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What is Rhetorical Analysis?


There is a number of different ways of defining rhetorical analysis as well as rhetoric. In everyday speech, the word rhetoric is commonly used to refer to manipulative or even deceitful speech1, especially when used in the context of political or commercial discourse. For example, a frequent connotation of rhetoric in political discourse is empty2 (as in Campaign promises proved to be nothing but empty rhetoric). However, in the context of science writing, rhetoric does not refer to manipulation or deceit, nor does the word have a negative connotation historically.

Dating back as much as 5 centuries B.C., according to one of the theories, a teaching of rhetoric grew out of necessity to argue better cases in the courtroom2. In its rather long history, approaches to rhetoric have changed considerably. However, what has remained constant throughout the centuries is the focus on examining how language is used to achieve certain purposes. Thus, within the context of this course, we define rhetorical analysis as an effort to understand how people within specific social situations attempt to influence others through language” (Selzer 2004: 281).




1Selzer, J. (2004). Rhetorical analysis: Understanding how texts persuade readers. What writing does and how it does it (pp. 279-308). Routledge.
2Williams, J. D. (2014). Preparing to teach writing: Research, theory, and practice. Routledge.