20 Rhetorical Analysis & Informal Fallacies

Analyzing Arguments–Rhetorical Analysis (Robbie Pock, Portland Community College
Created April 15, 2020 by userAmy Hofer, userRobbie Pock
Rhetorical analysis is a tool for deeper critical reading. When you analyze a text rhetorically, you consider the overall situation and context of the writing and how the needs and constraints of the writing situation may have guided the author’s choices. Rhetorical analysis helps us look at the text itself but also outside the text at other aspects of the writing situation—context, author, audience, genre—that influenced the way this particular text was written.

After successfully completing this module, you should be able to:

Analyze an author’s effectiveness in achieving intended purpose.
Practice rhetorical analysis of a visual text.
Demonstrate comprehension of basic concepts relating to rhetorical analysis.
Introduction to Rhetorical Analysis. Authored by: Elisabeth Ellington and Ronda Dorsey Neugebauer.Provided by: Chadron State College. Project: Kaleidoscope Open Course Initiative. License: CC BY: Attribution
We have heard that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but, in fact, we do it all the time. Daily we find ourselves in situations where we are forced to make snap judgments. Each day we meet different people, encounter unfamiliar situations, and see media that asks us to do, think, buy, and act in all sorts of ways.

In fact, our saturation in media and its images is one of the reasons why learning to do rhetorical analysis is so important. The more we know about how to analyze situations and draw informed conclusions, the better we can become about making savvy judgments about the people, situations, and media we encounter.

Media is one of the most important places where this kind of analysis needs to happen. Rhetoric—the way we use language and images to persuade—is what makes media work. Think of all the media you see and hear every day: Twitter, television shows, web pages, billboards, text messages, podcasts, and more! Media is constantly asking you to buy something, act in some way, believe something to be true, or interact with others in a specific manner. Understanding rhetorical messages is essential to help us become informed consumers, but it also helps evaluate the ethics of messages, how they affect us personally, and how they affect society.

Take, for example, a commercial for men’s deodorant that tells you that you’ll be irresistible to women if you use their product. This campaign doesn’t just ask you to buy the product, though. It also asks you to trust the company’s credibility, or ethos, and to believe the messages they send about how men and women interact, about sexuality, and about what constitutes a healthy body. You have to decide whether or not you will choose to buy the product and how you will choose to respond to the messages that the commercial sends.

Because media rhetoric surrounds us, it is important to understand how rhetoric works. If we refuse to stop and think about how and why it persuades us, we can become mindless consumers who buy into arguments about what makes us value ourselves and what makes us happy.

Our worlds are full of these kinds of social influences. As we interact with other people and with media, we are continually creating and interpreting rhetoric. In the same way that you decide how to process, analyze or ignore these messages, you create them. You probably think about what your clothing will communicate as you go to a job interview or get ready for a date. You are also using rhetoric when you try to persuade your parents to send you money or your friends to see the movie that interests you. When you post to your blog or tweet you are using rhetoric.

Most of our actions are persuasive in nature. What we choose to wear (tennis shoes vs. flip flops), where we shop (Whole Foods Market vs. Wal-Mart), what we eat (organic vs. fast food), or even the way we send information (snail mail vs. text message) can work to persuade others.

Chances are you have grown up learning to interpret and analyze these types of rhetoric. They become so commonplace that we don’t realize how often and how quickly we are able to perform this kind of rhetorical analysis. When your teacher walked in on the first day of class, you probably didn’t think to yourself, “I think I’ll do some rhetorical analysis on her clothing and draw some conclusions about what kind of personality she might have and whether I think I’ll like her.” And, yet, you probably were able to come up with some conclusions based on the evidence you had.

However, when this same teacher hands you an advertisement, photograph or article and asks you to write a rhetorical analysis of it, you might have been baffled or felt a little overwhelmed. The good news is that many of the analytical processes that you already use to interpret the rhetoric around you are the same ones that you’ll use for these assignments.

Backpacks vs Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis.Authored by: Laura Bolin Carroll. Provided by: Writing Spaces.Located at: http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/carroll–backpacks-vs-briefcases.pdf.License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike


An informal fallacy is an error in reasoning that occurs due to a problem with the content, rather than mere structure, of the argument. In informal logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an error in reasoning often due to a misconception or a presumption. For an illustrated version of a list of logical fallacies, The Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi and Alejandro Giraldo provides some alternative ways of seeing or understanding the list below.  The books is also available in multiple languages.

Some of the more frequent common logical fallacies are:

  • Converse fallacy of accidental or hasty generalization: Argues from limited examples or a special case to a general rule.
    • Argument: Every person I’ve met has ten fingers, therefore, all people have ten fingers.
    • Problem: Those, who have been met.are not a representative subset of the entire set.
  • Making the argument personal (argumentum ad hominem): Attacking or discrediting the opposition’s character.
    • Argument: What do you know about the U.S? You aren’t even a citizen.
    • Problem: personal argument against an opponent, instead of against the opponent’s argument.
  • Popular sentiment or bandwagon appeal (argumentum ad populum): An appeal to the majority; appeal to loyalty.
    • Argument: Everyone is doing it.
    • Problem: Concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it.
  • Red herring (Ignoratio Elenchi): Intentionally or unintentionally misleading or distracting from the actual issue.
    • Argument: I think that we should make the academic requirements stricter for students. I recommend that you support this because we are in a budget crisis and we do not want our salaries affected.
    • Problem: Here the second sentence, though used to support the first, does not address the topic of the first sentence, instead switching the focus to the quite different topic.
  • Fallacy of false cause (non sequitur): Incorrectly assumes one thing is the cause of another. Non Sequitur is Latin for “It does not follow. ”
    • Argument: I hear the rain falling outside my window; therefore, the sun is not shining.
    • Problem: The conclusion is false because the sun can shine while it is raining.
  • If it comes before it is the cause (post hoc ergo propter hoc): Believing that temporal succession implies a causal relation.
    • Argument: It rained just before the car died. The rain caused the car to break down.
    • Problem: There may be no connection between the two events.
  • Two events co-occurring is not causation (cum hoc ergo propter hoc): Believing that correlation implies a causal relation.
    • Argument: More cows die in the summer. More ice cream is consumed in summer months. Therefore, the consumption of ice cream in the summer is killing cows.
    • Problem: No premise suggests the ice cream consumption is causing the deaths. The deaths and consumption could be unrelated, or something else could be causing both, such as summer heat.
  • Fallacy of many questions or loaded question (Plurium Interrogationum): Groups more than one question in the form of a single question.
    • Argument: Have you stopped beating your wife?
    • Problem: Either a yes or no answer is an admission of guilt to beating your wife.
  • Straw man: Creates the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever actually refuting the original.
    • Argument: Person A: Sunny days are good Person B: If all days were sunny, we’d never have rain, and without rain, we’d have famine and death. Therefore, you are wrong.
    • Problem: B has misrepresented A’s claim by falsely suggesting that A claimed that only sunny days are good, and then B refuted the misrepresented version of the claim, rather than refuting A’s original assertion.
  • The false dilemma or either-or fallacy: The listener is forced to make a choice between two things which are not really related or relevant.
    • Argument: If you are not with us, you are against us.
    • Problem: The presentation of a false choice often reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate any middle ground.
  • Card-stacking, or cherry picking: Deliberate action is taken to bias an argument by selective use of facts with opposing evidence being buried or discredited.
    • Argument: Learn new skills, become a leader and see the world.
    • Problem: Only the positive benefits of military service are used to recruit , and not the hazards.

As a speaker you want to carefully consider your reasoning and how you draw your logical conclusions in order to avoid faulty reasoning.

Boundless. “Logical Fallacies.” Boundless Communications. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 06 Jan. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/communications/textbooks/boundless-communications-textbook/methods-of-persuasive-speaking-15/logical-appeals-78/logical-fallacies-304-10653/


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