The ADVANCED PLACEMENT ENGLISH LANGUAGE & COMPOSITION paper requires the candidate to write three types of essays. This paper tests the candidate’s reading and writing skills; and as such, examiners and teachers agree that top scores are awarded to those students who can confidently analyse how authors of non-fiction prose use various techniques to convey meaning and create effects. In addition, the students have to write three well organized and insightful essays, each with a different purpose.

These THREE types of essays fall under:

  • Synthesis Essay
  • Argumentative Essay
  • Analytical Essay


Rhetoric is merely “the art of arguing effectively”. Analysis is defined as ‘the process of separating something into its constituent elements’ in order to examine the elements and evaluate how they work together to create the whole.

Therefore, when you perform a rhetorical analysis, you are looking at the individual elements of a text and commenting on how those elements work to create the argument of the text. You are also considering WHY the author used those specific elements. You are also considering WHAT EFFECT those specific elements had on the audience.

Rhetorical analysis commits both the intentional fallacy (what did the author intend to do?) and the affective fallacy (how did the choices of the author affect the argument?).

In addition to being able to fashion your own argument, you will need to be able to evaluate the arguments of others, both in terms of effectiveness and in terms of strategies used.

This is called rhetorical analysis.

When you are doing a rhetorical analysis, you are merely looking for the rhetorical appeals in all of their different forms. In order to do a successful rhetorical analysis, you must first figure out what the author/speaker is arguing. Then you can determine how he/she crafts the argument for the specific audience.

The first thing that must be done in order to examine the rhetoric of an argument is to figure out the purpose of the argument. Only after you determine what the author or speaker is arguing can you determine the effect of and reason for their various rhetorical choices.

When you are examining the rhetorical choices of a writer or speaker, it is essential that you are able to connect his/her specific choices to his/her larger purpose. The question of ‘What?’ is not nearly as important as the question of ‘Why?’

There are several methods for analyzing the rhetorical choices of a text. One such strategy is S O A P S tone(d):

S(peaker) –Who is delivering the message? What is his credibility? What is the exigence or impetus for argument? What is his persona? How does the speaker choose to present his/her information/evidence?

O(ccasion)-What is the context of the message? What is the exigence or impetus for this argument? What is the cultural landscape in the time when the argument occurred?

A(udience)-Who is the intended audience? Who is the general/specific audience? What values does the audience hold that the speaker appeals to?

P(urpose)-What is the speaker’s intention in delivering this argument? Is this text persuasive, didactic, informative, or entertaining?

S(ubject)-What is the main idea of the passage? What are the principal lines or reasoning or kinds of arguments used?

Tone-How does the author feel about the subject/argument? How does the author feel about the audience? What is the author’s overall attitude about this topic?

Devices-What specific rhetorical tropes and organizational patterns did the author use and what was their intended effect?

The Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical Devices are ‘artful or resourceful uses of language intended to aid in the conveyance of an argument either by playing on the audience’s emotions or by making certain aspects of an argument stand out as emphasized or important; rhetorical devices can encompass both linguistic choices and syntactic choices’.

Rhetorical devices that refer to linguistic choices are called tropes (trophes). These include all literary elements (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, anaphora, apostrophe, etc.).

Rhetorical devices that refer to syntactic (sentence/word order) choices are called schemes. These include different types of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound/complex, periodic, cumulative), different types of sentence arrangement (inverted word order, balanced sentence, parallel structure, passive voice, active voice, etc.), patterns of development/organization (narration, description, process analysis, illustration, definition, comparison/contrast)

Rhetorical Analysis (Imagery/Diction)

Imagery and diction are also important rhetorical choices to consider. Consider the specific choice of images an author ‘paints’ in a reader’s mind. Consider which senses an author chooses to engage. And how. And why. Also, consider the specific words and language an author uses and what the purpose for these choices is and what impact these choices might have.

However, above all else, make sure that you relate EVERY RHETORICAL CHOICE back to the author’s overall purpose and assertion!

Other Strategies for Analyzing Rhetoric

These and other acronyms are just starting points for rhetorical analysis. They will allow you to say something about the text. Use one or more of them as necessary.

  • DIDLS – Diction, Imagery, Details, Language (Figurative), Syntax
  • DIDTS – Diction, Imagery, Details, Tone, Syntax
  • DUCATS – Diction, Unity (evidence, rhetorical appeals), Coherence (organization), Audience, Tone, Syntax.
  • SMELL – Sender/Receiver relationship, Message, Evidence, Logic, Language


Leave a Reply