Textual Analyses

W-6b Tips for Writing a Textual Analysis

  • Choosing a text to analyze. Most of the time, you will be assigned a text or a type of text to analyze: the work of a political philosopher in a political science class, a speech in a history or communications course, a painting or sculpture in an art class, and so on. If you must choose a text to analyze, look for one that suits the assignment—one that is neither too large or complex to analyze thoroughly nor too brief or limited to generate sufficient material. You might also analyze three or four texts by examining elements common to all.

    Generating ideas and text. In analyzing a text, your goal is to understand what it says, how it works, and what it means. To do so, you may find it helpful to follow a certain sequence for your analysis: read, respond, summarize, analyze, and draw conclusions.

    Read to see what the text says. Start by reading carefully, noting the main ideas, key words and phrases, and anything that seems noteworthy or questionable.

    Once you have a sense of what the text says, consider your initial response. What's your reaction to the argument, the tone, the language, the images? Do you find the text difficult? puzzling? Do you agree with what the writer says? Whatever your reaction, think about how you react—and why.

    Then consolidate your understanding of the text by SUMMARIZING or DESCRIBING it in your own words.

    Decide what you want to analyze. Think about what you find most interesting about the text and why. Does the language interest you? The imagery? The larger context? Something else? You might begin your analysis by exploring what attracted your notice.

    Study how the text works. Texts are made up of several components—words, sentences, images, punctuation. Visual texts might be made up of images, lines, angles, color, light and shadow, and sometimes words. To analyze these elements, look for patterns in the way they're used. Write a sentence or two describing the patterns you discover and how they contribute to what the text says.

    Analyze the argument. An important part of understanding any text is to recognize its ARGUMENT—what the writer or artist wants the audience to believe, feel, or do. Identify the text's THESIS, and decide how convincingly it supports that thesis. Then write a sentence or two summarizing the argument and your reactions to it.

    Think about the larger context. To analyze a text's role in its larger context, you may need to do additional research on where and when it was originally published, what else was happening or being discussed at the time, and whether the text responded to other ideas or arguments. Then write a sentence or two describing the larger context and how it affects your understanding of the text.

    Consider what you know about the writer or artist. A person's credentials, other work, reputation, stance, and beliefs are all useful windows into understanding a text. Write a sentence or two summarizing what you know about the writer and how that information affects your understanding.

    Come up with a thesis. Once you've studied the text thoroughly, you need to identify your analytical goal: Do you want to show that the text has a certain meaning? Uses certain techniques to achieve its purposes? Tries to influence its audience in particular ways? Relates to some larger context in some significant manner? Something else? Come up with a tentative THESIS to guide you—but be aware that your thesis may change as you work.

    Ways of organizing a textual analysis. Consider how to organize the information you've gathered to best support your thesis. Your analysis might be structured in at least two ways. You might discuss patterns or themes that run through the text.


    Alternatively, you might analyze each text or section of text separately.

    Part by part, or text by text

    Sample Student Textual Analysis

    "'Stay Sweet As You Are': An Analysis of Change and Continuity in Advertising Aimed at Women" by Doug Lantry

    SEE W-1 for help analyzing your writing context. See W-2 for guidelines on drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading a textual analysis.

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