Essay Assignment

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GWRTC 103: Fall 2011
Eric La Freniere

Writing Assignment 3: Rhetorical Analysis of a Visual Text

Ok, you’ve already applied rhetorical analysis to a written text, and now you’re ready to rhetorically analyze a visual text. Again, while “text” is normally taken to refer only to writing, in our critical academic context, we take “text” to mean anything that people can interpret or figuratively read. We live in a textured world. Even nature can be considered a text (Morrissey: “Nature is a language / Can’t you read?”), but we’re going to limit ourselves to texts produced by people. Here, the assignment length is 1500 words (+/-50 words), plus image(s), and it’s worth 100 points out of 500 points for the semester.

Visual texts are texts that have such a strong image component that without their image(s), they would lose most if not all of their meaning. The images in visual texts may be static (e.g. a painting), sequential (e.g. a comic strip), or fluid (e.g. a movie). You may select more than one text, if you want to compare and/or contrast the similarities and/or differences among their respective rhetorical techniques.

When selecting a target visual text for rhetorical analysis, you have tons of options, including but not limited to: paintings, newspaper photos, music videos, famous buildings, jewelry, political cartoons, uniforms, hairstyles, tattoos, religious symbols, flags, album covers, deep space photographs, money, body piercings, movie posters, toys, coats of arms, gang colors, corporate logos, anime, clothing fashions, propaganda, prehistoric artifacts, magazine covers, web sites, political rallies, bumper stickers, postage stamps, monuments, cars, and on and on and on…you get the picture, right?

Note that a visual text almost inevitably participates in more then one genre. For example, a series of postage stamps that display state flags could be analyzed as propaganda, or a music video that displays religious symbols could be analyzed as political cartoon, or clothing fashions that display corporate logos could be analyzed as uniforms. Rhetorical analysis means analysis of all possible means of persuasion.

You’ll be using the same basic draft process as before, but you’ll be reading each others work in both dyads and in small groups (as we discussed). You can use the same basic tools of rhetorical analysis that you’ve already used: logos, pathos, ethos; logical fallacies; claims of fact, value, and policy; and social-historical contextualization. But you can also appeal to factors such as shapes and colors, arrangement and emphasis, facial expressions and body language, visual tropes or figures of “speech,” and font styles and sizes (see pages 236-246 of your textbook). Such factors speak to the “how?” of visual rhetorical analysis.

They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but you need to unpack 1500 words. Still, avoid unnecessarily complicated ways of going about the writing process (like that). Within your analytic essay, the words “logos,” “pathos,” and “ethos” should be used only once each. As always, find something about your target text that is not obvious—something below the surface.

In addition to your target text, you must cite at least two supporting sources, neither of which should be electronic / online. Use MLA formatting, and include both in-text citation and a “Works Cited” bibliography.

If you submit your essay to JMU’s e-Vision: A Journal of First Year Writing or the Madison Writing Awards and it’s accepted or wins, you’ll receive 10 extra points towards this assignment.


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