How To Use Rhetorical Devices In An Essay

In order for the author of the passage to completely explain and develop his or her argument, rhetorical devices must be utilized. Identifying rhetorical devices may sometimes be difficult, but through this AP English Language guide you will see the five easiest ways to identify rhetorical devices and how to apply them. We will be using the Question 2 prompt from the 2013 AP English Language exam, which examines the relationship between people and nature.

1. Read Carefully

Reading carefully may seem common sense; however, this is the most crucial strategy in identifying rhetorical devices. We are sure that you have heard that you must read carefully before, but in this case you must read carefully for persuasiveness. If you find that some aspect of the work is particularly convincing, then there is a rhetorical device at work. This simple strategy of finding rhetorical devices will allow you to quickly find these devices, which is often half the battle.

A great way to practice detecting rhetorical devices is by reading through as many AP Language rhetorical essay passages as possible. We will be using the 2013 AP Language exam. Read through the passage until you find a specific word or phrase that strikes you as compelling. We found the following line in the 2013 passage.

“Perhaps we’ll someday tell our grandchildren stories about our version of the nineteenth-century Conestoga wagon… In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by.”

These sentences are vivid images that pulled you in, and you internally know that this is persuasive without needing a name for the rhetorical device. For the AP English Language rhetorical essay you will need to be able to identify that section that contains the rhetorical device as we have done here as well as matching the name of the device to the passage.

2. Know Your Rhetorical Devices

In order to be able to identify rhetorical devices, then you must first have a working knowledge of the most common rhetorical devices. After all, you cannot identify what you do not know. By knowing the various terms for an effective argument you come one step closer to being able to identify them in context.

There are countless terms for the different rhetorical devices, but we will show you how to use a few of these.

When you learned how to read for rhetorical devices we discussed this passage: “Perhaps we’ll someday tell our grandchildren stories about our version of the nineteenth-century Conestoga wagon… In our useful boredom, we used our fingers to draw pictures on fogged glass as we watched telephone poles tick by.”

Here is a great example of the author bringing in an emotional appeal to the reader. You, as the reader, feel nostalgic as you read this, showing just how the author can manipulate the emotional state of the reader to fit his or her purpose. In order to score full points on the AP English Language rhetorical essay section, you must also identify the name of this rhetorical device. In this case, the term’s name is pathos, or an emotional appeal to the reader.

3. Know the Audience

Being able to figure out who the intended audience is for the passage can be a very helpful strategy in identifying rhetorical devices. That is important to know, because certain groups of people have different rhetorical devices that work on them.

One example of this is persuasive, scientific writing. In that case the audience would be more scientists, which is a group of people that need facts, and data to be persuaded. Here the author would not use rhetorical devices such as pathos, because scientists do not put much faith in the emotions. Scientists are better persuaded by logos, or the appeal to a person’s logic.

On the other hand, in the 2013 rhetorical essay that we have been analyzing, the audience is adults that grew up before the digital age. This group of people could be persuaded using other rhetorical devices that are not as logical, such as pathos. So, if you know the audience, then you can search for specific rhetorical devices in the text instead of becoming lost within the passage.

4. Annotate the Text

Notes are your friend during the AP English Language rhetorical essay, and you are encouraged to annotate the passages that are given to you. By writing down notes or circling key words and phrases, you can focus on more than just remembering the last thought that ran through your head. Circling and indicating what you found will keep your brain analyzing the text for rhetorical devices instead of getting stuck thinking about one.

Annotating is an elegant way to jot down your thoughts. Even if all you do is underline the sentence that strikes you as persuasive, then you are one step closer to identifying that rhetorical device. When you are jotting down notes be sure not to spend more than five minutes reading the passage, otherwise you may run out of time writing your rhetorical essay.

5. Read the Passage Twice

The final strategy for identifying rhetorical devices is to read the passage twice. This goes along well with annotating the text, because the persuasive elements of the passage that you found on the first reading. By reading the text again you can jog your memory on which rhetorical devices that you want to include in the essay.

Many students often skip over this important strategy for identifying rhetorical devices, and their essays suffer for it. You need to thoroughly read the passage to properly identify rhetorical devices and how they influence the overall argument.

Key Takeaway

Identifying rhetorical devices in the AP English Language rhetorical essay is imperative for a high score. In order to accomplish that, you need to be sure that you read critically, know you audience, annotate the text, read the passage more than once, and be absolutely sure that you know your rhetorical devices before you walk into the exam. If you can accomplish all of these, then you are going to identify rhetorical strategies like a professional.

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A rhetorical device uses words in a certain way to convey meaning or to persuade. It can also be a technique to evoke an emotion on the part of the reader or audience. 

Rhetorical Devices in Writing

Here are examples of rhetorical devices with a definition and an example:

  • Alliteration - the recurrence of initial consonant sounds - rubber baby buggy bumpers
  • Allusion - a reference to an event, literary work or person - I can’t do that because I am not Superman.
  • Amplification - repeats a word or expression for emphasis - Love, real love, takes time.
  • Analogy - compares two different things that have some similar characteristics - He is flaky as a snowstorm.
  • Anaphora - repeats a word or phrase in successive phrases - "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” (Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare)
  • Antanagoge - places a criticism and compliment together to lessen the impact - The car is not pretty but it runs great.
  • Antimetabole - repeats words or phrases in reverse order - “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” (J F Kennedy)
  • Antiphrasis - uses a word with an opposite meaning - The Chihuahua was named Goliath.
  • Antithesis - makes a connection between two things - “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong)
  • Appositive - places a noun or phrase next to another noun for descriptive purposes - Mary, queen of the land, hosted the ball.
  • Enumeratio - makes a point with details - Renovation included a spa, tennis court, pool and lounge. 
  • Epanalepsis - repeats something from the beginning of a sentence at the end - My ears heard what you said but I couldn’t believe my ears.
  • Epithet - using an adjective or adjective phrase to describe - mesmerizing eyes
  • Epizeuxis - repeats one word for emphasis - The amusement park was fun, fun, fun.
  • Hyperbole - an exaggeration - I have done this a thousand times.
  • Litotes - makes an understatement by denying the opposite of a word that may have been used - The terms of the contract are not disagreeable to me.
  • Metanoia - corrects or qualifies a statement - You are the most beautiful woman in this town, nay the entire world. 
  • Metaphor - compares two things by stating one is the other - The eyes are the windows of the soul.
  • Metonymy - a metaphor where something being compared is referred to by something closely associated with it - The knights are loyal to the crown.
  • Onomatopoeia - words that imitate the sound they describe - plunk, whiz, pop
  • Oxymoron - a two word paradox - near miss, seriously funny
  • Parallelism - uses words or phrases with a similar structure - I went to the store, parked the car and bought a pizza.
  • Simile - compares one object to another - He smokes like a chimney.
  • Understatement - makes an idea less important that it really is - The hurricane disrupted traffic.

Now you see how these different examples of rhetorical devices work. You can use rhetorical devices in your own writing to create more interesting or persuasive content. 

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

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Examples of Rhetorical Devices

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A rhetorical device uses words in a certain way to convey meaning or to persuade. It can also be a technique to evoke an emotion on the part of the reader or audience. 
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