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Semiotic Analysis: EN-IS240 FA11

Page history last edited by Tonya Howe 12 years, 10 months ago

We've read a variety of essays on semiotics and rhetorical analysis, and we've learned that understanding the nature of representation is crucial to understanding how our values are shaped and played upon. The study of signs, then, is also the study of how identity is constructed and how relations of power are concretized through representation.  


This assignment asks you to select an advertisement in print and analyze it as a semiotic/rhetorical text, and it has two parts: 1.) a visual anatomization of your source, and 2.) a written component of 4-5 pages.


Your anatomization should result in a digital image in JPG format that uses PhotoShop to draw attention to key elements of the advertisement and what you infer from those observations. Be sure to note what is present in the ad, but also how the ad selects and excludes other elements, as we discussed in class. For instance, as you're brainstorming, consider what the ad would suggest/how it would function differently if a different race or gender were featured. What if the image were inside, as opposed to outside; if different colors or arrangements of space were used? You should be selective in your anatomization. Feel free to include other images, as I have done in the sample, linked above; you may find it necessary during workshopping to do a little web research on allusions made by your advertisement. I will evaluate your anatomization according to the following rubric:


  • Has the anatomization drawn attention to specific details of content and form?
  • Has the anatomization made logical inferences about those observations?
  • Are the observations and inferences significant, or do they stay on the surface of the ad?
  • Is the ad well-chosen for the assignment? 
  • Has the technology (scanner, PhotoShop) been used effectively in the construction of the anatomization?


The written component (see the sample linked above) should build on your visual anatomization, using its observations and inferences as the evidence in a thesis driven essay that analyzes how your ad functions rhetorically. Your thesis should answer, in a critical and analytical manner that is suggested by the ad itself, questions like this:


What central consubstantiality does the ad seek to create on the part of the viewer, and how does it do so? What 'truth' or 'norm' is it constructing, and how does it do so? If rhetoric is a use of signs, directed toward others, to compel belief, then what belief is being compelled, and how? If rhetoric is how we shape the chaotic experiences of life into a shared worldview--and therefore, a society--what worldview is this ad shaping, and how is it doing so?


Most importantly, your essay should have a clear sense of its purpose as an example of cultural studies. That is, your essay should have a good answer to the question, "who cares--why should I read this essay?" Your essay should stay on focus, but it should be organized in a manner that seeks to persuade your reader to your belief. You should include at least one key idea drawn from the assigned readings, as either a paraphrase (cited in-text) or a direct quote (also cited in-text). If necessary for your argument, you should discuss where the ad came from. Be sure to support the parts of your argument with examples from the ad itself! I will be grading the essay according to the following rubric:


  • Is the essay well-written, with a clear voice, well-chosen words, clear sentence structures?Does it have a clear shape
  • Does the essay have a specific, interesting, and appropriate thesis that is debatable?
  • Does the essay have a logical organization?  
  • Does the essay make concrete observations about the ad and draw logical, informed inferences from them in support of the thesis?
  • Does the essay stay on track, or does it get sidetracked by less-relevant information, observations, inferences?
  • Is the essay in MLA format, and has it otherwise met the criteria of the assignment?
  • Has the anatomization been properly inserted into the essay?


This project is foundational in many ways, and a successful project will help you with your other work this term. The discourse and methodology of rhetoric and semiotic analysis will enable you to complete all remaining coursework. Further, the visual component of the project will familiarize you with some of the possibilities and problems you will encounter in the final project.


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