategies to get you started

  • Set your essay aside for a day or two before revising.
  • Highlight your thesis statement. Then look at your key arguments to make sure they match your thesis.
  • Check to make sure you’ve included specific examples to support your discussion.
  • Make sure you’ve connected ideas with transitions.
  • Don’t be afraid to reorder ideas or scrap a paragraph if you need to. Revision can get messy!

Your masterpiece is (almost) complete. Sometimes one revision isn’t enough to craft the perfect masterpiece. That’s where we come in. Why not have a Kibin editor help you with your next revision?

It’s a lot of work, I know, but your GPA will thank you.


Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.