Critical Analysis

WP 1 Rubric

Arguments never occur in a vacuum. For every argument, there is a back story and a reason why someone is willing to take a particular stand. You'll see this as you read the primary source documents from your Contending Voices textbook. In many of the chapters, the lives of the men and women portrayed were literally on the line as they expressed their beliefs through their writing. In doing so, each writer/rhetor had to make lots of decisions: to whom do I want to convey my message? How should I convey my message? What should I say? How should I say it?

For this project, you will write an analysis of the rhetorical choices made by a particular writer featured in an assigned chapter from Contending Voices. Sections 254, 255, 256 and 257 will write their Critical Analysis on Chapter 5: The Conflict over the Constitution Patrick Henry vs. James Madison. In essence, your job is to describe how this particular piece of writing (the primary source chosen) confirms the idea that "writing is a social and rhetorical activity" (Roozen 17).

In order for your analysis to make sense, you'll need to thoroughly explain the historical context of the argument. You'll be able to "get" most of the context from the lead chapter written by John Hollitz. However, you may want to consult other reputable sources about the topic of your assignment chapter, as well (your Give Me Liberty text book, or Credo Reference, for example). You'll need to understand that there was an ongoing conversation or debate about issue X. At what point did the writer of your primary source choose to join this conversation? What do we need to know about what happened before the writer picked up his or her pen in order to understand the argument he or she made?

Step by Step

  1. READ your assigned/selected chapter thoroughly. This means you must read the lead essay of the chapter (the part written by Hollitz), and all of the primary source documents associated with it multiple times. Take notes.
  2. Choose one of the primary source documents from the chapter you find particularly interesting or compelling. You don't necessarily have to "agree" with the writer; in fact, you might vigorously disagree with the writer. That's ok.
  3. Summarize the "back story" behind the document. What's going on? Why is the writer getting involved? What do we need to know to understand what the writer's talking about? In other words, describe the historical context behind the issue.
  4. Using the diagram of the Rhetorical Situation, analyze and describe each component.
  5. Finally, offer some analysis of the effectiveness of the writer's argument. Was his or her intended audience convinced? Did the argument bring about change? Was the argument emotionally compelling? Did the writer offer a logical, hard-to-dispute case?

Questions to consider for pre-writing as you analyze the chapter and the primary source document include:

  • What are the main ideas that are conveyed in the lead essay (the part written by Hollitz) of your assigned chapter in Contending Voices?
  • Who are the two main historical figures presented in the chapter? What does each historical figure want, according to the chapter?
  • Who is the author of the primary source document you are analyzing? Where does this person "fit" in the ongoing debate about the issue addressed in the chapter?
  • For the specific primary source document you are analyzing, what is the main argument being conveyed? Identify the writer's strategy in trying to convince his or her audience to think, believe, or do something.
  • What evidence from the primary source documents best represents this argument?
  • What other key ideas does the writer convey in the document?
  • Who was the intended audience for the primary source document? How do you know?
  • What type of medium did the writer choose? Why? Did the writer remain anonymous? If so, why?
  • In what ways did the writer demonstrate “courage and or conviction” in his or her writing? Be specific, and support your statement with direct quotes, and an analysis of these quotes.
  • What type of rhetorical devices did the writer employ to try to win over his or her audience? Emotion? Fancy language? His or her own credentials? A logical and factual argument?
  • What do you think of the writer's argument? Was it effective or not? Use evidence from either the lead essay or your own analysis to back up your claim.

Nuts & Bolts:

The final essay must be in the range of three to four pages and must be formatted following MLA documentation guidelines.

  • ALL references to material from Contending Voices should be accurately documented parenthetically and listed on the Work Cited list. See the MLA Documentation Guide for the Critical Analysis for detailed instructions that will guide you through this process.
  • You are not required to consult any other outside sources other than your Contending Voices textbook or the history lectures for this assignment. Do NOT consult or cite non-scholarly sources such as wikipedia in writing this assignment.
  • The FINAL draft of this document is due on February 28 at the beginning of large lecture/ history.
  • NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED. Work that is submitted late will receive a "zero."
  • Please note that this writing project counts in ALL of your Learning Community Courses!

Works Cited

Roozen, Kevin. "Writing is a Social and Rhetorical Activity." Naming What We Know, Edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elziabeth Wardle, UP of Colorado, 2016, pp. 17-18.