Textual Analysis Essay Structure

Organizing Your Analysis


This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles.

Contributors:Mark Pepper, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2015-08-30 05:01:04

There is no one perfect way to organize a rhetorical analysis essay. In fact, writers should always be a bit leery of plug-in formulas that offer a perfect essay format. Remember, organization itself is not the enemy, only organization without considering the specific demands of your particular writing task. That said, here are some general tips for plotting out the overall form of your essay.


Like any rhetorical analysis essay, an essay analyzing a visual document should quickly set the stage for what you’re doing. Try to cover the following concerns in the initial paragraphs:

  1. Make sure to let the reader know you’re performing a rhetorical analysis. Otherwise, they may expect you to take positions or make an evaluative argument that may not be coming.
  2. Clearly state what the document under consideration is and possibly give some pertinent background information about its history or development. The intro can be a good place for a quick, narrative summary of the document. The key word here is “quick, for you may be dealing with something large (for example, an entire episode of a cartoon like the Simpsons). Save more in-depth descriptions for your body paragraph analysis.
  3. If you’re dealing with a smaller document (like a photograph or an advertisement), and copyright allows, the introduction or first page is a good place to integrate it into your page.
  4. Give a basic run down of the rhetorical situation surrounding the document: the author, the audience, the purpose, the context, etc.

Thesis Statements and Focus

Many authors struggle with thesis statements or controlling ideas in regards to rhetorical analysis essays. There may be a temptation to think that merely announcing the text as a rhetorical analysis is purpose enough. However, especially depending on your essay’s length, your reader may need a more direct and clear statement of your intentions. Below are a few examples.

1. Clearly narrow the focus of what your essay will cover. Ask yourself if one or two design aspects of the document is interesting and complex enough to warrant a full analytical treatment.

The website for Amazon.com provides an excellent example of alignment and proximity to assist its visitors in navigating a potentially large and confusing amount of information.

2. Since visual documents often seek to move people towards a certain action (buying a product, attending an event, expressing a sentiment), an essay may analyze the rhetorical techniques used to accomplish this purpose. The thesis statement should reflect this goal.

The call-out flyer for the Purdue Rowing Team uses a mixture of dynamic imagery and tantalizing promises to create interest in potential, new members.

3. Rhetorical analysis can also easily lead to making original arguments. Performing the analysis may lead you to an argument; or vice versa, you may start with an argument and search for proof that supports it.

A close analysis of the female body images in the July 2007 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine reveals contradictions between the articles’ calls for self-esteem and the advertisements’ unrealistic, beauty demands.

These are merely suggestions. The best measure for what your focus and thesis statement should be the document itself and the demands of your writing situation. Remember that the main thrust of your thesis statement should be on how the document creates meaning and accomplishes its purposes. The OWl has additional information on writing thesis statements.

Analysis Order (Body Paragraphs)

Depending on the genre and size of the document under analysis, there are a number of logical ways to organize your body paragraphs. Below are a few possible options. Which ever you choose, the goal of your body paragraphs is to present parts of the document, give an extended analysis of how that part functions, and suggest how the part ties into a larger point (your thesis statement or goal).


This is the most straight-forward approach, but it can also be effective if done for a reason (as opposed to not being able to think of another way). For example, if you are analyzing a photo essay on the web or in a booklet, a chronological treatment allows you to present your insights in the same order that a viewer of the document experiences those images. It is likely that the images have been put in that order and juxtaposed for a reason, so this line of analysis can be easily integrated into the essay.

Be careful using chronological ordering when dealing with a document that contains a narrative (i.e. a television show or music video). Focusing on the chronological could easily lead you to plot summary which is not the point of a rhetorical analysis.


A spatial ordering covers the parts of a document in the order the eye is likely to scan them. This is different than chronological order, for that is dictated by pages or screens where spatial order concerns order amongst a single page or plane. There are no unwavering guidelines for this, but you can use the following general guidelines.

  • Left to right and top to down is still the normal reading and scanning pattern for English-speaking countries.
  • The eye will naturally look for centers. This may be the technical center of the page or the center of the largest item on the page.
  • Lines are often used to provide directions and paths for the eye to follow.
  • Research has shown that on web pages, the eye tends to linger in the top left quadrant before moving left to right. Only after spending a considerable amount of time on the top, visible portion of the page will they then scroll down.

Persuasive Appeals

The classic, rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, and ethos. These concepts roughly correspond to the logic, emotion, and character of the document’s attempt to persuade. You can find more information on these concepts elsewhere on the OWL. Once you understand these devices, you could potentially order your essay by analyzing the document’s use of logos, ethos, and pathos in different sections.


The conclusion of a rhetorical analysis essay may not operate too differently from the conclusion of any other kind of essay. Still, many writers struggle with what a conclusion should or should not do. You can find tips elsewhere on the OWL on writing conclusions. In short, however, you should restate your main ideas and explain why they are important; restate your thesis; and outline further research or work you believe should be completed to further your efforts.

Analyzing a text means interpreting the information that is written in that text, breaking it down to gather all the information and learn the meaning behind what it's written in the text. When you're analyzing a text you're examining how the author presents his or her arguments within the text and whether these arguments work or not and why.

Writing up a text analysis is a very common secondary school activity which can often come up in exams. Therefore, it is crucial to know how to write a good text analysis as it can help you get better grades. Analyzing texts correctly will also help you to understand better what you're reading, therefore improving your comprehension. If you want to improve your writing and perform great in your exams, read this oneHOWTO article and find out how to write a text analysis essay.

The first thing to do is read the text with agility to understand the general idea of it. At this time you have to enjoy reading and not analyse every element of the text, but simply understand the general concept.

Once you've understood the main idea of the text, make a detailed and careful reading of it. In this second, more detailed read, you can underline the most important terms and take note (on a separate sheet of paper) of the ideas that come to mind both directly related to the text and which refer to general information about the author in order to prepare for your analytic essay.

Once you've made the second read of the text it is time to locate which is the subject of the text. In this case the student should ask: what is the text about? This question can be answered in several ways at once:

  • You can try to find a title for your text. This title needs to sum up the whole idea of it, so it will be good to find out the subject.
  • You can make a list with the key points written in the text. These points will help you get an idea of the main topic that connects all them.
  • Place the text within a discipline. Does it talk about psychology, history, ethics, theology...?

After interpreting, understanding and assimilating the text we must begin to draft the text analysis. During the drafting of the analysis it is necessary to put all the information we have prepared in the previous section, distributing it according to the initial request. We must stick to the question and locate the information where appropriate and trying not to repeat the same in each answer.

It is very important to keep the text analysis organized, as chaos in writing the information is one of the most common errors. To avoid this, it is best to make a summary of what was written down whilst reading the text before you start writing. For this we can take the following steps:

  • You can list or classify the most characteristic of the author's concepts.
  • You can comment separately on each of these terms in the context of the idea of the author and also show the difficulties of interpretation. In other words, consider if the author's ideas are stated clearly and whether they make a point or not. Are the author's arguments supported?

Now that you have a draft, it is time to contextualize the text in the author's work.

You should start your analytical essay by relating the text with a brief reference to the author, as well as the historical period and philosophical context in which he/she lived. The author's philosophy should be explained through the ideas found in the text under analysis.

  • Frame the text in the author's body of work. Compare it with other works from the same author.
  • Say if the author has changed his/her mind in relation to the topics stated in the text you're analyzing (maybe the author had another point of view before or after writing the text you're analyzing)
  • Write down the key ideas from the author (the ones that appear in the text)
  • Contextualize the author in historical times.
  • Mention possible influences of other authors.

Note that in this part of your essay you should paraphrase some of the author's work to reinforce what the author's ideas ore. Make sure the sentences are no longer than two passages for each of the paragraphs you write or it may be considered plagiarism.

On the other hand, you can also use quotes instead if you prefer, but make sure they are those that summarize the author's ideas better.

After talking about the author it is time to write the critical commentary. This is the part in which you'll be talking about what you've read in the text.

  • State the difficulties of interpretation. This can detect inconsistencies or contradictions in the text.
  • Discuss the content of the text assuming opposing alternatives (Example: 'If the author were not to assume these to be as such then we would reach these other conclusions and we would not fall into these problems and would solve these other ones').
  • Compare with other authors to see what responses they have to the same problem. Subjective comments should never be included, for example 'I agree with what the author says' or 'what the author says is correct'.

As with every text, your text analysis should also be written following the Introduction, Body and Conclusion scheme. This will help keeping the analysis more structured and the ideas will be easier to read and understand.

To finish your analysis, gather the conclusions you have gotten to through your critical commentary, making sure you state each and every one of the points you made and relating them to the author's context, making sure you don't add any information or ideas you hadn't previously written about in the text.

Once you've finished writing your text analysis essay make sure that there are no grammar or spelling mistakes, as this could lead to lower grades. You should also make sure you have written the right amount of words for your essay. Though the length of an essay will depend on you or your assignment, make sure that the longest part of your analytical essay is the body, i.e context and critical commentary; and not any of the other parts of the essay.

If you'd like to read similar articles to How to Write a Text Analysis Essay, we recommend you browse around our Learning category.

  • An adequate formal presentation is essential.
  • There can be no spelling mistakes. A presentation which lacks care or the presence of syntactic errors or inconsistencies lowers the analysis
  • Sentences and paragraphs should not be too long. We also have to respect the lateral margins and spaces between paragraphs.
  • You have to write your analysis in the appropriate register, avoiding colloquial expressions.
  • An analysis will improve if we can include literary, artistic or scientific references. Our text will gain in richness and originality.
  • Never use the first person in the analysis. The text analysis is not about what YOU think about the text but about how the author has presented his/her arguments in it.

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