Just about every college course demands that students engage with the course material through analysis. However, many college students find it difficult to describe how to analyze texts or sets of data, even if they’re sure that they have analyzed it in some way. Some may explain it in broad terms: analysis is taking a text, breaking it down, asking questions, making connections, and drawing conclusions. And yet they still may struggle to give examples of practical steps involved in doing those things. Let’s talk about some simple ways to explain analysis.
In Writing Analytically, David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen describe analysis as these five steps:
- Suspend Judgment (understand before you judge)
- Define Significant Parts and How They’re Related
- Look for Patterns of Repetition and Contrast and for Anomaly
- Make the Implicit Explicit (convert to direct statement meanings that are suggested indirectly)
- Keep Reformulating Questions and Explanations (41)
For now, let’s focus on steps 2 and 3. These two steps are closely related and have some simple, unintimidating strategies that students can use to develop a more thorough understanding of analysis.
Step 2 begins with reading comprehension. If a student is struggling to identify the main ideas in a text, ask them to pay attention to the structural elements of a text: introductions and conclusions to chapters, topic sentences in paragraphs, transitional and connecting words that explain how the writer’s ideas are connected to each other. While these strategies may seem basic, many students have not been explicitly taught how to use them. Once a student has a grasp on what the reading is saying, he or she can begin analysis.
Step 3 is a useful reminder for a student who is struggling to successfully analyze texts. Ask him or her to find and list patterns of repetition. This can be repeated words, repeated phrases, or repeated ideas. Then, ask your student to look for contrasts between items on their list of repetitions. Generally, these will form binary oppositions (birth/death, student/teacher, etc). These binary oppositions can clue the reader into central conflicts within the text or what is at stake. Ask your student to look for anomalies as well, to find things that deviate from the patterns of repetition or challenge the main ideas in the text. This process should help your student understand both the content of the text and how the text is organized.
Now, your student can begin to question the text. Have the student ask why the repeated ideas were emphasized. What connections is the writer making between the patterns of repetition? How do the binary opposites play off of each other? Is the author asking you to make connections to things outside of the text? How does this particular structure of repetition and opposition affect the text? What role do the anomalies play?
With these strategies in mind, students should be able to feel more confident about their ability to analyze texts.
Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. “What Is Analysis and How Does It Work?” Writing Analytically. 4th Ed. Boston: Thomson, 2006. 41-75. Print.
Shannon Naylor is the CTL post-graduate intern. In her free time, Shannon has been working on the fall musical, Guys and Dolls, as assistant director.