Rhetorical Analysis of a Visual Text
“Americans no longer talk to each other; they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
– Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
This assignment has two separate parts: a 4-5 page analytical essay, and a 1-2 reflection essay.
Part One: You will write a rhetorical analysis of a visual text or texts. You will select a visual text (or set of texts) to analyze, and produce a paper that analyzes the rhetorical structures and techniques your chosen text uses to communicate.
Find a “text” (which our textbook defines as “a written text, a visual text, and audio text, or one that combines words, images, and sound”) that you deem interesting and that has a persuasive aim. Analyze the persuasiveness of this text. Before you begin to analyze persuasive tools, you will want to establish the author’s subject, purpose, and audience and perhaps give some background on the context for the text. Then write an analysis (of 1250-1500 words) that will help your readers understand how the text works to persuade its audience and that makes a judgment about the text’s persuasive effectiveness. The purpose of a rhetorical analysis is to “take a close look at how authors, designers, or artists communication their messages to an audience. Whether they are using words or images, adjusting font sizes or colors, they all are trying to persuade a particular audience to have a particular reaction to a particular message—theirs” (Everyone’s an Author, p. 13).
The possible choices of text are voluminous. You may choose to analyze a photo or set of photos; a website; an ad or series of ads; posters; album covers; any sort of visual text for which you can discern and discuss the argument the text is making, and the rhetorical elements being employed to make that argument. Your paper should examine the messages contained within the text, as well as the cultural influences/realities that are reflected in that text.
This essay should be 1,000-1,250 words (approximately 4-5 pages), typed, double-spaced, in 12-pt. font, using MLA style for format and documentation. You must also include a copy of your chosen image with your paper, or, in the case of web-based images, the exact web address needed to view the image.
Part Two: For the second part of this assignment, you will write a 300-500 word (1-2 pages) informal reflection paper explaining the choices you have made as an author. Your reflection question should address the following questions:
Purpose and Thesis:
What is your purpose in writing this essay? What do you want your readers to come away with?
What, exactly, is your thesis for this essay? How does your thesis go beyond a statement of fact to present an arguable idea? How does your thesis help to accomplish your purpose?
Organization and Development:
How are your paragraphs organized? What transitions between paragraphs do you use to lead your reader through your argument?
What specific points of support does your essay use? How does the structure of your essay build your argument?
What are the strongest points you make as evidence to support your thesis? What makes them strong? What do you think are your weakest points? Why do you think so?
Style and Language:
What stylistic techniques did you use to catch and keep your readers’ attention?
In what ways do you think your word choices and sentence structure enhance your essay? For example, do you use active voice rather than passive? In what ways do you vary your sentence structure and type to keep the paper interesting and engaging?
Are there areas in your essay where you have attempted to employ rhetorical techniques–such as parallelism, alliteration, humor, analogy—to enhance your writing? How successful do you think you were in using techniques like these?
How effective do you feel your essay is? Is there anything that disappointed you about your writing in this assignment? If you had more time to work on it or revise it, how would you make it more effective or interesting?
NOTE: In this unit, we will be discussing analyzing rhetoric in general and visual text analysis in particular. We will also focus on making good observations, developing questions for analysis, and exploring texts more deeply and critically. Your essay will be your opportunity to demonstrate your rhetorical and analytical skills in a more traditional academic format.
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