Major Assignment 2 – Rhetorical Analysis

This assignment asks you to practice the rhetorical reading strategies that Haas and Flower describe in “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning” (on Canvas only) and that Everyone’s An Author describes in “Rhetorical Reading” (pp. 67-92).

As a college writer, you need to make rhetorical reading a normal habit. To read texts rhetorically is to read them as if they’re people talking to you, people with motivations that may not always be explicit but are always present. It means talking about not only what a text says or what it means, but what it does. (Start a war? Make a friend smile? Throw shade? Refocus everyone’s attention? Woo a lover?) When you read a text trying to figure out what it does or why a person would go to the trouble of writing it, you’re reading rhetorically. As Flower and Haas say–you have to actively construct meanings from texts.

For this rhetorical reading project, the object of your analysis will be a scholarly journal article or scholarly book chapter. Working in this genre will give you important additional practice for reading scholarly work rhetorically in your later classes, and you’ll probably have a lot to learn about how scholarly communities work in order to do the assignment well. Your task is to rhetorically read a text and compose a four- to five-page, double-spaced essay, plus a Works Cited page that explains your interpretation of what the writer meant the text to accomplish, why they set those goals, and how they tried to meet them.

First, select a text You can use any scholarly article –in your area of study, or simply in an area of interest. You’ll probably be more engaged in the project if the subject is of interest to you, so be sure to pick an article about something you care about, whether or not it is in your intended area of study. Whatever text you choose, you must be able to trace where it was published, when, and by whom. It must be peer reviewed. You can narrow down WSU SearchIt peer reviewed sources by checking the “peer review” box at the top of the left menu when you search something.

Summarize the Text The first rule of rhetorical reading: read in order to understand, in order to be able to write a summary of about 1 page. As you read, take notes about these aspects of the text in order to be able to write an effective summary:

  • The territory the text covers and the niche it occupies, which may be its research questions or its thesis statement (its overall argument), if you can identify one.
  • The text’s main parts or sections, and how they do work.
  • The author’s underlying theoretical framework (the underlying theories or principles it uses to study or interpret whatever it’s focused on).
  • Research methods, if the author shares these (for help with this you might return to Chapter 3).
  • The author’s findings, main claims, main discoveries.
  • The implications of the piece (which will be mostly in the discussion and potentially in the introduction as well if they are stated directly).

Use evidence from the article to support your assertions. This should total at least one page.

Now that you know basically what the author is saying and how, you can move on to consider rhetorical elements.

Historicize the Text. Along with summarizing what the text says, you’ll need to collect some basic information on the text’s origins. Most of this information is contextual, meaning that it lies outside of the text itself and you can’t just read the text to find what you need to know. As you look for origins, try to answer these questions:

  • Who wrote it? This might be in the article itself, although sometimes biographies are not provided. You can use a web search to learn more about the author. Learn their publishing history, their research interests, and their theoretical background. Learn what those backgrounds mean—don’t just name them!
  • Who published it? What journal or book did it originally appear in, and who publishes that journal or book? What can you learn about that publisher? What kinds of work do they usually publish, and what is the purpose of the journal or book it appeared in? Search for the journal’s or publisher’s web page to answer these questions.
  • Who reads this? Most journals or publishers have an “About” page that will describe their intended readership. You could also use Google Scholar and look at citations for this book or journal to find out who is citing it.
  • When was the text written? This is not just the date! It is the positioning of the article in the historical context of the field. What other articles were published in the journal at the time? What conversations were ongoing in the field? From your prior knowledge of the field of study, and from brief searches of the field’s contemporary literature, what conversations had not yet begun? This information tells you two things: (1) What the writer could and could not have known at that point in time, and (2) where on a historical “timeline” the text fits—whether it was written before, during, or after a particular conversation the field or a society was having, for example. 

This section should be about 1 page, also—and the last bullet point above should take up most of that.

By asking these questions you are building your sense of the text’s history—how it fit in a particular rhetorical ecology, that web of rhetors, circumstances, events, and material objects that would have originally given rise to the text to begin with. Effective rhetorical reading is impossible without such historicizing.

Write Your Interpretation of the Text’s Context, Exigence, Motivations, and Aims. Now you are ready to write your answers to the central questions: What does this text do (or did it do when it was written) and why did the author want it to do that? How did they accomplish (or fail) in meeting these goals? In your rhetorical analysis you will provide your interpretation of the text’s history and contents in order to make some claims about its exigence (the niche of the article, the need for the article, the place the article fits into the larger discourse) and the writer’s motivations and aims, given the context in which the text was written. Cite specific evidence in this section, and use signal words and phrases to incorporate the cited evidence into the fluid pathway of building your claims.

This section should be about 2-3 pages. It should be the bulk of your paper, as it is the central goal of this analysis.

There is no set format for your rhetorical analysis, but you want to be sure you do the following (Use this as a check-list!):

  • Discuss the text’s context: where and when it appeared, what the historical moment was, and pertinent information about the writer and publisher.
  • Discuss the conversation in which the article participates: Think about territory and niche—These things will be established by the author at the beginning of the text.
    • Territory: The context for the research—the background, the topic generalizations (i.e. “The properties of X are still not completely understood.”), and the previous theories and articles that the author engages with.
    • Niche: The gap in the conversation that needs to be filled by the author’s research.
  • Summarize what the article says: Incorporate the summary that you created after reading the article.
  • Describe the writer’s main argument: their central claim, the support for that claim, and any major warrants (assumptions) that readers must agree with in order to build adherence with the argument.
  • Draw conclusions about the exigence, motivations, and aims of the text: What was the writer trying to accomplish in this text, and why were they trying to accomplish that?
  • Offer evidence for your interpretations: When you make a claim about the text or its context, what evidence do you have to support that claim? It could be quotations from the text or information from external sources that you’ve found in your research to historicize the text.
  • Cite your source(s) in-text and in a Works Cited page in MLA style. This is self-explanatory and required—check out Purdue OWL if you have any questions. No, the Works Cited page does not count in the page-count.

An analysis that accomplishes each of these functions should be both an interesting rhetorical reading of your article and highly informative for the reader of your analysis. Most importantly, it will be an excellent example of rhetorical reading.

Your analysis should demonstrate that you understood the text you read, that you were able to find and interpret evidence about its history and context, and that you can clearly explain these things to readers and provide evidence to support your claims.

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