Working with Speeches

Step 1: Read the Speech

Begin by simply reading through the speech. Make quick notes about things you observe as a person encountering the speech for the first time. Notice this is not the last step but the first.

Step 2: Understand the Demands of the Historical Situation on the Speaker

The perspective of this step is grounded in your understanding of the historical situation and how it makes demands on the speaker. Certainly you can look to the speech for clues, but remember that the speech is the speaker's construction of his/her moment, not necessarily an accurate reflection of history's demands. So, even those clues you find in the speech should be taken back to the material from the lectures, the introductions to speeches in the books, and your own research into the historical moment. It is history's demands and not what is in the speech that is ultimately your guide.

Step 3: Understand the Speaker's Strategies in the Speech

This step must interrogate the speech itself. That interrogration is shaped by a logic of instrumentality: the speaker chooses rhetorical strategies to help meet the demands of the situation and his/her purpose in the speech. So read the speech not as words but as the product of choices of strategy by the speaker. In general, you are seeking answers to the following:

The rhetorical strategies map many choices the speaker makes in shaping the speech. The following list exemplifies (but is not exhaustive):

When you have completed your interrogation make certain you have done the following:

Step 4: Develop a coherent thesis on the speech's contribution to the times

These constitute the analysis of your abstract. The abstract should do all three of the things specified, but this will guide you in the third step.

A crib sheet to help you organize your study (.rtf)

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