Rhetorical Essay on President Barack Obama’s Harvard University Commencement Speach

Assignment Instructions

1. Read the following:

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· In TMHG, Chapter 8, “Writing to Analyze,” and Chapter 14, “Using Strategies for Argument.”

· On Bb, read the handout titled “Criteria for a Rhetorical Analysis” in the Course Materials page in Bb.

2. Write a 1,500 – 1,750 word rhetorical analysis of one articles in the “Readings” section of TSIS. Your essay should have a clear beginning (introduction), middle (body), and end (conclusion). Below are specific suggestions for getting started as well as drafting the introduction, body, and conclusion.

a. Consider these questions about the article you are analyzing as you prepare to draft your analysis:

· Claim: What is the author’s thesis or central claim? Is it stated explicitly? If so, where?

· Organization: How would you divide the article with respect to beginning, middle, and end? What does the writer do in the beginning to get your interest and forecast the subject? How does the writer structure the middle of the essay? What does the writer do to signal that the argument has moved to a conclusion? Describe features that characterize each of these sections.

· Evidence & Development: How would you classify the rhetorical strategies that the author uses? For instance, think in terms of ethos, logos, and pathos, as well as the Five As (allusion, analogy, anecdote, assertion, and authority). Consider whether the amount and type of support is sufficient. Is there too much or too little of a certain kind of support? Explain.

· Diction and Tone: How would you characterize the persona speaking in this essay? Does the author seem intelligent? Folksy? Hard-driving? Laid-back? Angry? Funny? Use your own words to describe the tone. Obviously, the nature of the claims that the speaker makes gives you some sense of his or her tone. But beyond the content of the article, how does the writer create that tone? Word choice? Humor? Witty wordplay? Complicated or very simple sentences? Use of statistics? Questions? Analogies? List all the techniques that the author uses, and cite specific examples of each.

· As a final step, draft a thesis that states your overall evaluation of the author’s rhetoric, and develop an outline of the body paragraphs for your analysis that would then support your claim. Remember, in addition to analyzing the article, you are also constructing an argument, so organization, evidence and development, and diction and tone apply to you, too. Therefore, take your time and consider your rhetorical choices carefully.

Four important concepts are involved in writing a successful rhetorical analysis essay: (1) summary of the author’s argument, (2) analysis of rhetorical strategies, (3) judgment of the strategies’ effectiveness, and (4) support for your judgment. Consider also how much of your essay should be allotted to each concept.

b. Draft the introduction (about 10 – 15% of your paper). The introduction must let readers know what you are writing about. As with all writing tasks, you have a purpose and an audience. For the audience of your paper, imagine that the editor or publisher of the book, newspaper, magazine, or web site where the original article appeared has asked you to evaluate the writer’s article for an upcoming publication. Therefore, any reference to “the article I chose” or other references that assume your classmates or the teacher is the audience would be inappropriate.

Remember: Your purpose is to analyze and evaluate the author’s rhetoric, i.e., how he or she constructs and conveys the argument and the effect that those choices would likely create on the intended readers. Your purpose is not to argue the issue itself nor to agree or disagree with the author.


By imagining that you are writing an evaluation of the article to appear in the same (or similar) publication, you will still need to provide your readers with some information:


· Provide background information about the article itself and its context, i.e., summarize it. Your readers may not be familiar with the article you are evaluating, so you will have to provide sufficient information from the article to provide some context for your analysis. Even readers who have read it may have forgotten the key points and will appreciate a summary.

· State your own thesis about the overall effectiveness of the author’s argument, and rhetorical strategies.

· Your thesis must state your overall evaluation of the author’s argument. Thus, you are making a claim of value. Your thesis could also include references to the criteria for making such an evaluation. The author’s rhetoric probably will not be all good or all bad, so you will need to make a qualified claim.

An effective thesis should also answer the question, “So what?” In this case, the answer should be based on your analysis, i.e., that the author makes an effective or ineffective argument, and your analysis is important in pointing to the value (or lack thereof) of the article and in adding to our knowledge of rhetoric and the subject of the article.

Here are a couple of sample thesis statements:

· Even though Smith makes a few assertions that he does not adequately support, his balanced use of anecdotal and statistical support; his organizational pattern, which increases the impact of the stories and statistics; and his witty, satirical tone combine to create a credible and effective argument.

· Smith’s stories are entertaining, his argument lacks sufficient support, his organization seems random, and he adopts an inappropriate tone, thereby causing his argument and ethos to crumble.

c. Draft the body (about 70 – 80% of your paper). The most logical way to organize the body is around the rhetorical features (note how the preceding thesis statements forecast the divisions of the body section of each essay around certain features in a certain order). Consider, for instance, the last sample thesis statement in the list above. If this were your thesis statement, you would start the body of your paper with a section about Smith’s entertaining stories. You would discuss how they are used, what the effect is, and why they are “entertaining.” Then you would create a transition to the rest of the body in which you would show how the article is predominantly ineffective. Imagine that you will arrange these ineffective features from least to most important. Imagine that the deficiencies in support, organization, and tone build on one another to result in the most important deficiency of all: lack of credibility (weak ethos). This is, in fact, the order in which the analytical criteria are presented in the third sample thesis statement presented above.

Do not feel compelled to address all the rhetorical strategies you see in the article, only those that seem most relevant and that seem to have the greatest impact (whether positive or negative). Decide which criteria are appropriate for your analysis and evaluation. However, if you overlook an obvious strategy or seem not to recognize an author’s failure to use an obvious strategy, then that will affect your grade on the assignment.


In each body paragraph (or section—some features may require more than one paragraph to adequately analyze), you should answer the following:

· What is the rhetorical strategy? In a sense, this becomes the topic sentence of the paragraph or section. Is it used effectively or ineffectively? Why do you think so?

· What evidence from the text shows the use of this strategy? (You must cite specific examples from the text as evidence; sometimes you will want to include more than one.)

· Why do you think the author chose to use this strategy? Is it effective or ineffective? Why do you think so?


If a strategy calls for several examples or extensive explanation, you may need two or more paragraphs to discuss it.

Present your analysis using well-developed paragraphs with clear topic sentences to signal to readers which of the analytical criteria you are addressing (and again, they should be addressed here in the same order you mention them in your thesis statement).

d. Draft the conclusion (about 10 – 15% of your paper). Your conclusion should avoid simply summarizing the body of your essay. Again, an effective strategy is to hook back to the introduction in some way. Also, you can use another quote, a “kicker” quote that you see as summing up or showing the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the article, and base your concluding remarks on it. You might also suggest examples of strategies that the author did not use but probably should have, strategies that would have made the article more effective for the intended readers.

e. Use a combination of summary, paraphrase, and quotation in your analysis, but no more than 10% of the paper (125-150 words) should consist of quoted material. Instead, rely on summary and paraphrase. All information from a source—whether quoted, paraphrased, or summarized, whether words or images—must be cited. Keep in mind, though, that your voice, not your sources’, should be most prominent in your analysis.

See TMHG, Chapter 3: “Writing to Understand and Synthesize Texts.”

f. Give your analysis a title that will be effective and appropriate for the intended audience and purpose. Select a specific purpose and audience for your analysis, and write this at the top of your paper so your peer reviewers and instructor will know.

g. Format your analysis in a way that is appropriate for your intended audience and purpose. This assignment could take a form different from a traditional school “paper,” e.g., it might take the form of an article in a newsletter, magazine, blog, etc. Whatever final format it takes, develop the text for the peer draft as a print document.

See TMHG, Part Five, Chapter 17, “Choosing a Medium, Genre, and Technology for Your Communication.”


Your peers and instructor will help you decide on an appropriate format for your argument, depending on what you see as its specific purpose and intended audience.

h. Include any appropriate visuals that will enhance the effectiveness of your analysis. Use of visuals in this assignment is optional, and visuals might not count toward the total word count for the assignment; it will depend on what kind of visuals you use and how you use them. All borrowed visuals must be cited. Do not include gratuitous visuals, such as clip art; include only visuals that convey relevant meaning and help readers understand your analysis.

See TMGH, Part Five, Chapter 18, “Communicating with Design and Visuals.”

i. Cite sources using MLA, APA, or Chicago citation style.

See TMHG, Chapter 20, “Synthesizing and Documenting Sources.”

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