Analysis is a central writing skill in academic writing. Essentially, analysis is what writers do with evidence to make meaning of it. While there are specific disciplinary types of analysis (e.g., rhetorical, discourse, close reading, etc.), most analysis involves zooming into evidence to understand how the specific parts work and how their specific function might relate to a larger whole. That is, we usually need to zoom into the details and then reflect on the larger picture. In this writing guide, we cover analysis basics briefly and then offer some strategies for deepening your analysis. Deepening your analysis means pushing your thinking further, developing a more insightful and interesting answer to the “so what?” question, and elevating your writing.
Questions to Ask of the Text:
- Is the evidence fully explained and contextualized? Where in the text/story does this evidence come from (briefly)? What do you think the literal meaning of the quote/evidence is and why? Why did you select this particular evidence?
- Are you selecting a long enough quote to work with and analyze? While over-quoting can be a problem, so too can under-quoting.
- Do you connect each piece of evidence explicitly to the claim or focus of the paper?
Strategies & Explanation
- Sometimes turning the focus of the paper into a question can really help someone to figure out how to work with evidence. All evidence should answer the question--the work of analysis is explaining how it answers the question.
- The goal of evidence in analytical writing is not just to prove that X exists or is true, but rather to show something interesting about it--to push ideas forward, to offer insights about a quote. To do this, sometimes having a full sentence for a quote helps--if a writer is only using single-word quotes, for example, they may struggle to make meaning out of it.
Not all of these strategies work every time, but usually employing one of them is enough to really help elevate the ideas and intellectual work of a paper:
- Bring the very best point in each paragraph into the topic sentence. Often these sentences are at the very end of a paragraph in a solid draft. When you bring it to the front of the paragraph, you then need to read the paragraph with the new topic sentence and reflect on: what else can we say about this evidence? What else can it show us about your claim?
- Complicate the point by adding contrasting information, a different perspective, or by naming something that doesn’t fit. Often we’re taught that evidence needs to prove our thesis. But, richer ideas emerge from conflict, from difference, from complications. In a compare and contrast essay, this point is very easy to see--we get somewhere further when we consider how two things are different. In an analysis of a single text, we might look at a single piece of evidence and consider: how could this choice the writer made here be different? What other choices could the writer have made and why didn’t they? Sometimes naming what isn’t in the text can help emphasize the importance of a particular choice.
- Shift the focus question of the essay and ask the new question of each piece of evidence. For example, a student is looking at examples of language discrimination (their evidence) in order to make an argument that answers the question: what is language discrimination? Questions that are definitional (what is X? How does Y work? What is the problem here?) can make deeper analysis challenging. It’s tempting to simply say the equivalent of “Here is another example of language discrimination.” However, a strategy to help with this is to shift the question a little bit. So perhaps the paragraphs start by naming different instances of language discrimination, but the analysis then tackles questions like: what are the effects of language discrimination? Why is language discrimination so problematic in these cases? Who perpetuates language discrimination and how? In a paper like this, it’s unlikely you can answer all of those questions--but, selecting ONE shifted version of a question that each paragraph can answer, too, helps deepen the analysis and keeps the essay focused.
- Examine perspective--both the writer’s and those of others involved with the issue. You might reflect on your own perspectives as a unique audience/reader. For example, what is illuminated when you read this essay as an engineer? As a person of color? As a first-generation student at Cornell? As an economically privileged person? As a deeply religious Christian? In order to add perspective into the analysis, the writer has to name these perspectives with phrases like: As a religious undergraduate student, I understand X to mean… And then, try to explain how the specificity of your perspective illuminates a different reading or understanding of a term, point, or evidence. You can do this same move by reflecting on who the intended audience of a text is versus who else might be reading it--how does it affect different audiences differently? Might that be relevant to the analysis?
- Qualify claims and/or acknowledge limitations. Before college level writing and often in the media, there is a belief that qualifications and/or acknowledging the limitations of a point adds weakness to an argument. However, this actually adds depth, honesty, and nuance to ideas. It allows you to develop more thoughtful and more accurate ideas. The questions to ask to help foster this include: Is this always true? When is it not true? What else might complicate what you’ve said? Can we add nuance to this idea to make it more accurate? Qualifications involve words like: sometimes, may effect, often, in some cases, etc. These terms are not weak or to be avoided, they actually add accuracy and nuance.