Friday, October 12, 2012

MassMedia: Rhetorical Criticism, Ohio & Kent State (U4-P2) [VID]

Quantitative research papers which use methods like experiments, surveys, and content analysis typically follow a certain format.

Quantitative research paper outline:

  1. Introduction 
  2. Review of literature
  3. Research question(s)/hypothesis
  4. Methods 
  5. Results
  6. Discussion 
  7. References

Rhetorical criticism papers usually take a different approach.

Writing the Rhetorical Criticism Essay (based on S.K. Foss)
  • Introduction
    • Identify artifact, RQ, Contribution to Theory, Hint of Justification
  • Description of the Artifact
    • Text, Context & Justification
  • Description of the Unit of Analysis
    • What specifically about the text is being studied?
      • Determined by method
  • Report of the Findings of the Analysis
    • Bulk of the essay
    • Organization determined by method
  • Contributing to Answering the Research Question
    • Answer RQ, implications, significance
  • References

In the introduction the author identifies the artifact or text being studied (e.g., V.P. debate) and indicates research questions (RQs) they want to answer (e.g., what words or phrases are used and what role do they play in persuading?).  The author would also indicate how their study adds to previously developed theory and also give some indication of why their study is important.

In the description of the artifact (or text), the author would describe the details about the text (who, what, where, when, etc.).  There is no analysis yet, just the facts about the text. The author would also provide some context for the text.  For example, if an author were analyzing a protest song of the 1960s, the author would want to provide description of what was happening in U.S. society at the time (Vietnam War, assassinations, civil rights, etc.).  The author would elaborate more on why their research, their paper is important.  That is, give justification for why their work should be read.

If you are interested in some context, see Kent State shootings article.

In the description of the unit of analysis, the author indicates what specific aspect of the text will be studied.  For example, a researcher studying the V.P. debate may just focus on the nonverbal aspects of the debate.

The author then spends most of the essay going through their analysis detail by detail from the beginning of the text to the end.

After a detailed analysis, the author closes by offering an answer to the initial research question(s), talks about  what their findings mean for future research and stresses the importance of their research.

If you did some rhetorical criticism on a song or a set of songs, what would they be and what do you think you'd find?

Share this post with others. See the Twitter, Facebook and other buttons below.
Please follow, add, friend or subscribe to help support this blog.
See more about me at my web site


  1. I'd be interested in doing a rhetorical criticism of love songs. Specifically, I'd like to compare love songs from twenty years ago to love songs now. I'd like to compare and contrast not just the lyrics of songs from both now and then, but also the music. I think I'd find that the theme of love songs have become more openly about sex than love. I believe that I'd find that the music of love songs has become more intense.

    1. Given that this is rhetorical criticism, how does the idea of persuasion fit in here?

      What's the "unit of analysis"? There are many aspects to a song. What specifically would you focus on?

    2. Something in the lyrics? Something in the music?

  2. Conducting research and providing rhetorical criticism of music is certainly not a new phenomenon. However, I've often found myself fascinated by the music of artists who become a voice for socioeconomic issues. Although much of this type of music has been comfortably categorized into predetermined genres (i.e. rock, folk, rythem and blues, and gansta-rap) based on timing, instrumental progressions, and musical styling, the lyrics often voice the pains and frustrations experienced by some under-represented segment of the social or economically deprived.
    Whether it's tagged as "blues" or "protest music", a wide range of artists have contributed their voices to some aspect of social reform including Simon and Garfunkel, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, The Temptations, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (presented in the above video). Rap artists such as the controversial NWA have gained both social and critical acclaim for their lyrics which expressed more aggressive language than their musical predecessors.
    Despite the obvious differences in styles, what much of this "social reform" music shares is the call to awareness, and in some cases, a call to action. In researching this music, one might ask if it deserves it's own genre regardless of the style differences. Do differences between the driving rhythms and a deep base lines of Marvin Gaye really differ so much from the folk-style guitar of Bob Dylan when the lyrical message is so similar?

    1. That describes my interest in music too. Personally and professionally I like music that has something to say and it doesn't matter the genre. I'm interested in music that takes a stance on social and political issues. I'm interested in songs about power and songs that potentially have the power to persuade.

      Anything out there now that you'd suggest I add to my playlists? Any older songs that you think are of this power genre which don't get the attention they deserve?

  3. I wouldn't consider myself a serious student of this "genre" of music, but curiosity has prompted me to conduct some informal research over the years. The first song that I would include in this category would be Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land". Originally written at the end of the Depression Era as a song of hope, the lyrics were changed in several later versions to reflect more political views. During the 1960's, it was re-recorded several times to become even more political, and served as an anthem to anti-war protests around the country.

    Two songs with the exact same theme were recorded by contrasting artists and reflected living conditions in some this country's larger cities. Elvis Presley recorded "In the Ghetto" in 1969. This is another song that has been re-recorded by several other artists, including Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, who recorded it as was duet with her deceased father. Donnie Hathaway began his career writing and recording love songs. He is most famous for "The Closer I Get to You", recorded with Roberta Flack. However, before his death, his music took on a more socially active tone. Most prolific is his recording of "The Ghetto", which was released in 1970 and still serves as a rallying cry for the socially and economically depressed.

    America experienced a social and political revolution during the 1960's and 70's, and many artists contributed music that reflected the pains of the American people. Marvin Gaye is another artist who also began his career singing about love. But, his 1971 album, What's Going On" included several songs highlighting socio-economic ills. Songs included "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)", "Save the Children", "Inner city Blues" (one of my favorites), and the title track, "What's Going On".

    James Brown recorded several songs that affected Black communities including, "The Payback", "Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)", "King Heroin", and "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing". Other songs recorded during this period include; "Chimes of Freedom", "Blowing in the Wind", and "George Jackson" by Bob Dylan, "Ball of Confusion" by The Temptations, "Fight the Power" by the Isley Brothers", and Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (actually, all of his musical poetry deserves a good listen).

    More recently, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" became a rallying cry for the politically conscious in the early days of rap music. Other more recent contributions include; Pearl Jam's "Do the Evolution", "Free Nelson Mandela by The Special A.K.A., "In a World Gone Mad" by the Beastie Boys, "Are You Going My Way" by Lenny Kravitz, "Guerrilla Radio" by Rage Against the Machine", and "Cop Killer" by Ice T. Also, the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash's "It's Like a Jungle Sometimes" deserve a good listen.

    1. That's a good list. Many of which I am familiar, but some new ones too. Thanks.

      I took most of your above list and put it in a Spotify playlist. I've embedded the playlist in a new blog post, if you are interested in listening to it.

      I wonder if there is anything more recent, past 2 or 3 years. Anybody else suggest songs more recent?

  4. If I did some rhetorical criticism on a song or a set of songs it would be rock songs(music). I did some additional research on rhetorical criticism and music and found some interesting information. "Rock music has always had a visual element. The album cover, the "look" a band strived for in performance, concert staging, and promotional publicity have all helped create a visual imagery of rock(Goodwin,1922). I never looked at rock music in this way. Very intersting.

    1. You raise an interesting idea -- doing rhetorical criticism on album covers.
      Check this:

      If rhetorical criticism is the study of how a text persuades, how do album covers persuade? What do they persuade you to do? Persuade you to buy them?

      What would be the units of analysis?


Thank you for your comment.
Your comment will be reviewed.
If acceptable, it will be posted after it is carefully reviewed. The review process may take a few minutes or maybe a day or two.