|Resources for Writers: Analytical Writing.|
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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.
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
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
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 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
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
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?
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
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.