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A basic organizational framework for your critical papers

Paper guidelines

The following guidelines provide a basic organizational framework for your critical papers. A similar method of organization is presented in the textbook, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice.

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Criticisms should be divided into five sections as described below:

[1] Introduction.

In this section, the critic needs to introduce the topic of the paper and present the thesis of the criticism. Remember, a rhetorical criticism should not be a mere application of a method to some rhetorical artifact. Rather, the criticism should have some point, and that point will be expressed in the thesis of the paper. As the point of the criticism depends upon the conclusions of your analysis (see [5] below), it is often not possible to frame the thesis of the criticism until the analysis has been completed and at least a rough outline of the conclusions prepared.

[2] Background

Once the thesis has been clearly presented, the critic needs to describe the selected artifact. In this description, the critic needs to address a number of topics. First, the critic should provide a summary of the artifact and an analysis of the factors that gave rise to the artifact, especially the exigence the artifact seeks to redress. Second, the critic should describe the rhetorical function(s) of the artifact, explicating the attitudes, beliefs, or actions the artifact seeks to induce. Third, the critic should demonstrate the significance of the artifact, explaining why their selected artifact merits critical attention. Significance can be established in three ways. First, a rhetorical artifact may be significant because it has had a strong or widespread effect on one or more audiences. Second, a rhetorical artifact may be significant because it is typical or representative of many other rhetorical artifacts. Third, a rhetorical artifact may be significant because it is unique and, therefore, may demonstrate some unusual rhetorical principle.

[3] Summary of method.

In this section, the critic will present their analysis of the artifact. This requires two basic steps. First, the critic needs to present a brief introduction to the critical method. This need not exceed two paragraphs, but should nonetheless fulfill two functions: [1] it should acquaint the reader with the general nature of the method and [2] it should justify the suitability of the selected method for the purposes of the critic’s analysis.

[4] Analysis

After reviewing the critical method, the critic will then present the findings of the analysis. This section will typically be the most developed section of the criticism. Although the organization of this section will vary depending upon the particular critical method employed, the critic must present their findings using a clearly articulated organization. Two such organizations are commonly used. First, a critic might organize their analysis in terms of the features of the rhetorical artifact itself (e.g., the main points of a speech or the chronological presentation of scenes in a movie). Second, the critic might organize their analysis in terms of the rhetorical concepts being applied (e.g., the Aristotelian modes of proof or the terms of Burke’s pentad). A conceptual organization is generally, though not always, preferred. Additional suggestions for organizing this section are presented in the chapters of the textbook corresponding to the various critical methods.

[5] Discussion.

In this section of the criticism, the critic will interpret the findings of their analysis and suggest further implications. In the first of these tasks, the critic is seeking to answer two important questions. The first question is: “How do the findings of this analysis illuminate the rhetorical function or significance of the selected rhetorical artifact?” This question focuses on explaining the artifact based the findings of the analysis. The second question is: “What do the findings of this analysis tell us about the value of the selected rhetorical artifact?” This question focuses on evaluating the artifact based upon the findings of the analysis and is typically answered in terms of the effectiveness and/or appropriateness of the artifact. The answers to these questions constitute what are commonly called the conclusions of the criticism. The conclusions of your analysis are the payoff of the analysis and should be prepared and presented carefully. As noted above, the conclusions will also guide the development of the thesis of the criticism in that they establish the point of your criticism

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