English Composition I
Home Page >> Information Sheets >> Analysis
Analysis, according to the dictionary, concerns breaking something into its individual parts or elements and then studying the relationship between those parts and how they work together to create the whole. In other words, in order to understand something, we first have to break it apart.
This definition reflects the difficulty that many people have with the analytical process: they only see the destruction of the original. Their difficulties with analysis lie in the fact that they don’t see or agree with the second half of the definition: the explanation of how those parts work together to create a larger whole. We want our doctors to understand how the human body works, but it makes us uncomfortable to know that they have to work with corpses first to get an idea of what those individual parts are and how they work together.
I use the cadaver analogy on purpose. One of the most common complaints made by readers of an analysis (particularly if they disagree with the analysis) is that the author has “killed” the original subject. “I can’t ever watch that movie/read that book again!” they cry after they’ve heard or read the analysis.
Analysis is NOT about destroying. It might require that the subject be broken down into its parts, but analysis is ultimately about greater understanding. If you really like a story, breaking that story down into its parts and analyzing those parts can help you begin to understand why you like this particular story better than other, similar stories. Women writers of the 19th century were dismissed as sentimental hack writers for decades until scholars began to actually read and analyze their works in the 1970s/80s. Then, they discovered that while the main character often represents the traditional obedient female role, most of these works had minor characters who represented more liberated ideas, and these characters often succeeded in society, unlike the main character, who suffered immensely when she tried to meet society’s expectations. Thus, these scholars were able to help us understand why these novels were so popular, even though they seemed to go against the rising tide of feminism in the 19th century.
On the other hand, when the original is broken down, you may discover parts that you don’t care for. You might love Gone With The Wind, until you begin to analyze it and have to confront its attitudes towards the slaves. That’s always a risk when you are analyzing.
A narrative essay that simply tells the audience about an event is not an analytical essay. An essay that explains why the event happened, or the consequences of that event IS an analytical essay. A list of the steps necessary to make a cherry pie is a recipe; an analysis and explanation of what each ingredient adds to the pie and why the steps need to be done in the order listed is an analytical process essay. The difference is in the purpose and organization of the information.
Expository Writing analyzes sources in many different ways. Sometimes the subject is a process that is broken down into its steps so that we can better understand the overall process. Sometimes the subject is divided into categories, or types, so that we can understand how an individual item relates to the subject as a whole. Sometimes a subject is compared to other subjects in terms of specific elements that help us understand how and why one is different or better than the other. Sometimes a subject is explained in terms of what elements in society or history have caused it to occur, or what can be expected to follow once an event has occurred.