How You Might Already Be Good at Analysis by Lindsay Olson

posted Oct 24, 2017, 10:28 AM by Writing Center   [ updated Oct 24, 2017, 10:29 AM ]

So your professors want you to write analytically. They say, “Write a rhetorical analysis.”

They say, “Compare and contrast these texts.” They say, “Don’t just summarize! Analyze!”

And you, knee deep in your first semester, wading through material that might as well be written in Dothraki, end up at the Writing Center, asking someone like myself, “Am I doing this right?”

The answer is usually almost. There’s a tendency when we enter a new environment—especially when it’s related to the classroom—to forget ourselves. We forget to bring our whole skillset to the table. Let me tell you a little more about what I mean.

Say there are two types of people: those who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, and those who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials . . .  It’s a pastime that has become so epic that the ads are voted on, even pre-released. And what do we say about them? What do we talk about in our polls, to our friends the Monday after? What evidence do we gather to describe our favorites and how to interpret them?

I’m arguing that we are often engaging with the commercial world in an analytical way. Being an “informed consumer” requires you to constantly engage with a barrage of visual and textual information all the time, and guess what? You’re analyzing it. You’re already trying to figure out how that commercial or blogpost or YouTube video fits into your world view.

Think about recent analytical reads on ad campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty; social media-ists erupted over the implications of a black woman removing her shirt to reveal a white woman. It may seem like a stretch, but this too is a form of rhetorical analysis. In order to understand the argument and the criticism, you have to know a few things about the context. You might see for example, how these ads are just a part of a history of racism in soap advertisements; but even if you didn’t know the historical context, you could analyze the way the message is emotionally affecting its audience, how it affects you and why.

It’s really just how and where we talk about it. Think about the fated Pepsi commercial; Kendell Jenner’s changes a world of protest and police brutality with her soda. We all cringe, and why? Think about the entire series of Mad Men, where we see the ad men behind the curtains, promoting the “happiness” we think we deserve. Are we becoming skeptical perhaps?

I’d like to think that some of us are watching more and more with our minds, even if it is just to have something to say on Facebook, or Reddit, or in the YouTube comments.

Or wait. Why don’t we say it on the page? Why don’t we take these little hyper-active analytical impulses and apply them to our readings, our writing? Sure, it requires some determination on our part, maybe a willingness to let everything live on the same plane--you might have to approach something you feel is a little less entertaining, yeah, but pretend the essay is a currency similar to that of a commercial. Figure out who the “commercial” is for, figure out how you feel about whatever the advertiser (read: author) is trying to say to you, and how they’re saying it. Make the connections!

I should probably confess here that I might be one of those pesky professors who asks for this type response, one of several professors who keep calling you out. But I hope that you know, we’re also inviting you in. Analysis is your insight, your discoveries, your interaction with the work. I feel like the most helpful thing I can do here is just demystify the process, help you realize it’s already a somewhat natural response. All we’re really asking is that you start to develop your vocabulary for it.

But, if you’re still a bit confused, sit back for a minute and have a little fun with this instead—cause in the realm of analysis, everything is on limits . . .

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