Rhetorical analyses, article analyses, and literature reviews are three distinct though frequently confused forms of responses often assigned to students regardless of their respective discipline. While each form provides a unique perspective into its subject or subjects, they are all useful kinds of criticism whose prevalence is a function of their impressive utility and versatility.
Rhetorical analysis, a composition class staple that is also common in the fields of history, sociology, literature, and business, is the narrowest of these forms. In rhetorical analysis, the critic demonstrates how a document or speech makes use of rhetorical strategies to persuade its audience of its author’s perspective. The three main categories of rhetorical devices–logos, pathos, and ethos–should be given particular attention when writing a rhetorical analysis. Each of these devices solicits the audience’s trust in a different way: logos, by appealing to its sense of logic, pathos, by invoking its emotions, and ethos, by demonstrating the author’s credibility as an expert on her topic. Because the word “rhetoric” describes the use of language to inspire emotion, rhetorical analyses have traditionally been limited to works of language–either literary or spoken–though some have tried to extend rhetorical analysis to subjects that are primarily visual, such as magazine advertisements and paintings. But whatever the subject, rhetorical analysis can provide the useful function of helping a student better understand the methods of persuasion that underlie so many pervasive speechwriting tropes and marketing campaigns. Not only can this analysis teach those students how to make use of similarly affective strategies in their own work, it also weakens the power those strategies may have over them, the way an explanation of a joke destroys its humor or a magician’s lesson destroys his magic.
Article analysis evaluates the theme, thesis, and structure of an argument in an article of any academic discipline. In addition to summarizing the argument of a given article, a good article analysis also examines where the argument draws from–its critical or academic predecessors, its data if applicable, and its key terms–and how the argument builds to each of its main points. Because academic articles can prove difficult to understand, writing this kind of analysis can help students pinpoint exactly what an article claims and how it grounds those claims. Reading an article analysis can serve a similar function for its subject article that a book review does for a book: helping the reader understand the tradition, scope, importance, and quality of the work so that she can decide whether or not she would like to read it herself.
Literature reviews, employed by undergraduates, graduate students, and professors within every field, survey previous scholarship on a given topic. In this form, a writer summarizes–and occasionally analyzes–research and articles, providing their hypotheses, research procedures, and findings, sometimes supplemented with brief assessments of the importance of the research in the development of scholarship on the topic the the literature review seeks to cover. The topics of a literature review can vary from incredibly narrow, such as, for instance, “Metaphor in Moby Dick,” to relatively broad, say, “Business development in the developed world.” In either case, literature reviews may incorporate aspects of article analysis into each summary of a piece of scholarship, a fact that can fuel confusion between the two forms. In addition to the presence of article analysis in literature reviews, another explanation for some of the confusion between these forms is their ubiquity in academic scholarship; like article analysis, literature reviews help scholars of every level and every field better understand the arguments of others within their discipline in part so that they can better position their own work.