How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay for AP English

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay for AP English

When you know how to write a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English, you do not have to worry about the limited time that you get for AP English Language and Composition examination. In a simplified way, a rhetorical analysis essay can be defined as a written explanation of the way a speaker or a writer tries to change the audience’s mind. AP English language refers to Advanced Placement Language and Composition. This is a course in the rhetoric study that some high school students pursue. For an AP English rhetorical analysis essay to be effective, it must demonstrate complete comprehension of rhetorical strategies interplay.

Why an AP English student should know how to write a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English

During most AP English Language and Composition examinations, AP English students are given a speech or essay of a length of about one page. The essay or excerpt is from a larger piece of writing that is typically done by an experienced rhetorician. It is non-fiction and it can span centuries. It can be followed by a general or specific prompt question. For instance, the question can be: “Identify different rhetorical strategies that the following speech given in 1963 to a political gathering by Martin Luther King uses and comment about their effectiveness.”

AP English readers want to see original thoughts and ideas in a rhetorical analysis essay. Therefore, you can choose to agree or to disagree on the issue of the effectiveness of the used rhetorical strategies. Note that you must start by identifying the used rhetorical strategies. Again, remember that there was a reason why the examiner chose the piece. Perhaps, it was written by a gifted rhetorician or the examiner wants you to explain what makes the piece rhetorically powerful. Therefore, you must know how to write a rhetorical analysis for AP English in order to come up with a quality rhetorical analysis essay within the limited time for AP English Language and Composition examination, which in most cases is 40 minutes.

How to write a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English by analyzing the discourse

During the AP English Language and Composition examination, you will be presented with a discourse whose author has an objective or purpose. The author also targets a specific audience and they use specific strategies that they believe are the most effective.

To write a quality AP rhetorical analysis essay, you must analyze the discourse carefully to highlight these aspects of the discourse.

To do this, you can use the SOAPSTONE method as follows:

  • S-Speaker: Discuss the credibility and authority of the writer or the speaker. Tell readers how the speaker establishes ethos in the passage or speech. Explain how the writer or speaker presents himself or herself as a qualified and/or trustworthy messenger.
  • O-Occasion: Analyze different reasons why the speaker or the writer chose to approach a particular topic at a specific time. Is the speaker or writer reacting to a certain person or event? Discuss how this comes out in the passage or speech.
  • A-Audience: Tell readers who is the intended audience for the piece. Explain how you know this and how the speaker or writer defines this. Also discuss how the writer or speaker shows comprehension of that particular audience as well as how he/she uses that comprehension in accomplishing his/her goals.
  • P-Purpose: Analyze the argument, purpose or claim that the writer or speaker makes. Explain more than the basic information. Identify the expected action from the audience while discussing the way the passage reveals the purpose.
  • S-Subject: Tell readers more about the topic, ideas and content of the discourse. Is the subject stated explicitly or implied?
  • Tone: Tone extends the literal meaning of the discourse. Analyze the writer’s or speaker’s attitude. You can find tone in the syntax, diction, imagery and structure chosen by the author. Provide specific aspects of tone in the discourse and explain their effects or how they make the passage effective.

At first, the prompt may seem like it requires you to analyze different arguments as well as to name all rhetorical strategies that the speaker or writer uses in the discourse. However, do not do that while writing your AP rhetorical analysis essay. Although the speaker or author uses several rhetorical devices, some work together while others work independently to accomplish the goal of the author. An attempt to account for every rhetorical strategy will make writing a cohesive essay impossible.

Formatting a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English

To know how to write a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English, you need to know how to format your essay. A good rhetorical analysis essay should be formatted like a basic essay with an introduction, the body and the conclusion.

  1. The introduction

A rhetorical analysis essay for AP English should have a brief introduction. However, the introduction should have certain essential information. This is basically the information about the speaker, the subject, the occasion, the purpose and the audience and it should be presented in a brief manner.


Amy Tan, a novelist, in her “Fish Cheeks” narrative essay, remembers an embarrassing dinner on a Christmas Eve at the age of 14 years. Her purpose is to communicate the notion that she was unable to notice her mother’s love at fourteen as well as all the suffering that her mother endured just for her. She employs a sentimental tone to instill the same experiences and feelings in adult readers.

  1. The body

The body of a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English is the section for the main analysis. In this section, provide a detailed explanation of specific rhetorical strategies that the speaker or the writer uses. To do this, it is advisable that you work through the discourse chronologically. You can also discuss the paragraphs separately or divide the work into sections. Additionally, use transition words such as ‘begins,’ ‘shifts to,’ ‘contrasts,’ ‘closes,’ ‘ends,’ ‘juxtaposes,’ and ‘moves to’ among others.


“Chesterfield begins his letter with the establishment of his authority to give advice. With the realization that his son could have indifference to the words that he uses, he embraces anaphora so that he can, in a way, sympathize with his son while revealing his expectation that the son will at least consider his advice. He continues his assurance that his aim is only to advise rather than to dictate by using simile while urging his son to consider advice from him as one given by a friend instead of a parent.”

In this example of a paragraph from the body of AP rhetorical analysis essay, the writer explains a specific rhetorical strategy that the writer uses. The writer says that the father “embraces anaphora.” This rhetorical strategy is used by the father to sympathize with the son. The writer also says that the father uses simile in the letter by urging the son to consider the advice as one that is given by a friend rather than a parent.

  • The conclusion

The conclusion should come after writing the body section of a rhetorical analysis essay. It should be brief probably two sentences. In the conclusion remind readers what you told them in the introduction. Restate the thesis statement of your rhetorical analysis essay and tell readers what makes your essay effective.


“In an advice letter to a son, Lord Chesterfield uses different rhetorical strategies especially metaphor and parallel structure to teach and reveal his values to his son. As a noble man and a father, he emphasizes why commitment, excellence and respect are important. This letter demonstrates the concern and care that Chesterfield has for his son. After all, it is the desire of every parent to have successful children.”

Bonus hints and reminders on how to write a rhetorical analysis essay for AP English

  • Start your rhetorical analysis with a rhetorical triangle where you identify the purpose, the intended audience, and major rhetorical strategies.
  • Identify strategic intent. The author has a purpose and every detail or word is chosen carefully. Consider how the author uses strategic intent to shape the feelings and thoughts of the audience.
  • Use embedded quotes in your rhetorical analysis essay or paraphrase major ideas in your words.
  • Ask why and how questions? These are vital questions to ask about the words the author uses in order to determine how their choice shapes the feelings and thoughts of the audience.
  • Follow the author’s argument to determine how positions are developed.
  • Conclude your essay with an analysis of the final words of the author. Explain how the author uses the final words to win the audience.
  • Use a sample rhetorical analysis essay as your guide especially when practicing writing rhetorical analysis essays. Find AP rhetorical analysis essay sample here.

How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay for AP English: References

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