Part 2: “So What?” A Writing Series

Welcome back!

So what about rhetorical analysis papers?

The first question you should ask yourself is “What does the paper want?” 

Rhetorical analysis papers explore how rhetoric is used to relay messages, present patterns, and address certain demographics. Rhetoric is not so much what you’re saying, but how you’re saying something. In the pieces you’re consulting, rhetoric is meant to persuade you through not just a sequence of evidence, but a command of language.

When writing rhetorical analysis papers, merely identifying appeals and rhetorical strategies is not sufficient enough to construct a thoughtful analysis. Without the analysis, papers can read instead as summaries. These types of papers should introduce new, insightful interpretations of sources and not serve to regurgitate your evidence.

What kind of evidence is required?

Three rhetorical appeals occur in these essays:

  • Logos: an appeal to logical, formulaic thinking.
  • Pathos: an appeal to emotional responses.
  • Ethos: an appeal to the author’s credibility.

Rhetorical devices fall under the rhetorical appeal umbrella. These are very specific forms of speaking or writing that hold symbolic significance. Some examples are listed below.

  • Anaphora – repetition of a few words at the beginning of a line
  • Repetition – recurring sentences, images, or phrases
  • Alliteration – same letter or sound occurs at the beginning of a sequence of words
  • Cause and effect – a causal relationship between actions and consequences
  • Apostrophe – direct address

Asking “so what?” in the thesis

When crafting a thesis for rhetorical analysis essays, adding “divisions of proof,” or examples of the devices you intend to analyze, may weaken the direction of the essay because they only give so much room for interpretation. In other words, you’ll be confined to only discuss those few things. Instead of explaining what you’re going to discuss in the paper, use the “so what?” question to create a thesis that answers why the topic matters. (As always, keep in mind that a thesis is not always one sentence.)

A thesis may read like the following example:

Thesis One: The Krusty Krab hyperbolizes its worth in an attempt to coerce customers into the restaurant, indicating that the customers’ personal wealth is only valuable if they use it for capitalistic purposes.

What you want to avoid is something like the following:

Thesis Two: The Krusty Krab hyperbolizes its worth by using anaphora, repetition, and synecdoches.

In the first thesis, focusing on capitalism can drive the analyses towards a political science perspective, all the while opening up the doors to greater interpretations. The second example is problematic because it does not argue for a central point; it too narrowly focuses on only the rhetorical strategies.

Asking “so what?” in the analysis

In the analysis, consider asking questions such as these:

  • So what if this article uses hyperboles when discussing Plankton’s achievements?”
  • So what purpose does the oxymoron ‘fine fast food’ serve?”
  • So what if Mr. Krabs uses alogisms in the Krusty Krab commercial?”

The question “so what?” encourages you to consider larger implications of rhetorical devices. Your answers will form the foundation of your commentary. Repetition alone may mean very little, but it may lend itself well depending on certain contexts. For instance, if an advertisement for the Krusty Krab repeats the phrase “come spend your money here,” the reiteration may indicate that the restaurant is attempting to coerce customers into their establishment or their customers’ money is only valuable at their eatery.

From there, “so what?” can start to challenge your commentary as well as your observations. If we were to examine the commentary we just introduced, the questions may read:

  • So what if the Krusty Krab wants to coerce customers?”
  • So what if the Krusty Krab believes the customers’ money is only valuable at their eatery?”

Commentary and analyses can often read rather flat, especially if they only consider the evidence at face-value. Analyzing thoughtfully involves questioning and re-questioning your initial interpretation of evidence. The goal with asking the question “so what?” is to expand, develop, and bolster your analysis. By constantly considering why a piece of evidence or commentary matters, your analysis will stretch beyond the content at face-value.

In the next installment, we’ll show you how to use the information you’ve learned here in persuasive/argumentative papers.

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