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January 29, 2020, 02:59:34 am

Author Topic: Any tips on writing an analysis for the first time?  (Read 1243 times)  Share 

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sabkat

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Any tips on writing an analysis for the first time?
« on: February 14, 2015, 05:29:08 pm »
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This weekend our teacher has asked us to compose a short analysis on a passage from 'A Doll's House' for practice.

I've jumped into units 3&4 lit without 1&2 so this will be my first time trying to write one. I'm a strong English student but I've always relied heavily on the structure of an English essay to convey my ideas. However, my teacher has said that there isn't much structure in a lit analysis and I that should just dive straight into it. I found that a bit intimidating lol. 

If anyone had any pointers on writing an analysis for the first time it would really help! Thanks!  :)
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literally lauren

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Re: Any tips on writing an analysis for the first time?
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2015, 09:41:49 pm »
+6
First rule of Literature: there are no rules.

Jks, here's a list of rules... but keep in mind that for every one of these points, you could do the total opposite and still score well. Lit is less about fulfilling criteria and more about the general sense of your analysis, which gives you heaps of freedom and allows for way more fun than English provided you know how to channel that freedom.

1. Start with language.
Here's what a drastically simplified standard English body paragraph might look like:
------------    <-- topic sentence outlining a key concern or theme
------------    <-- evidence to support the above claim
------------    <-- discussion furthering the contention
------------    <-- more evidence and analysis
------------    <-- working out to larger point with a 'Therefore...'-style statement

By contrast, Lit is more like:
------------    <-- embedded quote from the text
------------    <-- contextualising the quote, linking to other language features
------------    <-- analysis of the significance of this language
------------    <-- bridging into a different passage or part of the text
------------    <-- working out to larger point with a 'Therefore...'-style statement

^massive generalisation, so here's a metaphor instead.
An English essay is like a barrel of water. Each paragraph shape forms a ratio (ie. big middle, small top and bottom) of
    ***   Views&values : analysis and discussion : quotes and close analysis   ***
but because it's filled with water, you're allowed to fluctuate between them so long as your essay roughly sticks to that ratio. Otherwise you end up with a piece that's all general thematic discussion and no evidence (ie. 'top heavy') or one with no discussion and analysis to support it in the middle (ie. 'hourglass shape.')

Literature, by contrast, is a pyramid where the bottom blocks need to be in place for the top ones to stay up. Discussion of language and quotes forms the primary foundation, and majority of your piece. Analysis comes next, and then you top it all off at the end with a generalisable statement or two about what the author is saying about a certain social value or something.

Without that foundation of language, the piece falls apart, so the biggest necessity for Lit. is that you start small and work outwards.
 
2. Take nothing for granted.
This kind of works for English too, but it's a good rule to keep in mind when analysing passages. For instance:
In Passage Two, Lauren becomes increasingly agitated with her imaginary husband for not buying her flowers on Valentine's Day.
The problem with this sentence is that it hasn't supported itself. The student is assuming the marker is able to project the reasoning and evidence onto this statement, which the assessors are explicitly told not to do.
How do we know the character is agitated? Why does the absence of flowers evoke this agitation? Why does she become increasingly agitated? What is the significance of this?
If you can ask this many questions already, you done goofed.

Better Lit. analysis looks like:
The paradoxical contradiction in Lauren's bitter lamentation over a lack of real flowers from an imaginary husband betrays a broken psyche and an unspooling mind, as evidenced in her agitated, drunken expletives.
Here I've made an effort to actually explain what meaning is being created through the language, though of course you'll be building on this throughout an entire piece, not just a sentence.

Think of it as 'showing your workings' in a maths or science subject; you can't simply call language 'emotional' or 'paradoxical' or w/e without providing sufficient grounds for that conclusion.

3. Your mission, should you chose to accept it...
Now onto the actual point of a Passage Analysis. In case you're unfamiliar with the format, you're given three excerpts from the text, which form the three passages for your essay. The length largely depends on the text type, but you can usually expect approximately a page and a half of text (though poetry collections and plays are usually shorter.)

And your only instruction is to discuss how the author creates meaning through language. Simple, right?

Well, yes, in that it's a pretty straightforward task... but it's complicated by the fact that this is your only instruction. In English you're given a focus by the prompts; Literature relies on you imposing your own.

But obviously you're not going to be heading into an assessment task and trusting your ability to find meaning on the spot; you're studying the texts all year, so of course there's going to be some overlap in your focus, and a general familiarity with the themes and messages you'll gradually develop.

So realistically, when you begin a passage analysis, you'll have some understanding of what the author is saying, and then you have to look for evidence in the language provided in order to substantiate your interpretation.

But writing things in that order (ie. contention first, evidence second) would be a Text Response.

So essentially you're turning everything related to English structures on its head: begin with evidence until you feel confident enough to 'draw out' the meaningful message (even though this message will be something you're keeping in mind all throughout the writing process) :P

4. Avoid repetition
In English you're granted a bit of leniency when it comes to circling back to the same ideas for the sake of cohesion. Although I'd advice against it, you are technically allowed to use different evidence to illustrate the same point.
Literature is much stricter.

The assessors have gifted you with anywhere up to 1000 words of a text. Your analysis is not expected to retread territory, because capable Lit students should be able to say something about at least 90% of those words.

(Later in the year you'll have the issue of cutting down your piece so that you're only analysing what's relevant to the meaning you're 'finding,' but don't worry about that for now.)

Even if, on the surface, you've got two quotes demonstrating a similar idea, ask yourself what the minute differences between them might indicate. They won't be totally identical, and therein lies the analytical potential.

5. Over-think and over-analyse
In Year 11 Lit, my teacher told me to imagine the process of selecting the passages for the exam as this ridiculously melodramatic gathering where the assessors get together over a huge round table and spend hours arguing over what to include, and where each passage should start and end.

To date, that is still the most helpful advice I've ever heard for Literature.

If you start this subject in the mindset of 'everything is significant,' you'll be in a much better position than the majority of the state who only write on what is immediately obvious (or for that matter, the stuff discussed in class and provided in study guides. If it's that obvious, too many people will be discussing it. You don't have to ignore common talking-points, but originality is always preferable.)

6. Avoid repetition
No seriously, assessors hate this.

7.  :D :D  Have fun!!!  :D :D
Awful cliche notwithstanding, you'll find passage analyses a lot simpler if you enjoy them, or at least find something amusing about the fact that you could write 200 words based on two words. The biggest selling point of this subject is that it's English without the rules. If you don't like clear structures, then you can do your own thing. If you do like structure, then you can find a structure that works for you, and then do your own thing.

Later down the line there's all sorts of fine-tuning you'll have to do, but the most important thing at the moment is to dive straight in.

Nothing you write will be completely wrong, nor will it be completely right, so embrace the uncertainty until you know what you're doing :)

sabkat

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Re: Any tips on writing an analysis for the first time?
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2015, 03:24:44 pm »
+1
Wow Lauren, this is the best response I could have hoped for. Honestly, you've helped me so much.
I was pretty lost before can't thank you enough :D

(p.s loved the example hahah)
2014: Studio Arts
2015: Japanese SL | English | Methods | Literature | Viscom
2016: Arts UoM (International Politics/Art History)