Analysis- 2011 Workshop

Presenters: Elizabeth Tasker-Davis & Aaron Milstead

Analysis combines summary and interpretation.

Definitions of Analysis:

1) separation of whole into parts;

2) examination of a complex, its elements, and their relationships;

3) clarification and elucidation of a concept.

Process of analysis – Introduce topic, breakdown into parts according to a particular method, interpret purpose, implications and outcomes.

Primary Methods

  • Classification / Division
  • Definition
  • Description
  • Process
  • Analogy
  • Cause/Effect
  • Compare/Contrast


  • Rhetorical Analysis
  • Literary Analysis (Explication; close reading)
  • Ethnography
  • Evaluations (reviews)

Other types of analysis found in academic and professional writing:

  • Psychology – psychological profile or assessment
  • Business – business plans, case study, marketing requirements document
  • Environmental studies – site analysis, water analysis, geological surveys
  • Science – chemical analysis, lab reports

Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical analysis is a mental activity that always involves critical thinking and often involves reading and writing.  Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, thus rhetorical analysis examines the persuasive elements involved in an act of communication or other cultural artifact, such as a text or work of visual art.

What we teach students about rhetoric is simply this:

The basic elements of rhetoric are: 1) the speaker, 2) the message, 3) the audience, and 4) the context or situation.  A speaker uses rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, logos) to deliver his/her message to the audience in a particular context or situation.

Rhetorical analysis can be conducted on any form of communication, including printed texts (fiction or non-fiction); electronic texts, such as web sites or blogs; performances, such as plays, concerts, or movies; advertisements in magazines or on television; and even visual artwork, such monuments or paintings.

Many students come to college having heard the terms ethos, pathos, and logos, but they are not sure how to these terms apply to the rhetorical analysis of a text:


  • Confidence/ appropriate tone
  • Well organized & smoothly written
  • Good examples, thorough
  • Sophisticated analysis/insight
  • Visually appealing
  • Research – external expertise
  • Speaker’s own expertise


  • Clear subject and purpose
  • Evidence (facts & reasons)
  • Well organized details:

- analysis (deductive)
– classification (inductive)
– cause/effect
– compare/contrast
– process
– narrative
– definition

  • Sound conclusions


  • Emotional impact: sympathy, empathy, identification, alienation, etc.
  • Nostalgia
  • Humor
  • Appeals to positive emotions: happiness, love, calmness, innocence, patriotism, spirituality, sexuality, etc.
  • Appeals to negative emotions: sadness, anger, guilt, fear, etc.

Focus on the speaker: 
Rhetorical Analysis of a Text

Let’s consider the earlier article, “What Haiti Needs” by Bill Clinton.  Suppose we wanted students to write a rhetorical analysis of it.

  • What would we tell them to do?
  • What might you consider as relevant information about the speaker?
  • What is the speaker’s purpose?  What is his tone and attitude about the subject?
  • Who is the speaker’s intended audience?
  • What is the relationship between speaker and audience?  Is there a larger context than the article itself?
  • How does the speaker establish credibility?


Focus on the message:

What is the thesis, what is the overall argument?

Is the text in anyway orderly?  How does the author arrange his or her ideas?

What kinds of evidence (facts, examples, analogies, logical reasoning) does the author include?

What kind of language, imagery, devices and diction are used? Are important points or terms repeated?


Focus on the audience:

What kind of emotions does the message arouse in the audience and why?

What effect(s) does this have on the audience?

Why might the audience be persuaded? Why not?


Once the exercise of analysis is done, consider how would you direct students to organize a written essay:

  • How would it be different than the extended summary?
  • What parts of the summary should the analysis incorporate and where?
  • How would you direct students to incorporate an analysis of the rhetorical situation?
  • Is it appropriate for students to add their own opinions into the rhetorical analysis?  About what?
  • In what way might a student’s opinion be irrelevant or inappropriate in a rhetorical analysis of Clinton’s article?

Literary Analysis / Explication 

Analyze the Essential Elements of the Story

1) Read the text carefully, noting each character.
You should be able to identify each character and the essential qualities of each.

2) Identify the major character(s)–those who seem to control the action or from whose perspective the story is told.
Distinguish between major and minor characters.  You will know more about major characters (your list of attributes or characteristics and simple data will be greater for the major characters).  Often, you will be able to identify a “protagonist” (whose affairs tend to move the story along) and an “antagonist” (whose affairs or interests seem to contradict the acts and the interests of the “protagonist”).  Minor characters will be less fully developed and act in concert or motivated by the major characters.

3) Reconstruct the narrative line–“what happens.” 
Be able to reconstruct the “story line,” the chain of events that run sequentially from the first to the last (even though they may not be introduced sequentially).

4) Identify elements of the plot–“factors which influence the action.” 
The late British novelist E. M. Forester in Understanding Fiction suggested a useful distinction between “narrative line” and “plot.”  If you want to know the “narrative live,” says Forester, ask “what happens.”  If you want to know the plot, ask “why do things happen.”  For Forester, plot is that set of events, characters, conditions, themes, and other elements both internal and external to the work that influence the narrative line to go the way it does.

5) Discuss the essential conflict. 
Common to all fiction is conflict.  That conflict may be a standoff between characters, a crossing of wills or goals, a battle between character and setting, even the struggle against ideas.


Analyze the Structure of the Story

1) Identify the point(s) of view through which the story is told. 
Stories are told by writers from one or more “points of view.”  To determine the point of view of a story, ask, “Who is telling the story?”  If the story seems to move from one scene to another, following no single character, the story is probably “being told” from the “3rd person” point of view, sometimes referred to as the “omniscient author’s point of view.”  “Omniscient” means “to know”; in this case, it refers to the ability of the author to move in time and space from one venue to another, following first the actions of one character and then another.  If one character speaks throughout the story, relating the action in his or her own voice, the story is “being told” through the “1st person” point of view.

2) Explain how the author uses time.
A journalist reporting a “story” will usually follow a strict sequential progression of action, but a writer of fiction is not so constrained.  Authors may begin, for example, in “medias res,” that is, in “the middle of things,” or jump back and forth in time.  When this happens, the chronology of events is sometimes difficult to reconstruct sequentially, but the author has chosen to do so for some reason or special effect.  If this happens, ask yourself why the author has chosen to break with a strictly chronological or sequential progression of events.  What does the story gain from such development of time?

3) Explain how the author uses setting. 
Stories take place somewhere, but that “somewhere” can range from a specific historical place and time to the nebulous, shapeless mind of a character.

4) Explain how the author uses perspectives (angles). 
Sometimes confused with “point of view,” the perspective from which a story is told refers to the relative positions from which the details are revealed. In filmmaking, perspective would refer to the “camera angle.”  Is the “picture” remote from the subject or “up close and personal.”  Identify the different perspectives from which the story is revealed, and if the perspectives shift, ask yourself why the author orchestrates such shifts.  What does the story gain from these changes in perspective?


Analyze Rhetorical Elements

1)      Identify the author’s use of irony (dramatic, situational, verbal). 
Irony refers to “the unexpected.” “Dramatic irony” is a sense of the unexpected the reader experiences while watching the characters of a story act and react without the wisdom or broader knowledge of the reader.  “Situational irony” refers to the unexpected that comes as a shock to both readers and characters alike.  “Verbal irony,” sometimes called  “double entendre,” refers to the use of words with double meanings, usually meanings that have an important consequence or that are meant to reveal special information or character.

2)      Identify recurring image patterns.
Images are impressions of one or more of the five senses.  We speak of “visual images,” “auditory images,” “tactile images,” etc.  Words that have references to objects or entities that we experience sensuously (through the senses) project imaginative images that remind of us previous experiences or perceptions.  “Image patterns” are the recurring sets of related images that authors introduce in a story, usually for some reason like helping to develop a character or project a theme.

3)      Explain the author’s use of symbols.
While not all images are symbols, all symbols are images!  That is, some images have only their normal references as their meaning.  However, images that “take on” meanings beyond their normal references are called “symbols.”  Authors use symbols to create implied meaning(s) in their stories.

4)      Identify special uses of language like figures of speech, unusual diction and syntax.
Authors will often use language patterns that go beyond the normal terms or expressions most users of the same language would employ to “tell the story.”  An author’s unique use of words (diction) and sentence patterns (syntax) are the two elements that characterize his or her style.  When a writer chooses to make an unusual comparison (a figure of speech) or adopts unnatural terms to characterize a description, explanation, or the voice of a character, it is usually for some purpose.  Ask yourself why the author might be doing so.  Be able to support your interpretation or judgment with specific examples from the text of the story.


Analyze the Meaning of the Story (Interpretation)

1)      Identify what seems to be the theme and how the author announces it. 
The theme of a story is the dominant message or claim that seems to emerge as the tale evolves.  As such, it can be stated as a complete statement, sometimes as a position or judgment; other times as an interpretation.  Sometimes the theme can be a single element (motif) like rain, for example, and all that rain can mean as we understand it from our own and others’ experiences of it.  In other cases, the theme may be the promulgation of a certain value.  Themes usually are implied, but occasionally they are even announced by a character.  A character that serves throughout a story to seem to voice positions or attitudes, values or concerns of an author are special characters called “personas.” Themes can also be suggested by image patterns, symbols, features of a setting, and by the attributes and affairs of characters within a story.

2)      Explain how elements above contribute to the theme.
Be able to cite specific passages from the text of the story to support your interpretation of an author’s theme(s).

3)      Identify contextual elements (allusions, symbols, other devices) that point beyond the story to the author’s experience/life, history, or to other writings. The more you learn about an author or read from his or her works, the more comfortable you will be in analyzing implied meanings like interpretations.  What happens in an author’s life can have a very strong influence on a writer’s work, although you should be very cautious about insisting that every element of a short story have some reference to the author’s life.  Like the author’s personal experiences, historical events, personalities, and periods can be sources or influences on an author’s works.  Watch for allusions to such elements and be alert to how they seem to affect both the plot and narrative line as well as character development.

Sample Literary Analysis Assignment: Three Short Papers


Assignment for Short Story Essay

 Pick one of the following elements of a short story (character, theme, setting) and trace how it is developed and used. You may also discuss the similarities and differences between the stories (only regarding the chosen element).

Student Sample Essay – Literary Analysis


An ethnography is a sociological analysis of a specific group.  In college, freshman composition classes will sometimes introduce this genre.  But it is most common and becomes more sophisticated in the disciplines of sociology and social work.

The usual tasks in creating an ethnography are:

1) identify a subculture or group,

2) visit a site where that group congregates,

3) observe the group,

4) take detailed notes, and

5) write an ethnographic essay that analyzes that group’s purpose, activities, beliefs, and behaviors.

An ethnographic essay should…

  • Focus on a group of people who identify themselves as a group
  • Describe their artifacts: their tools, equipment, devices, clothing, accessories, etc.
  • Describe their activities and practices (rituals): habits, patterns of behavior, traditions
  • Describe their specialized language and terms
  • Analyze their purpose, attitudes, beliefs.
  • Indicate how this group constitutes a community.

Note: The ethnographic unit presents a perfect opportunity to assign a group project. The grade can be determined by the initial pitch, field notes, a class presentation and finally the paper itself. There is a wonderful irony when students are forced to form their own ethnographic group in order to learn and write about another one. This goes a step beyond the peer review and actually teaches collaborative writing and assessment as the students determine the level of participation of everyone in their group.


An evaluation is essentially an assessment of the effectiveness of a thing in relation to its purpose.  Evaluations describe how well something does what it is supposed to do.

Good evaluations are based on criteria that are understood by the speaker and the audience.  For example, a restaurant review should describe and compare the food, service, ambiance, cleanliness, etc. of the restaurant to generally accepted standards that most people share for that type of restaurant.  But to write an interesting review, a writer cannot just provide a checklist of criteria.  The writer needs to introduce the criteria as if he or she was in a conversation with the reader.  The writer’s aim in a review is to be helpful and informative.  A review provides a preview to help people decide whether they are interested in seeing, doing, or using the thing being reviewed.


Example Assignment – Review Essay


Coherence: Logical Flow

Teaching analytical writing provides the instructor an excellent opportunity to focus on the coherence or logical flow of student writing.  In addition to grammar problems, incoherent writing often contains choppy disconnected sentences and non-sequitors that make it difficult for readers to follow.  Errors in logical flow usually result from one of three problems:

  1. Lack of unity within a paragraph– paragraphs seem to have no driving purpose

causes: 1- lack of topic sentence; 2- two or more topics vying for attention

fixes: 1 – add a topic sentence to explicitly connect ideas in the paragraph; 2-rearrange information into separate paragraphs

  1. Poor sentence flow within a paragraph – although the paragraph is unified around a single topic, sentences are not smoothly connected ; the paragraph feels choppy and abruptly shifting

causes: 1 – missing points or ideas need to be explicitly stated; 2- and the relationship between the one sentence and the next is unclear)

fixes: 1- add transitional phrases or even an additional sentence to make relationships more explicit.  2 – re-order of information in sentences so that the part of a sentence most relevant to the previous sentence comes first.

  1. Poor Transitions across paragraphs – abrupt and illogical shifts in topic from one paragraph to the next.

causes: 1 – the relationship between one paragraph and the next is not explicitly clear; 2 – the paragraph is broken in an illogical location in which the topic has not truly shifted

fixes: 1- add a transitional phrase or additional sentence at the end of first paragraph or the beginning of the second paragraph to the make relationship between paragraphs more explicit.  2 –connect the two paragraphs and start a new paragraph at a more logical topic shift.

Exercises in Coherence

  1. Discuss the country song below:

“Where I come from, rain is a good thing.  Rain makes corn; corn makes whiskey.  Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky.”

Does it use good logical flow? Is there any missing information?  What is the conclusion?