This is the "Rhetorical Criticism Assignment" page of the "COMM 2310 (Rhetoric, Community, and Public Deliberation)" guide.
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COMM 2310 (Rhetoric, Community, and Public Deliberation)   Tags: 2310, ccpa, comm, hamon_by_course, rhetorical criticism, speeches  

Last Updated: Jun 3, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Rhetorical Criticism Assignment Print Page

Search the library catalog for a speaker or speech.

Search for your speaker as a subject.

Go to the catalog, choose the Subject Heading tab, and enter the name of your speaker (last name first).

Example: Jordan Barbara.

Make sure that you've found the correct person. You may need to choose among similar names.

Example: Bush, George W. (George Walker), 1946- versus Bush, George, 1924-

Scan the results for biographies, analyses of the speakers career, or similar works that might touch on your subject's speech.

If a subject has many entries in the catalog, there may even be an entry for Oratory. Items of this kind will contain the contents of speeches, but they may or may not include analysis.

Do a keyword search to pick up more items.

Go to the catalog, stay on the Basic Search tab, enter search terms in the blank, and choose Keyword from the dropdown menu. Try a variety of terms that might describe a category for your speech. This kind of approach often takes several tries with different combinations of terms. This kind of search is similar to what you do with Google.

Examples: "first ladies" rhetoric,  "civil rights" oratory,  nomination speech


Search for articles on the speaker, speech, context, and reactions.

In searching article databases, you will want to use sets of terms similar to those you used in the catalog.

  • the name of your speaker
  • the title or commonly used description of the speech (Examples: "black power", "fourteen points")
  • terms that describe a category for the speech (Examples: inauguration, "cold war", rights)
  • terms that describe audience behaviors (Examples: attitudes, reaction, public opinion)

Try your searches in the following databases. Ask a Librarian for suggestions on addtional or more specialized databases.

Bear in mind these points about database searching.

  • Because the speeches cover various topics and range over many decades, not all databases will work for all topics.
  • Narrowing your search by date range can be helpful. For example, if your speech was delivered in 1976, you could search a database with a large backfiie (like Lexis Nexis or JSTOR) and limit your search to the year 1976. This might turn up interesting contemporary responses.
  • Don't forget to use quotes ("") to bind phrases together. A search for "black power" will have a smaller set of more relevant results, but a search for black power can be a huge mess in some databases.
  • Never hesitate to ask for help from a librarian. You can use the Ask a Librarian service or contact Amy Turner, the Communication Librarian.

Short Cuts

Discover SMU Libraries

This is an interface that lets you search many of the libraries' resources (including the catalog) simultaneously. It includes tools for narrowing your results by subject, date, type of material, and other criteria. You can find a Discover search box on many of the libraries' web pages or by going here.


Dozens of the databases provided by the libraries are accessible through Ebsco Host where they can be searched simultaneously. On the main Ebsco Host page, you can select a group of databases to search with a single query.


Check reference books for context information.

You can find all of these books in the Fondren Library Center reference area. Any staff member there can point you in the right direction.

In the following reference works, look for your speaker and for surrounding events (e.g., Cuban missile crisis). Check each entry for references to further reading.

American Voices: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Orators
(For the purposes of this single-volume encyclopedia, "contemporary" means 20th century.)
PS408 .A47 2005

American Decades
(Covers 1900-1999.)
E169.12 .A419 1994

History in Dispute
(international coverage but lots of 20th century American material.)
D20 .H543 2000

The Fifties in America
E169.12 .F498 2005

The Sixties in America
E841 .S55 1999

The Seventies in America
E169.12 .S447 2006

Depending on your topic, the following subject encyclopedias may also be useful. If you don't see an encyclopedia related to your topic, Ask a Librarian for a recommendation.

Civil Rights in the United States
E184.A1 C47 2000 

Encyclopedia of Presidential Campaigns, Slogans, Issues, and Platforms
E176.1 .R6 2004 

Encyclopedia of Wars
D25.A2 P49 2005 

Encyclopedia of Gender and Society
HQ1115 .E54 2009 

Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History
HD8066 .A78 2006 


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