HOME> Grads > Writing & Speaking Guides > Academic Writing > Analysis > Rhetorical Terms

Rhetorical Terms

Alphabetical list of Handouts & Guides

Words of Wisdom

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

— George Orwell

A rhetorical analysis breaks an essay, speech, cartoon, advertisement, or other persuasive or argumentative performance, into parts and considers how those parts come together to create an effect. The following is an alphabetically arranged list of terms often used in rhetorical analysis.

In the list below, the “rhetorician” would be the writer, speaker, or artist who has created the text being analyzed. For example, if you’re writing a rhetorical analysis of an essay by Mark Twain, Twain is the rhetorician, and your analysis would discuss the choices he made as an author and the effect those choices have on readers.

Alliteration: the repetition of letters or sounds at the beginning of a word. It can be used to create a mood or make a passage memorable.

Ex.  “I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet” (Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the Night”).

Amplification: extensive development of one subject or idea. Rhetoricians may intentionally treat a point in many ways so that it can be shown in different lights or emphasized.

Ex.  “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who frets and struts his hour on stage and then is heard from no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, “MacBeth”).

Allusion: a brief reference to a historical or literary figure, event, or object that the target audience would know, thus helping them identify with the rhetoric and also showing the rhetorician is well-read. For example, allusions to the Bible and Shakespeare are common among English-speaking rhetoricians.

Ex. “And this will be the day—this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: ‘My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing . . .’” (Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream”).

Analogy: a comparison between two things. Analogies can be used to make a subject/ idea memorable or easier to understand. Arguments by analogy are easily refuted since analogies, inevitably, can only be carried so far.

Ex.  ”Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded” (Henry Kissinger in a 1969 memo to Nixon).

Arrangement or organization: how information is located in an essay or speech. Consider the different effects on the reader if the author presents a startling statistic at the very beginning of an essay as opposed to the middle of the second paragraph. No matter what kind of writing, the most emphatic positions are beginnings and endings—whether of sentences, paragraphs, chapters or the piece as a whole. Arrangement should be considered in light of the purpose of the writing and the audience.

Ex.  Rhetoricians who want to make a strong argument against an opponent may place the refutation section in the beginning or end, but they will not bury it in the middle.

Authority: the invocation of an expert or facts to increase the credibility of a message. Often, the authority is quoted directly and his or her credentials mentioned to show exactly what was said.

Ex.  “As Lancelot Hogben, the eminent social biologist and early critic of the concept of race, remarked in 1932: ‘Geneticists believe that anthropologists have deiced what a race is. Ethnologists assume that their classifications embody principles which genetic science has proved to be correct. . . ‘” (Ashley Montagu,Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race).

Common ground: the point at which people in general disagreement can agree. Rhetoricians often use the technique of laying common ground if their target audience is likely to oppose their claims or reject their arguments. Beginning with common ground places the rhetorician and the audience on the same level, opening the way for the audience to consider the argument.

Ex.  One side of an argument opposes the death penalty for first-degree murder; the other advocates it. They find common ground by agreeing that stern punishment is in order, and they may also agree that nothing less than life imprisonment without parole is a starting point.

Definitions: Explanation of the meaning of a term or word. A definition can seem (but is not) inarguable. Rhetoricians use definitions when the target audience is likely to disagree or when they come from a very different background. A definition is a form of common ground because it places the rhetoricians and audience on the same page.

Ex.  Rhetoricians may argue against euthanasia by defining the nature of euthanasia as murder.

Delivery: the presentation. In oral rhetoric, delivery encompasses the speaker’s gestures, clothing, visuals, tone of voice, mannerisms, or interaction with the audience. In written or visual rhetoric, delivery may refer to the format or layout of the page, the tone, and design elements.

Diction: word choice. Word choice affects style and tone. A word’s connotation, or its suggestive and emotional impact, is as important as its dictionary meaning. Consider the differences in the following statements:

Ex. 1  The subjects on the ship knew that their time was limited, and they began to prepare for their inevitable demise.
Ex. 2  The people on the ship had realized that they would die and spent their last few hours in prayer and with their families.

Enthymeme: an argument that implies or assumes but does not state one of its premises. The effectiveness of the enthymeme depends upon the acceptance of the premise being drawn not from certainties, as with the syllogism, but from the beliefs and presuppositions of the audience.

Ex.  Rhetoricians arguing that euthanasia is murder are arguing with the unstated premise that murder is immoral. They assume their audience will agree and come to the conclusion that euthanasia is immoral. Their argument is as follows:
Premise A: Euthanasia is murder.
Suppressed Premise B: Murder is immoral.
Conclusion: Euthanasia is immoral.

Exaggeration, also called hyperbole: the tactic of overstating a topic to emphasize or illustrate a point, appeal to emotion, or get attention. Exaggeration is an effective technique, especially when used with humor or irony.

Ex.  The commercial for Old Spice cologne with the man riding a horse backwards is an example of exaggeration. The company’s goal was to establish Old Spice as a product for “real men.” Therefore, it exaggerated the stereotype of the “real man” in a humorous way to make the product both memorable and desirable.

Example: a specific instance used to illustrate, clarify, or bolster an argument. Anecdotes may serve as extended examples. Although most people find examples helpful and entertaining, they are not considered sufficient evidence in academic circles.

Fact: as opposed to opinion, an assertion supported by well-documented, quantifiable, or empirical evidence or by expert testimony. Rhetoricians use facts as one way to support a claim, especially in academic, business, scientific, or technical documents. Although they may be disputed, if they are established by a well-documented scientific method, they can be considered facts. It is important not to skew or misrepresent facts.

Ex.  In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore argues that global warming is an impending threat. He cites factual researched patterns of climate change over the millennia and includes explicit detail about melting icebergs. He uses facts in an attempt to prove that global warming is taking place and that action is necessary to lessen its detrimental effects. Those who disagree may try to undermine his argument by disputing the quality of his facts or by saying the facts, although correct, don’t support his claims.

Fallacy: a false or invalid argument. Fallacies often seem convincing but are illogical—fallacies might oversimplify or overgeneralize, fail to provide adequate evidence, make jumps in logic, or divert attention from the pertinent issues or arguments.

Irony: a statement in which there is an incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident meaning of words or actions. Verbal and situational irony are often intentionally used as emphasis in an assertion of a truth

Ex.  In the TV drama House, Dr. Gregory House tells a nurse “Perseverance does not equal worthiness. Next time you want to get my attention, wear something fun. Low-riding jeans are hot.” This statement is an example of ironic humor that allows House to mock both the aspiring doctor and the societal norm of men ignoring women’s abilities and focusing on their looks.

Loaded diction (slanted language): using biased or prejudiced word choices that predispose a reader to one position. Though it may be suspect to reasonable audience members, loaded diction may also be an effective way to sway an audience.

Ex.  Politicians using the terms “terrorist” or “act of terror” intend to inspire fear and the need for security. These words immediately invoke audience reactions whether they are being used accurately or with real evidence to back them up. “Communism” has an immediate negative connotation in America, whereas Europeans may hear the term more neutrally.

Paradox: a seeming contradiction that contains some truth, such as “so close and yet so far.” Paradox is usually used to show the complexity of an idea, to make a point, or for poetic effect.

Ex.  “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink” (Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”).

Parallelism: repetition of a word/phrase or grammatical structure for effect. The repetition of a word or phrase can create a feeling of cohesion in a paper or strong emotion in the audience (e.g., Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech). It creates a rhythm and can be used to build a speech to a crescendo.

Ex. Repetition of a Word  “The question we writers are asked most often, the favorite question, is: Why do you write? I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I can partake of real life only by changing it. I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live . . . I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten” (Orhan Pamuk, “My Father’s Suitcase”).
Ex. Repetition of a Phrase  “She’s safe, just like I promised. She’s all set to marry Norrington, just like she promised. And you get to die for her, just like you promised” (Capt. Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean).
Ex. Grammatical Repetition  ”To exist is to changeto change is to matureto mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly” (Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution).

Refutation (rebuttal): a counter argument that specifically and successfully shows an argument to be false. Many arguments contain a refutation section in which the rhetorician points out fallacies in the opposition’s argument.

Ex.  Supposedly, Edmundson’s study clearly shows that video games do not lead to violence. However, it must be considered that this study was funded by the video game industry (Parent’s Defense League). The research proclaiming the blamelessness of video game violence is biased and, therefore, unacceptable. Further unbiased research should be conducted to verify that rising violence in children is linked to rising violence in their games.

Rhetorical question: a question to ponder rather than answer, a question that does not have an immediate answer. A rhetorical question will be ineffective if it can be answered with a simple yes or no.

Ex.  “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” (Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?”).

Statistics: facts expressed in quantifiable form such as numbers, charts, or graphs that lend support to a claim or warrant. Using statistics can lend validity to an argument, but like facts, statistics can be disputed. Statistics can be manipulated to misrepresent the facts. It’s a good idea to support arguments with valid, reliable statistics; it’s not a good idea to influence, make up, or change facts or statistics.

Testimony: using someone’s words to give an argument greater credibility. It is similar to authority, although it also includes the statements or stories of non-experts or may be based on someone’s experiences (as an eye-witness, a user, or a participant) rather than more solid or reliable evidence. Non-expert testimony is easily refuted.

Ex.  Advertisements for weight loss products often employ testimony. “I lost 30 lbs in a week.” People who have “used the product” talk about great it is, how easy, and how much weight they’ve lost.

Tone: how a rhetorician sounds to an audience: arrogant, silly, pompous, smart, serious, authoritative, friendly, sarcastic, impassioned, etc. Tone creates a relationship with the audience and evokes specific reactions. It’s achieved by word choice, sentence or paragraph length, and structure.

Ex. 1  “You wouldn’t think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp. A five-year-old is cute when he lisps and stutters. Heck, most of the big-time kid actors stuttered and lisped their way to stardom. . . . .” (Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).
Ex. 2  “Communication depends upon the supposition that other minds are like one’s own and that another’s terms are affixed to the same ideas as one’s own. Otherwise reasoning together would be fruitless. To discuss the origins of worlds beyond human capacity or the region of spirits is to waste time beating the air. This pertains to the long disputed question concerning liberty and necessity. It has been sophistry where a few intelligible definitions would have ended the controversy” (David Hume, “On Liberty and Necessity”).

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

Sitemap Login