How to Create a Compelling Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

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Written By Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class.

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Do you need to write a rhetorical analysis essay outline? Even the word is quite a mouthful, and it can seem far more intimidating than it really is, especially if you’re new to the style. That’s why we’ve put together this super helpful guide to the rhetorical essay format and everything you need to know to get the job done.

What is a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

Before we look at the rhetorical analysis format, let’s answer a fundamental question – what is a rhetorical analysis essay, anyway? Rhetorical analysis essays take another person’s work of nonfiction (usually, sometimes fiction is allowed) and dig deep into how the message was presented and why. They can be about anything – from books to magazine articles, famous speeches, and even TV commercials and videos. It’s all about looking deeply into how the media created its message and whether it’s effective at delivering it.

Why learn how to write a rhetorical analysis essay? It’s essential to know how people deliver a message. Think of marketing. Successful marketers don’t just make things up and hope for the best! They review what their successful competition is doing and figure out how to leverage it for their brand. This includes creating the right effect with the message, using power words that will drive their campaign, and so on – all skills you will learn while creating the outline for your rhetorical analysis essay.

As you can see, it’s an important critical skill to develop, and your rhetorical analysis essay will help you learn a lot about how humans respond to what we consume as well.

How Long Should My Rhetorical Analysis Essay Be?

There is no strict rule about how long a rhetorical analysis essay should be, unless you have been given a target word length by your school or professor. You will, however, need to include key parts in your rhetorical analysis-conclusion, opening paragraph, thesis statement, and enough body sections to adequately make your analysis and argument. Our rhetorical analysis thesis outline will assist with this.

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay?

We will look at the rhetorical analysis essay outline in more detail below. First, however, it’s important to identify the steps you will take in writing your essay, to make sure it is insightful and clear to the reader. How do you analyze your source material?

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You will start by noting the overall rhetorical elements used. Here are four key elements:

  • Purpose: Why did the speaker or author create this piece? What were they hoping to achieve or convince people of?
  • Audience: Who was the piece directed at? What are their backgrounds and demographics? What unites them as an audience?
  • Context: No piece is an island. What was/is happening around the work you are analyzing? What was the social climate, place, and time when it was written? What was happening around it?
  • Medium: How is the message being delivered to us? Why would this be the best way to express the thought?

Rhetorical Appeals

With that framework in mind, now move on to the rhetorical appeals and devices the author uses. This includes ethos, pathos, and logos, which we’ve looked at in detail in the next section. Also, consider how they are evoked – the imagery used, the tone taken, the syntax offered, and so on.

Analysis and Evaluation

Of course, the point here is an analysis of the content you’ve chosen. So now it’s time to dig deep into how they used these methods and why they selected them. Were they successful or not? Why? Why not? If it wasn’t a successful attempt, what do you think the audience actually felt? At this point, you are building the ‘meat’ of your actual rhetorical analysis essay, so spend a lot of time with this. Remember, your evaluation is your main argument!

Thesis Statement

We revisit this a little later, but it’s worth adding here, too. Try to take these overall ideas and refine them into a straightforward thesis statement. This will help you build a strong foundation for your essay. This statement must demonstrate:

  • The purpose the content creator had for the content
  • The methods they used
  • How effective they were

And contain the very core of your argument, which the rest of the essay develops further. It could look something like this:

In (content piece), the author compellingly demonstrates how removing access to some forms of public transport adversely affected vulnerable community members. They presented factual data, alongside personal experience and anecdotes that spoke to the problem’s root.

Prepare to write:

With that core element of your essay nailed down, you can begin to organize the thoughts, ideas, and evidence you’ve unearthed so far into your outline. Let’s take a closer look at it.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Outline

So, what goes into the outline of a rhetorical analysis essay? It’s worth spending some time creating a rhetorical analysis essay/thesis outline for your work, even if it seems like wasted time. With a streamlined, sensible process in place, and a solid framework to work within, it will be much easier to organize the flow of your thoughts. So it’s time to create your rhetorical analysis outline.

As you go, think about the work you’re analyzing. Focus on aspects like the creator, their intention and message, the setting, and other vital details. Not only will this help you easily create the rhetorical analysis outline, but it will also do a lot of the work.

Rhetorical Analysis Introduction

How to start a rhetorical analysis is one of the most asked questions by students – and with good reason. The introduction needs to achieve many things. You will be telling the reader about what you’re analyzing, whether it achieved its goals, and hooking the reader to keep reading along with you. This means it has to be one of the strongest parts of your essay.

Open on something interesting to pull people into your writing, known as a hook. Then introduce the author and work you are examining. There is no need for deep detail as that’s for the body but enough to grasp the subject. Explain whether or not you think they were successful with their message and why you decided on that judgment.

Thesis Statement

Here at the end of the introduction is also where your thesis statement will reside. A strong thesis statement is critical to a rhetorical analysis essay. In many ways, it is the lynchpin of the whole essay. Think of it as a quick guide to the entire argument you will be making.

It should be one or two sentences long, very clear and concise, and carry the intent of informing what the reader will get from your paper. You will outline the tools you are using to analyze the source material. Three of these are most typical for rhetorical analysis essays:

  • Diction: How the author uses words and styles
  • Imagery: The visually descriptive language they use
  • Simile: Direct ‘like’ and ‘as’ comparisons between items.

The Body

The Body of your rhetorical outline is the most changeable part of the rhetorical analysis essay template. You can make a convincing argument in as little as 500 words. Or you may need more space. Don’t confuse being wordy with being ‘smart’ or ‘effective’- try to use as few words as you need to be concise and clear.

Here is where you will do the bulk of your analysis. Look at how the author used their tools to drive the purpose of the text.

While you can use any number of paragraphs, we suggest at least 3. Each should open with a topic sentence that links it to your thesis statement, proving and fortifying it. Add a relevant quote from the original text that helps demonstrate your point. Then use the rest of the text for your analysis. This should be at least three times longer than the quoted text. Quotes and findings that support your point will be used throughout.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

These are the three classic rhetorical appeals that you should use to help you analyze the text. Use them throughout the body.

  • Ethos: How the author establishes themselves as reliable and trustworthy with their tone or credentials.
  • Pathos: ‘Tugging on your feelings.’ This is how an appeal to the reader’s emotions is made through emotive language or touching stories.
  • Logos: This is the root word for Logic, which should give you a hint. How does the author develop their ideas logically? Do they reach sensible conclusions?


Once you’ve established your argument and developed it through the body, you will round off with a paragraph as a conclusion. It’s the most forgotten part of the rhetorical analysis essay format, so keep it in mind! You need to reiterate your main argument to emphasize your point concisely. Give a quick overview of the pros and cons in the text, and restate whether you feel they were effective.

And there you have it! This is the basic rhetorical analysis template that can be adapted to a wide range of essays.

Rhetorical Analysis Essay Strategies

Now you have a rhetorical analysis essay outline/template to follow, but the hard work doesn’t stop there. Throughout your essay, you need to demonstrate strong use of rhetorical analysis strategies to examine the essay contents. This helps you persuade your audience and develop your argument. There are many different strategies, but these are the most commonly used:

  • Description: This is the most straightforward strategy, merely telling your reader something through the direct description. What is it? What is it not? This helps them understand what a specific term means as you use it.
  • Cause and effect: The key part of this strategy is the cause. The effect is what happened because of that cause. In this way, you join the present (effect) to the past (cause), or the present (cause) to future action (effect).
  • Process Analysis: How was something achieved? This is a strategy that’s good for history-focused essays, as it shows how something was achieved in the past but can be used for any topic. For example, this article is a process analysis! You also find process analysis used to explore topics from simple descriptions of how to do tasks, to complex advice like processing grief.
  • Exemplification: This is another commonly used strategy. You give examples to illustrate your overall point. Every time you analyze a quote, you’re using this. However, make sure that there is a transparent and explainable relationship between your quote and the point you’re making.
  • Compare and Contrast: What is similar and different? This is a strong strategy used often in arguments, speeches, and reports, which is useful for rhetorical analysis.
  • Narration: Narration takes the reader on a journey through storytelling, which is why it’s an essential rhetorical strategy. We use life experience and personal stories to make our points.

Analyzing rhetoric is how we evaluate and understand what other creators have made. We also arrive at better ways to make our arguments more efficient through such analysis. That’s why it’s worth exploring all of these rhetorical analysis strategies and how they can be applied to your topic even if you discard some for your practical purposes. 

Don’t just mechanically approach your topic. That way, you just hear what they say. Instead, pay attention to how they say it, using these strategies. This will help you develop your critical thinking, one of the most important things you will ever do. This is your toolkit that will help you evaluate media critically, a skill that will help you throughout your life.

And there you have it! You have learned how to write a rhetorical analysis essay, from choosing your topics to developing a coherent argument in a logical outline. We’ve even looked at some key tips and strategies for your rhetorical analysis essay, too. With this outline and these tools in your kit, you will be able to take your conclusions and express them to the reader logically. Now it’s up to you to practice those skills!

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