As you write your own arguments, whether you are writing a Rogerian argument or another type of persuasive essay, it’s important to keep in mind the rhetorical principles. By thinking critically about your own writing situation, you can do a better job of convincing your audience. This chapter includes some tips on analyzing your own rhetorical choices, and you can use the Rhetorical Analysis Worksheet to help you critique your own rhetorical choices.

Worksheet for Rhetorical Analysis


The Rhetorical Situation


When you are writing, you are the speaker. However, evaluating your stance as the speaker in an argument is not quite that simple. For example, while you might be a champion ice skater, this is not likely something that will make your audience trust your opinion on educational choice.

How you portray yourself in a text is important! After all, most writers want to be taken seriously. Even satirical writing usually has a clear purpose that the author hopes to portray. When you’re writing an academic paper, you want to present yourself as a credible source of information. What does that mean? In part, it means using proper grammar and formatting and making sure your words are spelled correctly. Doing these things show the audience that you are serious about the topic and professional. Using good sources and citing them correctly, giving examples, and showing that you understand all sides of an issue tells readers that you are knowledgeable and that you can be trusted. If you don’t portray yourself well in your writing, your message may not be taken seriously–even worse, it may turn your audience against you.

Think through what persona you want to portray to your audience. How do you want them to see you? While you likely want to portray yourself in the best light, you also want to present an honest picture of yourself to the audience. Think about what things in your background might show expertise in the subject. What characteristics might make folks willing to trust you?


The occasion for writing is the reason you started writing in the first place. In some cases, that might be simply because you have an assignment due in a class. However, it’s important to create a more substantial reason for writing. For example, it can be helpful to envision yourself, not as a student, but as a voice in a larger conversation. Your essay is more than just the response to an essay prompt–it’s a response to that conversation. The conversation is the occasion for the text and the focus of the conversation is the topic/issue.


Your audience consists of the specific person or group or groups of people for whom your message is intended. Knowing and understanding the audience is vital for successful communication and ultimately accomplishing your purpose. In an academic setting, many students think of their instructor as their audience. However, while your instructor is grading your papers, the message or the purpose should not be related to your instructor. Your instructor is grading how effective you are at getting your message across to your intended audience–NOT to them. If you are not given a specific audience, or you aren’t sure, a good solution is to write either for the wider group involved in the conversation you are joining or for an audience of your peers. This allows you to define your audience, which will help you to craft papers that are more interesting, not only for you to write and your audience to read, but also for your secondary audience–your instructor!


Purpose, of course, is what an argument hopes to achieve. Most communication occurs because something needs to happen. Writers must think about what they want their readers to do once they’ve read the message. In our shopping list, for example, the purpose would be to go and buy the correct items on the list. If a person purchases a t-shirt with a logo or slogan, the purpose might be to show support for that brand. It’s telling your audience—the people who look at your shirt—to think about you a certain way or to think about a topic a certain way. If someone wears a Yavapai College t-shirt, they are telling their audience that they go to YC and are proud of it! So, whenever you write, think about the purpose. What is the end result you are hoping to achieve? What do you want the reader to do with what you’re telling them? The best writing will always have a clear purpose.

The Rhetorical Strategies


Ethical appeals have two facets.

One the one hand, an ethical appeal taps into the values that the audience holds, for example, patriotism, tradition, justice, equality, dignity for all humankind, self preservation, or other specific social, religious or philosophical values (Christian values, socialism, capitalism, feminism, etc). These values can sometimes feel very close to emotions, but they are felt on a social level rather than only on a personal level. If an author can evoke the values that the audience cares about in his or her argument, then he or she has a chance of persuading that audience because the audience will feel that the author is making an argument that is “right” (in the sense of moral “right”-ness).

This sense of referencing what is “right” in an ethical appeal connects to the  moral character of the speaker/author. The author may draw attention to who he or she is as a way to engage the audience (i.e., “Because I support this – and you all you trust me because we share the same values! – you should, too”). If an author can present his or her moral character, one that the audience trusts because they (author and audience) share values,  then he or she has a chance of persuading that audience. In this sense, the audience will feel that the author is the right person to make this argument and should therefore be believed.

In building ethical appeals, we see authors

  • referring either directly or indirectly to the values that matter to the intended audience
  • using reasoning or logic that relies on these values
  • using language, phrasing, imagery or other writing style common to people who hold those values – tapping into the discourse community of people with those values
  • doing anything else that shows the audience that the author understands and shares their values

Check your writing:

  • Does my writing include references to any related personal experience?
  • Does my writing rely on credible sources?
  • Is my tone appropriate?
  • Have I edited my essay for spelling, mechanical,  and grammar errors?



Logically sound writing often includes many examples to support a point – and those examples come from citation of credible data and statistics, reference to sound theories, reference valid research conducted by credible organizations.

Logical appeals rest on rational modes of thinking, such as

  • Comparison : you compare one thing (with regard to your topic)  to another, similar thing to help support your claim. It is important that the comparison is fair and valid – the things being compared must share significant traits of similarity.
  • Cause/effect thinking : you argue that X has caused Y, or that X is likely to cause Y to help support your claim. Be careful with the latter – it can be difficult to predict that something “will” happen in the future.
  • Deductive reasoning: you start with a general claim/example and then use it to justify a in a smaller claim
  • Inductive reasoning: you use several specific examples or cases and use them to make a larger generalization
  • Exemplification: use of many examples to support a single point

Check your writing:

  • Is my essay organized logically?
  • Does my essay explain any vocabulary that my audience might not understand?
  • Are my points supported with credible evidence?
  • Do I use enough examples to support my points?
  • Are my sources relevant and current?
  • Do I address any counterarguments, questions, or objections?


Pathos is deeply human – an author using pathetic appeals wants the audience to feel something: anger or pride or joy or rage or happiness. Pathetic appeals rest on emotion-based modes of communication . To engage the audience on an emotional level, the author may

  • add expressive descriptions of people, places or events that helps the reader to feel or experience those events
  • include vivid imagery of people, places or events that helps the reader to feel like he or she is seeing  those events
  • share personal stories that help the reader feel connected to the person being described
  • use vocabulary or sentence structure that revolves around a particular emotion: sadness, happiness, fear, joy, anger, disgust, horror.
  • try to include any information that will evoke an emotional response from the audience. This could involve making the audience feel empathy or disgust for the person/group/event being discussed,  or perhaps connection to or rejection of the person/group/event being discussed.

Pathos-based strategies are any strategies that get the audience to “open up” to the topic or to the author. Emotions can make us vulnerable, and rhetors can use this vulnerability to get the audience on his or her side.

Check your writing:

  • If appropriate, have I included an anecdote or story to appeal to my audience’s emotions?
  • Does my paper have at least one quote from someone personally impacted by this topic?
  • Have I shown consideration for the opposing side?
  • Does my paper have enough emotional appeal to move my readers to take action?


Kairos is all about timing. When writing an argument, timing is key. If a decision has already been made on an issue, then you are too late to the party. Likewise, if you use sources that are outdated, your argument won’t be taken seriously. Sometimes, though, you don’t have a choice about what topic you are writing about. However, you can try to create a connection to current events for your readers. Help them understand how the Civil War impacts their lives today, for example. Think about why it’s important to discuss this topic now–and, again, try to think bigger than just “this assignment is due on Friday!”

Check my writing:

  • Have I chosen a topic that is current OR have I found a way to relate my topic to my readers’ lives?
  • Does my writing show that I am up to date on the topic?
  • Are my sources current?
  • Have I addressed the current arguments, showing that I am familiar with the strongest arguments and voices on each side?

Rhetorical Devices

Remember that rhetorical devices largely contribute to the tone of your work. It’s all about using language well to portray your ideas. It might be a good idea to read through your essay after drafting it and look for areas where you might make your points stronger. Perhaps you can use parallelism to connect ideas together or similes and metaphors to create powerful connections for your readers. Don’t use rhetorical devices for the sake of using them, but do think about how to make your language really stand out and portray the tone that you want in your essay.

Check my writing:

  • If I have used rhetorical devices, are they used for good effect or are they simply there to be there?
  • Does the tone of my essay create interest in the topic and keep my audience engaged?
  • Is my argument memorable?
  • Is my writing strong?

A Note on Using Quotes

Using quotes from outside sources can support your argument in many ways. It can enhance your credibility as a writer, create a logical appeal, create an emotional appeal, and show that your argument is timely. While it’s important to support your own argument with quotes from experts, those quotes should not be the foundation of your paper. In fact, a minimum of 80% of the paper should be in your own words!

Whatever source you use, it’s important to be sure that the source is a good one (not wikipedia!). Take careful notes from the source to be sure to accurately represent the information you present, and be sure to quote properly. Quoting properly includes two parts: the reference page and the in-text citation. For an English class, you would use MLA formatting.

Here is a lesson on MLA and APA formatting if you need a review:


Remember, correctly cite each source in your Works Cited page. Then, when you include a quote or a reference from a source, be sure to correctly cite the source in an in-text citation.

  • Introduce your quote (don’t just copy and paste something from your source!).
  • Make sure the quote is in quotation marks.
  • Properly cite the quote with an in-text citation. Before the end mark, in parenthesis, type the first word/words of the Works Cited listing and the page number, if applicable.

MLA Formatting for Common Sources

Note that the in text citation (what is in parenthesis after a quote) is the first word in the Works Cited listing. Every source listed in your Works Cited should be cited at least once in the text of the paper. The Works Cited page functions like a dictionary or an encyclopedia of your sources. It gives readers the ability to get more information from the sources you’ve used if they would like. An author must give readers all the information they might need to find the source on their own. Therefore, a website by itself is never enough information for a Works Cited listing. A web link can expire or be changed. Giving the name of the website, an author, etc, can give a reader enough information to locate the source a different way. For easy reference, all sources in the Works Cited page should be listed in alphabetical order and use a hanging indent.

Type of Source Works Cited Entry In -Text Citation
Website “Castles in Medieval Times.” yourchildlearns.com. 2000. Owl and Mouse Educational Software. 9 March 2003. <http://www.yourchildlearns.com/castle_history.htm (Links to an external site.)>. Accessed July 29, 2011. (Castles)
Film The Empire Strikes Back.Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Twentieth Century Fox, 1980. (The Empire)
Article Online Achenbach, Joel. “America’s river.” Washington Post. 5 May 2002. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A13425-2202May1.html>. Accessed 20 July 2003. (Achenbach)
Book Gorman, Elizabeth. Prairie Women. Yale University Press, 1986. (Gorman)
Yelp/Social Media Posts B., Elizabeth. “Olsen’s Grain.” Yelp, 10/4/16. https://www.yelp.com/biz/olsens-grain-prescott?hrid=HjFTGmfTuS6rvsmVpTNZfQ&utm_campaign=www_review_share_ popup&utm_medium =copy_link&utm_source=(direct). Accessed 10/10/16. (B., Elizabeth)

TIP: Here is a great online citation creator that can help you cite websites correctly:  http://www.citationmachine.net.




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