University of Wisconsin–Madison

Short Assignment in a Course about Rhetoric & Power on the Internet

Kathleen Daly
(Communication ARts 478: Rhetoric and Power on the Internet)

For this assignment, you will be conducting a rhetorical analysis of a hashtag as it moves across a particular social media platform. Your research will consist of tracing multiple iterations of a hashtag and critically assessing the various rhetorical situations to which this hashtag is applied. You will then write a short essay analyzing the rhetorical use and conversations around the hashtag.


Select a hashtag.

Before you can begin analyzing the discourse that circulates around a specific hashtag, you will need to identify several candidates and then choose the one that appears most promising. As you consider your options, try to follow the Goldilocks principle: the volume of tweets/pictures/posts shouldn’t be too small or too big, but just right. For example, studying #SOTU would prove far too complicated given our timeframe, available tools, and expertise. On the other hand, #badgersdonteattidepods wouldn’t give you nearly enough to work with in your analysis. The goal of this assignment is to analyze a social issue (grapple with issues) and questions of power, not merely to analyze any popular hashtag. So while the hashtag #FlyEaglesFly is culturally relevant and popular, it is not in the spirit of the assignment. **If you want to see if a particular hashtag meets the criteria before jumping into your analysis, is a hashtag analysis service that offers some basic statistical data regarding hashtag popularity over time, as well as a list of correlated hashtags. NOTE: THIS TOOL IS NOT TO BE USED IN YOUR ANALYSIS.**


Collect your data.

Once you have settled on a specific hashtag, begin monitoring the conversation surrounding that hashtag. Practically speaking, this means that you should be checking in several times a day and taking lots of notes about what you observe. In addition, you should save specific artifacts for use in your analysis by taking screenshots, and link these screenshots to your notes. Depending on which hashtag you choose, the amount of time you spend collecting data will vary; however, you should aim to analyze the hashtag over the course of a few days and you should closely read at least one hundred tweets worth of content.

You should not use a social media analytics platform to do your analysis. Your analysis should remain at the textual level, meaning that you should be analyzing individual tweets that use the hashtag, rather than analyzing metadata collected from every iteration of that hashtag.


Analyze your hashtag.

The following questions are meant to help guide your analysis. You do not need to answer all of these questions in your essay.

• What is the context surrounding this hashtag? What is happening to make people interested in this topic?

• What do the tweets using the hashtag have in common? Which tweets stand out and why?

• Which tweets are getting the most attention, replies, or favorites? Why?

• Who seems to be tweeting using this hashtag? What might they being trying to accomplish? What’s their motivation to participate in this stream?

• Does the stream seem to get off track? How and why? Once it gets off track, how do others respond?

• What do you notice about how people are using language? How is the language use related to the topic or context?

• In what ways are corporations or organizations trying to capitalize on the stream? What effect does that have on the conversation?

• What, if any, outside sources are tweeters bringing into the stream? Which seem to most accepted by others? Which seem to be dismissed?

• Does the stream devolve into trolling, racism, sexism etc. at any point? What effect does that have on the conversation?


Analysis Tools.

• Play around with Twitter’s native search functionality.

• If you are looking for a way to automatically capture all of the content using your chosen hashtag, Martin Hawksey’s

TAGS tool is excellent.


Write it up.

Your primary deliverable for this assignment is a short essay that introduces your hashtag, explains your methods for collecting and analyzing your data, interprets the data, and draws some conclusions about what you’ve observed over the course of this project. Aim for 800 words. If you go under or over this by a bit, that’s fine, but please try to stay within 100 words of the limit. Each essay should include the following:

• A title (Headline)

• A thesis statement that makes a clear argument (Description)

• An introduction that provides context for understanding the hashtag (Text)

• Topic sentences that elaborate on your argument (Text)

• Example tweets/posts that support your topic sentences (Tweets dragged and dropped)

• Concepts from course readings that help you make or support your points (Text or Links)

• A conclusion that addresses what we can learn about the platform by studying the hashtag you chose


Writing Tools.

• You can use a social media curation platform like Wakelet to add tweets to your paper. However, you will need to submit your paper to canvas as a .pdf.

• The Writing Center has a number of resources that can help you as your write and revise your essay. While I definitely recommend visiting the Writing Center’s website and checking out the range of resources available through the Writing Center’s Writer’s Handbook, I’ve pulled out a few guides that may be helpful for this particular project:

o Thesis Statements v. Purpose Statements

o Developing a Thesis Statement

o Paragraphing

o Writing Clearly and Concisely

o Common Grammatical Errors


Evaluation criteria.

Your project will be evaluated using the following criteria:

• Does your essay provide a succinct, yet informative introduction to the history and use of your chosen hashtag?

• Does your essay clearly explain your methods for collecting and interpreting your data?

• Does your essay critically analyze examples of the hashtag in use rather than merely describe and summarize them?

• Does your essay demonstrate how this analysis fits into broader course conversations (i.e. discussions about technological affordances, social networks, and digital literacies).