With the many different styles of essay writing students can be assigned, a rhetorical essay can often be the most challenging. An assignment designed to analyze the context, intentions, and effectiveness of subject matter, a rhetorical essay requires students to apply critical thinking to break down the subject matter and contemplate how each part works together to create the desired effect.
A rhetorical essay is not a summary of the text or a personal opinion on the work being analyzed; instead, it requires students to use their critical thinking skills to dissect how the author has used words to create their desired effect.
While writing a rhetorical essay (sometimes called a rhetorical analysis essay) can be challenging, it isn’t impossible when students are aware of the best writing strategies for crafting this type of assignment.
We’ve broken down the essentials of rhetorical essay writing below and included 160 rhetorical essay topics to help students practice their new skills.
Essential Factors When Writing a Rhetorical Essay
Before getting into the breakdown of the rhetorical essay writing process, it’s essential to first understand the point of this type of writing. Unlike other forms of essay writing, a rhetorical essay does not seek to persuade or argue a point. Instead, its purpose is to analyze how the author of a piece of text has used words to create a certain effect or meaning.
There are three key factors that students need to keep in mind when writing a rhetorical analysis essay:
1. Rhetorical Situation
The first step in writing a rhetorical analysis essay is understanding the rhetorical situation. This involves understanding the text being analyzed, the author, the audience, and the purpose for writing.
2. Rhetorical Appeals
After understanding the rhetorical situation, students need to identify which of the topics three rhetorical appeals are being used. These appeals are ethos, pathos, and logos.
Pathos is the appeal to emotion and is often used to create a sense of empathy in the reader. Ethos is the appeal to ethics and is used to build trust between the subject and the audience. Logos is the appeal to logic and is used to persuade the audience through reasoning.
3. Rhetorical Strategies
The final step is to identify the subject’s different rhetorical strategies. These strategies include but are not limited to:
- Appeal to authority
Only once students have identified these three rhetorical elements can they begin to analyze and write about the text.
How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay: The Basics
Now that the key elements that students need to keep in mind when writing a rhetorical essay have been covered, let’s look at the basics of putting together this type of assignment step-by-step.
The first step in the writing process is always pre-writing. This is when students brainstorm and come up with ideas for their essay.
When prewriting for a rhetorical analysis essay, students should take the following steps:
- Read the text multiple times to thoroughly understand the subject matter.
- Make note of any words, phrases, or ideas that stand out.
- Identify the audience, purpose, and context of the text.
- Determine which rhetorical appeals and strategies are being used.
2. Thesis Statement
After pre-writing, the next step is to write a thesis statement. This will be the main argument or point that students are trying to make in their essay. When writing a thesis statement for a rhetorical analysis essay, students should state a clear position that they will be taking on the text. Some good examples of rhetorical essay thesis statements include:
“The author uses emotional appeal to gain the reader’s trust to sell them a product.”
“Although the author’s use of logos is effective, their overuse of pathos creates a sense of doubt in the reader’s mind.”
“The presenter offers a valid argument, but they fail to consider the deep-seated cultural ideologies that inform the opposing view.”
3. Introductory Paragraph
Once the thesis statement has been written, students can move on to writing their introductory paragraph. This paragraph should begin with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and end with a clear statement of the essay’s main argument. The rest of the paragraph should be used to provide background information on the text being analyzed.
4. Body Paragraphs
After the introductory paragraph, students will move on to writing their body paragraphs. These paragraphs should each begin with a topic sentence that introduces the main point of the paragraph and end with a conclusion that wraps up that point. The majority of the paragraph should be dedicated to explaining and supporting the point being made.
The final step in the writing process is to write a conclusion. This paragraph should begin with a restatement of the essay’s main argument and end with a broader statement about the implications of that argument.
An excellent way to craft a thought-provoking conclusion is to pose a rhetorical question that leaves the reader with something to think about long after they have finished reading your essay.
By following these simple steps, students can easily write a well-crafted rhetorical analysis essay that will engage and inform the reader.
160 Rhetorical Essay Topics
Using the writing guides above, students can craft a well-written rhetorical analysis essay on any of the following topics. Remember that the goal with these topics is to read, understand, and analyze the purposes, effects, and intentions of the given text, not to agree or disagree with the subject matter of the rhetorical analysis.
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Speeches
- The “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
- The “Second Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln
- The “Eulogy for Rosa Parks” by Bill Clinton
- The “Inaugural Address” by Barack Obama
- The “Farewell Address” by George Washington
- The “I Am Somebody” speech by Jesse Jackson
- The “Tear Down This Wall” speech by Ronald Reagan
- The “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” speech by Patrick Henry
- The “We Shall Fight On The Beaches” speech by Winston Churchill
- The acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize by Nelson Mandela
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Books
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Advertisements
- Nike “Just Do It” advertisement
- Pepsi “Live for Now” advertisement
- Dove “Real Beauty” campaign
- Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign
- Burger King’s “Have it Your Way” advertising campaign
- Absolut Vodka “In an Absolut World” advertisement
- Got Milk? “Aaron Burr” ad campaign
- Chevrolet “The Heartbeat of America” commercial
- Apple “Think Different” commercial
- FedEx “We Understand” ad campaign
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Songs
- “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen
- “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger
- “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan
- “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown
- “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
- “Imagine” by John Lennon
- “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
- “The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti” by Joaquín Rodrigo
- “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
- “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Films
- The Godfather
- Forrest Gump
- The Silence of the Lambs
- Citizen Kane
- The Truman Show
- The Social Network
- Chinese Roulette
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Television Shows
- The Simpsons
- I Love Lucy
- All in the Family
- The Cosby Show
- Saturday Night Live
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
- The Colbert Report
- AMC’s Mad Men
Rhetorical Essay Topics About News Stories
- The September 11th attacks
- The moon landing
- The assassination of JFK
- The Watergate scandal
- The Gulf War
- Hurricane Katrina
- The O.J. Simpson trial
- The death of Princess Diana
- The election of Barack Obama
- The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Historical Events
- The American Revolution
- The Civil War
- World War I
- World War II
- The Cold War
- The Holocaust
- The civil rights movement
- The women’s suffrage movement
- The Industrial Revolution
- The fall of the Berlin Wall
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Websites
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Dictators
- Adolf Hitler
- Saddam Hussein
- Muammar Gaddafi
- Kim Jong-il
- Joseph Stalin
- Vladimir Lenin
- Mao Zedong
- Pol Pot
- Idi Amin
- Benito Mussolini
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Heroism
- The 9/11 firefighters
- The soldiers of the United States Armed Forces
- The police officers of the United States
- First responders
- Good Samaritans
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Racism
- The N-word
- “Reverse racism”
- The Ku Klux Klan
- White privilege
- Racism in the United States
- Racism in South Africa
- Indigenous rights
- Racial stereotypes
- Immigration and xenophobia
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Religion
- The Bible
- The Quran
- The Torah
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Technology
- The Internet
- Social media
- The Cloud
- Online dating
- Video games
- App development
- Net neutrality
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Sports
- Auto racing
Rhetorical Essay Topics About Celebrities
- Taylor Swift
- Kanye West
- Kim Kardashian
- Justin Bieber
- Oprah Winfrey
- Steven Spielberg
- James Franco
- J.K. Rowling
- Lady Gaga
These 160 rhetorical essay topics should serve as a great starting point for your writing. Remember that after choosing the topic, you’ll want to craft an essay that examines the techniques used by the person, entity, or ideologies you’re analyzing and their effectiveness in achieving that goal.