How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay

A rhetorical analysis essay is not among the most common types of essays that students are assigned with through the course of their studies. However, if you take an AP English course at high school, you are quite likely to take an exam in it. At this exam, you will have to write three different kinds of essays, and a rhetorical analysis essay is almost sure to be among those. The chances are that you have never come across such an assignment before so it can be rather confusing and overwhelming. So, it is better to know what a rhetorical analysis essay is and how to write it in advance.


As one can guess from the name, a rhetorical analysis essay is the one where you analyze the rhetoric. You are given a piece of text – written or spoken – and you are expected to break down all its elements to see what effect they have on the audience, both separately and as a whole. Most often, you will analyze the famous speeches of famous political figures or other recognized personalities, investigate the strategies and devices that they use to persuade their audience into a certain reaction, and explain how it works.


If you are to write a rhetorical analysis essay as a part of your AP English exam, then you will be taking it in class. Hence, you will be limited in time. Therefore, it is vital that you start preparing as soon as you have the task and that you know exactly what to do. Completing the assignment can be divided into three processes: reading (or listening), analysis, and writing properly. Given the time limitations, it is a good idea to analyze the information on the go as you read/listen to make a better use of your time. But before you move on to your text for analysis, you will most surely be given some background information to introduce you to the piece of text. As soon as you start to get acquainted with this background information, it is the high time to begin taking notes. Here are the questions, the answers to which will be important to your essay analysis:

  • Who wrote the text?
  • For whom was the text written?
  • What did the text aim at?
  • What were the circumstances (time, place, etc.) under which the speech was given and why were they chosen?

Addressing all these questions and answering them will help you to better understand the persuasion strategies that the author has chosen.

The persuasion as such can be classified into several categories. Traditionally, we use Aristotle’s classification that suggests that persuasion can be divided into three categories: ethos, pathos, and logos. Let us take a more scrupulous look at each of them:

  • Ethos appeals to ethics and explains why the information is credible and why the speaker has the authority in what s/he is talking about. For example, “Drama scholars allover the world admire Shakespeare’s talent.”
  • Pathos appeals to emotion and encourages emotional response from the audience. For example, “Let your heart make the right choice!”
  • Logos appeals to logic and rationality and convinces the audience by giving evidence in support of the conveyed idea. For example, “The temperature is rising so it will be hot, and we will need more water.”

The chosen persuasion technique will influence the text on all levels: the choice of words and tone, the length of the sentences and paragraphs (which may vary), etc.

Logos may seem the most common kind of persuasion, but if you pay enough attention and know where to look, you will see that the other two are not as rare as one may think. If you are writing a rhetorical analysis essay as a part of your AP English exam, your text should have instances of all three kinds of persuasion. Of course, you should encourage yourself to practice some rhetorical analysis and try to analyze some speeches before taking the actual exam, – this will help you to reveal the methods of persuasion used by a speaker faster, which can be critical, because, as we have mentioned before, an exam is limited in time. The more you practice rhetorical analysis, the easier it will be to find out how exactly the author or the speaker is trying to persuade their audience.


Once you have read the text that you are supposed to analyze and taken all the necessary notes, you are ready to move on to writing. However, before writing it is always good to have a plan in your head. Therefore, it is good to shape an outline which you will follow to put your notes and ideas in the proper order in your essay.

The volume of a rhetorical analysis essay that you write as a part of your AP English exam should not be too expanded. It is a good idea to have one main body paragraph for one instance of a particular persuasion strategy used in the text under analysis. Ultimately, it should be no more than five to six paragraphs, unless your professor specifies otherwise. Like any other essay, a rhetorical analysis essay should consist of the introduction, the main body, and the conclusion. Let us see what should one put in each part:

  • Introduction. The introduction to your essay should normally consist of one paragraph. It should be brief, because the main body of information will be presented in the main body of your essay. Informing is the secondary function of this section, while the primary function here is to let your reader know that you have understood the text that you were given. The best way to do this is to give a little bit of background, summarize the main message of the text (this will be your thesis statement), list the persuasion method used and their effect.
  • Main body. As we have mentioned, the main body of your essay should list the instances of the use of various persuasion techniques used in the analyzed piece of text and the explanations how these technique work. So basically, you find a quote from the text that illustrates a persuasion strategy and shapes a main body paragraph around it by explaining its effect to the reader. You can do it by answering the questions how this technique works, how it worked in this particular case, why the author chose to use this technique on this audience, and how the audience reacted. Don’t get carried away by your stream of consciousness and remember to format the quotes correctly. Also, remember that your reader is already familiar with the text, so you do not need to summarize the text for them. Instead, you are expected to reveal your knowledge about the impact that the persuasion techniques may have.
  • Conclusion. After having listed all the kinds of persuasion that were used in the text, you can conclude your essay. A good conclusion for a rhetorical analysis essay shall include the information about how the speech under analysis influenced the audience in its time, what effect it had on you while you were writing your essay, and how exactly this impact was realized. You list the used methods of persuasion and explain how they worked – both separately and in combination. Finally, you tell how strong the speech as a whole was and what effect it had on the course of history.


If you have some time left, you do not need to hand in your paper sooner than you have to. Neither do you need to just sit there and wait for the bell to ring. This time should be put to good use.

When writing an essay, it is easy to get carried away and focus on the content of your writing overlooking the form. Even a zealous and bright student is not safe from allowing one or two accidental errors. However, if you overlook such small shortcomings, your teacher or professor will not, and this will have a bad influence on your final grade. You don’t want that to happen. This is why, if you have a few minutes of your exam time left, it is a good idea to devote them to proofreading your essay. Pay attention to your punctuation and spelling, choice of words and sentence structure, etc. Make sure that the paragraphs of your essay transition into one another smoothly and logically, so that your essay was easy to read and your thought process easy to follow.

BONUS TIP: Write in present tense

Remember that it is formal writing that you are doing. So, you need to be as clear as possible. You do not want to allow any confusion or ambivalence. And the use of present tense is known to be helpful for keeping your writing straightforward. It also gives your reader the feeling of being at the moment, thus making them feel more engaged and giving them a better impression of your essay altogether.