Communication Analysis-Rhetorical Criticism


1. Introduction
Draw attention to your specific artifact (the rhetoric you are studying); raise our interest in the rhetoric of this artifact; state the thesis of your presentation.

2. Model
Identify the theory you will use in analyzing the artifact; what are the three, four or five key components you need to look at; discuss this model with the idea you will be examining your artifact and this theory critically with an eye toward making a useful contribution to people's understanding of rhetoric.

3. Analysis
Analyze the artifact using the model; be sure to offer insight and make an argument about what you see in the artifact; avoid just "well, in this first category, x and y are there, so it fits the category;" instead discuss how the artifact persuades and influences people and offer critical and thoughtful commentary on that persuasive process.

4. Conclusion
Your conclusion should be longer than conclusions you write in other papers/presentations; you need to discuss how you have contributed to people's understanding of the model, the artifact, and communication generally; finish with a zingie conclusion probably harkening back to your attention getter.

Communication Analysis is 10 minutes long.
Manuscripts are permitted but should be avoided.
Visual aids are good.


1. A first paragraph which immediately begins discussing the communication:

Begin by introducing the persuasive message--get right into the subject you will study in your paper. For example, for a paper on Clinton's inaugural address: "As Bill Clinton looked out at the crowd on a cold January day, . . ."

SUGGESTION: Skip analogies or comparisons to similar events--stick to the communication your paper is about.

SUGGESTION: Skip a theory discussion--get into the speech, book, movie, etc.

SUGGESTION: Skip a discussion of the general communication. For example, if you want to examine Prince’s song When doves Cry--start by discussing that song--not the album Purple Rain or Prince’s general career as a musician.

2. In the second paragraph, raise the interesting question you hope to answer in your paper:

NOTE: Be sure the question you raise is a question concerning communication

NOTE: Raise a question which your criticism can answer. Asking a question like "How many people did Clinton persuade in his economic address to the nation?" needs a survey or a poll result--not a Rhetorical Criticism paper.

3. In the third paragraph, show the significance of the communication

Here are a number of ways to demonstrate that the book, speech, movie, etc. that you chose is significant:

4. In the fourth paragraph, lead up to and state your thesis. Use the following format for your thesis statement:

The purpose of my paper will be to examine how (Give the communicator's name) uses (give the techniques) to (give the persuasive point of the communication).


EXAMPLE: The purpose of my paper will be to examine how Martin Luther King uses anaphora and appeal to justice to create support for an end to segregation.

EXAMPLE: The purpose of my paper will be to examine how Karl Marx uses antithesis and parallel sentence structure to support industrial revolution.


EXAMPLE: I'll discuss Patrick Henry's emotional speech against Great Britain.

(Not even close. Not at all like the format. Buzzer!)

EXAMPLE: The purpose of my paper will be to examine how Sigmund Freud uses epistrophe and simile to make a great book.

(Closer, but no cigar. What's wrong? The problem is in the statement "make a great book." This statement of persuasive point of the speech is far too general. 'To make a great book' isn't Freud's specific purpose of the book. The more specific you make your persuasive objective, the better.)

EXAMPLE: The purpose of my paper will be to examine how Ronald Reagan uses good speaking skills to convince America that the Grenada invasion was justified.

(Sorry. The technique is too vague. 'Good speaking skills' could be anything. You need to identify specific techniques. Perhaps Reagan used inflection and intensity in his voice--those are specific techniques and including them in this thesis would make it work. Be sure to have specific, clear techniques.)

EXAMPLE: Abbreviated Introduction for Criticism of Martin Luther King's Speech

Martin Luther King addressed a huge crowd in Washington D.C. on the 23rd day of August, 1963. He spoke on a subject many did not want to hear of, the deep injustice of segregation. The Kennedy administration had stalled on the issue and even avoided supporting the civil rights demonstration to which King spoke. King wanted no part of any stalling. To King, the march offered an opportunity to end the delay blacks had faced ever since the civil war's promises had long faded. King knew he wasn't just speaking to the protesters he was speaking to the Kennedy administration, to white Americans apathetic and unaware of the plight of black Americans, and even to segregationists and racists.

To speak to these groups was not an easy task. Convincing those who oppose you is difficult enough. But convincing people who believe you are not even equal with them is an even greater task. In addressing this difficult situation, King's speech raises the question, "How can a person who is discriminated against by general society speak out to change people's attitudes about that very discrimination?"

King's speech is an important example of attacking discrimination for a variety of reasons. First, it culminated the civil rights march on Washington D.C. (briefly discuss the importance and purpose of the civil rights march) Second, millions of Americans watched the speech. (add in a quotation from the civil rights history article) Third, the speech is recognized as one of the great pieces of oratory demanding an end to discrimination. (add in quotation from Haig Bosmajian's analysis of King's speech)

On that August day, the spotlight was on King and he shone with all the brilliant light of the justice of which he spoke. The purpose of my paper will be to show how Martin Luther King used anaphora and urgency to create support for an end to segregation. In doing so, we may come closer to understanding what a marginalized speaker can do to empower him or herself.


A. Identify the way you wish to approach your subject

1.      Take a look at how you did your analysis. Are you doing a textual analysis? Are you focusing on the story created by the author? Does your analysis point out ways in which the discourse empowers certain people? From this, choose a method we have or will discuss in class. These methods include:

2.      Neo-Aristotelian--analyze a speaker in a situation on the basis of its effect on the audience and on standards established by Aristotle (like ethos, pathos, and logos).

3.      Functionalist--analyze how well a rhetoric addresses exigencies (how well rhetoric solves a problem).

4.      Genre--analyze how a variety of speeches, arguments, or rhetors fit into a category of rhetoric which influences others.

5.      Textual--analyze closely how the organization, rhetorical devices, language, etc. persuades others.

6.      Argument--analyze the reasons in arguments or reasonableness of argument practices.

7.      Author--analyze a rhetor's rhetoric to explain the rhetor better or a rhetor to explain the rhetoric better.

8.      Audience--analyze the audience at which a rhetoric is directed or envision an audience that the rhetoric creates.

9.      Narrativity--analyze the soundness of reasons, values and beliefs that make up the stories that people adhere to or reject.

10.   Metaphor--analyze key terms in a communication which have particularly important meanings that influence others.

11.   Dramatism--analyze the ways in which a communication influences the social reality, characters, plots, ideology, psychology, etc. of which others are a part.

12.   Social Movements--analyze a group's collective, symbolic action that confronts existing institutions over a period of time.

13.   Culture--analyze the kind of norms, rituals, values, ways of acting, roles, etc. created by or reflected in a discourse.

14.   Ideological--analyze the political and moral assumptions and judgments made in a communication.

15.   Sexuality--analyze the sexual and erotic aspects of symbols in a text.

16.   Feminist--analyze the sexism, patriarchy, gender roles, sexual activity, and feminisms in a communication.

17.   Power Relations--analyze the ways in which a communication empowers certain beliefs and marginalizes others.

18.   Deconstructionist-analyze how a communication assumes contradictory modes of communication and therefore is self-destructive of its so called objective.

19.   Combination of one of these. For example, in my paper on Brennan and Marshall, I combine textual and argumentation perspectives.

20.   One that you make up or that you wish to use, for example, Fantasy Theme analysis. See me if you are going to do this.

B. Develop the method that you choose

1. Make a specific argument about the method you want to use--avoid generalities

2. Skip "homework." In other words, don't give a review of the basic tenets of "genre criticism" or "narrative analyses"--your readers will already know this. Instead, focus on specific aspects of these methods that help build your specific approach--your specific argument about how a text should be analyzed.


WRONG: Narrative analysis requires an examination of the fidelity and probability of a text. Fidelity is xxxx. Probability is xxxx. (Snooze--we know this already)

ON THE RIGHT TRACK: What we need is a narrative focus that describes how an audience is led from their experiences to another set of experiences where a story can then be seen as having fidelity and probability. To do this, a narrative must . . . (Mmmmm-I want to read more about this. This person has something to add the conversation about what narrative criticism should do)

3. Keep your discussion focused on what your analysis paper will do. If you are not going to do what your method paper says you will do--then don't include it in the method. On the other hand, if your method paper suggests doing your analysis a certain way or including a certain kind of analysis that you probably should do--then add on to/change your analysis paper so that it does do what your method paper says it will do.

C. Discuss what others have said about your subject--Literature Review

1. Focus on articles that discuss or use the method you suggest

2. Focus on articles that discuss your subject area generally

3. Focus on articles that discuss your specific rhetorical act

4. Point out what these previous articles do not explain, explain incorrectly or insufficiently--Be sure that your approach/analysis will resolve these deficiencies.


When you write your conclusion, the goal is, as John Campbell has argued, "to place your essay in perspective and to leave your reader with the sense of an ending" (Packet B, 1985, p. 15). To do this you need to do the following:


You can discuss some of the highlights of the body of your paper--but do NOT do a conclusion like this:

As I have shown, Patrick Henry used three techniques. First, he used antithesis which helped show the British were evil. Second, he . . .

Why no summaries? Because you already told me the information you are trying to summarize--no need to repeat.


If your thesis was to show that Bill Clinton convinced America that he could be a leader, you might have a discussion in your conclusion like this:

Bill Clinton demonstrated he was a leader by showing a grasp of both domestic and foreign policy. But the grasp he showed was not just the arguments he presented, it was also the way in which he presented his knowledge. He went beyond canned statistics . . .


Use your analysis to provide justification and insight for an answer to the interesting question you asked. If your interesting question was, "How can a candidate seen as ineffectual and untrustworthy demonstrate credibility as a leader?," here is how you might begin a discussion in your conclusion:

Clinton's debate style exemplifies an effective means of gaining credibility. Instead of relying on reciting facts and referring to expert opinions, a candidate needs to become closer to the American audience. They need to see the candidate as someone they can trust as a person first and then they will accede to that candidate's judgment on political issues. Clinton accomplished this by moving forward toward the audience, genuinely listening to audience members, speaking to the camera and creating personal relationships with individual audience members. Clinton showed he could be trustworthy and effective because people now viewed him as a friend, brother or counselor. This new role provided an alternative to a role as "liberal democrat" (a role connected with the perceived failed leadership of Jimmy Carter) and as a "waffler" on the issues (a role emphasized by the Bush-Quayle campaign).


I do not include an example here, the idea is to connect your answer to the interesting question with the best thinkers on the same subject area and explain how you add to, revise, or reject to what they have to say. So, in this Clinton example, I might turn to experts on "roles" people play in the public sphere as well as those who discuss the mixing of private and public spheres. I’d discuss how I see this interconnection and what differences my views make versus those of these others that I cite. This section should connect back to your method section.


Wrap the speech up. Tie in with your introduction or leave a note of what you have added to our understanding of communication.

The role Clinton created for himself is one which dramatically altered America's perception. Roles are a critical aspect of communication, even in politics. Today, Clinton continues to play out that role as President of the United States of America.


Feb 2018 Discussion about CAs on the college circuit.