Basic Questions
for Rhetorical Analysis

What is the rhetorical situation?

  • What occasion gives rise to the need or opportunity for persuasion?
  • What is the historical occasion that would give rise to the composition of this text?

Who is the author/speaker?

  • How does he or she establish ethos (personal credibility)?
  • Does he/she come across as knowledgeable? fair?
  • Does the speaker's reputation convey a certain authority?

What is his/her intention in speaking?

  • To attack or defend?
  • To exhort or dissuade from certain action?
  • To praise or blame?
  • To teach, to delight, or to persuade?

Who make up the audience?

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What values does the audience hold that the author or speaker appeals to?
  • Who have been or might be secondary audiences?
  • If this is a work of fiction, what is the nature of the audience within the fiction?

What is the content of the message?

  • Can you summarize the main idea?
  • What are the principal lines of reasoning or kinds of arguments used?
  • What topics of invention are employed?
  • How does the author or speaker appeal to reason? to emotion?

What is the form in which it is conveyed?

  • What is the structure of the communication; how is it arranged?
  • What oral or literary genre is it following?
  • What figures of speech (schemes and tropes) are used?
  • What kind of style and tone is used and for what purpose?

How do form and content correspond?

  • Does the form complement the content?
  • What effect could the form have, and does this aid or hinder the author's intention?

Does the message/speech/text succeed in fulfilling the author's or speaker's intentions?

  • For whom?
  • Does the author/speaker effectively fit his/her message to the circumstances, times, and audience?
  • Can you identify the responses of historical or contemporary audiences?

What does the nature of the communication reveal about the culture that produced it?

  • What kinds of values or customs would the people have that would produce this?
  • How do the allusions, historical references, or kinds of words used place this in a certain time and location?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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