There’s no doubt you’ve heard teachers or professors tell you that knowing how to analyze a text well is academically and professionally essential. But many of us aren’t quite sure how to analyze a text or why it matters.
Analyzing a text is important because it helps to develop and improve critical thinking skills. More specifically, analysis involves breaking ideas down to understand a text’s meaning better, deciding whether an argument has reliable evidence, drawing conclusions, and making connections to other texts and the larger world.
Continue reading to better understand when and why it is important to analyze a text and how to do so in fiction and nonfiction.
When Should a Student Analyze a Text?
Students should analyze texts in all academic settings, though the level of analysis may differ. Analyzing a text means breaking it down to examine the meaning and understand the author’s message. Remember that you will likely analyze nearly every text you read.
Analyzing a fiction piece will differ from analyzing a nonfiction piece; we’ll break that down later in the article with examples.
But with many nonfiction pieces, you’ll want to examine the author’s message and make decisions about the evidence the author presents. You want to be sure that the author’s thesis is well supported. You’ll also often want to decide whether you agree with the author’s perspective.
Most importantly, deciding whether you agree with an author’s intended message will come from argumentative texts or opinion pieces. To do that, your analysis involves ensuring that you understand what the author is communicating.
If you don’t understand a text, you cannot make good decisions about whether or not you agree. That is one reason why analysis is so critical.
In other nonfiction pieces that are more informative in nature, you may want to analyze them so that you can identify timelines or writing patterns that will aid you in understanding and organizing the author’s message as well as your thoughts and connections (source).
Fiction, however, is a little different. Your analysis is often based first on understanding the text but then understanding the characters, why they do what they do, and what you might do the same or differently. In other words, you are connecting to your own life and world to better understand the story you are reading.
You can analyze any text you read, but teachers and professors (as well as those in professional settings) will expect you to know how to analyze well.
How a Student Should Analyze a Text
There are different ways to analyze a text, including annotating, identifying patterns that the writer uses to organize the text, identifying the author’s purpose for writing, evaluating evidence and arguments, and determining the reliability of evidence, including information you find on websites.
Other methods may include creating outlines and timelines, using graphic organizers, or creating concept or story maps.
As we’ve mentioned, there are many different ways to analyze, and we’ll go through some valuable methods next. But remember that you should always analyze nonfiction pieces in academic settings to ensure you understand the author’s message.
Any time there is evidence presented, you should be able to identify the evidence and determine whether it is sufficient to support the author’s argument.
How to Analyze Nonfiction Texts
Nonfiction texts are about real-life events and facts, whether informative or argumentative (source). A helpful way to begin a framework for analysis is to identify the crucial parts of the text, including the title and author, write a short summary, and identify themes.
You can then connect to your own ideas and identify aspects of the text that you agree or disagree with (source). You can certainly use a worksheet to identify these things, but writing on the text itself is the easiest.
This simple method involves something called annotation or “close reading.” Annotation is any interaction or reaction you have to a text.
For example, you can highlight and write in the margins, underline key points and proof the author uses to support their point or purpose for writing, and take notes as you make connections or identify points you agree or disagree with (source).
Many people use highlighters or colored pencils of different colors to identify particular aspects, such as the author, themes, quotes, specific evidence, essential facts, and arguments.
Writing in the margins is helpful, too, so that you can write down what you think as you are reading rather than waiting until after you’ve read the text in full. Then, once you’ve annotated, you can choose a method to help you examine the text in more detail.
Remember, the purpose of the analysis is to help you better understand a text and the author’s intended message. Annotating is a great start, but the deeper you go with your analysis, the better you will understand the text and be able to speak about it.
Methods for Analyzing Nonfiction Texts
The first thing you should do is identify the author’s purpose for writing. For example, an argument piece differs from an informative piece, though both should include sufficient evidence to support facts.
Once you’ve annotated, you can choose what to do next, including identifying a timeline of events, deciding upon the reliability of evidence, or creating your own outline or concept map.
If you are reading a strictly informative piece, you won’t need to consider the author’s argument since an informative piece’s purpose is simply to inform you of facts and information. But you should still be able to identify evidence and the reliability of that evidence.
That may include identifying quotes, for example, and researching to ensure that the quote comes from a reputable source. You can also create a timeline of important events to see the sequence of actions from beginning to end. This will help you to identify cause-and-effect relationships or causes and consequences.
Creating an outline is very helpful in organizing your thoughts and the essential pieces of a text. You should always create an outline that includes the main point of a section and then, underneath that main point, the details or evidence that support it.
This is useful with both nonfiction and argumentative pieces. It also helps you to identify any questions you may have. You may need to do your own research to better understand a particular point that the author makes.
Finally, a concept map is a great tool, and there are many to choose from. It is an organizer that helps you to visualize information. One example is a Venn diagram, which you’ve likely used many times throughout your education. This organizer lets you determine a text’s similarities and differences (source).
Examples that Demonstrate the Benefit of Analyzing a Nonfiction Text
The benefits of analyzing a text include a deeper understanding of both the author’s message and yourself, your world, and your perspective.
While analysis can take different shapes and forms, one example of why analyzing is important is considering an assignment such as writing a research paper. To write a solid piece, you’ll need to include ample evidence from reputable sources – those that are credible and trustworthy.
That means that while doing your research, you’ll need to analyze your source material and ask questions such as, “Is this source reliable?”
Is the person who wrote it a doctor or someone with an advanced degree, or is there little or no information about the author’s background? If there is no information, it may be anyone writing his or her opinion about something.
You’ll also want to do the same for websites you use as research evidence. Remember that anyone can write a website, and often you’ll find sources and websites with information you may agree with or that supports your thesis, but the website itself may not be reliable or credible.
Another example is when you are analyzing an argument. If you want to decide whether you agree or disagree, you need to understand that argument well and then consider your own perspective. You’ll always want to check that the author’s evidence is credible because if it is not, the argument may not be valid.
How to Analyze Fiction Texts
Analyzing fiction texts can seem more straightforward than nonfiction texts since fiction is “made-up,” but that’s not the case. Instead, your focus when analyzing fiction pieces deals more with identifying the plot or what happens in the story, the characters, setting, themes, and other literary elements like symbolism or figurative language.
Unlike analyzing a nonfiction text that is an argument, you’ll be analyzing the work to identify your own ideas about the setting, characters, or theme(s) the author presents. To do so, you’ll need to be able to identify the setting.
The setting of a story is when or where it takes place. Therefore, the setting can impact a story drastically.
A story that takes place in our current culture will differ drastically from one that takes place in a different place at a different time. So, you can annotate to identify these critical pieces of information. They will shape your understanding of the characters and the story.
To identify the plot or what happens in the story, you’ll want to be able to look at the main problem that the author presents. The main problem is the conflict, which can occur in different ways: within a character, between characters, or between a character and their external world.
Once you’ve identified the problem, you’ll track its progression until it reaches the climax or the most critical point that will determine the direction of the rest of the story. You’ll also want to identify how the characters resolve the conflict.
Annotating is very helpful in fiction as well. You can also use graphic organizers to organize your thoughts and the important information you find as you read, documenting key points and quotes.
When you analyze characters, you’ll want to look at what they say and do. You’ll also want to consider their physical description and how the other characters in the story perceive them.
You can use a Venn Diagram to compare differences and similarities in characters. You can also create a diagram that helps you identify how the characters’ actions result in consequences and conflict.
The hardest part of a story to analyze is often the theme. The theme is the lesson you learn from what happens in the story. So, you’ll need to find solid evidence to support the theme you identify and then explain what that evidence or quote means and why it matters.
Examples that Demonstrate the Benefit of Analyzing a Fiction Text
Analyzing a fiction text helps you not only understand the novel and the characters but also helps you to develop your own worldview. Analyzing a character, for example, may help you decide if you would want to be a friend to that character. Likewise, analyzing a theme or message may help you learn about yourself or life.
When you analyze fiction, you can put yourself into a character’s shoes and see life through their eyes. Doing so helps you to be a more empathic person or a person who can understand that the differences between people actually make us stronger and better.
When you read a novel, your teacher may ask you to choose an aspect to analyze, such as a character or theme. Next, you’ll need to find evidence to support your point. Your evidence will come in quotes from the book, and you will use those quotes to support your ideas.
When you do this, you’ll inevitably become better at analyzing others’ arguments, such as those you’ll find in nonfiction pieces like opinion articles, argumentative essays, and debates.
ELA English Language Arts
ELA, or English Language Arts, is a broad area of study that includes developing literacy and language skills that allow you to interact with, respond to, and engage with various types of texts, including both fiction and nonfiction (source).
In most ELA classroom settings, you will engage with and respond to various types of texts to help you analyze the text itself and develop your own worldview.
Sometimes, reading is simply an enjoyable pastime, and we read to escape the world for a time. Other times, reading is intended to help us learn and grow as individuals.
No matter where or when you read, reading is an invaluable skill that fosters personal growth, improves your writing and communication skills, and allows you to converse with others with similar or different views.
Some of us find reading and writing more challenging than others, which is okay. Identifying your own academic strengths and weaknesses is crucial to further developing your skills and seeking help when needed.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
If you’d like to learn more about understanding your strengths and weaknesses, look at Finding and Understanding Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses.
Analyzing both nonfiction and fiction pieces helps you shape your thoughts about the world around you, what you think about important issues and ideas, and develop your thinking skills.
Remember that the first step in the analysis is seeking a complete and comprehensive understanding of the text. Then you can dive deeper and fully study different aspects of the author’s message or story.