Organizing Your Analysis
This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles.
Contributors:Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2015-08-30 05:01:04
There is no one perfect way to organize a rhetorical analysis essay. In fact, writers should always be a bit leery of plug-in formulas that offer a perfect essay format. Remember, organization itself is not the enemy, only organization without considering the specific demands of your particular writing task. That said, here are some general tips for plotting out the overall form of your essay.
Like any rhetorical analysis essay, an essay analyzing a visual document should quickly set the stage for what you’re doing. Try to cover the following concerns in the initial paragraphs:
- Make sure to let the reader know you’re performing a rhetorical analysis. Otherwise, they may expect you to take positions or make an evaluative argument that may not be coming.
- Clearly state what the document under consideration is and possibly give some pertinent background information about its history or development. The intro can be a good place for a quick, narrative summary of the document. The key word here is “quick, for you may be dealing with something large (for example, an entire episode of a cartoon like the Simpsons). Save more in-depth descriptions for your body paragraph analysis.
- If you’re dealing with a smaller document (like a photograph or an advertisement), and copyright allows, the introduction or first page is a good place to integrate it into your page.
- Give a basic run down of the rhetorical situation surrounding the document: the author, the audience, the purpose, the context, etc.
Thesis Statements and Focus
Many authors struggle with thesis statements or controlling ideas in regards to rhetorical analysis essays. There may be a temptation to think that merely announcing the text as a rhetorical analysis is purpose enough. However, especially depending on your essay’s length, your reader may need a more direct and clear statement of your intentions. Below are a few examples.
1. Clearly narrow the focus of what your essay will cover. Ask yourself if one or two design aspects of the document is interesting and complex enough to warrant a full analytical treatment.
The website for Amazon.com provides an excellent example of alignment and proximity to assist its visitors in navigating a potentially large and confusing amount of information.
2. Since visual documents often seek to move people towards a certain action (buying a product, attending an event, expressing a sentiment), an essay may analyze the rhetorical techniques used to accomplish this purpose. The thesis statement should reflect this goal.
The call-out flyer for the Purdue Rowing Team uses a mixture of dynamic imagery and tantalizing promises to create interest in potential, new members.
3. Rhetorical analysis can also easily lead to making original arguments. Performing the analysis may lead you to an argument; or vice versa, you may start with an argument and search for proof that supports it.
A close analysis of the female body images in the July 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine reveals contradictions between the articles’ calls for self-esteem and the advertisements’ unrealistic, beauty demands.
These are merely suggestions. The best measure for what your focus and thesis statement should be the document itself and the demands of your writing situation. Remember that the main thrust of your thesis statement should be on how the document creates meaning and accomplishes its purposes. The OWl has additional information on writing thesis statements.
Analysis Order (Body Paragraphs)
Depending on the genre and size of the document under analysis, there are a number of logical ways to organize your body paragraphs. Below are a few possible options. Which ever you choose, the goal of your body paragraphs is to present parts of the document, give an extended analysis of how that part functions, and suggest how the part ties into a larger point (your thesis statement or goal).
This is the most straight-forward approach, but it can also be effective if done for a reason (as opposed to not being able to think of another way). For example, if you are analyzing a photo essay on the web or in a booklet, a chronological treatment allows you to present your insights in the same order that a viewer of the document experiences those images. It is likely that the images have been put in that order and juxtaposed for a reason, so this line of analysis can be easily integrated into the essay.
Be careful using chronological ordering when dealing with a document that contains a narrative (i.e. a television show or music video). Focusing on the chronological could easily lead you to plot summary which is not the point of a rhetorical analysis.
A spatial ordering covers the parts of a document in the order the eye is likely to scan them. This is different than chronological order, for that is dictated by pages or screens where spatial order concerns order amongst a single page or plane. There are no unwavering guidelines for this, but you can use the following general guidelines.
- Left to right and top to down is still the normal reading and scanning pattern for English-speaking countries.
- The eye will naturally look for centers. This may be the technical center of the page or the center of the largest item on the page.
- Lines are often used to provide directions and paths for the eye to follow.
- Research has shown that on web pages, the eye tends to linger in the top left quadrant before moving left to right. Only after spending a considerable amount of time on the top, visible portion of the page will they then scroll down.
The classic, rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos. These concepts roughly correspond to the logic, emotion, and character of the document’s attempt to persuade. You can find more information on these concepts elsewhere on the OWL. Once you understand these devices, you could potentially order your essay by analyzing the document’s use of logos, ethos, and pathos in different sections.
The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis essay may not operate too differently from the conclusion of any other kind of essay. Still, many writers struggle with what a conclusion should or should not do. You can find tips elsewhere on the OWL on writing conclusions. In short, however, you should restate your main ideas and explain why they are important; restate your thesis; and outline further research or work you believe should be completed to further your efforts.
How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay
A visual analysis essay is quite different from a normal essay. Essays in general are descriptive, reflective, argumentative, etc. But a visual analysis essay is different from these as in the visual analysis essay there is no given topic or research statement. Students are supposed to think on the topic and content of the essay by interpreting and analyzing the visual stimulus which might be in the form of a photograph, a portrait, a painting, a sculpture or any kind of artistic object that has some amount of graphical element in it. However, quite often students find it difficult to write such essays as they are not aware of the steps and methods involved in writing a visual analysis essay and as such, the common query they make is: how to write a visual analysis essay? This article is aimed at such students who find writing a visual analysis essay a challenging and daunting task.
Steps in Writing a Visual Analysis Essay
Before starting to write a visual analysis essay, you should carefully study the artwork for a good amount of time. This is the first and foremost step before writing a visual analysis essay. The study should be at first a causal one looking at the overall tone, settings and moods of the character(s) or object(s) in the painting or picture/image. By doing so, some thoughts will naturally come to the mind, like the overall theme or message that the artist is trying to portray through his or her artwork, the background, the underlying themes, motifs or symbols, etc. When all the initial thoughts and ideas have been carefully noted down, you should now try to give more focus to the artwork as this time the aim of the scan will be to look into little and finer aspects of the artwork like texture, composition, hue, emotions, background, colours, borders, etc. By taking a second detailed look at the finer elements of the sample artwork, you will find it easier to join the missing gaps and other clues for making the overall essay. Some of the questions that you should ask yourself while looking at the artwork could be:
- What is the object that the artwork is referring to? Is it animate or inanimate or a mixture of both?
- What is the material used in making the artwork? Is it stone, wood, canvas, paper, etc.?
- What is the form or structure of the artwork? Is it a sculpture, painting, image, portrait, etc.?
- What was the approximate era or period when it was made?
- What is the approximate era or time it refers to?
- Is it representational in nature? If it is, then what exactly is being represented by the image, painting, drawing or sculpture?
- What might be the reasons for the artist, painter to portray the artwork in that particular fashion?
- What emotion does the artwork convey to the mind: colour, texture, tone, shape, space of the sculpture/painting?
- What are the initial feelings that come to the mind after looking at the artwork?
- What are the secondary thoughts that come to the mind on a second look at the artwork?
- Do the initial and secondary feelings and thoughts correlate with each other or are they different from each other?
- What is the overall theme, motif or symbol that the artwork is trying to convey to the reader?
- Does the title of the artwork have any seemingly resemblance with the artwork or is it quite vague and abstract from the artwork?
Structuring a Visual Analysis Essay
After the artwork has been studied thoroughly and all the ideas have been exhausted, the next step is to write all these thoughts that have been accumulated in the mind in the previous steps. This is a basic outline that you should follow while trying to attempt to write a visual analysis essay.
While structuring the essay, it is important that an appropriate thesis is chosen. The thesis is the first and foremost thing that should be kept in the mind while writing the essay, as it relates to the main idea(s) of the visual analysis essay. Another important thing that should be kept in mind while writing the essay is that the paragraphs should both be assertive as well as creative in nature. You should think and reflect on the artwork in a creative way in the initial few paragraphs of the essay. But the later paragraphs should solidify into a concrete statement, by becoming assertive and authoritative in nature. In the end a concluding paragraph should be made so that a proper conclusion is reached and a restatement of the thesis/essay title is clearly achieved.
By following the above-mentioned steps, you will find writing a visual analysis essay an easier task to do.
Most Frequently Asked Questions About Visual Analysis Paper Writing
How to start a visual analysis paper
The first step in writing a visual analysis paper is to review the piece of visual art carefully for a long period of time, ensuring you make note of all notable aspects such as the tone, characters, objects and setting. Record all your thoughts as this will be your guide to creating your visual analysis essay, as they will be the main points discussed. Next, you will want to write your essay starting with an introduction that explains your thesis statement for the art piece. This will be followed by the body of the essay, which explains your main points. The visual analysis paper can be concluded by summarizing the main points and giving your final opinion on the piece.
How to write a visual analysis thesis statement
The thesis statement explains what the visual means to you. This involves explaining aspects such as:
- What the visual meant to the artist compared to what it means to you.
- What the visual meant in the time it was done compared to what it may mean now in the present day.
- Any changes to the meaning of the visual that may have occurred over time.
- Possible reaction of audiences and also your reactions and feelings towards the piece.
How to write a visual argument analysis essay
When writing a visual argument analysis essay, follow these steps:
- Examine the visual carefully and thoroughly.
- Document details such as the artist, when it was created, any characters or objects in the visual, background setting, colors used, type of materials used, etc.
- Use the information you documented to form your visual analysis piece. These can be used throughout the introduction and body of the essay.
- Be sure to include your interpretation of the piece and give reasons for your opinion. Before you conclude, ensure that you have properly evaluated the piece and given sufficient arguments on what was seen and interpreted.
- End the visual analysis paper with a summary of the main points and your final thoughts on the evaluation of the piece.
How to write a visual analysis of an artwork
When writing a visual analysis of an artwork, you will need to describe elements such as the lines, shapes, colors and forms in the piece. Next, you will want to evaluate how they are put together, ensuring a comment on the symmetry, balance, proportion, scale and rhythm of the piece.
How to write a visual analysis of a painting
In order to analyze a painting, you must record the artists name, title of the piece, date the painting was created, medium used, size and the stylistic period. Following this you will need to describe the subject, theme, content, background and ideas ascertained from the piece. Other points that you will need to review and comment on are the focal points, geometric shapes, symmetry and depths of the piece.
How to write a visual analysis of a sculpture
When analyzing a sculpture, you will need to review and document the following:
- Sculpture details artists name, title of the piece, where it was made, when it was made, dimensions of the piece, ensuring that you state the height of it first and the material used to make it.
- Subject matter determine whether the piece is abstract or representational, explaining reasons of your opinion, and give details on the characterization of the piece.
- Other observations to include content, lighting, color, lines/contouring, space and depth.
How to write a visual analysis of a photograph
Analyzing a photograph is similar to analyzing many types of visual images. You will need to look at and comment on the age, dimensions, lighting, color, lines and texture of the picture. In addition, you should make note of any emotions the photograph evokes and any opinions you have on what is in the picture.
How to write a visual analysis of a political cartoon
Cartoonists are expressive persons who use visuals to send their messages. When evaluating a political cartoon, you need to assess the following points:
- Symbols may be used to represent a main point, issue or idea and it is your responsibility to decipher what the artist means.
- Exaggeration is done when they emphasize a physical feature of a character or thing to make a point.
- Labelling is done to ensure that their point is clearly made.
- An analogy is used to compare a complex issue with a more familiar one to help explain it to the audience or help them see it from a different viewpoint.
- Irony is often used to explain their view on a subject matter.
When you have assessed these points, you will need to determine what the issue is and the opinion of the cartoonist. You can then determine whether or not it was a persuasive cartoon and express your thoughts and opinions on it.
How to write a visual analysis paper on an advertisement
Analyzing an advertisement requires you to do the following:
- Introduce the ad by stating the product or service being advertised.
- Give background information on the ad, and maybe a competing ad, making sure to state the medium (TV, radio or press).
- State the target audience it is aimed at, the reaction of the persons to the ad and end with your own thoughts on it.