What is Neo-Aristotelian Method of Rhetorical Criticism?

Neo-Aristotelian is one of the original methods of rhetorical criticism; named after Aristotle, it is also known as neo-classical or traditional criticism. As may be inferred from these names, when you analyze an artifact (artifacts can be anything from political speeches to advertisements to novels to public service announcements) using this method, you consider traditional rhetorical concepts, as originally posed by Aristotle—context, the five canons, and the effects. Your ultimate goal is to learn about how the context and construction of a document or speech affected the audience for whom it was created.

Review the graphic here or read the larger text below to learn how to conduct a neo-Aristotelian analysis.


  • RHETOR | Determine who created the artifact you’re evaluating. Don’t focus entirely on their personal biography, per se, but reach further to learn about the political and environmental climate that motivated them. Consider their reasons for creating this artifact, their experience and training in doing so, and other key elements as defined by the rhetor themselves.
  • OCCASION | Evaluate the occasion in which the rhetor produced the artifact. What was the time or season? What was the historical context? Consider the impetus behind creating the artifact: were they motivated by politics, environment, finances, family pressure, delusion, or something else? Understand the occasion in which the artifact was produced.
  • AUDIENCE | What do you know about the person or people to whom the rhetor was trying to communicate? What would persuade them? What do they care about? What were their feelings toward the rhetor at the time the artifact was produced?


Review the artifact with strict focus on how the artifact was created and how it was or is presented to the audience. See the five canons page for more explanation.

  • INVENTION | How was the artifact and argument built? Is its focus on logic, emotion, or credibility?
  • ARRANGEMENT | How is the artifact organized and arranged? What is the structure and does it work?
  • STYLE | What is the language and tone being used? Is it creative, dull, professional, avant-garde, or other?
  • MEMORY | Does the rhetor seem to be in control? Are they fully aware, knowledgeable, and capable?
  • DELIVERY | How was the artifact presented? Consider its visual appeal, confidence, quality, and so forth.


You, the critic, are in control of analyzing the effects. With a firm understanding of the rhetor, occasion, and audience, and after thoroughly reviewing the components of the artifact using the five canons, you can make assessments about how effective the artifact was or what effect(s) the artifact had on the audience. There is rarely, if ever, a single conclusion that can be made about how an artifact affected an audience, But you can look at the immediate and long term effects and trace them back to the components of the message as evaluated by the context and canons.