Assignment 1: Rhetorical Analysis

We’ve spent the first several weeks of class discussing and analyzing the rhetorical situations of a variety of artifacts—short stories, items in the news, images from freak shows, and beyond. For your first formal assignment, you will be producing a 3-5 page close reading and rhetorical analysis of a hoax of your choosing. Who is the target audience? What strategies were employed to convince that audience of the veracity of the hoax? How is authority established? How effective were these attempts, and why?

If you do not have a particular hoax in mind, you could search or search around for other hoaxes by Barnum. You could also use one of Poe’s other hoaxes—“The Journal of Julius Rodman,” “Von Kempelen and His Discovery,” or “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” You could even use an episode of a television show like Ghost Hunters. The world is your oyster. However, you’ll be analyzing a text, not the vague idea of the hoax, so you’ll want to be sure to have a “primary” hoax document, i.e., a newspaper article, an image, a broadcast, etc. Do not choose something we’ve discussed in any depth in class.

In your analysis, you must use the terms of rhetorical analysis that we’ve been practicing in class. You might use the “rhetorical triangle,” either with ethos/logos/pathos or with author/text/audience. You could also draw vocabulary from The Little Seagull—purpose, audience, genre, topic, stance/tone, media/design, evidence, counter-argument, and so on. Section W-8 is about composing a rhetorical analysis, so don’t hesitate to consult it. This handout of questions for rhetorical analysis could also be a powerful brainstorming tool.


Tuesday, September 15: Come to class with a hoax selected

Thursday, September 17: Bring draft of Paper 1 to class

Thursday, September 24: Paper 1 due

***Note*** Be sure to save your paper to a new file for each major revision. You’ll need to be able to show evidence of progress for your portfolio at the end of the year.

 Your Rhetorical Situation

Purpose: To convince me that you can perform a thoughtful and compelling rhetorical analysis of a hoax—that you can attend to the details of a text and synthesize your observations into an argument about its rhetorical effectiveness.

Audience: Me! But also your peers, who will be workshopping this paper with you and reading drafts. This means you will have to provide enough of a summary that someone unfamiliar with your particular artifact will be able to follow along—but beware of including so much summary that we don’t get to hear your argument.

Genre: Academy-lite—I expect this to be a well-written, revised, and serious paper, but I don’t want it packed with jargon, and I don’t want you to do any research. I’m interested in your own interpretation of a text. Don’t worry about citations yet, but provide me a link to whatever your source document is so that I could consult it if necessary.

Stance: Critical, objective, authoritative.

Medium: Print. Please use 12-pt Times New Roman, double-spaced, with 1” margins all around. Last name and page number in the header. Note: 3-5 pages means at least 3 pages—so the text should begin to spill onto the fourth page.

Relevant Class Outcomes

  • Outcome 1: Rhetorical Awareness and Composition.You will demonstrate understanding of genre, audience, and purpose in both reading and writing. You will analyze, use, and adapt generic conventions, including organization, development, and style, while composing in multiple genres and modes, including text, audio, and image.
  • Outcome 2: Writing as Process. You will understand and practice writing as a process, recursively implementing strategies of research, drafting, revision, editing, and reflection. You will reflect on your own writing process, and learn to critique your own work and the work of others.

Grading Criteria

Your argument:

  • Shows a mastery of the language of rhetorical analysis;
  • Is specific, clear, and evidence-driven: for example, you will have to articulate a particular (detailed!) audience that the hoax is meant to target, and then support your claim with evidence from the hoax;
  • Demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the interrelation of the various elements of rhetoric and rhetorical situations: purpose, audience, genre, stance, medium, evidence, counter-arguments, etc.; and
  • Is strengthened by acknowledgement and refutation of counter-arguments.

Your introduction:

  • Presents your artifact to the reader—by the end of the introduction we should know what you’re talking about and why it is interesting (take care to only give relevant summary or context so you leave yourself plenty of room for your own analysis); and
  • Includes a compelling and concise thesis in which you argue for the purpose, audience, and effectiveness of the hoax. When I finish reading your thesis, I should know who is trying to convince whom of what, how do they do it, and how effective it is.

Your paragraphs:

  • Each present a claim, supported by evidence, that supports your thesis;
  • Begin with topic sentences that A) preview the claim of the paragraph and B) show how it relates to your overall thesis;
  • Include concrete, detailed evidence;
  • Thoroughly analyze that evidence in order to make a claim about rhetorical strategies and effectiveness; and
  • Transition smoothly from the previous paragraph and smoothly to the one that follows.

Your conclusion:

  • Summarizes your main point and zooms out to the bigger picture—why does your analysis matter?

Your tone and style:

  • Establish you as an academic writer—your prose is formal (though don’t assume this has to mean awkward or stilted), free from grammatical errors and typos, and uses language precisely; and
  • Demonstrate graceful and fluid mastery of prose that is enjoyable to read: sentences vary in length and syntax, vocabulary is well chosen and clear, active verbs are favored over passive ones, and so on.

Technical details:

  • More than three and less than five pages long
  • Includes a link to the hoax you are analyzing
  • 12-pt Times New Roman font
  • 1” margins on all sides
  • Last name and page # in the upper-right hand corner

[For printable versions: Rhetorical analysis handout; rhetorical analysis grading criteria]