What is Rhetorical Criticism? - Definition & Methods

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  • 0:00 Defining Rhetoric
  • 0:53 Defining Rhetorical Criticism
  • 1:05 Methods of Rhetorical…
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Noorda
How do people use words to persuade an audience? In this lesson, you will learn to analyze the art of persuasion, or rhetoric by exploring the definition and methods of rhetorical criticism.

Defining Rhetoric

Communication is an important part of human interactions. We often use communication - and, more specifically, rhetoric - to persuade others to act in a certain way. Rhetoric is strategic, purposeful, and persuasive written or verbal communication. The purpose of rhetoric is to persuade an audience through words.

There are certain rhetoric language ''tools'' that can help you to create strategic, purposeful, and persuasive communication. For example, if you were selling cookies to raise money for charity, you might say to people passing by, ''If you buy our cookies, you will be helping hungry children in Africa.'' The use of language like ''hungry children in Africa'' appeals to the emotions of people, because most people hate the idea of children starving. This is just one example of how rhetoric can be used to persuade.

Defining Rhetorical Criticism

Rhetoric is fundamental to rhetorical criticism. Rhetorical criticism is the analysis of the language used to persuade an audience. In essence, rhetorical criticism involves analyzing the use of rhetoric.

Speeches use rhetoric to persuade

Methods of Rhetorical Criticism

Sonja Foss, a prolific scholar and researcher of rhetorical criticism, has described several methods of rhetorical criticism in her work. In this lesson, we'll discuss five of the methods of rhetorical criticism that Foss talks about:

  • Cluster
  • Ideological
  • Metaphor
  • Narrative
  • Pentadic

Cluster rhetorical criticism is analyzing clusters of words by looking at how frequently the words appear or how intense the words are. The repetition of certain words can be used to persuade an audience, which is why examining frequently used words in rhetorical speech can help you understand how the author or speaker is persuading through words.

Ideological rhetorical criticism is analyzing the main idea that dominates the text. This kind of rhetorical criticism also looks at what ideas (perhaps contrary to the main idea) might be suppressed by the main idea and why. This type of criticism looks at how rhetorical strategies are used to persuade an audience and support the main idea.

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