Appendix 19: Analyzing a Written Text
The following set of questions is the tool you will use to analyze the texts you will read in this unit of CO150. In order to do an effective and complete analysis, be sure to respond to all questions, answering each question thoroughly, in complete sentences, giving specific examples from the text to support your answer. Group your answers under the respective headings and number them according to the question to which they apply. Do all of this on a separate sheet of paper, not on the handout itself.
- What is the text about? What content does it attempt to cover and/or explain?
- What overall purpose does the text serve? For example, is it meant to answer a question, pose a problem, add to research on a given topic, introduce a new idea, summarize someone else's ideas? How can you tell?
- What "type" of text is it? In other words, under what discipline or field would you categorize it?
- What does the author(s) seem to expect his or her readers to do based on the argument/information presented in this text?
- Who is the author(s) of the text? Are they named? Is any biographical information given about them? What qualifies them to write on this subject?
- Is the author(s) "present" in the text through the use of personal pronouns ("I" or "we") or self-reference, or are they never referred to?
- What receives the most emphasis in the text: the author's ideas, the content (i.e. the data or research), previous research, etc.? For example, is the novel a person is writing about given more emphasis than his or her ideas about the novel or vice versa?
- Where does this text appear? What, from the journal or magazine or from the article itself, can you tell about its anticipated readers? For example, are they well versed in the topic, novices...? What specific details lead you to these conclusions about the audience?
- What does the author of the text presume her readers wish to know more about?
- Do you feel you are part of the intended audience of this text? Why or why not?
Topic and Position
- Look again at your responses to Question 1 and Question 3 under Purpose/Context. Do you think that the topic of this text is one that is considered highly important or central to its field? How can you tell?
- Can you tell what the author or one of the authors thinks about a topic from reading the text? In other words, what (if any) position does the author take on the topic?
- What has prompted the author(s) to make a statement or take a position on this topic? Is it a difference of opinion about what should be done with certain research findings? With the findings themselves? Is the topic introduced as an implication of previous work or as a call for new work to be done?
- What parts of the discussion receive more space than others? Why would the author devote more time to these topics than others?
- How great a role do previous research and sources play in the presentation of the author's ideas?
- When references are used, which ones receive the most discussion? Which ones the least? Why do some references warrant more discussion than others?
- Are authors or studies ever referred to without formal introductions or explanations? Where? Why do you think the author refrains from explaining or introducing these sources?
- What type of proof, if any, is used to defend conclusions or main ideas in the text (e.g. references to other work, interpretations of other work, original research, personal experience, etc.) Try to name every type of proof that is offered.
- Is one type of proof used more often than another or to the exclusion of all others? If so, which one?
- What type of analysis is the proof subject to, if any? In other words, does the author simply present something as a fact, does he argue for a conclusion's validity, does he analyze a piece of information in a certain way, etc.?
- What kind of hierarchy of proof emerges? What proof is the most authoritative in terms of the audience accepting it without question? The least?
- Is the text broken up by sub-headings? If so, what are they? If not, construct a "backwards outline" in which you list the different parts of the text and what purpose they serve. For example:
First two paragraphs: The author critiques other people's readings of the novel.
Paragraph 3: She explains that her own reading is more accurate because it accounts for the details the others leave out.
- Why might information be presented in this order? What does it say about what readers of the text might need to know or might assume will come first?
- Where (if anywhere) is the author's position on the topic made clear? at the beginning? the end? only by implication?
- What can you conclude about why the text is organized as it is? Is the organization driven more by the content (the information that needs to be presented), by the author's argument, by the needs of the audience, or by some combination of the three? Explain your answer.
- Look at the pronouns in the text. Does the author ever refer to himself as "I"? Why would he choose to refer to himself (or not to) in the text?
- Does the author ever refer to other readers or include them by using "we"? Why would she choose (or not choose) to do this?
- Look at a "chunk" of approximately 10 sentences. What usually occupies the subject position in the sentence (e.g., another author's name, an object, a piece of data, etc.)?
- What percentage (roughly) of your "chunk" could be considered technical terminology or jargon? How common is technical terminology in the entire article?
- If your answer to the previous question was that technical terminology is at least fairly common in the text, make a list that includes up to 10 examples of technical terms or jargon. Are these technical terms ever explained? Which ones receive an explanation and which do not? Why would the author choose to explain the ones she did?
- What percentage (roughly) of your "chunk" could be considered informal or conversational language? What purpose does this informal tone seem to serve in the text?
- In considering the author's word choice (diction), are there any phrases or words that are particularly telling of that author's values or underlying assumptions? List and explain them.
- Why might one aspect of the rhetorical context (the analysis, the author's ideas, the subject matter, etc.) be given more emphasis than another? What does this emphasis say about what's really important to consider about a topic within this discipline or profession?
- Look over your answers to all the questions above. What patterns emerge?
- Based on this response about patterns, what would you say that authors in this field value?
- Bearing these values in mind, what assumptions would you say that authors in this field make about what it means to be a "good" writer and thinker in the field? What assumptions do they make about the topic at hand and how it should be approached?
- If you have read texts from other fields which treat the same general topic, what are the similarities/differences between the ways that those texts approach the topic and the way this one does? Why does this field approach the topic in the way it does, in relation to other fields?
- If you were trying to write a paper for publication in this field, what are the most important or notable conventions that you would have to follow? In other words, what strategies would you use in order to prove yourself to be a successful writer in this field?