The word “analyze” is often difficult for students to define. Sometimes, when college students see the words “analyze,” they translate the word into meanings something more along the lines of “summarize.” This leads to potential problems for the student because if one of their instructors asks them to “analyze” something, the student can write a very well written grammatically correct paper and still not do what the assignment calls for. Therefore, it is important that students understand exactly what “analyze” means.
The word “analyze” means: “to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or elements or essential features” and “to examine critically, as to bring out the essential elements.” In contrast, the word “summarize” means to “state or express in concise form.” The purpose of this article is to equip students with the skills necessary to “analyze” a text.
The first thing that students must do to analyze a text is to ask: “What is the main purpose of the text?” Communication does not occur in a vacuum – it is something that exists socially. Therefore, before a writer creates a text, the writer must have a reason for creating the text – exigency. Exigency is defined as being “the need, demand, or requirement intrinsic to a circumstance or condition.” For example, the exigency of this article is that the words “analyze” and “evaluate” are difficult for students to define. When analyzing a text, students must be able to ascertain the main purpose of the article and be able to understand the author’s purpose for creating the text.
One of the things that creates exigency for a text is when the author has a question about a particular phenomenon or questions a particular phenomenon. Essentially, when an author writes a text, the author sees another text, an event, or any phenomenon as a problem that needs to be solved. When the author sees this problem, the author poses a question and then goes about answering it in the text. After the student understands what the main purpose of the article is, the student must then go on to figure out what questions were in the mind of the author when he or she wrote the article. In this sense, the student is not only able to see the problem as the author sees the problem, but is also able to problematize the phenomenon as well. To problematize means “to propose problems” and that is precisely what the student should do when he or she begins to analyze a text. The student must see the text as a problem to be solved and not as a text that needs to be summarized.
Before a student can fully understand the position of the author, the student must be able to understand the information that the author presents. The student should ask: “What is the most important information in the text and where does it occur?” Essentially, the student must carefully read the text and catalog the data, experiences, and facts that the author uses to support his or her conclusions. In addition, the student must be able to uncover the inferences that the author is making. The word “inference” is defined as being “the process of deriving the strict logical consequences of assumed premises” or “the process of arriving at some conclusion that, though it is not logically derivable from the assumed premises, possesses some degree of probability relative to the premises.” Essentially, the student must not only be able to understand the facts and the data that the author is explicitly saying, but must also be able to understand what the author is implicitly saying. What, if anything, “goes without saying” in the text? What conclusions does the author come to after providing the reader with the data?
Usually, but not always, the author of a text has a central idea or key concept that resonates throughout the text. Students must ask: “What are these key concepts that the reader must understand?” and, in addition, “What does the author mean by these key concepts?” Essentially, in order to understand where the author is coming from (the facts, etc.) as well as where the author is going (inferences, conclusion, etc.), the student must also be able to understand the most important ideas that the author puts out there in the text. In addition, the student must also ask: “What assumptions or worldview does the author have” and “How do these assumptions or worldview function as the foundation of the author’s thinking?” For example, when writing this article, I had the assumptions that my audience – the reader- had already acquired enough literacy to understand the words “assumption” and “worldview.”
Next, the student must be able to appropriate the position of the author (take the author’s way of thinking and use it) and imagine the implications of the author’s position. Essentially, the student must ask “What are the consequences of seeing the world the way the author does and acting on it?” In addition, the student must ask “What are the consequences of not acting at all?” Finally, the student must also ask “Are there any other alternative solutions that the author has not considered?” and “What are the consequences of those solutions?” By asking these questions and going through these steps, the student can utilize multiple perspectives in seeing a phenomenon.