Organizing Your Analysis
This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles.
Contributors:Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2015-08-30 05:01:04
There is no one perfect way to organize a rhetorical analysis essay. In fact, writers should always be a bit leery of plug-in formulas that offer a perfect essay format. Remember, organization itself is not the enemy, only organization without considering the specific demands of your particular writing task. That said, here are some general tips for plotting out the overall form of your essay.
Like any rhetorical analysis essay, an essay analyzing a visual document should quickly set the stage for what you’re doing. Try to cover the following concerns in the initial paragraphs:
- Make sure to let the reader know you’re performing a rhetorical analysis. Otherwise, they may expect you to take positions or make an evaluative argument that may not be coming.
- Clearly state what the document under consideration is and possibly give some pertinent background information about its history or development. The intro can be a good place for a quick, narrative summary of the document. The key word here is “quick, for you may be dealing with something large (for example, an entire episode of a cartoon like the Simpsons). Save more in-depth descriptions for your body paragraph analysis.
- If you’re dealing with a smaller document (like a photograph or an advertisement), and copyright allows, the introduction or first page is a good place to integrate it into your page.
- Give a basic run down of the rhetorical situation surrounding the document: the author, the audience, the purpose, the context, etc.
Thesis Statements and Focus
Many authors struggle with thesis statements or controlling ideas in regards to rhetorical analysis essays. There may be a temptation to think that merely announcing the text as a rhetorical analysis is purpose enough. However, especially depending on your essay’s length, your reader may need a more direct and clear statement of your intentions. Below are a few examples.
1. Clearly narrow the focus of what your essay will cover. Ask yourself if one or two design aspects of the document is interesting and complex enough to warrant a full analytical treatment.
The website for Amazon.com provides an excellent example of alignment and proximity to assist its visitors in navigating a potentially large and confusing amount of information.
2. Since visual documents often seek to move people towards a certain action (buying a product, attending an event, expressing a sentiment), an essay may analyze the rhetorical techniques used to accomplish this purpose. The thesis statement should reflect this goal.
The call-out flyer for the Purdue Rowing Team uses a mixture of dynamic imagery and tantalizing promises to create interest in potential, new members.
3. Rhetorical analysis can also easily lead to making original arguments. Performing the analysis may lead you to an argument; or vice versa, you may start with an argument and search for proof that supports it.
A close analysis of the female body images in the July 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine reveals contradictions between the articles’ calls for self-esteem and the advertisements’ unrealistic, beauty demands.
These are merely suggestions. The best measure for what your focus and thesis statement should be the document itself and the demands of your writing situation. Remember that the main thrust of your thesis statement should be on how the document creates meaning and accomplishes its purposes. The OWl has additional information on writing thesis statements.
Analysis Order (Body Paragraphs)
Depending on the genre and size of the document under analysis, there are a number of logical ways to organize your body paragraphs. Below are a few possible options. Which ever you choose, the goal of your body paragraphs is to present parts of the document, give an extended analysis of how that part functions, and suggest how the part ties into a larger point (your thesis statement or goal).
This is the most straight-forward approach, but it can also be effective if done for a reason (as opposed to not being able to think of another way). For example, if you are analyzing a photo essay on the web or in a booklet, a chronological treatment allows you to present your insights in the same order that a viewer of the document experiences those images. It is likely that the images have been put in that order and juxtaposed for a reason, so this line of analysis can be easily integrated into the essay.
Be careful using chronological ordering when dealing with a document that contains a narrative (i.e. a television show or music video). Focusing on the chronological could easily lead you to plot summary which is not the point of a rhetorical analysis.
A spatial ordering covers the parts of a document in the order the eye is likely to scan them. This is different than chronological order, for that is dictated by pages or screens where spatial order concerns order amongst a single page or plane. There are no unwavering guidelines for this, but you can use the following general guidelines.
- Left to right and top to down is still the normal reading and scanning pattern for English-speaking countries.
- The eye will naturally look for centers. This may be the technical center of the page or the center of the largest item on the page.
- Lines are often used to provide directions and paths for the eye to follow.
- Research has shown that on web pages, the eye tends to linger in the top left quadrant before moving left to right. Only after spending a considerable amount of time on the top, visible portion of the page will they then scroll down.
The classic, rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos. These concepts roughly correspond to the logic, emotion, and character of the document’s attempt to persuade. You can find more information on these concepts elsewhere on the OWL. Once you understand these devices, you could potentially order your essay by analyzing the document’s use of logos, ethos, and pathos in different sections.
The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis essay may not operate too differently from the conclusion of any other kind of essay. Still, many writers struggle with what a conclusion should or should not do. You can find tips elsewhere on the OWL on writing conclusions. In short, however, you should restate your main ideas and explain why they are important; restate your thesis; and outline further research or work you believe should be completed to further your efforts.
Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
According to Jib Fowles, to sell products and services, advertisers appeal to one or more of fifteen emotions:
1 The need for sex
2. The need for affiliation
3. The need to nurture
4. The need for guidance
5. The need to aggress
6. The need to achieve
7. The need to dominate
8. The need for prominence
9. The need for attention
10. The need for autonomy
11. The need to escape
12. The need to feel safe
13. The need for aesthetic sensations
14. The need to satisfy curiosity
15. Physiological needs: food, drink, sleep, etc.
In addition, I have found, most advertisements also use a visual metaphor, texts which often involve a play on words and suggests the visual metaphor, and, of course, various visual design elements (such as models, props, color, size, shape, and texture). In fact, in an assignment that I give my freshman composition students, I ask them to use the following sentence to structure their advertising analysis essay:
The name of product advertisement in Title of Magazine uses a metaphor to equate the product to an object or experience to which the advertised product is equated and uses such visual design elements as identify specific elements (colors, shapes, props) to sell the product.To provide a model, I then offer this sample five-paragraph essay, first identifying the thesis sentence and the topic sentences, which I underline in the essay itself:
THESIS: To sell a men's magazine, the Ché advertisement in Commuter World magazine uses a metaphor to equate the product to a “better” dream world and shows a promiscuous young woman approaching a trolley station.I also include a picture of the advertisement. Here’s the result:
TOPIC SENTENCE 1: The advertisement’s text, “Let’s keep dreaming of a better world,” equates Ché magazine to a place in which beautiful, promiscuous young women are readily available to any man.
TOPIC SENTENCE 2: The female model is shown from behind, so that the viewer is encouraged to see her as an object rather than as a person.
TOPIC SENTENCE 3: The model approaches a trolley station, which symbolizes the connection that she intends to make with the train that will take her to her destination.
INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH: Men’s magazines feature articles concerning topic of interest to their subscribers: alcoholic beverages, sporty automobiles, hunting and fishing, politics, scientific and technological breakthroughs, workplace guidance, travel and tourism, and, of course, dating. Some, such as Playboy, also boast of interviews with the rich and famous and of short stories by popular or even renown writers. There are apt to be jokes and cartoons, too, mostly about sexual matters. The mainstay of such magazines, however, isn’t the news, advice, humor, or fiction, but the photographs of beautiful young women wearing little or no clothing. It makes sense, then, that an advertisement for a men’s magazine, whether foreign or domestic, would appeal to such periodicals’ strongest selling point. If humor can be used to make the sales pitch, so much the better, but, when it comes to promoting men’s magazines, nothing sells as well as sex, as marketers for the European men‘s magazine Ché are well aware. To sell a men's magazine, the Ché advertisement in Commuter World magazine uses a metaphor to equate the product to a “better” dream world and shows a promiscuous young woman approaching a trolley station.
BODY PARAGRAPH 1: The Ché advertisement in Commuter World magazine uses a metaphor to equate the product to a “better” dream world. The accompanying text at the bottom of the advertisement, which is printed in smaller font than the message on the model’s skirt, indicates that the image that the advertisement creates--of a nubile young woman who is available to anyone who is interested in calling her--is a fantasy: “Let us keep on dreaming of a better world.” The advertisement has a playful tone, suggesting that the “better world” to which it alludes would be a fun place to be, and the fun would be of a physically intimate variety. Following this fine print, as it were, is the logo that identifies the product that the advertisement is selling, Ché, a “men’s magazine.” The model seems to represent the sort of fantasy girl that the magazine is apt to feature on a routine basis. By purchasing or subscribing to this magazine, customers gain admittance to the “better world” of fun-loving, available dream girls.
BODY PARAGRAPH 2: The female model is shown from behind, so that the viewer is encouraged to see her as an object rather than as a person. Her face is not shown. Therefore, the emphasis of the picture is on her body, rather than her face, on the physical rather than the personal. She is an object, rather than a person. She wears a simple, green top that exposes her midriff, a charm bracelet, and a white mini-skirt. A small, simple, black purse is slung over her right shoulder. She is the largest object in the picture, and she is the closest to the image’s center, her positioning within the picture, like her size, emphasizing her over everything else that is depicted in the advertisement. Next to the figure of the young woman herself, the most outstanding prop in the picture is her skirt. It is short enough to reveal the lower portions of her buttocks, which are bare, suggesting that she either wears a thong or no underwear at all. The exposure of these parts of her anatomy draws the eye, as does the apparent fringe that adorns the bottom of her skirt, some of the tassels of which are missing, revealing the parts of her buttocks that show. There is something else odd about the fringe: the tassels, which are short, rectangular strips, bear printed text that is too small to read. However, on the seat of her skirt, in red cursive lettering, below which is an arrowhead, pointing downward, is the message, “My number.” This message makes it clear to the advertisement’s viewer that the text printed on the tassels identifies her telephone number. Her skirt is itself an advertisement of the sort that includes, along its bottom edge, a series of tags that are printed with a telephone number to which those who are interested in the product or the service that the advertisement promotes may respond. Essentially, the model is saying, to all interested parties, “Call me.” It is based upon a play on words, alluding to the common phrase, “I have your number.”
BODY PARAGRAPH 3: The model approaches a trolley station, which symbolizes the connection that she intends to make with the train that will take her to her destination. The train represents opportunity. The model is approaching the station. If the viewer were present, he might meet her, and, if he were to join her on the trolley, the train might convey him--or, rather, him and the young woman--to a common destination. The silent text of the advertisement seems to be. “Don’t miss the train!” and represents a call to action, or, in the language of the trade, the closing sales pitch. From a Freudian point of view, the train is also a phallic symbol, which suggests, even more clearly, the sexual nature of the destination to which the young woman and her date will travel, if he calls her and arranges to meet her at the station.
CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH: If advertisements are any indicator of such matters, it seems safe to say that men and women are interested in vastly different types of pursuits. Advertisements in women’s magazines indicate that women are interested in spotless kitchens, a healthy, well-fed family, a clean home, fashionable clothing and accessories, travel, interior design, furniture, and business careers. Men’s magazines’ advertisements suggest that their readers’ interests are fewer by far and simpler: food, sex, and cars. An advertisement for Ché men’s magazine, in fact, makes it clear that many men would welcome as “a better world” one in which women are not only readily available sexually but travel to one’s doorstep, in answer to a telephone call. For most men, the advertisement suggests, life just doesn’t get any better than that!