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AP Language and Composition » AP Exam Test Prep » AP Exam: The Essays » Rhetorical/Stylistic Analysis Essay
Rhetorical/Stylistic Analysis Essay Rhetorical/Stylistic Analysis Essay

 Rhetorical & Stylistic Analysis of Prose Passage

For the AP English Language Exam, the different types of analysis include the analysis of structure, purpose, and style.

These are possible “Types” of Analysis Questions

o       Analyze an author’s view on a specific subject

o       Analyze rhetorical devices used by an author to achieve his or her purpose

o       Analyze stylistic elements in a passage and their effects

o       Analyze the author’s tone and how the author conveys this tone

o       Compare and/or contrast two passages with regard to style, purpose, or tone

o       Analyze the author’s purpose and how he or she achieves it

o       Analyze some of the ways an author recreates a real or imagined experience

o       Analyze how an author presents him or herself in the passage

o       Discuss the intended and/or probable effect of a passage

Discourse simply means “conversation.” For the writer, this “conversation” takes place between the text and the reader.  To communicate with the reader, the writer uses a particular method or combination of methods to make his or her ideas clear to the reader.

Rhetoric is basically an umbrella term for all of the strategies, modes, and devices a writer can employ to allow the reader to easily accept and understand his or her point of view.

Modes of Discourse-

Prose can be divided into FOUR primary categories: They are listed below. 

  1. Exposition: illustrates a point
  2. Narration: tells a story
  3. Description: creates a sensory image
  4. Argumentation: takes a position on an issue and defends it

Rhetorical Strategies

These include example, contrast and comparison, definition, cause and effect, process analysis, and division/classification.  The writer may also employ descriptive and narrative strategies.  These are the basic approached a writer uses to tell a story, explain a point, describe a situation, or argue a position (Modes of Discourse).

  1. Narration –Tells a story (Mode of Discourse).  Recounts an event. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  There’s a point to it- a reason for recounting the event becomes clear to the reader.
  2. Description (Mode of Discourse)- Writing that appeals to the senses. It can be objective, which is scientific or clinical, or it can be impressionistic, which tries to involve the reader’s emotions or feelings.  Description can be direct or indirect, and the organization can be as follows:
    1. Chronological
    2. Spatial
    3. Emphasizing the most important detail
    4. Emphasizing the most noticeable detail

  1. Example/Exemplification – Example is a specific event, person, or detail of an idea cited and or developed to support or illustrate a thesis or topic. Provide examples or cases in point. Are there examples - facts, statistics, cases in point, personal experiences, interview quotations - that you could add to help you achieve the purpose of your essay?  Seneca once said, "Every guilty person is his own hangman."  The truth of this observation can be illustrated by the lives of countless villains.  Once such is Macbeth, from Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name.  At the instigation of his wife, Macbeth kills the king of Scotland and usurps his throne - an act of treachery for which Macbeth and his wife suffer torments of guilt.
  2. Definition  - Identifies the class to which a specific term belongs and those characteristics which make it different from all the other items in that class.
  3. Comparison and Contrast  - Discuss similarities and differences. These essays may be organized in several ways including:
    1. subject by subject-Subject A is discussed in its entirety and is followed by a full discussion of subject B.
    2. point by point-A major point related to A is examined and is immediately followed with a corresponding point in subject B.
    3. Combination-In a longer essay, the writer may employ both strategies.
  4. Division and Classification –Classification separates items into major categories and details the characteristics of each group and why each member of that group is placed within the category. Divide a whole into parts or sort related items into categories.
  5. Causal Analysis (Cause/Effect) - Analyze why something happens and describe the consequences of a string of events. It establishes a relationship: B is the result of A. It can emphasize the causes, the effects, or both.  It can detail a single cause with many effects, or several causes with a single effect, or any combination.  Depending on his or her purpose, the writer can choose to present the most important idea in the beginning, middle, or the end. In some cases, the successful writer of a cause and effect essay anticipates and addresses reader objections and/or questions.
  6. Argumentation (Mode of Discourse)-Convince others through reasoning. Are you trying to explain aspects of a particular subject, and are you trying to advocate a specific opinion on this subject or issue in your essay? Type of writing in which the author argues a position on a particular issue. Takes a position on an issue and defends it.
  7. Process Analysis-Analyzes a process. Explain how to do something or how something happens. Process can have one of two purposes.  It can either give instructions or inform the reader about how something is done. It is important to understand that a clear process presentation must be in chronological order.

Rhetorical Structure-Determine how the rhetorical strategies are utilized in the development of the author’s purpose.

Style Analysis 

This information was taken from the Vertical Teaming Workshop presented by College Board and Five Steps to a Five.

There are 9 areas that may be considered when analyzing the elements of style: diction, sentence structure (pacing/syntax), treatment of subject matter, figurative language/imagery, selection of detail, point of view, attitude, tone, and organization.


Style-the particular manner of expression of a writer which distinguishes him from other writers

Terms to Classify a Writer’s Style:

journalistic               vivid                 rhythmic            scholarly           pedestrian

bookish                  ornate               sincere             artificial             dignified

pedantic                 poetic               comic               literary              dramatic

original                   imitative            detailed            homely             dull

classical                 forceful scientific           abstract             concrete


Also known as word choice, refers to the conscious selection of words to further the author’s purpose. A writer searches for the most appropriate, evocative or precise word or phrase to convey his or her intent. Diction is placing the right word in the right place.  It is a deliberate technique to further the author’s purpose or intent.

Describe diction by considering the following:

1.       Words may be monosyllabic (one syllable in length) or polysyllabic (more than one syllable in length).  The higher the ratio of polysyllabic words, the more difficult the content.

2.       Words may be mainly

1.       colloquial (conversational/slang) He’s Nuts

2.       informal (personal, conversational) He’s Crazy

3.       formal (academic/literary), He’s schizophrenic

4.       old-fashioned (archaic).

3.       Words may be mainly denotative (containing an exact/dictionary meaning) or connotative (containing a suggested/emotional meaning).

4.       Words may be concrete (specific) or abstract (general).

5.       Words may be euphonious (pleasant sounding), e.g. butterfly, or cacophonous (harsh sounding), e.g., pus.

Words That Describe Language/Diction

Students often need to develop a vocabulary that describes language.  Different from tone, these words describe the force or quality of the diction, images, and details.  These words qualify how the work is written, not the attitude or tone.









































Syntax/Sentence Structure-The grammatical structure of sentences.  Without syntax, there is no clear communication.  When we refer to syntax in the context of rhetorical analysis, we are not speaking of grammatical correctness, but rather of the deliberate sentence structure the author chooses to make his or her desired point.

Describe the sentence structure by considering the following:

1.       Examine the sentence length.

Are the sentences telegraphic (fewer than five words in length), short (approximately five words in length), medium (approximately eighteen words in length), or long and involved (thirty words or more in length)?  Does the sentence length fit the subject matter; what variety of lengths are present?  Why is the sentence length effective? How does the structure fit the subject matter?

2.       Examine sentence patterns. Some elements to be considered are:


A declarative (assertive) sentence makes a statement, e.g., The king is sick.  An imperative sentence gives a command, e.g., Off with their heads.  An interrogative sentence asks a question, e.g., Why is the kings sick? An exclamatory sentence makes and exclamation, e.g., The king is dead!


A simple sentence contains one subject and one verb, e.g., The singer bowed to her adoring audience.  A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinate conjunction (and, but, or), or by a semicolon, e.g., The singer bowed to the audience, but she sang no encores.  A complex sentence contains an independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses, e.g., You said that you would tell the truth. A compound-complex sentence contains two or more principal clauses and one or more subordinate clauses, e.g., The singer owed while the audience applauded, but she sang no encores.


A loose sentence is one in which the independent clause comes at the beginning and makes complete sense if brought to a close before the actual ending, e.g., We reached Edmonton/that morning/after a turbulent flight/and some exciting experiences.  A periodic sentence makes sense only when the end of the sentence is reached because the independent clause comes at the end, e.g., That morning, after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences, we reached Edmonton.

In a balanced sentence, the phrases or clauses balance each other by virtue of their likeness or structure, meaning, and/or length, e.g., He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Natural order of a sentence involves constructing a sentence so the subject comes before the predicate, e.g., Oranges grow in CaliforniaInverted order of a sentence (sentence inversion) involves constructing a sentence so the predicate comes before the subject, e.g., In California grow oranges.  This is a device in which normal sentence patterns are reversed to create an emphatic or rhythmic effect.  Split order of a sentence divides the predicate into tow parts with the subject coming in the middle, e.g., In California oranges grow.

Juxtaposition is a poetic and rhetorical device which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, creating an effect of surprise and with, e.g., The apparition of those faces in the crowd;/Petals on a wet, black bough (In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound).

Parallel structure (parallelism) refers to a grammatical or structural similarity between sentences or parts of a sentence.  it involves an arrangement of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs so that elements or equal importance are equally developed and similarly phrased, e.g., He was walking, running, and jumping for joy.

Antithesis-Contrasting words, phrases, or clauses are placed next to each other.

Repetition is a device in which words, sounds, and ideas are used more than once for the purpose of enhancing rhythm and creating emphasis, e.g., ...government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth (Address at Gettysburg by A. Lincoln).

A rhetorical question is a question which expects no answer.  It is used to draw attention to a point and is generally stronger than a direct statement, e.g., If Mr. Ferchoff is always fair, as you have said, why did he refuse to listen to Mrs. Baldwin's arguments?

3.       Examine the sentence beginnings. Is there a good variety or does a pattern emerge?

4.       Examine the arrangement of ideas in a sentence.  Are they set out in a special way for a purpose?

5.       Examine the arrangement of ideas in a paragraph to see if there is evidence of any pattern or structure.

Treatment of Subject Matter and Selection of Detail

Selection of detail is part of an author’s style.

Describe the author’s treatment of the subject matter by considering the following.  Has the author been:

1.       Subjective?  Are his conclusions based upon opinions; are they rather personal in nature?

2.       Objective?  Are his conclusions based upon facts: are they impersonal or scientific?

3.       Supportive of his main idea?  If so, how did he support his claims?  Did he: state his opinions; report his experience; report observations; refer to statements made by experts; use statistical data?

Figurative Language/Poetic Devices/Imagery-What is the purpose? What is the effect? How do they work?

1.        Simile is a comparison of two different things or ideas through the use of the words like or as.  It is definitely stated comparison, where the poet says one thing is like another, e.g., The warrior fought like a lion.

2.        Metaphor is a comparison without the use of like or as.  The poet states that one thing is another.  It is usually a comparison between something that is real or concrete and something that is abstract, e.g., Life is but a dream.

3.        Personification is a kind of metaphor which gives inanimate objects or abstract ideas human characteristics, e.g., The wind cried in the dark.

4.        Hyperbole is a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous exaggeration. It may be used either for serious or comic effect; e.g., The shot that was heard 'round the world. 

5.        Understatement (Meiosis) is the opposite of hyperbole. It is a kind of irony which deliberately represents something as much less than it really is, e.g., I could probably manage to survive on a salary of two million dollars per year. 

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