Ap Lang Rhetorical Strategies Essay

One of the competencies you need to develop for AP Language and Composition is a thorough understanding of rhetorical strategies and techniques. This is because you will both be expected to identify these strategies and techniques in the writing of others and to use them in your own writing.

But given the huge number of rhetorical terms there are, how do you know which ones you need to know and understand? Do you need to know what anaphora is? What about synecdoche?

In this article I’ll provide two lists: one of essential key AP Language and Composition terms to know for the exam, and one list of useful bonus words that will serve you well on the exam. Then I’ll advise how to learn and use these terms for AP success!


Essential AP Language and Composition Terms

The following list of 37 terms, based on consulting both the AP English Language and Composition Course and Exam Description and free-response material from past years, provides an important overview of the major AP Lang rhetorical devices and techniques you need to know. With all of this AP Language and Composition vocabulary at your disposal, you’ll be a top-notch rhetorical analyst in no time! 

Each entry has a definition and example or further explanation. Don’t be intimidated by the size of this list—many of these are terms you are probably already familiar with!


Essential Rhetorical Analysis Terms





Explaining something complex by comparing it to something more simple.

"An amateur playing in a professional game is like an ibex stepping into a lion's den."


The combination of reasons, evidence, etc that an author uses to convince an audience of their position.

Too comprehensive a concept for a single example! In effective rhetoric, every phrase serves to further build the argument.

Aristotelian appeals

Three different methods of appealing to an audience to convince them—ethos, logos, and pathos.

See ethos, logos and pathos.


The writer's personal views or feelings about the subject at hand.

Difficult to convey in a short example, but something like "the deplorable state of this school" would convey that the author has a negative attitude towards the school.


Who the author is directing his or her message towards

When you create a resume, your audience is potential employers.

Compare and contrast

Discussing the similarities and differences between two things to some persuasive or illustrative purpose.

“Hybrid cars have a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional midsize vehicles.”


The implied meaning of a word; words can broadly have positive, negative, or neutral connotations.

conscientious = positive connotation

fussy = negative connotation


The extra-textual environment in which the text is being delivered.

If I am delivering a congratulatory speech to awards recipients, the immediate context might be the awards presentation ceremony; the broader context might be the purpose or significance of the awards themselves.


The argument(s) against the author's position.

If I want to eliminate the dress code, a counterargument might be that this will place a burden on students of a lower socioeconomic status, who must now afford an entire school wardrobe or risk unwanted attention.

Deductive reasoning

A form of logical reasoning wherein a general principle is applied to a specific case.

If all planets orbit a star, and Theta II is a planet, then it must orbit a star.


The literal, dictionary-definition meaning of a word.

The denotation of "chair" is "a place to sit."


The style of language used; generally tailored to be appropriate to the audience and situation.

You might say "What's up, loser?" to your little brother, but you would probably say "How are you doing today?" to your principal.


Setting up a source as credible and trustworthy.

"Given my PhD in the subject and years of experience in the field" is an appeal to ethos.


The information presented meant to persuade the audience of the author's position.

If I were arguing that Anne is a good student, I might reference her straight-A report card and her 1500 SAT score as pieces of evidence.

Figurative language

The use of language in a non-literal way; i.e. metaphor, simile, etc.

"The sky's like a jewel box tonight!"


The specific type of work being presented.

Broader categories include "novel" and "play," while more specific genres would be things like "personal essay" or "haiku."


Any descriptive language used to evoke a vivid sense or image of something; includes figurative language.

"The water was a pearl-studded sea of azure tipped with turquoise."


When something is suggested without being concretely stated.

"Watch your wallet around Paul," implies that Paul is a thief without coming out and saying "Paul is a thief."

Inductive reasoning

Making a generalization based on specific evidence at hand.

All of the planets in this solar system orbit a star, so all planets probably orbit stars.


At the most basic sense, saying the opposite of what you mean; also used to describe situations in which the results of an action are dramatically different than intended.

"I do so hope there are more papers to sign," is something that might be said ironically.


Placing two very different things together for effect.

"There they stood together, the beggars and the lords, the princesses and the washerwoman, all crowding into the square."


Appealing to someone's sense of concrete facts and logic.

Citing peer-reviewed scientific studies is an appeal to logos.


The reason or moment for writing or speaking.

When giving a graduation speech, the occasion is graduation.


How the different parts of an argument are arranged in a piece of writing or speech.

Think about the outlines you write in preparation for drafting an argumentative essay and you'll have an idea of what organization is.


An Aristotelian appeal. Involves appealing to someone's emotions.

Animal shelters ads with pictures of cute sad animals and dramatic music are using pathos.


The author's persuasive intention.

If you are trying to convince your mother you should get a dog, your purpose in addressing an essay on the subject to her would be to convince her that you should get a dog.


Re-using a word or phrase repeatedly for effect or emphasis.

"We run, and we run, and we run, like rats on a wheel."


The use of spoken or written word (or a visual medium) to convey your ideas and convince an audience.

Almost everything is an example of rhetoric!

Rhetorical triangle

The relationship between the author, the audience, the text/message, and the context.

The author communicates to the reader via the text; and the reader and text are surrounded by context.


The persona adopted by the author to deliver his or her message; may or may not actually be the same person as the author.

Similar to the difference between author and narrator in a work of fiction.


The author's own personal approach to rhetoric in the piece; similar to voice.

We might say the Taylor Swift's songwriting style is straightforward and emotive.


Using a symbol to refer to an idea or concept.

"Fire" is commonly used a symbol for passion and/or anger.


The way sentences are grammatically constructed.

"She likes pie," is syntactically simple. On the other hand, "As it so happened, when Barbara got out of class early she liked to have a piece of pie—key lime or pecan, always—at the corner diner; while she was there she watched the people passing by the window and imagined herself inside each of their lives, riding in their heads for moments and moments until the afternoon was whiled away and she'd become fifty people," is syntactically complicated.


Combining sources or ideas in a coherent way in the purpose of a larger point.

A typical research paper involves synthesizing sources to make a broader point about the topic.


Overarching ideas or driving premises of a work.

Some themes you will probably hear in your high school graduation speech include leaving behind a legacy, moving into the great unknown, becoming an adult, and changing the world.


The use of stylistic devices to reveal an author's attitude toward a subject.

Only a narrow distinction from attitude. The phrase "the deplorable state of this school" reveals a negative attitude, but the word choice of "deplorable" is part of the author's tone.


An author's unique sound. Similar to style.

Think of the way that you can recognize a pop singer on the radio without hearing who it is first.


Let your voice be heard!


Bonus AP Language and Composition Terms

Here are 18 bonus AP Language vocabulary terms that, while not absolutely essential to your success on the exam, will be very helpful. They identify some common but obscurely named rhetorical techniques and some additional rhetorical and argumentative strategies.

These terms also each have a definition and an example or explanation.


Bonus Rhetorical Terms





Using words with the same first letter repeatedly close together in a phrase or sentence.

"She purchased the pretty purple parka."


Making a brief reference to the cultural canon—e.g. the Bible, Shakespeare, classical mythology, etc.

"Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, George was not good at resisting temptation."


Offering a brief narrative episode. This device can serve many functions in a text—for example, introducing an issue, serving as evidence, to illustrate a point, and so on.

"When I went to buy my morning coffee, I ran into an old friend. He told me he had won the lottery and he was about to buy a yacht. Two months later I heard he had declared bankruptcy."


Agreeing with the opposing viewpoint on a certain smaller point (but not in the larger argument).

“While I admit that hybrid cars have higher carbon production costs than conventional automobiles, this is dramatically offset by the much-smaller lifetime carbon footprint of the vehicles.”


A text with an instructive purpose, often moral.

Aesop's fables are an example of a didactic work.


Referring to something with a veiled phrase instead of saying it directly

"She let Bob go," is a euphemism for "she fired Bob."


Providing examples in service of a point.

“The Town Beautification Funds are being sorely misused; the streets are full of litter, the parks are full of broken equipment, and City Hall's facade is drab and crumbling.”


Overstating a situation for humorous or dramatic effect.

"My backpack weighs tons!"


A commonly used phrase that signifies something very different than its literal meaning.

"This costs an arm and a leg!" is an idiom which means "This is very expensive."


Using "sound-effect" words (e.g. "clap," "buzz).

"We heard an ominous hiss from the kitchen."


A phrase or assertion that appears to contradict itself (but the contradiction itself may have its own meaning).

Paradoxical phrases include "dark angel," "fresh rot," "blissful hell," etc.


Repeated structural elements in a sentence.

"We went to sea; we went to war; we went to bed."


Using the form of something to mimic and make fun of it.

Weird Al is the master of the musical parody genre.


Giving human characteristics to a nonhuman object or idea.

"The sun was shining happily today."


Mockingly stating the opposite of what you mean. Easier to convey in the spoken word than via writing.

"Did you come up with that all by yourself?" might be delivered sarcastically after someone delivers a poorly-thought out idea.


A genre of humorous and mocking criticism to expose the ignorance and/or ills of society.

Stephen Colbert is a popular modern satirist.


Referring to one part of something as a way to refer to the whole.

"Ask for her hand" is a synecdoche for marriage; the "hand" stands in for the whole woman.


Deliberately minimizing something, usually for humorous effect.

"My mom's a little bit irritated I crashed the car—I'm grounded for the next twenty-four months."



The Angry Storm: a story of personification.


How to Learn and Use AP Language Terms

You might be tempted to bust out some flashcards, do some aggressive memorization, and call yourself finished. However, that’s really only the first step of the three-step process of actually learning AP Lang terms.


Step 1: Learn Rhetorical Terms

As you initially try to familiarize yourself with these terms and what they mean, it’s fine to make flashcards. You could use the term on one side and the definition on the other, or the definition and the example from the chart on one side and the term on the other—whatever’s easier for you. You could make physical flashcards if you like to learn things with a tactile element involved, but for the sake of convenience you might consider making online flashcards at a site like Quizlet, where a free account lets you make and save flash cards and then quiz yourself with a variety of games and strategies.

When you know the terms and their definitions inside and out, you’re ready to move on to the next step.


Step 2: Identify Rhetorical Strategies and Devices

Next, you need to work on identifying rhetorical strategies and devices in actual written works. Make an effort when you read to seek out examples of the different rhetorical techniques at work. And think about the larger context of the piece: what’s the author’s purpose in writing this piece? Is the speaker the same as the author? What genre is it? What devices are being used repeatedly? You might try jotting down your thoughts about how pieces you read are using rhetorical devices.

When you feel you can consistently identify these strategies at work in the writing of others, it’s time to try your hand at using them yourself.


Step 3: Deploy Rhetorical Strategies and Devices

Once you feel you have a handle on identifying a given device/concept in other pieces, it’s time to think about using it in your own writing. Consider your own purpose and argument when you write. Think about audience. Deploy hyperbole and irony. See what works and what doesn’t. Trying to apply the terms will help you learn the concepts much better than simple memorization.


Deploy rhetorical parachutes!


Final Thoughts: AP Language and Composition Terms

There are so many rhetorical terms that it can be hard to determine which ones you need to know for AP Language and Composition! This list gives you an overview of all the essential AP English Language and Composition vocabulary.

When you’re trying to learn these concepts, it’s better to try to apply them—by seeing how other authors use them and using them in your own writing—than to just memorize the terms and their definitions. The important thing is to understand the concepts, not just know the terms!


What's Next?

We can help if you’re not sure how to study for AP exams.

If you’re also taking AP Literature, see our ultimate guide to the AP English Literature test and our AP Literature Reading List.

Looking for practice tests? See our complete lists for AP Human Geography, AP Literature, AP US History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology,AP Psychology, and AP World History. Or see our guide to finding the best AP practice tests for any exam. 


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Many high school students will ambitiously decide to take AP English as their main language elective. Assuming they have made this decision, it is almost a definite fact that most of the students will take the AP English exam. When writing the exam, the test will require you to write three unique types of essays.

From the three possible essay styles, one of them is the rhetorical analysis essay. If you have ever seen the movie Inception, be prepared to experience a similar type of mind-boggling. There is a high percentage chance that you have never worked with this type of essay before. No worries, Our essay service will teach you everything you need to know about writing a stellar rhetorical analysis!

Table Of Contents

What Is A Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Remember I mentioned the movie Inception? Well, the concept of “a dream within a dream” is mimicked here, just with a slight alteration. Essentially, a rhetorical analysis is a type of essay that requires you to “write about the writing”.

If you have a question mark looming over your head, do not worry as this will all make sense with a little bit of reading. In this type of analysis, in order to uncover the strategies and persuasive styles that they are using to get some reaction from a crowd. Most of the time, the example topics are speeches given by influential figures. In other words, when given an essay prompt on the exam, the instructor is asking you to analyze the text and explain how all the “written parts” work together.

Preparation Strategy

Since the AP exam is a time-limited task, swift and effective preparation is key to creating a powerful piece of academic writing! Considering the fact that your allotted time has to be broken down into reading, analyzing and writing, multi-tasking with reading and analyzing is a must. As you begin reading the introductory information, start taking notes of important information that will simplify the analysis process.

  • Who is the author?
  • What is their intended target audience?
  • What is their purpose for writing this speech/document?
  • In what setting are they located while giving the speech? Why specifically this setting?

Having these questions in mind and uncovering their answers will simplify the process of analyzing their strategies. At the very least it gives you something to work off, and having this information allows you to understand their methods of persuasion and how it affects the ethos, pathos, and logos.

The ingredients for persuasion, as Aristotle called them, can be broken down into three categories. There are the ethos, pathos, and logos. The ethos appeals to ethics, and this is all about providing traits and reasons as to why the speaker is a credible source of information. The pathos appeals to emotions and is a sneaky way of convincing an audience by creating an emotional response. Last but not least, we have the logos (my personal favorite) which appeals to logical and rational thinking and tries to persuade the audience through reasoning.

  • “Doctors all over the world recommend this type of treatment!”
  • “You’ll make the right decision because you have something that not many people do: you have the heart."
  • “Thousand of years of history has taught us that war never changes”

In every AP English exam, the literary prompt will contain examples of at least one of the three persuasive methods. After using the background info to help guide you, it should not be too difficult to figure out which tactic the speaker uses. Obviously, one should practice writing rhetorical analysis essays before taking the exam!

Rhetorical Essay Outline

After reading, analyzing and jotting down supportive notes, the remaining time that you have is what will really earn you that 5 on the AP Exam! You have the figured out the strategies thanks to your meticulous note taking, and now it is all about putting pen to paper.

Following the proper structuring is the most reliable method of satisfying the professor's requests, so using the 5-6 paragraph style is your best bet. Depending on the amount of solid strategies you have found, the body paragraphs you will have to create should equal the same amount. Regardless, the intro-body-conclusion format of the paper outline remains the same!


As most of your time will be devoted to creating informative body paragraphs, the introductory paragraph should be short and sweet. To start it out briefly, summarize the main argument of the speaker. Afterward, reference “what is said” and “how it is said” to develop your own crafted opinion a.k.a thesis statement. This will explain the tone and mood as well as intrigue the reader about the rhetorical strategies you shall explain later in the text. Last but not least, put together an enlightening thesis that explains the persuasive styles used by the speaker, and their overall effect.

Body Paragraphs

As the part of the essay that will have the most content, the body paragraphs have a lot of questions that need to be answered. In this part of the essay, you are explaining how the speaker develops his thesis and which devices and strategies he applies. Based on the amount of different strategies he uses, a paragraph should be devoted per strategy.

When finding a piece of evidence (quote) that matches up to the criteria of a literary device, then craft one paragraph specifically around that quote. Explain the persuasive strategy used and how the quote shows this. Your explanation should generally answer one of these four questions:

    Some other things that should be taken note of within the body paragraphs are shifts in tone and diction and the varying length of sentences. Though these are smaller and do not impact your understanding of the concept of rhetorical analysis as much, knowing them shows your instructor that you have a strong grasp of style. Lastly, do not forget to make proper citations!


    After fully supporting and developing your various arguments, it is time to wrap up the essay with a strong conclusion. First of all, explain how this work affected the audience and the essay as a whole. In other words, show the result that came from this impact speech!
    Afterward, fully conclude your argument on each individual rhetorical device, and link them as a whole to show their significance as a unit! As a final sentence, provide an impactful overall concluding statement that showed the importance of this speech and its strategies that helped to shape history!

    Overall Writing Tips

    Phew, you are finally finished writing this super intense and strenuous essay with only five minutes left. Time to sit back and relax as you are finally done this section….. OR you could use this last few minutes to make your writing as flawless as possible! The second option sounds better? I agree, so let us talk about a five-step checklist that will immensely impact the quality of your essay!

    • Grammar: Though this may sound like some captain obvious info, nobody likes to read a work that has punctuational errors and sentence structure problems! Keep a fair mix of short and long sentences and make sure to avoid abbreviations. This is Formal Writing remember!?
    • Vocabulary: Having a wide range of vocabulary is a sure-fire way to gain some style points from the instructor. It shows that you are multidimensional and can write in a diverse number of ways. Have a quick glance at a thesaurus beforehand to keep that mental space occupied!
    • Coherency: The smoother your essay sounds while it is being read, the better the content will seem. Having strong and appropriate transitions keep the essay from getting cluttered as well as using a wide range of punctuations. Do not just jump from point to point; rather, ease the reader into your next thought with smooth language!
    • Use Present Tense: When writing formally or for any academic essay, make sure to use present tense writing. It helps to avoid confusion and keeps things straightforward, as well as the fact that writing should feel “at the moment”
    • Respond To The Text: This can not be stressed enough. If you have ever heard your teacher say “guys, do not write a plot summary” then you already know where this is going. Avoid listing the literary devices and providing quotes along. Explain the IMPACT of each literary device and SHOW how the quote supports it specifically!
    • Name Your Essay Right: It is crucially important to give your essay a suitable title as it is the first thing your reader will see. Moreover, after reading the title of your essay, they will decide whether or not it is worth their attention.

    Rhetorical Analysis Example

    To gain a better understanding of this writing stye, it would be useful to learn from an example.

    Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

    Joe Baker, from EssayPro

    If you are taking an AP class and you have to do a rhetorical analysis essay, then a good rule of thumb is to use a mnemonic device called DIDLES. DIDLES is an acronym for Diction, Imagery, Details, Language, and Sentence Structure. As soon as you sit down to annotate your text for rhetoric, keep note of the terms above. Diction will help you understand the syntax and tone of the piece. Imagery will point you to the specific places that the author chose to show rather than tell; details will demonstrate what exactly the author wanted you to pay attention to. Language is a good signifier of what mood and voice the author have, and sentence structure will help you notice whether the writing style of the author better.

    While you read, don’t forget to annotate and ask yourself questions such as: is the language colloquial or professional? What does the author want to show me with this description? Why does the author include these specific facts/details? And more importantly, how does DIDLES (the bigger picture) evoke ethos, logos, and pathos from the reader. Write down everything that goes through your mind while you read and your rhetoric should be top notch.

    Still Struggling to Grasp the Concept?

    We get it, rhetorical essay writing is probably a new and confusing option in your writing arsenal. This is definitely one of those essays that require hours of practice to master. Luckily for you, EssayPro, top-notch paper writing service, has a team of professional paper writers that have been writing rhetorical analysis essays for several years. They too have dealt with the confusion of finding these hidden persuasive strategies, so the tips and tricks that they carry are priceless for our students. Chat with the writer and get qualified paper writing help! Whatever questions you may have, EssayPro is ready to help!

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