Resources for Writers:  Analytical Writing. 

still under construction

The uses of Analysis
Most college papers require some kind of analysis as part of the prewriting or organizing process or as a part of the paper itself.  People analyze things to determine the similarities and differences, to classify them, and to synthesize them. They analyze their initial response to a text to find a thesis for a critique or a topic for further research.  You may also find it a useful exercise to analyze yourself as a student--how and when do you study most effectively? When is the best time for you to write? Revise? Think? And to do that you need to use all of the writing strategies you will learn in a composition class, and more (narration, description, summary, response, definition, classification, division, comparison, and synthesis). All of these strategies help us to understand the object of study--whether it is an article you're reading for class or youself.. Analysis itself can aid understanding.
Key features of analysis  Analytical skills in college  

Analytical skills in college
Academic writing assignments call for several different kinds of analysis, but we will discuss analysis under three general headings, rhetorical analysis, process analysis and causal analysis. (You may observe that in advancing these three subcategories of analysis, we are engaging in division, and specifically in selective, interpretive division.) .

The purpose of rhetorical analysis is to discover how a text persuades its readers; the purpose of process and causal analysis is to discover and explain how a situation or issue works. In either case, analysis involves examining, selecting, and interpreting. process analysis and causal analysis focus on facts and relationships, figuring out how these facts and relationships work. rhetorical analysis focuses on how the argument of a text is structured.

We discuss these three forms of analysis in some detail below because each has useful applications in academic writing. In a humanities course such as literature, drama, languages, the classics--Greek and Latin or a related sub-discipline like cultural studies, media studies, or communication studies, you might be asked to analyze the rhetoric of a text. In a science course you might be asked to perform a process analysis, and social science courses may ask you to engage in causal analysis. These forms of analysis are not linked exclusively with specific disciplines, but as you learn more about analysis, you will see why different disciplines tend to make particular use of one type.

Rhetorical Analysis

To analyze the rhetoric of a text is to figure out how it persuades its readers--not what it is attempting to persuade them of, but how it goes about accomplishing that task. Nor is rhetorical analysis directly concerned with whether the text's assertions are correct. Thus Kenneth Burke, one of the great American rhetoricians of the twentieth century, asserts that analyzing Hitler's rhetoric is a worthwhile task. It doesn't matter that you might violently disagree with Hitler's motives or his arguments, says Burke; in conducting a rhetorical analysis of his texts, you can learn a lot about the means by which people are persuaded. Hitler was able to persuade a great number of people to join him in a cause that is today widely denounced. How did he do it?

This is the compelling question of rhetorical analysis. It is a useful question for you to learn how to answer; with the ability to understand how you are persuaded, you are less vulnerable to manipulation.

Although few of your classes will assign you to write rhetorical analyses, learning to conduct this type of inquiry and write this type of paper can make appreciable contributions to critical thinking skills that you can then apply to your academic studies. Rhetorical analysis--being able to figure out how arguments work--can help you to understand how the various academic disciplines work. Conducting a rhetorical analysis of a linguistics text, for example, helps you understand how the discipline of linguistics asks and answers questions--by what means members of that discipline tend to form beliefs.

You may be asked to write a form of rhetorical analysis known as explication or close reading in literature classes, and, as we explain in "African American Women Writers," an ability to explicate a text is the first step in writing an effective paper.

Prewriting and organizing your material

A reader's summary is a good first step; it aids your understanding of the text. (See p. 000.) The reader's summary gives you preliminary--but essential--information. Once you have drafted your reader's summary (which, in a task of rhetorical analysis, is a form of prewriting), you should ask yourself three preliminary questions: "What is the thesis of this selection?" "What reasons does the author give for me to believe this thesis?" "What other points of view does the author acknowledge or explore?" Again, as part of your prewriting, write out your answers to these questions.

Questions to ask as you perform a rhetorical analysis

Now you are ready to begin your rhetorical analysis, collecting material that will lead you to your own thesis and that will become part of your essay. This analysis is best achieved by asking a whole series of questions, beginning with the following:

What is the context of this text? Where was it published, and when?

Who is the intended audience for this text? (Sometimes that question can be answered from the context, and sometimes there are clues in the text that tell you who the writer imagined his or her readers to be.) Does the text demonstrate a respect for its audience? What stance does it adopt toward that audience--one of teacher, colleague, supplicant? Is the text superior to the audience? Is it the equal of its audience? Is it afraid of or hostile towards its audience? Does it welcome the audience into the discussion, or exclude them from it?

By what means does the text seek to persuade its readers of the thesis? By appealing to their emotions, their fears? By citing authorities? By recounting personal experience, observation, or research? By building the author's own credibility as an authority on the subject or as a generally knowledgeable person? By adducing empirical data--statistics, tables, graphs, and the like? (See the discussion of ethos, logos, and pathos on pp. 000-000.)

How does the text establish that this evidence actually supports the argument--or does it assume that you, the reader, automatically agree that this evidence is valid and sufficient?

Whom does the text portray as the enemies of its argument? Whom does it portray as its friends?

To what extent does the text consider counterevidence--alternative points of view? Are these given serious consideration, or are they "shot down" without a trial?

To what extent does the text acknowledge the complexity of the issue--or does it try to make it seem that the issue is a simple one, with only one "right" answer? Does the text give you options for the conclusions you reach, or does it portray all who disagree with it as ill-informed or even villainous?

What does the text leave out? (If you know something about the issue, ask yourself whether the text is suppressing counterevidence or complexity.) Do you get the "whole picture" from this text? (Keep in mind that no text can cover every aspect of its topic; but on the other hand, when a text seems to suppress key information or perspectives, that is itself a part of its argument.)

How is the text organized? For example, does it include numbered lists of evidence? (Such lists are interesting to interpret. On one hand, they may help the reader keep track of complex information. But in some texts, numbered lists seem to function not to prevent the reader's cognitive overload but to make it seem that there are no options other than those in the numbered lists.)

Consider word choices and the arrangement of ideas. These should provide you with insightful material. Often such inquiry will reveal methods of argument that the author may not have even been consciously using but that nevertheless affect readers' understanding of and response to the material. Words like political correctness and family values, for example, are catchwords that call upon readers' emotions. Americans have so exhausted themselves in argument about the issues of political correctness and family values that the labels for them now announce not a logical argument but an emotional one. When phrases like political correctness and family values are used, it is usually for the purpose of bringing discussion to a close, rather than opening it up.

More generally, though, word choices substantially influence how an argument is developed. Words like progress, for example, marshal readers to the writer's cause. Who doesn't approve of progress? When you hear or read the word, you may respond positively, without thinking about the connotations of progress. One particularly good place for considering issues of word choice is in the text's presentation of evidence and counterevidence. Do the emotional associations of the word choices change according to whether the text is talking about evidence or counterevidence? (i.e., are words with negative emotional association used to describe counterevidence, and words with positive emotional association used to describe the evidence?)

Once you've collected your preliminary data on the means whereby the text advances its argument, you may find it useful to compare those means with the rhetorical strategies of other texts you have read on the same topic. Or you might compare the text's rhetorical strategies with the rhetoric of other texts that you have analyzed. Think about what such comparisons might reveal about the rhetorical structure of this text.

Once you have completed this analysis, you are ready to begin writing your paper. As you do so, consider what your own argument will be, and what evidence you will offer in support of it. Your thesis will probably be a statement of something valuable that you have learned from the process of conducting rhetorical analysis of this text, and your evidence will probably be drawn from your answers to some of the questions above. See page 000-000 for a discussion of possible patterns of organization.

Process analysis

Process analysis offers the steps whereby an effect is achieved. Day-to-day life commonly involves three different types of process analysis. To read a recipe for spinach quiche is to read a process analysis that explains how to create an effect--the effect being a delicious dinner. Follow the steps of the recipe, and culinary delight (depending upon one's love of spinach, eggs, and what not) will result. In the academic world, a similar sort of process analysis is commonplace in science laboratory reports, which are intended to explain a process step by step so that the reader could replicate the experiment and the result.

This creative process analysis is not, however, the only type with which science students are familiar. Another common type is that in which the intended result is the reader's comprehension of how something works. The objective of such process analyses is not that the reader go out and follow the steps presented in the process analysis, but rather that he or she understand how the end product occurs. We generally cause such pieces comprehension-based process analysis.

We might also distinguish a third sort of process analysis, one in which the desired result is not so much that the reader create something nor that he or she understanding something, but that he or she do something. This type of process analysis is well known to all American grocery shoppers. The checkout counters are rife with magazines that tell readers how to behave differently. Typically that behavior has an explicit result, such as not being fat, or having a better sex life, or not being depressed. But the desired result is not just a product like skinniness; it is also an ongoing behavior. This type of process analysis is not very common in academic writing; most college courses, when they undertake process analysis, have either creation or comprehension as the desired result. A few courses, however--those that are skill-based, like composition courses--do engage students in process analysis with desired behavioral outcomes.

To the extent that many of the social sciences also use a version of the scientific method, it should not be a surprise to find examples of process analysis in social science texts, too, especially in a discipline like economics.

Drafting the introduction and organizing your material

Regardless of the desired outcome--creation, comprehension, or behavior modification--when you are writing a process analysis, you must describe each of the steps in the process, in the order in which they are to be performed or were performed. Thus the process analysis to some extent resembles narration: both typically depend upon strict chronological order. If the process is complex, the introduction to your paper should summarize it, so that the reader has a general sense of it before you launch into the detailed steps. Depending upon the assignment, you may also want the introduction to explain the significance of the process.

Because of the interpretive aspect of analysis, it's always wise for the writer to consider alternative interpretations. Ask yourself, "What if I'm wrong?" or "Why would a reasonable, well-informed person not agree with me?" These questions will lead you to counterevidence, explained earlier in this chapter (pp. 000-000). Analysis is one of the modes of writing in which counterevidence is particularly important; it should be incorporated into your essay in a substantial way.

Learning through writing--questions for peer response

Read your peer's essay, then answer the following questions:

What thesis does your peer's process analysis support?

Do the steps that you peer explains follow strict chronological order?

Does your peer use any other form of writing (such as comparison and contrast or narrative) to set

up the process analysis. Do you consider this strategy a success?

What type of result--creation, comprehension, or behavior modification--does your peer's process

analysis seem to have as its objective? What cues in the text lead you to your answer?

To what extent does your peer's process analysis achieve its result with you, the reader?

Causal Analysis

Focusing on why an event happens, this form of analysis is typical of social science writing. Sociolinguists want to know why speakers of a colonial dialect continue using linguistic items that speaker of the parent language form have dropped; urban geographers want to know why people stop to talk right in the middle of pedestrian traffic instead of stepping a few feet aside, into a very appealing streetside park; economists want to know why women's wages are lower than men's. Their explanations illustrate causal analysis. Some people call it cause-and-effect analysis. It differs from process analysis in that it analyzes not how something occurs, but why. Usually that "why" analyzes events that have already happened (as in history and anthropology), but sometimes (as in political science or economics) it may try to predict what will happen, and why.

Counterevidence plays an important role in causal analysis. Most social phenomena, for example, are not conducive to single-cause analysis; rather, a number of factors contribute to the phenomenon. As a critical reader of causal analysis, you should ask yourself whether the text is acknowledging other possible causes of the effect described. As a writer of causal analysis, you need to give serious consideration to possible alternative interpretations to your thesis.

Causal analysis often occurs with or employs other modes of writing, such as narration or classification. What distinguishes causal analysis is its purpose, the purpose of explaining why a phenomenon occurs.

Drafting the introduction and organizing your material

The introduction to a causal analysis should identify the effect whose cause will be analyzed; provide a thesis that states what you believe to be the cause of that effect; and give the audience a sense of why it is useful to identify causes of this effect.

The body of the essay, as you have seen, can take on a number of different forms that have already been described in this chapter. Regardless of how you approach your task, though, you should be sure that the body of your essay clearly explains the cause(s) and why you believe that they constitute a plausible explanation. You should also include counterevidence: what other possible causes might an intelligent, well-informed person offer, and why don't you subscribe to those explanations? In addition, as you advance causes, take into account not only the immediate, obvious causes, but also the underlying ("mediate") causes. What, in other words, causes the causes? Cause and effect is seldom a one-two process; rather, it involves a whole series of events.

The conclusion of the essay is a good place to make policy recommendations, if they are appropriate to your task. If recommendations are your choice for concluding the essay, be prepared to have a longer-than-ordinary conclusion. Policy recommendations should not be made quickly and then abandoned; they demand explanation and detail.

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 C.  Sandra Jamieson, Drew University. 1999
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