In “Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis,” Laura Bilin Carroll writes,
“Think of all the media you see and hear every day: Twitter, television shows, web pages,
billboards, text messages, podcasts…. Media is constantly asking you to buy something, act
in some way, believe something to be true, or interact with others in a specific manner.
Understanding rhetorical messages is essential to help us to become informed consumers,
but it also helps evaluate the ethics of messages, how they affect us personally, and how
they affect society.
Because media rhetoric surrounds us, it is important to understand how rhetoric works. If we
refuse to stop and think about how and why it persuades us, we can become mindless
consumers who buy into arguments about what makes us value ourselves and what makes
Our worlds are full of … social influences. We are continually creating and interpreting
rhetoric. In the same way that you decide how to process, analyze or ignore these
messages, you create them.”
In this paper, you will unpack how one composer — in one text, one instance of storytelling
— creates meaning. The ultimate goal is to examine this text using what we know about
rhetoric, employing key terms like the following: purpose, audience, context, and text/genre.
In ~1000 words, analyze the purpose and overarching message of your chosen text; how it
achieves and/or does not achieve its purpose (given its context, audience, and genre);
and why this text and its purpose/message matter. That is, what story is this text telling?
What ideas about self and/or society is it challenging, re-writing, celebrating, and/or
enforcing? How? And so what? Who might care? What’s at stake?
On the next page are the steps we will follow to compose this essay. Some we will do in
class and some you will complete on your own and submit as homework.
STEP ONE: Choose your text
Pick a text that we have engaged with in/for class that stands out to you as interesting,
strange, or revealing. Pick a text that you are curious about. You do not need to pick a text
that presents a message you agree with; you can pick one that you find problematic or one
that you are uncertain about. What’s most important is that you feel the text is meaty, that it
has layers you can unwrap. Below is a list of texts that you can choose from. If you have
another text in mind that you’d like to analyze which is not on this list, I’m open to it, but please
run it by me to ensure that it will work for this assignment.
“As the World Burns” (Healy, Snap Judgment LIVE)
Lead Me Home (Kos and Shenk)
“How to Tame a Wild Tongue” (Anzaldúa)
“The Power of Reclaiming My Asian Name” (Liu)
Homecoming King (Minhaj)
STEP TWO: Use PACT to unpack your text
If you have already completed a PACT chart for this text, return to it. Review your notes —
are they as full and thoughtful as they could be? Add more notes — possible threads to
explore in your paper. If you did not complete a PACT chart for this text, create one. Use the
PACT aspects to generate ideas.
STEP THREE: Generate ideas by composing a shitty first draft
Freewrite on the text you have chosen by writing freely for ~30 minutes. To get started, at
the top of a blank page type the questions I have posed in the “task” box on the first page of
this assignment sheet. Then, begin writing wherever you like – that is, there is no
introduction, no thesis. You can start with your first impressions, what you see as the
different possible purposes or messages of the text, why you think the text matters, who you
think the intended audiences are and how the composer has attempted to address them in
different ways, why the context is influential, or somewhere else. You can jump right into
concrete examples from the text that you find compelling or explore the possibilities and
constraints of the genre. You can also write by answering the “task” questions in the order in
which they are posed.
This “down draft” will most likely contain moments of summary, but keep asking yourself
questions like the following: So What? Why do the examples/details/ideas I have
mentioned matter? What do they reveal about stories and storytelling? And about how this
composer engages in storytelling? These questions will hopefully allow you to delve into
analytical insights, even if they are underdeveloped and muddled. It is also useful to pose
your own questions throughout this stage of the writing process: in asking them, you can
answer them (or not) and come to conclusions that you have not come to already.
2 Lammott: “A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft – you just get it [your ideas] down.”
1 This “shitty first draft” step is influenced by Anne Lamott’s essay by a similar name.
A shitty first draft is an exploratory stage of the writing process. It is a strategy for getting
all of your ideas down on paper before organizing and polishing them. This draft can and
should be messy. While writing it, silence your inner critic. Do not stop writing at any point
to tinker with small edits or delete shaky ideas. When you do so, you might halt the
idea-generating process and possibly miss an opportunity to write your way into a
compelling idea, claim, or argument. In fact, why not try using an additional strategy to
stop you from editing? You can either cover your computer screen with a piece of paper
so that you cannot see what you are typing or you can try speaking your ideas, using the
“voice typing” tool in Google docs.
STEP FOUR: Compose a complete rough draft for workshop
Bring all of your ideas together into a cohesive whole, with a clear beginning, middle, and
end (i.e. this should not be a stream-of-consciousness draft). If you find outlining to be a
helpful step, then complete one to help you structure your complete raft. If you prefer
another approach to organizing and drafting your ideas, use it! The ultimate goal here is to
compose a draft that comes as close as it can to meeting the criteria for success outlined
below before receiving feedback.
You are writing to someone who is unfamiliar with your text but who is interested in rhetoric.
Criteria for Success
❏ Clear purpose: Provide your audience with a clear introduction to your text — its title,
its genre, its composer, and its focus/purpose. Help your audience understand the
“what” and the “why” of this text: what is the composer’s story and why have they told
it this way? Then make your purpose in discussing it clear. Your goal is NOT to
agree/disagree with the composer (to make an argument about the topic), but rather
to analyze and assess HOW the composer has told their story (refer back to the “task”
questions on the first page of this assignment packet).
NOTE: I have not required a thesis for this paper. If including one helps ground
and direct your purpose, then feel free to include one at the end of the
introduction. However, you might instead find it useful to build up to your
overarching conclusion(s) on the text. Choose an approach that makes sense
given your purpose.
❏ Ample rhetorical analyses. Examine how your text does what it does, making
effective use of key concepts (e.g. purpose, audience, context, and text/genre). In
doing so, thoughtfully unpack specific details from the text so as to illustrate
how/why you have come to the conclusions that you have. That is, SHOW your
audience your thinking (back up your claims with evidence).
NOTE: Evidence for this type of analysis can come in the form of direct
quotations from the text (SHOW the composer’s words or the words of someone
who has been interviewed) and descriptions of part icular examples and scenes.
❏ Thoughtful exigence. Make your analyses meaningful to your audience. Show them
why this text and its message/purpose matter, whom it might matter to, and why it
might matter right now. That is, be direct in guiding your audience through the stakes
of the text and the value of them gaining a deeper understanding of this text.
❏ Purposeful organization. Do not constrain yourself to the 5-paragraph essay. Let
your purpose, ideas, and audience guide the form. Organize your ideas in an
audience-friendly manner – consider what they need first, second, third, etc.
❏ Clear and ethical source use. Avoid the annoyances discussed by Stedman (i.e., this
is about clearly framing and integrating textual material so that your audience can
understand how and why you\’re using the source material). Attribute all ideas, words,
and images to their source using signal phrases and in-text parenthetical citations
along with a works cited page (I am not concerned with the formatting of the works
cited right now – just do your best to create it).
❏ Editing. The paper should be easy to read, demonstrating that you have read over
and edited it with an audience beyond the self in mind. I’m especially looking for
clear signal phrases (voice markers) that distinguish between what you think and
what those you have quoted/paraphrased think. This includes using strong signal
Suggestions & Tips
In order to determine if your composer is effective in achieving their purpose/message,
return to the questions I pose on your PACT charts: given your text’s audience, context, and
genre, have they done enough to meet audience expectations and influence change (in
action or thinking)? Keep in mind the following:
↠You may not be the intended audience. So, in thinking through the success of a
text, make sure to not only rely on your feelings/perspectives as the measure of
success. Also, feel free to explore the possibility that your text has more than one
intended audience. A complex analysis could certainly take into consideration how
the text works and/or does not work for its different audiences.
↠Different genres allow for and are limited by different features/components, modes
of engagement, and audience expectations. Be careful with assuming that all texts
should contain or do the same thing. For instance, not all texts need a specific type of
evidence (e.g. statistics) to be convincing. Carefully consider what makes your genre
unique/distinct. You also might find it generative to examine how your text meets or
does not meet genre expectations and how doing so (or not doing so) might impact
↠When addressing the purpose of your text, consider what the central
conflict/tensions are and if and/or how they are resolved. In class, folks have made
some really interesting points in this regard, distinguishing between social resolution
and internal resolution. In doing so, they have identified the complexities of the issue
at hand. I encourage you also to think about what different types of conflicts and
resolutions may be present in your text and why they matter and who they matter to.
↠Pay attention to the multimodal features — visual, linguistic, spatial, aural, and
gestural — when considering how a text creates meaning. Consider how these
components aid and/or hinder meaning.
↠The PACT elements work together to create meaning. After you have generated
ideas in your PACT chart regarding these aspects separately, think about how they
interact with or depend upon one another. For instance, how might context impact
who the audience is or how the audience might respond to the text? Or how does the
genre influence the purpose? Etc.
You are not required to conduct research for this project. If you have an article or two that
will help you establish the context or which will allow you to dig deeper, that is fine. But if
you include outside sources, you should do so to bolster or complicate your analyses, not
stand in for them. That is, this paper should not become a “data dump.”