RHET 110 N – Meritt.
Essay #1 Assignment: Analyzing an argument
Your first assignment is to write an analysis of one or two texts that we’ve read and discuss so far. In other words, your paper will answer the following questions
about one or two of the texts we’ve read and discussed: What argument does this text make, and to what extent is the argument convincing or successful? How well and
in what ways do the various elements of the text – the writer’s use of logical reasoning and evidence, the writer’s self-presentation (through tone or style), and the
writer’s attempts to evoke readers’ emotions – combine to make the text’s argument effective (or not)? Your answer to these questions will be the main claim or thesis
of your paper, which you will support by discussing details from the readings. This assignment will help you develop reading and analytical skills that will be useful
in future reading and writing assignments. It will also help you hone skills in drafting, revising, and editing a substantial and well organized paper.
Format and Due Dates:
• The paper should be three or four pages long (it can be a little longer if you write on two texts).
• The paper should be typed, double-spaced, and presented in 12-point font with one-inch margins or smaller.
• The paper should be titled, and your name, the date, and our course number (RHET 110N) should appear in the upper left or right hand corner.
• The draft (ungraded) of the paper is due September 5. The final version (graded) is due September23.
Option #1: Choose one of the seven texts we’ve read over the past two classes (Delbanco,Tugend, Edmundson, Nemko, Applebaum, Webley, and Wolfers). Write a thesis-
driven analysis essay answering this question: To what extent does this text present a convincing/effective argument? In responding to this question, consider the
following factors: 1) the text’s use (or lack) of logical reasoning and adequate evidence in support of its main claims, 2) the writer’s presentation of (or failure
to present) him or herself as credible and fair-minded as seen through the text’s tone and style and through the writer’s willingness to consider different points of
view, and 3) the text’s appeal to (or failure to appeal to) its audience’s emotions or feelings. In your discussion, consider the degree to which the text’s
effectiveness depends on the audience reading it (e. g., where it was published, for whom it was written). You may also discuss whether your own experiences support or
contest the text’s claims. Note that you don’t have to consider all of these elements in your analysis – just the ones you find most relevant to your assessment.
Base your analysis/assessment in specific examples from the text.
Option #2: Select two of the seven texts we’ve read, and write a thesis-driven analysis essay answering this question: Which of the two texts presents its argument
more effectively and why? In responding to this question, consider the following factors: 1) the texts’ use (or lack) of logical reasoning and adequate evidence in
support of their main claims, 2) the writers’ presentation of (or failure to present) themselves as credible and fair-minded as seen through the their tone and style
and through the writers’ willingness to consider different points of view, and 3) the texts’ invocation (or failure to invoke) their audiences’ emotions or feelings.
In your discussion, consider whether the texts’ effectiveness depends on the audience reading them. You may also discuss whether your own experiences support or
contest the texts’ claims. Note that you don’t have to consider all of these elements – just the ones you find most relevant to your assessment. In fact, you may wish
to focus on one or two rhetorical elements for each text. (For example, you might evaluate one text as particularly strong in logical reasoning and evidence, and
another as strong in appealing to emotions [pathos].) Or you might compare and contrast two texts solely in terms of one factor, such as their writers’ effectiveness
in presenting a credible, open-minded persona [ethos].) Base your analysis/assessment in specific examples from the texts.
Criteria for Evaluation:
Below are the categories according to which your paper will be assessed. Use these as guidelines as you draft and revise your essay.
Thesis: Your paper should articulate, focus on, and develop a clear and contestable claim or thesis about the rhetorical effectiveness of the text(s) you choose to
write about. Note that your thesis should NOT be a simple restatement of the text’s main argument (that should come at the beginning of your summary, which, while
part of your introductory section, should not be your thesis). Rather, your thesis should make clear your evaluative judgment of the extent to which you think the
argument(s) you’re analyzing succeeds or fails in convincing its (their) audience(s). In addition to being an assertion, an effective thesis is also specific,
indicating the main reasons for your evaluative judgment of the text. We’ll work more in class on developing effective working thesis statements to help you prepare
for writing your draft.
Development/Support: Your evaluation of the text(s) you’re discussing (i. e., your thesis or primary claim) must be based on a close analysis of textual details. In
other words, you must provide textual evidence – through quotation and paraphrase – of the points you make about a text and explain in your own commentaryhow this
evidence supports your evaluation. Show your reader where and how an argument works or does not work. Grounding your assessment of the text in specific parts of it is
very important. Be sure to include key examples – through quotation or paraphrase — of the points you want to make. Also, do NOT assume your quotations and
paraphrases will speak for themselves; explain clearly how these examples support your overall point about the text.
Complexity/Alternative Views: Although you must present (as your thesis) an overall judgment or assessment of the rhetorical effectiveness or success of the text(s)
you’re analyzing, your discussion should not be too one-sided. That is, a thoughtful analysis of any of these texts will show awareness of different perspectives on
the text’s strengths and weaknesses, particularly with respect to the different audiences that it might address. For instance, if overall you find a particular text
successful in convincing a general audience because it provides strong evidence and logical reasoning, you might at the same time think that the writer of that text
seems to dismiss or disrespect readers who might come to the issue with a different viewpoint. Alternatively, while you might find a particular argument lacking in
evidence and one-sided and so overall unlikely to persuade general readers, you might recognize that that same argument makes effective emotional or values-based
appeals to readers from a particular group (e. g., readers of a particular age, gender, or political viewpoint). In each of these cases, you could still present an
overall positive or negative assessment, but that assessment is more subtle and reasonable because it is qualified by your recognition of other legitimate
Organization: There is no exact formula for how to organize this paper. However, you should follow a few basic structural guidelines. First, your paper should have
a clear introductory section, body, and conclusion. The introductory section (1-2 paragraphs) should (perhaps after an engaging opening series of sentences) introduce
the topic/issue of the text(s) you’re analyzing, a brief summary of the text, and your thesis statement. The order in which you present these elements can vary, but
it should include all three. The body of the paper is where you develop your main points and alternative views with specific evidence/examples from the text(s). The
number of paragraphs here will vary depending upon how many points you make and how detailed your examples and commentary are. Whatever the case, be sure that each
paragraph is focused on a single clear topic usually introduced at the beginning of the paragraph, that transitions between paragraphs are clear, and that you avoid
excessively long or short paragraphs. Your one-paragraph conclusion should briefly re-state your overall assessment of the text(s) and comment on the wider
significance of the topic or issue it addresses.
Grammar/Mechanics: The final version of your paper should minimize mechanical and grammatical errors (such as spelling errors, grammatical errors like sentence
fragments, subject-verb disagreements, etc.). Also, you should be sure to cite by page number any quotations and paraphrases (MLA format). We will work on editing
and proofreading both in regular classes and in lab sessions.
For a sample rhetorical analysis essay, see Barnet and Bedau, From Critical Thinking to Argument, 162-64.
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