Two common assignments based on reading a text are Responding and Analyzing. Recognizing which you need to do will help you be successful as a writer.
As you might have noticed from the reading so far, the key to any effective reading of a text is asking questions. The kinds of questions you ask form what is sometimes called a heuristic (a fancy word for a process that leads you to a solution). The responses that you eventually have to a text will only be as good as the questions you ask. Over time, as you practice, asking these questions will become automatic. For now, please consult these lists regularly.
Responding means explaining how you feel about a text
One common writing task in college is to respond to a text. The typical pattern of a response is to explain the ideas in a text AND THEN have something to say about them. When you respond to a text, you focus on your own view of text. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you want to respond to a text
- What is the text's main point (thesis)?
- What points to you find especially interesting?
- What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why?
- What does the text make you think about? Have you had any experiences like those being described? Can you identify with the text? If not, why not?
- How does who you are (age, education, cultural background, religion, ethnicity, etc.) shape your response to this text?
- What questions do you have about the work? What would you ask the author? What would you ask your professor?
Analysis means explaining how the parts of text work together to create the meaning
Another common writing task in college is analysis: breaking something down into its parts so that you can understand how it works. This is common task across disciplines, so you will hear this word throughout your college career. In writing courses, analyzing a text means reading through the writer’s eyes to understand the deeper, interwoven meanings layered within a text. You should assume that ALL choices in a text are deliberate writerly choices, even if they don't make sense to you right away. The two most fundamental questions to ask when analyzing are
- What is the text's main point (thesis)?
- How does the text support its claims?
- Is the author objective, or does he/she try to convince you to have a certain opinion? Why does the author try to persuade you to adopt this viewpoint?
Analyze the structure of the piece to understand how the text works.
Exploring a text’s structure may sound a little complicated, but it really isn’t. It means looking for how it’s been constructed or built, and how the structure supports the work the text is trying to do. The fancy literary terms for this are “form” and “function.” Form refers to the way the text is structured, while function refers to what it communicates to the reader.
- How is the text organized? (Does it seem logical? Is it in time-related, chronological order? Does it skip around in time with flashbacks or flash-forwards? Does it return to the same themes throughout? Do the later parts of the text echo the beginning?)
Is it divided into obvious sections? Do the sections have headings, or are they just visually separated?
Does the author use comparison/contrast, explore cause and effect, or examine a process to present their ideas?
Is there a lot of detail and description in the text? Why does the text give these details? Is the level of detail consistent?
How do the parts of text relate to each other?
Does the author do anything unusual* or unexpected with the text?
Analyze the word and style choices
Simple language can help make a text available to everyone. But some readers might be bored or frustrated by overly-simple language. Using more complex language allows a writer to add deeper layers of information and meaning to a text, and this can work if the audience is familiar with the language (or jargon) being used. But if they’re not, they may find the text confusing, irritating, or even impossible to understand.
Jargon refers to language, abbreviations, or terms that are used by specific groups— typically those people involved in a profession. Using jargon within that group makes conversation simpler, and it works because everyone in the group knows the lingo. The problem with using jargon when writing is that if your reader has no idea of what those terms mean, you’ll lose them.
Read this paragraph that relies heavily on jargon:
- Those who experience sx of URI might consider visiting a PCP. This should happen ASAP with pyrexia >101, enlarged cervical nodes, purulent nares drainage, or tonsillar hypertrophy. Tx may include qid antibios, ASA, fluids, and a mucolytic.
If you’re in a medical field, you probably understood that paragraph. Otherwise, it probably sounded like another language!
Now read this translation in lay (non-jargon) terms:
- Those who have cold symptoms might consider visiting their primary care provider. This should happen quickly if there is fever over 101, swollen glands in the neck, green or yellow drainage from the nose, or inflamed, swollen tonsils. Treatment may include antibiotics, aspirin, fluids, and medications designed to loosen phlegm and make it easier to cough.
That’s quite a change, yes? It’s a good example of why we usually want to avoid jargon, only use it with an audience that understands it, or explain each term carefully as we use them.
Sometimes writers play with spelling and punctuation to to create a certain sound or dialect within a text. Dialect is a language or language-sound that is known by and particular to a specific group of people or a specific geographical region. For example, think about how people define a sweet carbonated drink as “pop,” “soda,” or “Coke” depending on what part of the U.S. they live in.
Consider this example from the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; it’s set in the south and written in words that create a distinct dialect:
- “Reckon I have. Almost died first year I come to school and et them pecans—folks say he pizened ‘em and put ‘em over on the school side of the fence.”
- Translation: “I suppose I have. I almost died the first year I came to school and ate those pecans. Folks say he [Mr. Radley] poisoned them and put them on the school’s side of the fence.”
Remember: you should treat all choices as deliberate, writerly choices.
Here I made the deliberate, writerly choice to make that last statement into a heading so that it would be bigger, and bold, and show up on the table of contents
Why should you treat all choices as deliberate, writerly choices when doing an analysis?
Thinking back on the questions you've been told to ask when reading, do you see any patterns emerging?