The Reviser’s Toolbox, Part 2

Yesterday, I began a detailed investigation into some writing strategies that deserve a writer’s attention during revision. Today, we’re moving from comparison and contrast to analysis.

Analysis is a broad term, and many people use it in a broad sense. (I use it all the time myself.) Generally speaking, analysis refers to a process of looking closely, and often critically, at some subject. By “critically,” I don’t mean negatively. I mean carefully, deliberately and evaluatively.

This broad understanding of analysis doesn’t articulate the ways in which analysis differs from other critical processes such as definition, critique, or explanation. As a result, many writers do not analyze as well as they could because they do not have a clear sense of what analysis does. By means of this post, I hope to change that.

In terms of argumentation, analysis specifically refers to the process of examining a subject’s constituent parts in order to understand, and make a claim about, the whole. For example, to perform literary analysis you would examine the poem’s components: figurative language, setting, tone, speaker, internal structure and external form. By doing so, you would be able to make a claim about the poem’s theme.

So how does a writer make the most of the relation between parts and whole? By keeping the following tips in mind:

1. Decide upon an analytical instrument: The first thing a writer should do when writing an analysis is to choose the lens through which he or she will examine the subject’s constituent parts. For example, you might analyze a federal grant funding opportunity through the lens of your organization’s needs and focus. Or, you might analyze a piece of literature from a feminist perspective.

2. Clearly explain your analytical tool: As a writer constructs an analysis, he or she should consider whether his or her readers will be familiar with his or her analytical methodology. Usually, readers will prefer some sort of explanation, whether they are nominally familiar with the analytical methodology or not. The explanation’s length and complexity,however, will depend on readers’ familiarity with the subject.

Let’s apply this tip to our two examples above. In the first example, you are writing an analysis for your boss in order to help him or her decide whether your organization should apply for this grant money. Since you and your boss work for the same organization, you don’t need to explain the organization’s needs and focus in detail because your boss already knows it. However, you should make clear that you are analyzing this grant opportunity relative to certain aspects of your organization, in this case, its needs and focus.

The second example would probably require more explanation. The term “feminist perspective” can mean a variety of things. To make sure your reader understands you, you should clarify what you mean by “feminist.” Perhaps you would want to draw on some particular school of feminist theory. In that case, introduce the theory before you apply it.

3. As you analyze, remember that all parts are not created equal: The desire for evenness has ruined many a promising evaluation. Just because you are dividing a subject into components doesn’t mean that the components need to be the same size. For each part of the analytical puzzle, don’t ask yourself how much you’ve written for the other sections. Instead, ask yourself what your reader needs to know about the section at hand.

4. Assert, then back it up: Many inexperienced writers confuse analysis with assertion. When a writer asserts something, he or she is proposing a claim. However, the reader will not feel compelled to consider – or be persuaded by – that claim without evidence to support it.

Think about it this way. A paper’s thesis is an assertion. You are making a proposition about a topic, a claim that you want your reader to believe. But if you could just stop there, every paper would be one sentence long. It’s not enough to state the thesis: you have to spend the rest of the paper convincing the reader to believe the thesis. You must do the same thing with analytical claims.

I hope these tips have helped you to think about analysis in a more specific way. If you like what you have read, I hope you’ll become a regular reader by subscribing to Writing Power’s RSS feed.

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2 Responses to The Reviser’s Toolbox, Part 2

  1. Loren – This is very good. I have been reading your articles and they are helping me to be more mindful of the structure and logic I use when writing. You are obviously an expert on your topic! You are going to help us all to become better writers.

    Thanks for the effort you go to to write this blog!

  2. loren says:

    Thanks so much, Jeff. Let me know if you have any specific writing-related topics you’d like to see Writing Power cover, and I’ll see what I can do. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing. I’d be delighted to have you as a regular reader.

    Cheers,
    Loren

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