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Rhetorical Analysis of FIRE
For your first essay assignment, you are asked to write a rhetorical analysis of FIRE. Okay, so you are not
analyzing the flammable substance we refer to by that name like you might do in a chemistry class! Rather,
“FIRE” in this case refers to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and you are specifically
conducting a rhetorical analysis of this non-profit, bi-partisan organization’s WEBSITE.
So, the first thing you’ll need to understand is what exactly it means to write a rhetorical analysis. In the first
formal essay folder, where you found this prompt, open the folder entitled “What is Rhetorical Analysis?” and
you’ll see a link there titled “How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis”. I have also pasted it below:
Read through the document closely, as it does a good job of explaining this unique form of essay-writing.
Generally speaking, this kind of writing can be summarized by saying it produces essays that are focused more
on “HOW” something is written and presented than WHAT something is specifically saying. With that said,
however, one shouldn’t get the impression that what is being said is unimportant. By no means is that the case! It
simply means that particular attention is devoted to those qualities that make a work appeal to audiences.
Therefore, a rhetorical analysis can be applied to lots of different works—from essays to images to advertisements
and even to websites. The latter of these is what you are asked to do in this first essay assignment, as you will be
conducting a THOROUGH rhetorical analysis of an entire website! This means the home page and all of the
various links, along with content within those links, throughout the FIRE website.
You will first want to spend time initially understanding the mission and purpose of the organization and
what they hope to accomplish. You’ll want to explore the many court cases they have available to view, news
stories, videos, links, and “campus rights” resources available to an audience of both students and faculty at
colleges and universities. As you analyze the rhetoric in all of these areas, it is also important to consider the
mission of FIRE in light of the larger, longstanding historical mission of all institutions of higher education until
very recently. Consider what college students have always expected to encounter in an atmosphere designed to
expand adults’ minds (not children) and broaden their perspectives of the world—which, by default, automatically
means exposure to ideas that are bound to be “offensive” to every student or faculty member at some point!
The solution many colleges and universities have sought to install is the ambitious, yet highly unrealistic and
entirely incompatible with the principles of higher education, goal of attempting to eliminate offense at every
level. They have established thorough and detailed “speech codes” that outline what can and cannot be said; they
have designated “free speech zones” on remote parts of their campuses for any ideas deemed “disagreeable” to
others (for very restricted amounts of time). They have redefined what were once considered mere disagreements
between people as “micro-aggressions” perpetrated by some towards others—ideas considered equally as
dangerous as acts of violence (obviously defined by folks who have never experienced actual human violence),
and some institutions in the country have recently attempted to establish “safe zones” whereby those who reside
within such “zones” are assured of not having their feelings hurt by anyone in any way, which is very utopian.
Your rhetorical analysis of the FIRE website need not be in the spirit of agreement with this bi-partisan
organization (although most students do agree with them); you may find yourself in disagreement entirely with
FIRE’s commitment to promote and protect free speech on college campuses because you believe the risks
outweigh the benefits of free speech—and that’s perfectly okay! Anyhow, this is not an argument paper. As
stated earlier in this handout, rhetorical analysis essays are first and foremost about (objectively)
discussing HOW something is written/presented in light of stated goals and objectives by the authors—not
expressing agreement or disagreement with WHAT is said in the rhetoric. Therefore, the assessment of their
effectiveness is not dependent upon your agreement or disagreement with them. It is dependent entirely upon how
effectively their rhetoric (everything on their website) helps them accomplish their goals.
Finally, this is also not a research paper. No outside sources are expected in this assignment beyond the FIRE
website. Now, with that said, there should be no shortage of concrete and specific examples throughout your
essay—examples that come from of all of the various nooks and crannies throughout the site!
1. 4+ Pages (essays of less than four full pages will receive deductions)
2. MLA Format
3. Evidence of the Writing Process (prewriting, rough draft, revision, editing)
Suggestion: I would highly recommend starting your investigation of the site by watching two videos from the
co-founders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate (called “The
Founders Series” in their video archives).
A word about MLA in this specific paper…
You need not worry about citing references to the various FIRE resources, since the entire focus of the assignment
is to investigate and analyze the FIRE website (it is clear what source material you are addressing). Just be sure
to make it abundantly clear in your introduction that you are indeed analyzing the FIRE website—as any focused