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07/03/2012

The Basics of Academic Writing, Part Four

We’re back from an excellent vacation in the northeast. Office Cat now wants to relocate to Boston. We’re in the triple digits here at home, and his coat is luxurious but unforgiving in this heat.

Today we carry on with our academic writing series. We’ve described how to summarize and evaluate; now it’s time to explain that most dreaded of terms—analysis. Students have an automatic groan reflex triggered by this word and any of its variations, but really, it’s not that bad. Like anything else, you just have to understand and practice.

When you analyze something, you’re breaking it down into its distinct parts in order to more fully understand it as a whole. Like summary and evaluation, this is something we do every day. Let’s say you just ate a ham sandwich. You’re marveling at the amazing deliciousness of this ham sandwich. You seriously can’t get over how good this sandwich is, and you want to know *why* it’s so good. To determine the answer, analyze the sandwich. Break it down into its parts and see how those parts relate to each other.

After speaking with the owner of the deli, you learn that the bread is fresh, baked just this morning by artisan bakers. The ham is hickory-smoked, pasture-raised Surryano. The mustard is handmade in batches using heirloom seeds.

This is analysis. You’re investigating each element of the sandwich in order to determine how they come together successfully. It’s the same basic process for academic analysis. If your assignment is to analyze “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, you’ll break it down into its parts, in this case, the elements of fiction. So, you can choose to discuss plot, tone, characterization, setting, and so on, and come to a conclusion as to whether or not the story works as a whole.

It’s important to remember that analysis isn’t just the “what,” it’s the “why.” It’s not enough to describe the components of the sandwich; you have to explain why they complement each other and combine to produce such awe-inspiring yum. You could say that the sweet nuttiness of the bread contrasts nicely with the delicate saltiness of the ham, or that the crisp freshness of the lettuce provides a nice textural surprise to the whole. For the story, you could say that carnival setting presents a backdrop against which the unexpected could happen, or that the description of the underground catacombs mirrors the darkness in the narrator’s heart. For analysis, you always want to ask yourself, What are the features of X? How does part (a) relate to part (b)? What are the connections among elements?

Next up, synthesis! Hang tight, the wait shouldn’t be too long.

Posted by: ADMIN

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