Analyzing a Text
What is a text?
A text can be any written material: a poem, story, novel,
memoir, or essay, for example. A text also can be pictorial. Scholars can
analyze advertisements, posters, paintings, illustrations, works of art.
Why analyze it?
When you analyze a text, you give it meaning beyond what
the text tells you directly.
to explicate or give a close reading of the text
to find a sub-text (or the meaning beneath the obvious meaning
of the text)
to bring background to bear upon the text (for example, if
you know something about the author, you can understand the text in a deeper
way; if you know something about the type of text it is, you can understand
the text in a deeper way)
to compare with other texts
to place the text within a context (of the author's life,
for example, or the historical period in which the text was created, or
of a certain literary or artistic movement)
to use the text to prove a larger thesis (about a writer's
motivation, for example, or the themes that interested a certain group
of writers at a certain time).
What is analysis?
A text can be summarized: that is, you can extract the
main points of an argument or condense the plot of a story. When you summarize,
you essentially report about the contents of the text. But when you analyze
a text, you ask questions about it so that you can offer an interpretation
of the text.
Analysis is the breaking down of something into its component
parts. When that something is a text, the reader is examining different
aspects of the text. In a play, for example, the reader might look at the
plot, the themes, the characters, the setting, the dialogue. In a poem,
the reader might look at theme, imagery, language (word choice), voice
(who is speaking - the poet or someone else), rhythm, structure.
How do you find a thesis?
Read the text more than once. What interests you about
it? What seems odd, unexpected, troubling? Start writing down questions
you might ask about the text. Evaluate the questions as you write, checking
the ones that seem more interesting or those that relate to one another.
Look for patterns among your questions; these patterns will help you to
discover what interests you about the text. Your questions might help you
find a thesis (that is, a idea that you can assert about the text and discuss
by referring to specific details of the text).
Here are some general questions that you can use as
a model to formulate specific questions about a specific text:
Your analysis should be placed in some context of its
What is the problem or question that motivates the author?
From what context is the author writing?
What assumptions does the author bring to the text?
What argument is the author putting forth?
What contradictions do you find in the text? Why are they
there? How do they affect your understanding of the text?
What evidence does the author use to support his or her assertions?
How is the text structured? How does the structure affect
your understanding of the theme or argument?
What rhetorical choices (concerning style or word choice,
for example) does the author make? How do these choices help to convey
the meaning of the text? In a play, for example you might ask how the author's
choice of setting relates to the theme of the play. In a poem, you might
ask how the voice (who is speaking--the poet or someone else) helps to
convey the theme. You do not need to consider all rhetorical strategies
in your own analysis.
What do you think are the key passages in the text? Why are
they important? How do they work with the rest of the text to convey the
What assumptions do you bring to this text? To what extent
has the author considered your needs as a reader?
...Give your reader a sense of the significance of your
analysis: How does your analysis enhance your reader's consideration of
All contents Copyright © The Writing Center, Barker
Center 019, Cambridge, MA 02138.