Multi-Platform Rhetorical Analysis



Overview: Teach students to rhetorically analyze texts by using multiple digital platforms to “read” and/or annotate them.

Learning Outcomes: Improve students’ critical/rhetorical analysis skills and help them become increasingly proficient in writing with (Rap) Genius, Voyeur, Lexipedia, and Prism.

Description: Rhetorical analysis takes a host of forms, as one can read with an eye to classical categories likeethos, pathos, and logos or employ more contemporary strategies like psychoanalysis, feminism(s), and deconstruction. Regardless of one’s approach, however, digital media can serve to illuminate the text, artifact, or whatever object is under scrutiny. One can begin having students engage in specifically-digital rhetorical analysis by selecting one or more texts from their research, then take advantage of various digital platforms in order to productively “read” them.

As an archive for “housing” analyses, one can have students use (Rap) Genius, a site that permits one to annotate a text from start to finish. Many examples of analysis already exist on Genius that are relevant to writing and other humanities classrooms, for although the site was originally used to explicate music lyrics one can now find literary, historical, legal, and other texts as well. For instance, one can click on the line “April is the cruelest month” in an annotation of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to discover that it contains an allusion to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Screen Shot of Junot Diaz page of Rapgenius

To begin, then, all one has to do is create an account/entry, then copy text into Genius and highlight specific words or phrases. The highlighted text opens a sidebar that allows one to write interpretative comments, discuss feelings, and post audio-visual media. Genius is also designed for collaboration, so teachers can have an entire class annotate a text together or in smaller groups, for instance, to provide an initial example of how the site works. Genius is a valuable platform as well in that it encourages students to annotate texts alongside users “outside” the academic realm.

As per specific kinds of rhetorical analysis that Genius or another site–like a PBworks wiki–might “hold,” the platform Voyeur can scan a text, generate word-counts, and graph where words appear. Voyeur automatically produces a word-cloud based upon the text one enters, too, revealing in an aesthetically-appealing way which words appear most frequently. Hence one can prompt students to consider the rhetorical significance of a specific word’s frequency or placement: Why does the writer use word “X” more than word “Y?” Why does s/he use it more near the end of the text, for example? What inferences can one make about the writer’s perspective on an issue from such usages? And if students analyze more than one text, what rhetorical connections, comparisons, and differentiations between them can Voyeur reveal?


One can likewise encourage students to dig deeper into analysis by considering the meaning of specific words, which goes hand-in-hand with considering frequency and placement. Beyond classic resources like the Oxford English Dictionary online, Lexipedia allows one to enter a word to learn what related words are its synonyms, antonyms, and “fuzzynyms.” One can thus encourage students to think about how words exist not only within networks of associated meanings but feelings associated with those meanings. Moreover, in order that word-cloud generators not merely serve as visually-appealing depictions of texts, one can have students use them to “juggle” a text, repeatedly changing its configuration to reveal what word-relations exist within the text that might not be immediately apparent.


In a manner that bridges the “gap” between Genius and Voyeur/Lexipedia, the platform Prismencourages students to collaboratively annotate text by “voting” on what certain words mean. So as an activity one could have an entire class vote on the significance of certain words in a text, compare/vote on what the same words mean in the context of different texts (i.e., show how they can mean different things), and/or consider existing analyses in the Prism archive in order to see what interpretations others have assigned various words.

In sum, then, by bringing together Genius, Voyeur, Lexipedia, and/or Prism, one can have students digitally/rhetorically analyze texts by annotating them, where those annotations take into account word frequency, placement, meaning, and meaningful associations. One can combine such analyses with other theoretical/analytical approaches, and the visually striking appearance of the above platforms make for great alternatives to presentations in PowerPoint.

P.S., Remember that in Genius one’s annotations can contain images, video, and sound(s) that are related/associated with words and their meanings–multimodality is integral to digital writing!




(Rap) Genius:


Word Cloud Generator:

Instructor Preparation: The two primary ways one can prepare for this assignment are: 1) Familiarize oneself with whatever technology platforms one plans to have students use, even if only briefly, and 2) Develop a rubric for assessing writing done specifically in Genius, keeping in mind that traditional modes of assessing alphabetic text papers can hinder student inventiveness. For example, one can reward the posting of a well-designed page banner or the posting of images and video. Moreover, assessing “citation” transforms insofar as this entails whether students have included appropriate links to analysis applications rather than simply other texts.

Student Examples:

McKenzie Finley — Genius Annotation of “Washington NFL’s Team Name Only Preserves Native American Stereotypes”

Tyler Howard — Voyeur Analysis of “Welfare Ban for Ex-Drug Offenders Hurts Minority Women”


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