Can someone please explain the similarities and differences between rhetorical analysis and close reading?

closed as general reference by user21497, FumbleFingers, Kristina Lopez, John Lawler, StoneyB Jan 31 '13 at 18:17

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  • Rhetorical analysis is a form of close reading. – deadly Jan 31 '13 at 15:12
  • I'm afraid thet the principles and practise of Literary Criticism are explicitly off-topic here. See the faq. – StoneyB Jan 31 '13 at 18:17

Dr. Douglas Fisher describes close reading as a careful and purposeful re-reading of a text. When you re-read a text, you focus on the author's purpose, the meaning of the words that are used, and the structure of what the text tells you. Dr. Fisher cites Louise Rosenblatt, the originator of Reader-Response Theory, who likens close reading to a transaction between the reader and the text.

Bloom's taxonomy of learning, particularly in the cognitive domain, breaks down close reading (though he does not call it that) into six steps or components, each of which builds on the previous step. With step one being the most basic, and step six being the most advanced or complex, Bloom's hierarchy is as follows: knowledge (such as simple recall of facts), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

While parents and educators need to emphasize all the levels of learning--even simple knowledge such as times-tables (6 x 6 is 36, 8 x 7 is 56, etc.), most would agree that close reading encourages the higher levels of learning: understanding what is read; applying what is read to everyday situations; analyzing an argument and putting it back together in a way that makes sense; and evaluating a writer's point of view as being either factual, true, helpful, meaningful, useful, persuasive, or their opposites--distorted, false, hurtful, nonsensical, destructive, unconvincing.

Rhetorical analysis, on the other hand, often involves a dance with all six components of Bloom's taxonomy, with particular attention paid to the writer's purpose. If rhetoric as Artistotle defined it is the faculty of determining in a given case the available means of persusasion, then the goal of a reader's (or listener's) rhetorical analysis is to determine how--and how well--a writer (or speaker) accomplishes his or her purpose, whether it is to inform, to entertain, to inspire, or to persuade. Moreover, an astute reader can identify, in addition to the overall purpose, how or how well a writer incorporates elements of each purpose into his or her writing.

When you read something closely you often--though not always--come away with an impression that the writer has attempted primarily to inform you, to entertain you, to inspire you, or to persuade you. The purpose of a given piece of writing is seldom monolithic, however, but often involves an admixture of several purposes. A persuasive piece of writing, for example, requires an element of information, if not entertainment and inspiration.

A well-written piece might "suck you in" with some informative--and purportedly neutral--facts; keep you reading with an entertaining, inspiring, and memorable turn of phrase or element of humor; and then attempt to persuade you of a point of view. That point of view could be one you heretofore did not have, or it could at the very least make you stop and think, "Hmm, I never thought of things that way before," or "Hmm, I agree with this point, but certainly not with that point!"

The same can be said of a well written and "purely" informative piece of writing. Even a recipe, or a book of recipes, contains more than a whiff of entertainment and persuasion. If the recipe writer insists you follow a given step in the recipe in a somewhat unconventional way by using only organic and unprocessed ingredients, then persuasion enters the picture.

A recipe writer who adds personal anecdotes or entertaining stylistic touches is perhaps attempting to lighten up what could be a very mechanistic approach to preparing food. Even entertaining elements can be, indirectly, an attempt at persuasion, in that they might encourage a reader to buy a book of recipes in the first place, and then continue to read and use the recipes contained in the book. A typical reaction of a satisfied recipe-follower might be, "Oh, she makes cooking so much easier and so much more enjoyable!"

Rhetorical analysis can serve you well, whether at a fairly elementary level you are trying to understand a politician's reasons for passing a new law or modifying an old one, or whether at a fairly advanced level you are trying to understand how a scientific revolution occurred through a gradual or sudden paradigm shift in the scientific community. An example of the latter is the Copernican paradigm shift. (See Thomas Kuhn's Structure of a Scientific Revolution for help in understanding the process of a paradigm shift.)

In short, both activities, close reading and rhetorical analysis, involve gaining a deeper understanding of the contents and purposes of any piece of writing, from the noble heights and aspirations of a country's constitution, to the more prosaic and humbler instructions on how best to bake a pecan pie.

Hope this proves helpful.

  • do you have any books you can recommend with regards to close-reading and rhetorical analysis? – seeker Jun 24 '15 at 17:05
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    @seeker: There are millions of such books. For beginners and budding rhetoricians I recommend Richard Weaver's "The Ethics of Rhetoric." For advanced beginners, there's no reason why they should shy away from Aristotle's "Rhetoric" (George Kennedy's translation) and Plato's "The Phaedrus" (translation with notes, glossary, appendices, interpretive essay and introduction by Stephen Scully, translator, and Albert Keith Whitaker, editor). Google the following for contemporary theory: google.com/…. Don – rhetorician Jun 24 '15 at 17:32
  • Thank you for that! Would you also happen to know a few books on close reading? (They seem harder to come by on Google) – seeker Jun 24 '15 at 17:45
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    Barry Brummett's 2009 book, "Techniques of Close Reading" might be a good place to start. He probably provides a bibliography in his book which would be a good source for additional works on the subject. Here's the book as I found it on Google: books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=1412972655. A summary of the book: "'Techniques of Close Reading' is a brief, supplemental text that trains students in an ability to see what texts--be they written, oral, visual, or mediated--may be saying." – rhetorician Jun 24 '15 at 18:02
  • do you know what is the differences between rhetoric device, stylistic device and literary device? What are the differences between the three fields? – Ooker Nov 1 '18 at 6:55

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