Rhetorical & Stylistic Analysis of Prose Passage

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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

  • Analyze an author’s view on a specific subject

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

  • Analyze stylistic elements in a passage and their effects

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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?

  1. 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 California.  Inverted 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?

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

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

  3. 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. 

  6. Paradox is a statement which contradicts itself. It may seem almost absurd. Although it may seem to be at odds with ordinary experience, it usually turns out to have a coherent meaning, and reveals a truth which is normally hidden, e.g., The more you know, the more you know you don't know (Socrates). 

  7. Oxymoron is a form of paradox which combines a pair of contrary terms into a single expression. This combination usually serves the purpose of shocking the reader into awareness, e.g., sweet sorrow, wooden nickel. 

  8. Pun is a play on words which are identical or similar in sound but which have sharply diverse meanings. Puns may have serious as well as humorous uses, e.g., When Mercutio is bleeding to death in Romeo and Juliet, he says to his friends, "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." 

  9. Irony is the result of a statement saying one thing while meaning the opposite. Its purpose is usually to criticize, e.g., It is simple to stop smoking. I've done it many times. 

  10. Sarcasm is a type of irony in which a person appears to be praising something while he is actually insulting the thing. Its purpose is to injure or hurt, e.g., As I fell down the stairs headfirst, I heard her say "Look at that coordination." 

  11. Antithesis - involves a direct contrast of structurally parallel word groupings generally for the purpose of contrast, e.g., Sink or swim. 

  12. Apostrophe is a form of personification in which the absent or dead are spoken to as if present, and the inanimate as if animate. These are all addressed directly, e.g., The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. 

  13. Allusion is a reference to a mythological, literary, historical, or Biblical person, place, or thing e.g., He met his Waterloo. 

  14. Satire: the use of irony, sarcasm, and ridicule to expose or denounce human folly.

  15. Trope- figure of speech using words in a nonliteral way (metaphor, metonymy, etc.)

  16. Synecdoche (Metonymy) is a form of metaphor. In synecdoche, a part of something is used to signify the whole, e.g., All hands on deck.

    1. Also, the reverse, whereby the whole can represent a part, is synecdoche, e.g., Canada played the United States in the Olympic hockey finals.

    2. Another form of synecdoche involves the container representing the thing being contained, e.g., The pot is boiling.

    3. One last form of synecdoche involves the material from which an object is made standing for the object itself, e.g., The quarterback tossed the pigskin.

    4. In metonymy, the name of one thing is applied to another thing with which it is closely associated; a closely associated object is substituted for the object or idea in mind e.g. The orders came from the white house; the land belongs to the crown

Imagery-Language that appeals to the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell)

Sound Devices-Do the sound devices imitate or help create the meaning of the passage?

  1. Alliteration is the practice of beginning several consecutive or neighboring words with the same sound, e.g., The twisting trout twinkled below.

  2. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in a series of words, e.g., the words "cry" and "side" have the same vowel sound and so are said to be in assonance.

  3. Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound within a series of words to produce a harmonious effect, e.g., And each slow dusk a drawing-down on blinds.  The "d" sound is in consonance.  as well, the "s" sound is also in consonance.

  4. Onomatopoeia (Imitative Harmony) is the use of words in which the sounds seem to resemble the sounds they describe, e.g., hiss, buzz, bang. when onomatopoeia is used on an extended scale in a poem, it is called imitative harmony. 

Organization and Narrative Structure-

The way in which a writer presents his or her ideas to the reader. the internal organization of a poem’s content, or the organization of an essay, article, or other piece of literature.

  • General to Specific/Specific to General

  • Question to Answer

  • Least to Most Important

  • Most Important to Least Important

  • Flashback or fast forward

  • Contrast/comparison

  • Pro and Con

  • Chronological

  • Spatial

  • Cause/effect

  • Point of View

    • 1st Person-The narrator is the story’s protagonist (I went to the store)

    • 2nd Person-The narrator directly addresses the reader (If you observed…)

    • 3rd Person Omniscient-The narrator knows the thoughts and events of all characters (He insulted her, and her spirit became broken.)

    • 3rd Person Limited-The narrator is limited to the thoughts of one character

    • Stream-of-consciousness: This is a narrative technique that places the reader in the mind and thought process of the narrator, no matter how random and spontaneous the writing may be.

  • Format (letter, journal, diary, autobiography, biography, speech, editorial, memoir)

Tone and Attitude

Be familiar with lengthy list of Tone words! Both tone and attitude refer to the author’s perception and presentation of the material and the audience. An author’s tone is not just the creation of mood (how the reader feels). It represents the stance or relationship the author has toward his or her subject. This type of analysis may require you to “read between the lines.” The author can indicate several attitudes toward the reader:

  • Talking down to the reader as an advisor

  • Talking down to the reader as a satirist

  • Talking eye-to-eye with the reader as an equal

  • Talking up to the reader as a supplicant or subordinate

The attitude may be formal or informal. Formal tends to use diction and syntax that are academic, serious, and authoritative. Informal is more conversational and engages the reader on an equal basis.

***Note: Be aware that tone and attitude are frequently described using a pair of words in the multiple-choice section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam. For example, bitter and disdainful. Both adjectives must apply for the question to be correct.***

Connective Tissue

The elements that help create coherence in a piece.

  • Transitions indicate a logical connection between ideas

    • Natural transitions-and, but, or, nor, for, yet

    • Numerical-first, second, third,

    • Sequential-initially, furthermore, ultimately, in conclusion

    • Additional-furthermore, moreover, again, also, similarly, likewise, in addition, additionally

    • Illustrative- for example, for instance, to illustrate

    • Contrast/comparison-however, nevertheless, conversely, instead

    • Cause/effect-therefore, consequently, as a result, accordingly

    • Affirmation- obviously, indeed

  • Voice consistency-use of the active voice and avoidances of the passive voice when possible

    • Bad- The bear was seen when Tim opened the door

    • Good-Tim opened the door and saw the bear

  • Tense consistency-the use of the same tense throughout the selection

    • Bad-When I have driven to work, I always used the same route

    • Good- I always use the same route when I drive to work

  • Subject consistency-the subjects of the main clauses in a sequence of sentences is consistent (inconsistency is often the result of passive voice)

    • Bad Example-The photography was by Ansel Adams. I have always been a fan of this great photographer. The temptation to buy the photo due to the price was quite strong.

    • Good Example- I have always been a fan of the great photographer Ansel Adams. Because of the price of one of his photographs, I was tempted to buy it.


The movement of literary piece from one point to another. The primary component of pacing is syntax: sentence length, sentence type, and punctuation. There are several ways to add variety and pacing to your writing by using:

  • A mixture of sentence types, known as sentence variety

  • The rhetorical question

  • The imperative sentence

  • The exclamatory sentence

  • Varying the beginning of the sentences


Near the end of the introduction, the reader expects to find some hints about the major points that you will discuss in your writing. The body of the presentation will develop the discussion of each major point. The leader will expect to be led logically to each new point with connective tissue. The reader expects some sort of final comment or remark, not a summary. This final point could be an interpretation of the significance of the points of your discussion, a prediction, an anecdote, a question, a quote. Make certain that your ending is related to your discussion. Don’t introduce new ideas.

Some generalizations about literature:

  1. Authors usually devalue materialism.

  2. As a rule, authors do not value religion. They do, however, generally value individual reverence.

  3. Authors value mutability.

  4. Authors are rarely neutral about the carpe diem theme.

  5. Authors’ thinking often runs counter to their own cultural training.

  6. Authors are not only our social historians; they are also our social critics.

  7. In the conflict between the individual and society, authors normally value the individual more than society.

  8. Most authors attach overweening pride.

  9. Most authors have a critical tone toward war.

  10. In much literature, the family is a source of the most passionate kind of conflict.

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