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I’m working on a english project and need a sample draft to help me learn.

Write an essay of at least 1000 words in which you discuss one aspect of our border policy. Use and establish a representative example from

“Hole in the Fence”,

“Hold the Line”

, or

“What Remains.”

Use the techniques from

Writing Analytically

in order to generate your significant details from the text and your interpretation of them. Your approach should be analytical. A successful essay will establish a representative example from the text and examine the significance and implications of the idea/thesis that you are developing while making your thesis evolve.

Your essay should have the following requirements:

an analytical approach

a representative example from the reading that you are analyzing

an evolving thesis that results from examining complicating evidence

no plagiarism

Writing Analytically
David Rosenwasser
Muhlenberg College
Jill Stephen
Muhlenberg College
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Spain • United Kingdom • United States
Writing Analytically, Fifth Edition
David Rosenwasser
Jill Stephen
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Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
Counterproductive Habits of Mind
A Toolkit of Analytical Methods
Interpretation: What It Is, What It Isn’t,
and How to Do It 49
Analyzing Arguments
Topics and Modes of Analysis
What Evidence Is and How It Works
Using Evidence to Build a Paper:
10 on 1 versus 1 on 10 123
Making a Thesis Evolve
Structuring the Paper: Forms and Formats
Introductions and Conclusions
Recognizing and Fixing Weak Thesis Statements
Reading Analytically
Using Sources Analytically: The Conversation
Model 215
ftPTER 16
Organizing and Revising the Research Paper: Two
Sample Essays 227
Finding, Citing, and Integrating Sources 241
Style: Choosing Words for Precision, Accuracy,
and Tone 271
Style: Shaping Sentences for Precision
and Emphasis 287
Common Grammatical Errors and How
to Fix Them 305
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
First Principles
Analysis Defined
The Five Analytical Moves
Move 1: Suspend Judgment 5
Move 2: Define Significant Parts and How They’re Related 5
Move 3: Make the Implicit Explicit 6
Move 4: Look for Patterns 8
Move 5: Keep Reformulating Questions and Explanations 9
Analysis at Work: A Sample Paper
Distinguishing Analysis from Argument, Summary, and Expressive
Writing 11
Applying the Five Analytical Moves: The Example of Whistler’s Mother 13
Analysis and Personal Associations
Counterproductive Habits of Mind
Fear of Uncertainty
Blinded by Habit
The Judgment Reflex
Overpersonalizing (Naturalizing Our Assumptions)
Opinions (versus Ideas)
What It Means to Have an Idea
Rules of Thumb for Handling Complexity
A Toolkit of Analytical Methods
The Toolkit
Paraphrase X 3
Notice and Focus (Ranking)
Prompts: Interesting and Strange
10 on 1
The Method: Working with Patterns of Repetition and Contrast
Thinking Recursively with Strands and Binaries
Generating Ideas with The Method: An Example
Doing The Method on a Poem: Our Analysis
A Procedure for Finding and Querying Binaries
Passage-Based Focused Freewriting
Writers’ Notebooks
Passage-Based Focused Freewriting: An Example
Interpretation: What It Is, What It Isn’t,
and How to Do It 49
Pushing Observations to Conclusions: Asking So What?
Asking So What?: An Example
Implications versus Hidden Meanings
The Limits on Interpretation
Plausible versus Implausible Interpretations
Interpretive Contexts and Multiple Meanings
Specifying an Interpretive Context: An Example
Intention as an Interpretive Context
What Is and Isn’t “Meant” to Be Analyzed
The Fortune Cookie School of Interpretation
The Anything Goes School of Interpretation
Seems to Be about X but Could Also Be (Is Really) about Y
Putting It All Together: Interpretation of a New Yorker Cover
Description of a New Yorker Cover, Dated October 9,2000
Using The Method to Identify Patterns of Repetition and Contrast
Pushing Observations to Conclusions: Selecting an Interpretive Context
Making the Interpretation Plausible
Arriving at an Interpretive Conclusion: Making Choices
Analyzing Arguments
The Role of Binaries in Argument
A Procedure for Reformulating Binaries in Argument
Strategy 1: Locate a Range of Opposing Categories
Strategy 2: Analyze and Define the Key Terms
Strategy 3: Question the Accuracy of the Binary
Strategy 4: Substitute “To What Extent?” for “Either/Or”
Uncovering Assumptions (Reasoning Back to Premises)
Uncovering Assumptions: A Brief Example
A Procedure for Uncovering Assumptions
Analyzing an Argument: The Example of “Playing by the Antioch Rules” 79
Strategies for Developing an Argument by Reasoning Back to Premises
The Problems with Debate-Style Argument
Seeing the Trees as Well as the Forest: Toulmin and the Rules of Argument 85
Refining Categorical Thinking: Two Examples
A Brief Glossary of Common Logical Errors
Topics and Modes of Analysis
Rhetorical Analysis
Rhetorical Analysis of a Place: A Brief Example
Rhetorical Analysis of an Advertisement: A Student Paper
Strategies for Making Summaries More Analytical
Personal Response: The Reaction Paper
Strategies for Making Personal Responses More Analytical
Strategies for Making Comparison/Contrast More Analytical
Strategies for Making Definition More Analytical
What Evidence Is and How It Works
The Function of Evidence
The Missing Connection: Linking Evidence and Claims
“Because I Say So”: Unsubstantiated Claims
Distinguishing Evidence from Claims
How to Make Details Speak: A Brief Example
What Counts as Evidence?
Anecdotal Evidence
Authorities as Evidence
Empirical Evidence
Experimental Evidence
Using What You Have
Statistical Evidence
Textual Evidence
Giving Evidence a Point: Making Details Speak
Kinds of Evidence
Using Evidence to Build a Paper:
10 on 1 versus 1 on 10 123
Developing a Thesis Is More Than Repeating an Idea (1 on 10)
What’s Wrong with Five-Paragraph Form?
Analyzing Evidence in Depth: 10 on 1
Demonstrating the Representativeness of Your Example
10 on 1 and Disciplinary Conventions
Pan, Track, and Zoom: Using 10 on 1 to Build a Paper
Doing 10 on 1: A Brief Example (Tiananmen Square)
Converting 1 on 10 into 10 on 1: A Student Paper (Flood Stories)
Revising the Draft Using 10 on 1 and Difference within Similarity
Doing 10 on 1: A Student Paper (Good Bye Lenin!)
A Template for Organizing Papers Using 10 on 1: An Alternative to FiveParagraph Form 138
Making a Thesis Evolve
What a Strong Thesis Does
Making a Thesis Evolve: A Brief Example (Tax Laws)
The Reciprocal Relationship between Thesis and Evidence: The Thesis
as Lens 142
What a Good Thesis Statement Looks Like
Six Steps for Making a Thesis Evolve
Evolving a Thesis in an Exploratory Draft: A Student Draft
on Las Meninas 145
Evolving a Thesis in a Later-Stage Draft: The Example of Educating Rita
Locating the Evolving Thesis in the Final Draft
Structuring the Paper: Forms and Formats
Romantics versus Formalists
The Two Functions of Formats: Product and Process
Using Formats Heuristically: A Brief Example
Classical Forms and Formats
Writing Analytically s Forms and Formats
Pan, Track, and Zoom: Using 10 on 1 to Build a Paper
A Template for Organizing Papers Using 10 on 1
Six Steps for Making a Thesis Evolve
The Toolkit as Template
The Shaping Force of Thesis Statements
The Shaping Force of Transitions
The Shaping Force of Common Thought Patterns: Deduction
and Induction 167
Thesis Slots
Negotiating Disciplinary Formats
Three Common Organizing Strategies
Climactic Order
Contents xii
Concessions and Refutations
Structuring the Paragraph
The Topic Sentence Controversy
Some Theories on Paragraph Structure
Finding the Skeleton of an Essay: An Example (September 11th:
A National Tragedy?) 175
Introductions and Conclusions
Introductions and Conclusions as Social Sites
What Introductions Do: “Why What I’m Saying Matters”
Putting an Issue or Question in Context
How Much to Introduce Up-Front: Typical Problems
Using Procedural Openings
Good Ways to Begin
What Conclusions Do: The Final So What?
Solving Typical Problems in Conclusions
Raising a Totally New Point
Introductions in the Sciences
Conclusions in the Sciences: The Discussion Section
Recognizing and Fixing Weak Thesis Statements
Five Kinds of Weak Thesis Statements and How to Fix Them
Weak Thesis Type 1: The Thesis Makes No Claim
Weak Thesis Type 2: The Thesis Is Obviously True or Is a Statement of Fact
Weak Thesis Type 3: The Thesis Restates Conventional Wisdom
Weak Thesis Type 4: The Thesis Bases Its Claim on Personal Conviction
Weak Thesis Type 5: The Thesis Makes an Overly Broad Claim
How to Rephrase Thesis Statements: Specify and Subordinate
Is It Okay to Phrase a Thesis as a Question?
Reading Analytically
How to Read: Words Matter
Becoming Conversant Instead of Reading for the Gist
Three Tools to Improve Your Reading: A Review
The Pitch, the Complaint, and the Moment
Uncovering the Assumptions in a Reading
Reading with and against the Grain
Using a Reading as a Model
Applying a Reading as a Lens
Using Sources Analytically: The Conversation
Model 215
Six Strategies for Analyzing Sources 215
“Source Anxiety” and What to Do about It
The Conversation Analogy
Ways to Use a Source as a Point of Departure
Six Strategies for Analyzing Sources
Make Your Sources Speak
Attend Carefully to the Language of Your Sources by Quoting or Paraphrasing
Supply Ongoing Analysis of Sources (Don’t Wait Until the End)
Use Your Sources to Ask Questions, Not Just to Provide Answers
Put Your Sources into Conversation with One Another
Find Your Own Role in the Conversation
Organizing and Revising the Research Paper: Two
Sample Essays 227
A Sample Research Paper and How to Revise It: The Flight from Teaching
Strategies for Writing and Revising Research Papers
Be Sure to Make Clear Who Is Talking
Analyze as You Go Along Rather Than Saving Analysis for the End (Disciplinary
Conventions Permitting) 230
Quote in Order to Analyze: Make Your Sources Speak

Try Converting Key Assertions in the Source into Questions
Get Your Sources to Converse with One Another, and Actively Referee the Conflicts
among Them 232
A Good Sample Research Paper: Horizontal and Vertical Mergers within
the Healthcare Industry 233
Guidelines for Writing the Researched Paper
Finding, Citing, and Integrating Sources
Getting Started
Three Rules of Thumb for Getting Started
Electronic Research: Finding Quality on the Web
Understanding Domain Names
Print Corollaries
Web Classics
Wikipedia, Google, and Blogs
Asking the Right Questions
Subscriber-Only Databases
Indexes of Scholarly Journals
Who’s Behind That Website?
A Foolproof Recipe for Great Research—Every Time
Citation Guides on the Web
A Librarian’s Brief Guidelines to Successful Research
Plagiarism and the Logic of Citation
Why Does Plagiarism Matter?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Plagiarism
How to Cite Sources
Single Author, MLA Style
Single Author, APA Style
How to Integrate Quotations into Your Paper
How to Prepare an Abstract
Guidelines for Finding, Citing, and Integrating Sources
Style: Choosing Words for Precision, Accuracy,
and Tone 271
Not Just Icing on the Cake: Style Is Meaning
How Style Shapes Thought: A Brief Example
Making Distinctions: Shades of Meaning
Word Histories and the OED
Concrete and Abstract Diction
Latinate Diction
What’s Bad about “Good” and “Bad”
Choosing Words: Some Rhetorical Considerations
Formal and Colloquial Styles: Who’s Writing to Whom, and Why Does It Matter?
The Person Question
The First Person Pronoun “I”: Pro and Con
The Second Person Pronoun “You”: Pro and Con
Using and Avoiding Jargon
Style: Shaping Sentences for Precision
and Emphasis 287
How to Recognize the Four Basic Sentence Types
The Simple Sentence
The Compound Sentence
The Complex Sentence
The Compound-Complex Sentence
So Why Do the Four Sentence Types Matter?
Coordination, Subordination, and Emphasis
Reversing the Order of Coordinate Clauses for Emphasis
So Why Does the Order of Coordinate Clauses Matter?
Reversing Main and Subordinate Clauses
So Why Does It Matter What Goes in the Subordinate Clause?
Parallel Structure
So Why Does Parallel Structure Matter?
Periodic and Cumulative Sentences: Two Effective Sentence Shapes
The Periodic Sentence: Delaying Closure for Emphasis
The Cumulative Sentence: Starting Fast
So Why Do Periodic and Cumulative Sentences Matter?
Cutting the Fat
Expletive Constructions
Static versus Active Verbs: “To Be” or “Not to Be”
Active and Passive Voices: Doing and Being Done To
About Prescriptive Style Manuals
Common Grammatical Errors and How
to Fix Them 305
Why Correctness Matters
The Concept of Basic Writing Errors (BWEs)
What Punctuation Marks Say: A Quick-Hit Guide
Nine Basic Writing Errors and How to Fix Them
BWE 1: Sentence Fragments
A Further Note on Dashes and Colons
BWE 2: Comma Splices and Fused (or Run-On) Sentences
BWE 3: Errors in Subject-Verb Agreement
A Note on Nonstandard English
BWE 4: Shifts in Sentence Structure (Faulty Predication)
BWE 5: Errors in Pronoun Reference
Ambiguous Reference
A Note on Sexism and Pronoun Usage
BWE 6: Misplaced Modifiers and Dangling Participles
BWE 7: Errors in Using Possessive Apostrophes
BWE 8: Comma Errors
BWE 9: Spelling/Diction Errors That Interfere with Meaning
Glossary of Grammatical Terms
CHAPTER 1 9 APPENDIX A n s w e r K e y ( w i t h D i s c u s s i o n )
Writing Analytically focuses on ways of using writing to discover and develop ideas.
That is, the book treats writing as a tool of thought—a means of undertaking sustained acts of inquiry and reflection.
For some people, learning to write is associated less with thinking than with arranging words, sentences, and ideas in clear and appropriate form. The achievement
of good writing does, of course, require attention to form, but writing is also a mental
activity. Through writing we figure out what things mean (which is our definition
of analysis). The act of writing allows us to discover and, importantly, to interrogate
what we think and believe.
All the editions of Writing Analytically have evolved from what we learned while
establishing and directing a cross-curricular writing program at a four-year liberal
arts college (a program we began in 1989 and continue to direct). The clearest consensus we’ve found among faculty is on the kind of writing that they say they want
from their students: not issue-based argument, not personal reflection (the “reaction”
paper), not passive summary, but analysis, with its patient and methodical inquiry
into the meaning of information. Yet most books of writing instruction devote only
a chapter, if that, to analysis.
The main discovery we made when we first wrote this book was that none of the
reading we’d done about thesis statements seemed to match either our own practice
as writers and teachers or the practice of published writers. Textbooks about writing
tend to present thesis statements as the finished products of an act of thinking—as
inert statements that writers should march through their papers from beginning
to end. In practice, the relationship between thesis and evidence is far more fluid
and dynamic.
In most good writing, the thesis grows and changes in response to evidence, even
in final drafts. In other words, the relationship between thesis and evidence is reciprocal: the thesis acts as a lens for focusing what we see in the evidence, but the evidence, in turn, creates pressure to refocus the lens. The root issue here is the writer’s
attitude toward evidence. The ability of writers to discover ideas and improve on
them in revision depends largely on their ability to use evidence as a means of testing
and developing ideas rather than just supporting them.
By the time we came to writing the third edition, we had begun to focus on observation skills. We recognized that students’ lack of these skills is as much a problem as thought-strangling formats like five-paragraph form or a too-rigid notion of
thesis. We began to understand that observation doesn’t come naturally; it needs to
be taught. The book advocates locating observation as a separate phase of thinking
before the writer becomes committed to a thesis. Much weak writing is prematurely
and too narrowly thesis driven precisely because people try to formulate the thesis
before they have done much (or any) analyzing.
The solution to this problem sounds easy to accomplish, but it isn’t. As
writers and thinkers, we all need to slow down—to dwell longer in the openended, exploratory, information-gathering stage. This requires specific tasks
that will reduce the anxiety for answers, impede the reflex move to judgments,
and encourage a more hands-on engagement with materials. Writing Analytically
supplies these tasks for each phase of the writing and idea-generating process:
making observations, inferring implications, and making the leap to possible
This edition of Writing Analytically marks the fourth time we’ve had the chance to
revisit the book’s initial thinking on writing. The difficult but also exciting thing about
repeatedly revising the same book is that the writer must keep learning how to see
the logic of the book as a whole, even as new thinking rises from earlier thinking and
threatens to displace it. We believe that we have now succeeded at what we couldn’t
quite manage to do in the fourth edition—to integrate the early versions of the book,
oriented largely toward thesis and evidence, with the later editions of the book,
oriented toward observation and interpretation.
Here in brief (and in boldface) are the suggestions and criticisms to which this
extensively rewritten and reorganized version of the book responds:
• Put back the definition-of-analysis chapter containing the five analytical
moves, which disappeared in the third edition. This edition starts with a revised
version of the older chapter, now called Analysis: What It Is and What It Does.
• Make things easier to find! Make core ideas stand out more clearly.
And s o . . . :
1. We have organized the book into four units to make the book’s arguments
and advice clearer and more clearly incremental. These units are:
I. The Analytical Frame of Mind: Introduction to Analytical Methods
II. Writing the Analytical Essay
III. Writing the Researched Paper
IV. Grammar and Style
2. We have created separate chapters on matters that were not adequately
pulled together and foregrounded in previous editions.
• The book’s observational strategies, such as 10 on 1 and The Method,
now appear prominently in a single chapter called A Toolkit of Analytical
Methods (Chapter 3).
• A revised chapter called Interpretation: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How
to Do It (Chapter 4) reunites materials on interpretation that were split
up in the fourth edition.
• The book’s advice on analyzing and producing arguments now appears
in a single chapter called Analyzing Arguments (Chapter 5).
• A new chapter called Topics and Modes of Analysis (Chapter 6) adds
explicit discussion of rhetorical analysis, acknowledging it as an ongoing
topic of the book, and restores attention to ways of making the traditional
rhetorical modes, such as comparison and contrast, more analytical.
• The book’s advice on organizing papers is now pulled together in a
largely new chapter on organization called Structuring the Paper: Forms
and Formats (Chapter 10), which also includes a new section on paragraphing. Readers will now know where to look for alternatives to fiveparagraph form. The chapter invites readers to think of organization in
terms of movement of mind at both the paper and paragraph levels.
• Get rid of the overstuffed first chapter and restore the unexpurgated version
of counterproductive habits of mind as a separate chapter. Done. We recognize
that in the fourth edition we attempted to do what all writers, not just our students, too often do—pack everything into the opening. The parts of this opening
chapter have now been broken up and redistributed more logically. We have also
reorganized and rewritten our chapter on counterproductive habits of mind,
which now appears as Chapter 2. We continue to believe, as the chapter argues,
that it is hard to develop new thinking skills without first becoming aware of
what’s wrong with our customary modes of response.
• Put the book’s advice on reading with the chapters on researched writing. A
pared-down chapter called Reading Analytically (Chapter 13) now opens the
book’s unit on research-based writing. In this chapter, we make it clear that all of
the book’s strategies can be applied to reading, but we now foreground some that
are particular to writing about reading—such as using a reading as a lens—in this
revised reading chapter.
• Make the book shorter and less repetitive. We have tried to prune every
sentence—in fact, every clause, phrase, and word—wherein we had succumbed
to the temptation to say something twice when once would do. We think we have
made the book more readable in both clarity and tone and lighter to carry.
We continue to believe that the book’s schematic way of describing the analytical
thought process will make students more confident thinkers, better able to contend
with complexity and to move beyond the simplistic agree/disagree response and passive assembling of downloaded information. We have faith in the book’s various formulae and verbal prompts for their ability to spur more thoughtful writing and also
for the role they can play in making the classroom a more genuinely engaging and
collaborative space. When students and teachers can share the means of idea production, class discussion and writing become better connected, and students can more
easily learn that good ideas don’t just happen—they’re made.
Writing Analytically is designed to be used in first-year writing courses or seminars,
as well as in more advanced writing-intensive courses in a variety of subject areas.
Though the book’s chapters form a logical sequence, each can also stand alone and be
used in different sequences.
We assume that most professors will want to supply their own subject matter for
students to write about. The book does, however, contain writing exercises throughout that can be applied to a wide range of materials—print and visual, text-based
(reading), and experiential (writing from direct observation). In the text itself we
suggest using newspapers, magazines, films, primary texts (both fiction and nonfiction), academic articles, textbooks, television, historical documents, places, advertising, photographs, political campaigns, and so on.
There is, by the way, an edition of this book that contains readings—Writing
Analytically with Readings. It includes writing assignments that call on students to apply
the skills in the original book to writing about the readings and to using the readings as
lenses for analyzing other material.
The book’s writing exercises take two forms: end-of-chapter assignments that
could produce papers and informal writing exercises called “Try This” that are embedded inside the chapters near the particular skills they employ. Many of the Try
This exercises could generate papers, but usually they are more limited in scope,
asking readers to experiment with various kinds of data-gathering and analysis.
The book acknowledges that various academic disciplines differ in their expectations of student writing. Interspersed throughout the text are boxes labeled Voices
from across the Curriculum. These were written for the book by professors in various
disciplines who offer their disciplinary perspective on such matters as reasoning
back to premises and determining what counts as evidence. Overall, however, the
text concentrates on the many values and expectations that the disciplines share
about writing.
We have had the good fortune to interest others enough in our work to stimulate
attack, much of it, we think, the result of misunderstanding. In an effort to clarify
our own premises and origins, we offer the following disclosure of our influences
and orientations.
The book is aligned with the thinking of Carl Rogers and others on the goal of
making argument less combative, less inflected by a vocabulary of fnilitary strategizing that discourages negotiation among competing points of view and the evolution
of new ideas from the pressure of one idea against another.
The book is also heavily influenced by the early proponents of the process movement in writing pedagogy. Books such as Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers and
Ken Macro rie’s Telling Writing were standard fere in graduate programs when we began
to teach. We came of age, so to speak, accepting that writing instruction should focus on
writers’ process and not just on ways of shaping finished products. As is now generally
recognized, the inherent romanticism and expressivist bias of the process approach to
writing limited its usefulness for people who were interested in teaching students how
to write for academic audiences. Despite the social scientific approach that researchers
such as Janet Emig, James Britton, and Linda Flower (to name a few) brought to the
understanding of students’ writing process, the process approach to writing instruction
suffered a decline in status as trends in college writing programs took up other causes.
(See, for example, the arguments of Patricia Bizzell, David Bartholomae, Charles
Bazerman, and others, who reoriented compositionists toward discourse analysis and
ethnographic research on the writing practices of other disciplines.)
We continue to believe that attention to process and attention to the stylistic and
epistemological norms of writing in the disciplines can and should be brought into
accord. We think, further, that a relatively straightforward and teachable set of strategies can go a long way toward achieving this goal. The process approach is not necessarily expressivist, at least not exclusively so. Analytical strategies with the power to
enrich students’ writing process can be taught, and they shed light on the otherwise
mysterious-seeming nature of individuals’ creativity as thinkers.
The book has drawn some interesting critiques, based on people’s assumptions
about our connection to particular theoretical orientations. One such critique comes
from people who think the book invites students to think in a “New Critical” vacuum—
that it is uncritically aligned with an unreformed, unself-conscious and old-fashioned
New Critical mind-set. The midcentury interpretive movement known as the New
Criticism has come to be misunderstood as rigidly materialist, deriving meaning only
from the physical details that one can see on the page, on the screen, on the sidewalk,
and so on. This is not the place to take up a comprehensive assessment of the ideas and
impact of the New Criticism, but, as the best of the New Critics clearly knew, things always mean (as our book explicitly argues) in context. Interpretive contexts, which we discuss extensively in Chapter 4 and elsewhere, are determined by the thing being observed;
but, in turn, they also determine what the observer sees. Ideas are always the products of
assumptions about how best to situate observations in a frame of reference. Only when
these interpretive frames, these ways of seeing and their ideological underpinnings, are
made clear do the details begin to meaningfully and plausibly “speak.”
We are aware that the language of binary oppositions, patterns of repetition, and
organizing contrasts suggests not just the methods of the New Critics but those of
their immediate successors, structuralists. Without embarking here on an extended
foray into the evolution of theory in the latter half of the twentieth century, we will
just say that the value assumptions of both the New Criticism (with its faith in irony,
tension, and ambiguity) and structuralism (with its search for universal structures
of mind and culture) do not automatically accompany their methods. Any approach
to thinking and writing that values complexity will subscribe to some extent to the
necessity of recognizing tension and irony and paradox and ambiguity. As for finding
universal structures of mind and culture, we haven’t so grand a goal, but we do think
that there is value in trying to state simply and clearly in nontechnical language some
of the characteristic moves of mind that make some people better thinkers than others
and better able to arrive at ideas.
Here are some other ways in which Writing Analytically might lend itself to misunderstandings. Its employment of verbal prompts like So what? and its recommendation of step-by-step procedures, such as the procedure for making a thesis
evolve, should not be confused with prescriptive slot-filler formulae for writing. Our
book does not prescribe a fill-in-the-blank grid for analyzing data, but it does try to
describe systematically what good thinkers do—as acts of mind—when they are
confronted with data.
Our focus on words has also attracted critique. The theoretical orientation that
has come to be called performance theory has emphasized the idea that words alone
don’t adequately account for the meanings we make of them. Words exist—their interpretations exist—in how and why they are spoken in particular circumstances,
genres, and traditions. Our view is that this essential emphasis on the significance
of context does not diminish the importance of attending to words. The situation is
rather like the one we addressed earlier in reference to the New Criticism. Words mean
in particular contexts. It is reductive to assume that attention to language means that
only words matter or that words matter in some context-less vacuum. The methods
we define in Writing Analytically can be applied to nonverbal and verbal data.
Interestingly, we were aware of, but had not actually studied, the work of John Dewey
as we evolved our thinking for this book Looking more closely at his writing now, we
are struck by the number of key terms and assumptions our thinking shares with his.
In his book How We Think, Dewey speaks, for example, of “systematic reflection” as a
goal. He was interested, as are we, in what goes on in the production of actual thinking,
rather than “setting forth the results of thinking” after the fact, in the manner of formal
logic. On this subject Dewey writes, “When you are only seeking the truth and of necessity seeking somewhat blindly, you are in a radically different position from the one you
are in when you are already in possession of the truth” (revised edition 1933,74-75).
Dewey thought, as do we, that habits of mind can be trained, but first people have
to be made more conscious of them. This is what Writing Analytically tries to accomplish. It begins with some of the same premises that Dewey and others have offered:
• The importance of being able to dwell in and tolerate uncertainty
• The importance of curiosity and knowing how to cultivate it
• The importance of being conscious of language
• The importance of observation
Dewey also said that people cannot make themselves have ideas. This we believe
is not true. People can make themselves have ideas, and it is possible to describe the
processes through which individuals enable themselves to make interpretive leaps. It is
also possible (and necessary) for people to learn how to differentiate ideas from other
things that are often mistaken for ideas, such as cliches and opinions—products of
the deadening effect of habit (about which we have much to say in the book’s opening
unit). Although the interpretive leaps from observation to idea can probably never be
fully explained, we are not thus required to relegate the meaning-making process to
the category of imponderable mystery.
David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen are Professors of English at Muhlenberg
College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where they have co-directed a Writing Across
the Curriculum (WAC) program since 1987. They began teaching writing to college
students in the 1970s—David at the University of Virginia and then at the College of
William and Mary, and Jill at New York University and then at Hunter College (CUNY).
Writing Analytically has grown out of their undergraduate teaching and the seminars
on writing and writing instruction that they have offered to faculty at Muhlenberg
and at other colleges and universities across the country.
Our greatest debt in this edition of the book is to Kenny Marotta, who helped us
rethink the book. Like all great teachers, he let us see more clearly the shape and implications of our own thinking. Those of you unaware of his gifts as a fiction writer are
missing a rare pleasure. Major thanks also go to developmental editor extraordinaire
Mary Beth Walden for her tireless efforts on our behalf—her understanding of how
we work; her ability to help us hide from distractions; her sound advice, patience, and
good cheer. We are also very grateful to departing acquisitions editor Aron Keesbury
for his frank talk and occasional flights of poetry.
We have over the years been fortunate to work with a range of talented and dedicated editors: Dickson Musslewhite, who saw us through the third and fourth editions; Julie McBurney and John Meyers, who nurtured the book in its early days;
and Michell Phifer and Karen R. Smith, who looked over our shoulders with acuity
and wit. And we remain grateful to Karl Yambert, our original developmental editor,
whose insight and patience first brought this book into being.
Christine Farris at Indiana University has been a great friend of the book since
its early days; we heard her voice often in our heads as we revised this edition. She
and her colleagues John Schilb and Ted Leahey gave us what every writer needs—
a discerning audience. Similar thanks are due to Wendy Hesford and Eddie Singleton
of Ohio State University, as well as their graduate students, whom we have had
the pleasure of working with over the past few years. The book has enabled us to
make many new friends just starting their college teaching careers in rhetoric and
composition—Matthew Johnson and Matt Hollrah, to name two. Our friend Dean
Ward at Calvin College has been a source of inspiration and good conversation on
writing for many years. So have two old friends, Richard Louth and Lin Spence, who
offer the benefit of their long experience with the National Writing Project. And we
always learn something about writing whenever we run into Mary Ann Cain and
George Kalamaras, inspiring teachers and writers both. We have also benefited from
stimulating conversations about writing with Chidsey Dickson.
Among our colleagues at Muhlenberg College, we are especially grateful to
reference librarian Kelly Cannon for his section on library and Internet research in
Chapter 16. For writing the Voices from across the Curriculum boxes that appear
throughout the book, thanks to Karen Dearborn, Laura Edelman, Jack Gambino,
James Marshall, Rich Niesenbaum, Fred Norling, Mark Sciutto, Alan Tjeltveit, and
Bruce Wightman. For their good counsel and their teaching materials, thanks to Anna
Adams, Jim Bloom, Chris Borick, Ted Conner, Joseph Elliot, Barri Gold, Mary Lawlor,
Jim Peck, Jeremy Teissere, and Alec Marsh, with whom we argue endlessly about writing.
Carol Proctor in the English Department looks out for us. We also thank Muhlenberg
College, especially its provost, Marjorie Hass, for continuing to support our participation at national conferences.
We are indebted to our students at Muhlenberg College, who have shared their
writing and their thinking about writing with us. Chief among these (of late) are
Sarah Kersh, Robbie Saenz di Viteri, Laura Sutherland, Andrew Brown, Meghan
Sweeney, Jen Epting, Jessica Skrocki, and Jake McNamara. Thanks also go to the
following students who have allowed us to use their writing in our book (most
recently): Jen Axe, Wendy Eichler, Theresa Leinker, and Kim Schmidt.
Finally, thanks to our spouses (Deborah and Mark) and our children (Lizzie,
Lesley, and Sarah) for their love and support during the many hours that we sit
immobile at our computers.
We would also like to thank the many colleagues who reviewed the book; we are grateful for their insight:
Diann Ainsworth, Weatherford College
Jeanette Adkins, Tarrant County College
Joan Anderson, California State University-San Marcos
Candace Barrington, Central Connecticut State University
Maria Bates, Pierce College
Karin Becker, Fort Lewis College
Laura Behling, Gustavus Adolphus College
Stephanie Bennett, Monmouth University
Tom Bowie, Regis University
Roland Eric Boys, Oxnard College
David Brantley, College of Southern Maryland
Jessica Brown, City College of San Francisco
Christine Bryant Cohen, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Alexandria Casey, Graceland University
Anthony Cavaluzzi, Adirondack Community College
Johnson Cheu, Michigan State University
Jeff Cofer, Bellevue Community College
Helen Connell, Barry University
Cara Crandall, Emerson College
Rose Day, Central New Mexico Community College
Susan de Ghize, University of Denver
Virginia Dumont-Poston, Lander University
David Eggebrecht, Concordia University
Karen Feldman, University of California
Dan Ferguson, Amarillo College
Gina Franco, Knox College
Sue Frankson, College of DuPage
Anne Friedman, Borough of Manhattan Community College
Tessa Garcia, University of Texas-Pan American
Susan Garrett, Goucher College
Edward Geisweidt, University of Alabama
Nate Gordon, Kishwaukee College
Glenn Hutchinson, University of North Carolina-Charlotte
Habiba Ibrahim, University of Washington
Charlene Keeler, California State University-Fullerton
Douglas King, Gannon University
Constance Koepfinger, Duquesne University
Anne Langendorfer, The Ohio State University
Kim Long, Shippensburg University
Laine Lubar, Broome Community College
Phoenix Lundstrom, KapVokmi Community College
Cynthia Martin, James Madison University
Andrea Mason, Pacific Lutheran University
Darin Merrill, Brigham Young University-Idaho
Sarah Newlands, Portland State University
Emmanuel Ngwang, Mississippi Valley State University
Leslie Norris, Rappahannock Community College
Ludwig Otto, Tarrant County College
Adrienne Peek, Modesto Junior College
Adrienne Redding, Andrews University
Julie Rivera, California State University-Long Beach
John Robinson, Diablo Valley College
Pam Rooney, Western Michigan University
Linda Rosekrans, The State University of New York-Cortland
Becky Rudd, Citrus College
Arthur Saltzman, Missouri Southern State University
Vicki Schwab, Manatee Community College
John Sullivan, Muhlenberg College
Eleanor Swanson, Regis University
Kimberly Thompson, Wittenberg University
Kathleen Walton, Southwestern Oregon Community College
James Ray Watkins, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Online; Colorado Technical
University, Online; and The Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University
Lisa Weihman, West Virginia University
Robert Williams, Radford University
Nancy Wright, Syracuse University
Robbin Zeff, George Washington University
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
Writing takes place now in more forms than ever before. Words flash by on our
computer and cell phone screens and speak to us from iPods. PowerPoint bulleted
lists are replacing the classroom blackboard, and downloadable entries from Wikipedia and Google offer instant reading on almost any subject. Despite the often-heard
claim that we now inhabit a visual age—that the age of print is passing—we are, in fact,
surrounded by a virtual sea of electronically accessible print. What does all this mean
for writers and writing?
If what is meant by writing is the form in which written text appears on page or
screen, then presumably the study of writing would focus on the new forms of organization that characterize writing on the web. But what if we define writing as the act
of recording our thoughts in search of understanding? In that case, the writing practices
and mental habits that help us to think more clearly would be, as they have long been,
at the center of what it means to learn to write.
This book is primarily about ways of using writing to discover and develop ideas.
Its governing premise is that learning to write well means learning to use writing
to think well. This does not mean that the book ignores such matters as sentence
style, paragraphing, and organization, but that it treats these matters in the context of
writing as a way of generating and shaping thinking.
Although it is true that authors of web pages and PowerPoint demonstrations
display their finished products in forms unlike the traditional essay, people rarely
arrive at their ideas in the form of PowerPoint lists and hypertext. Whatever form the
thinking will finally take, first comes the stage of writing to understand—writing as a
sustained act of reflection. Implicit throughout this book is an argument for the value
of reflection in an age that seems increasingly to confuse sustained acts of thinking
with information downloading and formatting.
We have seized upon analysis as the book’s focus because it is the skill most commonly
called for in college courses and beyond. The faculty with whom we work encourage analytical writing because it offers alternatives both to oversimplified thinking of
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
the like/dislike, agree/disagree variety and to the cut-and-paste compilation of sheer
information. It is the kind of writing that helps people not only to retain and assimilate information, but to use information in the service of their own thinking about
the world.
More than just a set of skills, analysis is a frame of mind, an attitude toward
experience. It is a form of detective work that typically pursues something puzzling,
something you are seeking to understand rather than something you are already sure
you have the answers to. Analysis finds questions where there seemed not to be any,
and it makes connections that might not have been evident at first.
Analyzing, however, is often the subject of attack. It is sometimes thought of as
destructive—breaking things down into their component parts, or, to paraphrase a
famous poet, murdering to dissect. Other detractors attack it as the rarefied province
of intellectuals and scholars, beyond the reach of normal people. In fact, we all analyze
all of the time, and we do so not simply to break things down but to construct our
understandings of the world we inhabit.
If, for example, you find yourself being followed by a large dog, your first response,
other than breaking into a cold sweat, will be to analyze the situation. What does being
followed by a large dog mean for me, here, now? Does it mean the dog is vicious and
about to attack? Does it mean the dog is curious and wants to play? Similarly, if you
are losing a game of tennis, or you’ve just left a job interview, or you are looking at
a painting of a woman with three noses, you will begin to analyze. How can I play
differently to increase my chances of winning? Am I likely to get the job, and why (or
why not)? Why did the artist give the woman three noses?
If we break things down as we analyze, we do so to search for meaningful patterns,
or to uncover what we had not seen at first glance—or just to understand more closely
how and why the separate parts work as they do.
As this book tries to show, analyzing is surprisingly formulaic. It consists of a fairly
limited set of basic moves. People who think well have these moves at their disposal,
whether they are aware of using them or not. Having good ideas is less a matter of
luck than of practice, of learning how to make best use of the writing process. Sudden
flashes of inspiration do, of course, occur; but those who write regularly know that
inspirational moments can, in fact, be courted. The rest of this book offers you ways
of courting and then realizing the full potential of your ideas.
Next we offer five basic “moves”—reliable ways of proceeding—for courting ideas
Each of the five moves is developed in more detail in subsequent chapters; this is an
overview. As we have suggested, most people already analyze all the time, but they
often don’t realize that this is what they’re doing. A first step toward becoming a better
analytical thinker and writer is to become more aware of your own thinking processes,
building on skills that you already possess, and eliminating habits that get in the way.
Each of the following moves serves the primary purpose of analysis: to figure out what
something means, why it is as it is and does what it does.
The Five Analytical Moves
Move 1: Suspend Judgment
Suspending judgment is a necessary precursor to thinking analytically because
our tendency to judge everything shuts down our ability to see and to think. It takes
considerable effort to break the habit of responding to everything with likes and
dislikes, with agreeing and disagreeing. Just listen in on a few conversations to be
reminded of how pervasive this phenomenon really is. Even when you try to suppress
them, judgments tend to come.
Judgments usually say more about the person doing the judging than they do
about the subject being judged. The determination that something is boring is especially revealing in this regard. Yet people typically roll their eyes and call things boring
as if this assertion clearly said something about the thing they are reacting to but not
about the mind of the beholder.
Consciously leading with the word interesting (as in, “What I find most interesting about this i s . . . ” ) tends to deflect the judgment response into a more exploratory
state of mind, one that is motivated by curiosity and thus better able to steer clear
of approval and disapproval. As a general rule, you should seek to understand the
subject you are analyzing before deciding how you feel about it. (See the Judgment
Reflex in Chapter 2, Counterproductive Habits of Mind, for more.)
Move 2: Define Significant Parts and How They’re Related
Whether you are analyzing an awkward social situation, an economic problem, a
painting, a substance in a chemistry lab, or your chances of succeeding in a job interview, the process of analysis is the same:
• Divide the subject into its defining parts, its main elements or ingredients.
• Consider how these parts are related, both to each other and to the subject as a
In the case of analyzing the large dog encountered earlier, you might notice that
he’s dragging a leash, has a ball in his mouth, and is wearing a bright red scarf. Having
broken your larger subject into these defining parts, you would try to see the connections among them and determine what they mean, what they allow you to decide about
the nature of the dog: apparently somebody’s lost pet, playful, probably not hostile,
unlikely to bite me.
Analysis of the painting of the woman with three noses, a subject more like the
kind you might be asked to write about in a college course, would proceed in the same
way. Your result—ideas about the nature of the painting—would be determined, as
with the dog, not only by your noticing its various parts, but also by your familiarity
with the subject. If you knew little about art history, scrutiny of the painting’s parts
would not tell you, for instance, that it is an example of the movement known as
Cubism. Even without this context, however, you would still be able to draw some
analytical conclusions—ideas about the meaning and nature of the subject. You might
conclude, for example, that the artist is interested in perspective or in the way we see,
as opposed to realistic depictions of the world.
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
One common denominator of all effective analytical writing is that it pays close
attention to detail. We analyze because our global responses, to a play, for example, or
to a speech or a social problem, are too general. If you comment on an entire football
game, you’ll find yourself saying things like “great game,” which is a generic response,
something you could say about almost anything. This “one-size-fits-all” kind of comment doesn’t tell us very much except that you probably liked the game. To say more,
you would necessarily become more analytical—shifting your attention to the significance of some important aspect of the game, such as “they won because the offensive
line was giving the quarterback all day to find his receivers” or “they lost because they
couldn’t defend against the safety blitz.”
This move from generalization to analysis, from the larger subject to its key components, is characteristic of good thinking. To understand a subject, we need to get
past our first, generic, evaluative response to discover what the subject is “made of,”
the particulars that contribute most strongly to the character of the whole.
If all that analysis did, however, was to take subjects apart, leaving them broken and
scattered, the activity would not be worth very much. The student who presents a draft
of a paper to his or her professor with the words, “Go ahead, rip it apart,” reveals a disabling misconception about analysis—that, like dissecting a frog in a biology lab, analysis takes the life out of its subjects. Clearly, analysis means more than breaking a subject
into its parts. When you analyze a subject you ask not just “What is it made of?” but also
“How do these parts help me to understand the meaning of the subject as a whole?”
Move 3: Make the Implicit Explicit
One definition of what analytical writing does is that it makes explicit (overtly stated)
what is implicit (suggested but not overtly stated), converting suggestions into direct
statements. Some people fear that, like the emperor’s new clothes, implications aren’t
really there, but are instead the phantasms of an overactive imagination. “Reading
between the lines” is the common and telling phrase that expresses this anxiety. We will
have more to say in Chapter 4 against the charge that analysis makes something out of
nothing—the spaces between the lines—rather than out of what is there in black and
white. Another version of this anxiety is implied by the term hidden meanings.
Implications are not hidden, but neither are they completely spelled out so that
they can be simply extracted. The word implication comes from the Latin implicare,
which means “to fold in.” The word explicit is in opposition to the idea of implication.
It means “folded out.” This etymology of the two words, implicit and explicit, suggests
that meanings aren’t actually hidden, but neither are they opened to full view. An act
of mind is required to take what is folded in and fold it out for all to see.
The process of drawing out implications is also known as making inferences.
Inference and implication are related but not synonymous terms, and the difference
is essential to know. The term implication describes something suggested by the
material itself; implications reside in the matter you are studying. The term inference
describes your thinking process. In short, you infer what the subject implies.
Now, let’s move on to an example that suggests not only how the process
of making the implicit explicit works, but also how often we do it in our everyday lives. Imagine that you are driving down the highway and find yourself
The Five Analytical Moves 31
analyzing a billboard advertisement for a brand of beer. Such an analysis might begin
with your noticing what the billboard photo contains, its various parts—six young,
athletic, and scantily clad men and women drinking beer while pushing kayaks into a
fast-running river. At this point, you have produced not an analysis but a summary—a
description of what the photo contains. If, however, you go on to consider what the
particulars of the photo imply, your summary would become analytical.
You might infer, for example, that the photo implies that beer is the beverage of fashionable, healthy, active people. Thus, the advertisement’s meaning goes beyond its explicit
contents. Your analysis would lead you to convert to direct statement meanings that are
suggested but not overtly stated, such as the advertisement’s goal of attacking common
stereotypes about its product (that only lazy, overweight men drink beer). By making the
implicit explicit (inferring what the ad implies) you can better understand the nature of
your subject. (See Chapter 4 for more on implications versus hidden meanings.)
•I Try this 1.1: Making Inferences
Locate any magazine ad that you find interesting. Ask yourself, “What is this a
picture of?” Use our hypothetical beer ad as a model for rendering the implicit
explicit. Don’t settle for just one answer. Keep answering the question in different
ways, letting your answers grow in length as they identify and begin to interpret the
significance of telling details. If you find yourself getting stuck, add to the question:
“and why did the advertiser choose this particular image or set of images?”
Science as a Process of Argument
I find it ironic that the discipline of science, which is so inherently analytical,
is so difficult for students to think about analytically. Much of this comes
from the prevailing view of society that science is somehow factual. Science
students come to college to learn the facts. I think many find it comforting to
think that everything they learn will be objective. None of the wishy-washy
subjectivity that many perceive in other disciplines. There is no need to
argue, synthesize, or even have a good idea. But this view is dead wrong.
Anyone who has ever done science knows that nothing could be further
from the truth. Just like other academics, scientists spend endless hours patiently arguing over evidence that seems obscure or irrelevant to laypeople.
There is rarely an absolute consensus. In reality, science is an endless process of argument, obtaining evidence, analyzing evidence, and reformulating
arguments. To be sure, we all accept gravity as a “fact.” To not do so would
be intellectually bankrupt, because all reasonable people agree to the truth of
gravity. But to Newton, gravity was an argument for which evidence needed
to be produced, analyzed, and discussed. It’s important to remember that a
significant fraction of his intellectual contemporaries were not swayed by his
argument. Equally important is that many good scientific ideas of today will
eventually be significantly modified or shown to be wrong.
— B r u c e W i g h t m a n , Professor of Biology
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
Move 4: Look for Patterns
We have been defining analysis as the understanding of parts in relation to each other
and to a whole, as well as the understanding of the whole in terms of the relationships
among its parts. But how do you know which parts to attend to? What makes some
details in the material you are studying more worthy of your attention than others?
Here are three principles for selecting significant parts of the whole:
1. Look for a pattern of repetition or resemblance. In virtually all subjects,
repetition is a sign of emphasis. In a symphony, for example, certain patterns
of notes repeat throughout, announcing themselves as major themes. In a legal
document, such as a warranty, a reader quickly becomes aware of words that
are part of a particular idea or pattern of thinking: for instance, disclaimers of
The repetition may not be exact. In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, for example, references to seeing and eyes call attention to themselves through repetition.
Let’s say you notice that these references often occur along with another strand
of language having to do with the concept of proof. How might noticing this
pattern lead to an idea? You might make a start by inferring from the pattern
that the play is concerned with ways of knowing (proving) things—with seeing
as opposed to other ways of knowing, such as faith or intuition.
2. Look for binary oppositions. Sometimes patterns of repetition that you begin to
notice in a particular subject matter are significant because they are part of a
contrast—a basic opposition—around which the subject matter is structured. A
binary opposition is a pair of elements in which the two members of the pair are
opposites; the word binary means “consisting of two.” Some examples of binary
oppositions that we encounter frequently are nature/civilization, city/country,
public/private, organic/inorganic, voluntary/involuntary. One advantage of
detecting repetition is that it will lead you to discover binaries, which are central
to locating issues and concerns. (For more on working with binary oppositions,
see Chapters 3 and 5.)
3. Look for anomalies—things that seem unusual, seem not to fit. An anomaly
(a = not, notn = name) is literally something that cannot be named, what the
dictionary defines as deviation from the normal order. Along with looking for
pattern, it is also fruitful to attend to anomalous details—those that seem not
to fit the pattern. Anomalies help us to revise our stereotypical assumptions.
A TV commercial, for example, advertises a baseball team by featuring its star
reading a novel by Dostoyevsky in the dugout during a game. In this case, the
anomaly, a baseball player who reads serious literature, is being used to subvert
(question, unsettle) the stereotypical assumption that sports and intellectualism
don’t belong together.
Just as people tend to leap to evaluative judgments, they also tend to avoid
information that challenges (by not conforming to) opinions they already
hold. Screening out anything that would ruffle the pattern they’ve begun to
The Five Analytical Moves
see, they ignore the evidence that might lead them to a better theory. (For more
on this process of using anomalous evidence to evolve an essay’s main idea, see
Chapter 9, Making a Thesis Evolve.) Anomalies are important because noticing
them often leads to new and better ideas. Most advances in scientific thought,
for example, have arisen when a scientist observes some phenomenon that does
not fit with a prevailing theory.
Move 5: Keep Reformulating Questions and Explanations
Analysis, like all forms of writing, requires a lot of experimenting. Because the
purpose of analytical writing is to figure something out, you shouldn’t expect to
know at the start of your writing process exactly where you are going, how all of your
subject’s parts fit together, and to what end. The key is to be patient and to know
that there are procedures—in this case, questions—you can rely on to take you from
uncertainty to understanding.
The following three groups of questions (organized according to the analytical
moves they’re derived from) are typical of what goes on in an analytical writer’s head as
he or she attempts to understand a subject. These questions work with almost anything
that you want to think about. As you will see, the questions are geared toward helping
you locate and try on explanations for the meaning of various patterns of details.
Which details seem significant? Why?
What does the detail mean?
What else might it mean?
(Moves: Define Significant Parts; Make the Implicit Explicit)
How do the details fit together? What do they have in common?
What does this pattern of details mean?
What else might this same pattern of details mean? How else could it be
(Move: Look for Patterns)
What details don’t seem to fit? How might they be connected with other details
to form a different pattern?
What does this new pattern mean? How might it cause me to read the meaning
of individual details differently?
(Moves: Look for Anomalies and Keep Asking Questions)
The process of posing and answering such questions—the analytical process—is
one of trial and error. Learning to write well is largely a matter of learning how to
frame questions. One of the main things you acquire in the study of an academic
discipline is knowledge of the kinds of questions that the discipline typically asks. For
example, an economics professor and a sociology professor might observe the same
phenomenon, such as a sharp decline in health benefits for the elderly, and analyze
its causes and significance in different ways. The economist might consider how such
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
benefits are financed and how changes in government policy and the country’s population patterns might explain the declining supply of funds for the elderly. The sociologist might ask about attitudes toward the elderly and about the social structures
that the elderly rely on for support.
Examine the following excerpt from a draft of a paper about Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
a collection of short mythological tales dating from ancient Rome. We have included
annotations in blue to suggest how a writer’s ideas evolve as he or she looks for
pattern, contrast, and anomaly, constantly remaining open to reformulation.
The draft actually begins with two loosely connected observations: that males
dominate females, and that many characters in the stories lose the ability to speak and
thus become submissive and dominated. In the excerpt, the writer begins to connect
these two observations and speculate about what this connection means.
There are many other examples in Ovid’s Metamorphoses that show the dominance of man
over woman through speech control. In the Daphne and Apollo story. Daphne becomes a tree to
escape Apollo, but her ability to speak is destroyed. Likewise, in the Syrinx and Pan story, Synnx
becomes a marsh reed, also a life form that cannot talk, although Pan can make it talk by
playing it.
writer establishes
of similar detail.] Pygmalion
is a story in which the male creates his rendition of the perfect female. The female does not
speak once; she is completely silent. Also, Galatea is referred to as “she” and never given a real
name. This lack of a name renders her identity more silent. [Here the writer begins to link
of speech/silence
of identity.]
Ocyrhoe is a female character who could tell the future but who was transformed into a mare
so that she could not speak. One may explain this transformation by saying it was an attempt by
the gods to keep the future unknown. [Notice how the writer’s thinking expands as she
her theory
of the
of men
another variable—prophecy.] However, there is a
by adding
character, Tiresias, who is also a seer of the future and is allowed to speak of his foreknowledge,
thereby becoming a famous figure. (Interestingly, Tiresias during his lifetime has experienced being
both a male and a female.) [Notice how the Ocyrhoe example has spawned
contrast based on
gender in
that the
Tiresias example.
ability to
The pairing of the
tell the
it are
not the sole cause
writer pauses to note that Tiresias is not entirely male.] Finally, in the story of
Mercury and Herse, Herse’s sister, Aglauros, tries to prevent Mercury from marrying Herse.
Mercury turns her into a statue; the male directly silences the female’s speech.
The woman silences the man in only two stories studied. [Here the writer searches
of the
paragraph into an organizing contrast.] In the first, “The Death of Orpheus,” the women
make use of “clamorous shouting, Phrygian flutes with curving horns, tambourines, the beating of
breasts, and Bacchic howlings” (246) to drown out the male’s songs, dominating his speech in terms
of volume. In this way, the quality of power within speech is demonstrated: “for the first time, his
words had no effect, and he failed to move them [the women] in any way by his voice” (247).
Distinguishing Analysis
and Expressive
Next the women kill him, thereby rendering him silent. However, the male soon regains his temporarily destroyed power of expression: “the lyre uttered a plaintive melody and the lifeless tongue made
a piteous murmur” (247). Even after death Orpheus is able to communicate. The women were not
able to destroy his power completely, yet they were able to severely reduce his power of speech and
writer learns,
other things,
after his
that men
The second story in which a woman silences a man is the story of Actaeon, in which the
male sees Diana naked, and she transforms him into a stag so that he cannot speak of it:
“he tried to say ‘Alas!’ but no words came” (79). This loss of speech leads to Actaeon’s inability
to inform his own hunting team of his true identity; his loss of speech leads ultimately to his
writer had begun
In some ways these four paragraphs of draft exemplify a writer in the process of
discovering a workable idea. They begin with a list of similar examples, briefly noted.
As the examples accumulate, the writer begins to make connections and formulate
trial explanations. We have not included enough of this excerpt to get to the tentative
thesis the draft is working toward, although that thesis is already beginning to emerge.
What we want to emphasize here is the writer’s willingness to accumulate data and to
locate it in various patterns of similarity and contrast.
• Try this 1.2: Applying the Five Analytical Moves to a Speech
Speeches provide rich examples for analysis, and they are easily accessible on the Internet. We especially recommend a site called American Rhetoric (You can Google it for
the URL). Locate any speech and then locate its patterns of repetition and contrast. On
the basis of your results, formulate a few conclusions about the speech’s point of view
and its way of presenting it. Try to get beyond the obvious and the general—what does
applying the moves cause you to notice that you might not have noticed before?
How does analysis differ from other kinds of thinking and writing? A common way of
answering this question is to think of communication as having three possible centers
of emphasis—the writer, the subject, and the audience. Communication, of course,
involves all three of these components, but some kinds of writing concentrate more
on one than on the others. Autobiographical writing, for example, such as diaries or
memoirs or stories about personal experience, centers on the writer and his or her
desire for self-expression. Argument, in which the writer takes a stand on an issue, advocating or arguing against a policy or attitude, is reader-centered; its goal is to bring
about a change in its readers’ actions and beliefs. Analytical writing is more concerned
with arriving at an understanding of a subject than it is with either self-expression or
changing readers’ views. (See Figure 1.1.)
These three categories of writing are not mutually exclusive. So, for example,
expressive (writer-centered) writing is also analytical in its attempts to define
and explain a writer’s feelings, reactions, and experiences. And analysis is a form
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
(expressive writing)
(summary and analysis)
Diagram of Communication Triangle
of self-expression since it inevitably reflects the ways a writer’s experiences have
taught him or her to think about the world. But even though expressive writing and
analysis necessarily overlap, they also differ significantly in both method and aim. In
expressive writing, your primary subject is your self, with other subjects serving as a
means of evoking greater self-understanding. In analytical writing, your reasoning
may derive from your personal experience, but it is your reasoning and not you or
your experiences that matter. Analysis asks not just “What do I think?” but “How
good is my thinking? How well does it fit the subject I am trying to explain?”
In its emphasis on logic and the dispassionate scrutiny of ideas (“What do I think
about what I think?”), analysis is a close cousin of argument. But analysis and argument are not the same. Analytical writers are frequently more concerned with persuading themselves, with discovering what they believe about a subject, than they
are with persuading others. And, while the writer of an argument often goes into the
writing process with some certainty about the position he or she wishes to support,
the writer of an analysis is more likely to begin with the details of a subject he or she
wishes to better understand.
Accordingly, argument and analysis often differ in the kind of thesis statements
they formulate. The thesis of an argument is usually some kind of should statement:
readers should or shouldn’t vote for bans on smoking in public buildings, or they
should or shouldn’t believe that gays can function effectively in the military. The thesis
of an analysis is usually a tentative answer to a what, how, or why question; it seeks to
explain why people watch professional wrestling, or what a rising number of sexual
harassment cases might mean, or how certain features of government health care
policy are designed to allay the fears of the middle class. The writer of an analysis is
less concerned with convincing readers to approve or disapprove of professional wrestling, or legal intervention into the sexual politics of the workplace, or government
control of health care than with discovering how each of these complex subjects might
be defined and explained. As should be obvious, though, the best arguments are built
upon careful analysis: the better you understand a subject, the more likely you will be
to find valid positions to argue about it.
Applying the Five Analytical Moves: The Example of Whistler’s Mother
Summary differs from analysis because the aim of summary is to recount, in effect,
to reproduce someone else’s ideas. But summary and analysis are also clearly related
and usually operate together. Summary is important to analysis because you can’t
analyze a subject without laying out its significant parts for your reader. Similarly,
analysis is important to summary because summarizing is more than just copying
someone else’s words. To write an accurate summary you have to ask analytical questions, such as:
• Which of the ideas in the reading are most significant? Why?
• How do these ideas fit together? What do the key passages in the reading
Like an analysis, an effective summary doesn’t assume that the subject matter
can speak for itself: the writer needs to play an active role. A good summary provides
perspective on the subject as a whole by explaining, as an analysis does, the meaning and function of each of that subject’s parts. Moreover, like an analysis, a good
summary does not aim to approve or disapprove of its subject: the goal, in both
kinds of writing, is to understand rather than to evaluate. (For more on summary, see
Chapters 6 and 13.)
So summary, like analysis, is a tool of understanding and not just a mechanical
task. But a summary stops short of analysis because summary typically makes much
smaller interpretive leaps. A summary of the painting popularly known as Whistler’s
Mother, for example, would tell readers what the painting includes, which details are
the most prominent, and even what the overall effect of the painting seems to be. A
summary might say that the painting possesses a certain serenity and that it is somewhat spare, almost austere. This kind of language still falls into the category of focused
description, which is what a summary is.
An analysis would include more of the writer’s interpretive thinking. It might tell
us, for instance, that the painter’s choice to portray his subject in profile contributes
to our sense of her separateness from us and of her nonconfrontational passivity. We
look at her, but she does not look back at us. Her black dress and the fitted lace cap
that obscures her hair are not only emblems of her self-effacement, shrouds disguising her identity like her expressionless face, but also the tools of her self-containment
and thus of her power to remain aloof from prying eyes. What is the attraction of this
painting (this being one of the questions that an analysis might ask)? What might
draw a viewer to the sight of this austere, drably attired woman, sitting alone in the
center of a mostly blank space? Perhaps it is the very starkness of the painting, and the
mystery of self-sufficiency at its center, that attracts us. (See Figure 1.2.)
Observations of the sort just offered go beyond describing what the painting contains and enter into the writer’s ideas about what its details imply, what the painting
invites us to make of it and by what means. Notice in our analysis of the painting how
intertwined the description (summary) is with the analysis. Laying out the data is
key to any kind of analysis, not simply because it keeps the analysis accurate but also
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1871.
because, crucially, it is in the act of carefully describing a subject that analytical writers
often have their best ideas.
You may not agree with the terms by which we have summarized the painting,
and thus you may not agree with such conclusions as “the mystery of self-sufficiency.”
Nor is it necessary that you agree because there is no single, right answer to what the
painting means. The absence of a single right answer does not, however, mean that all
possible interpretations are equal and equally convincing to readers. The writer who
can offer a careful description of a subject’s key features is likely to arrive at conclusions
about possible meanings that others would share.
Here are two general rules to be drawn from this discussion of analysis and
1. Describe with care. The words you choose to summarize your data will contain
the germs of your ideas about what the subject means.
2. In moving from summary to analysis, scrutinize the language you have chosen,
asking, “Why did I choose this word?” and “What ideas are implicit in the language
I have used?”
Analysis and Personal Associations
Although observations like those offered in the Interpretive Leaps column in
Figure 1.3 go beyond simple description, they stay with the task of explaining the
painting, rather than moving to private associations that the painting might prompt,
such as effusions about old age, or rocking chairs, or the character and situation of
the writer’s own mother. Such associations could well be valuable unto themselves as
a means of prompting a searching piece of expressive writing. They might also help a
writer to interpret some feature of the painting that he or she was working to understand. But the writer would not be free to use pieces of his or her personal history as
conclusions about what the painting communicates, unless these conclusions could
also be reasonably inferred from the painting itself.
Analysis is a creative activity, a fairly open form of inquiry, but its imaginative
scope is governed by logic. The hypothetical analysis we have offered is not the only
reading of the painting that a viewer might make because the same pattern of details might lead to different conclusions. But a viewer would not be free to conclude
anything he or she wished, such as that the woman is mourning the death of a son
Method of Analysis
Interpretive Leaps
subject in profile, not
looking at us
make implicit explicit
(speculate about what
the detail might suggest)
figure strikes us as
folded hands, fitted lace
cap, contained hair,
expressionless face
locate pattern of same or —
similar detail; make what is
implicit in pattern of details
figure strikes us as selfcontained, powerful in her
separateness and
patterned curtain and —
picture versus still figure
and blank wall; slightly
frilled lace cuffs and ties
on cap versus plain black
locate organizing
contrast; make what
is implicit in the
contrast explicit
austerity and containment
of the figure made more
pronounced by slight
contrast with busier, more
lively, and more ornate
elements and with little
picture showing world
slightly slouched body —
position and presence of
support for feet
anomalies; make what is
implicit in the anomalies
these details destabilize
the serenity of the figure,
adding some tension to the
picture in the form of
slightly uneasy posture
and figure’s need for
support: she looks too
long, drooped in on her
own spine
Summary and Analysis of Whistler’s Mother Diagram
Chapter 1
Analysis: What It Is and What It Does
or is patiently waiting to die. Such conclusions would be unfounded speculations because the black dress is not sufficient to support them. Analysis often operates in areas
in which there is no one right answer, but like summary and argument, it requires the
writer to reason from evidence.
A few rules are worth highlighting here:
1. The range of associations for explaining a given detail or word must be governed
b context.
2. It’s fine to use your personal reactions as a way into exploring what a subject
means, but take care not to make an interpretive leap stretch farther than the
actual details will support.
3. Because the tendency to transfer meanings from your own life onto a subject
can lead you to ignore the details of the subject itself, you need always to be asking yourself: “What other explanations might plausibly account for this same
pattern of detail?”
As we began this chapter by saying, analysis is a form of detective work. It can
surprise us with ideas that our experiences produce once we take the time to listen
to ourselves thinking. But analysis is also a discipline; it has rules that govern how we
proceed and that enable others to judge the validity of our ideas. A good analytical
thinker needs to be the attentive Dr. Watson to his or her own Sherlock Holmes. That
is what the remainder of this book teaches you to do.
ASSIGNMENT: Analyze a Portrait or Other Visual Image
Locate any portrait, preferably a good reproduction from an art book or magazine,
one that shows detail clearly. Then do a version of what we’ve done with Whistler’s
Mother in the preceding columns.
Your goal is to produce an analysis of the portrait with the steps we included in
analyzing Whistler’s Mother. First, summarize the portrait, describing accurately its
significant details. Do not go beyond a recounting of what the portrait includes; avoid
interpreting what these details suggest.
Then use the various methods offered in this chapter to analyze the data. What
repetitions (patterns of same or similar detail) do you see? What organizing contrasts
suggest themselves? In light of these patterns of similarity and difference, what anomalies do you then begin to detect? Move from the data to interpretive conclusions.
This process will produce a set of interpretive leaps, which you may then try to
assemble into a more coherent claim of some sort—about what the portrait “says.”
Counterproductive Habits of Mind
we have been suggesting, is a frame of mind, a set of habits for observing and making sense of the world. There is also, it is fair to say, an anti-analytical
frame of mind with its own set of habits. These shut down perception and arrest
potential ideas at the cliche stage. This chapter attempts to unearth these antianalytical habits. Then the next chapter offers some systematic ways of improving
your observational skills.
The meaning of observation is not self-evident. If you had five friends over and
asked them to write down one observation about the room you were all sitting in, it’s
a sure bet that many of the responses would be generalized judgments—”it’s comfortable”; “it’s a pigsty.” And why? Because the habits of mind that come readily to most of
us tend to shut down the observation stage so that we literally notice and remember
less. We go for the quick impression and dismiss the rest.
Having ideas is dependent on allowing ourselves to notice things in a subject
that we wish to better understand rather than glossing things over with a quick and
too easy understanding. The problem with convincing ourselves that we have the
answers is that we are thus prevented from seeing the questions, which are usually much more interesting than the temporary stopping points we have elected
as answers.
The nineteenth-century poet, Emily Dickinson, writes that “Perception of an
object/Costs precise the object’s loss.” When we leap prematurely to our perceptions
about a thing, we place a filter between ourselves and the object, shrinking the amount
and kinds of information that can get through to our minds and our senses. The point
of the Dickinson poem is a paradox—that the ideas we arrive at actually deprive us
of material with which to have more ideas. So we have to be careful about leaping to
conclusions, about the ease with which we move to generalization, because if we are
not careful, such moves will lead to a form of mental blindness—loss of the object.
Most of us learn early in life to pretend that we understand things even when we don’t.
Rather than ask questions and risk looking foolish, we nod our heads. Soon, we even
come to believe that we understand things when really we don’t, or not nearly as well
as we think we do. This understandable but problematic human trait means that to
Chapter 2
Counterproductive Habits of Mind
become better thinkers, most of us have to cultivate a more positive attitude toward
not knowing. Prepare to be surprised at how difficult this can be.
Start by trying to accept that uncertainty—even its more extreme version,
confusion—is a productive state of mind, a precondition to having ideas. The poet
John Keats coined a memorable phrase for this willed tolerance of uncertainty.
He called it negative capability.
I had not had a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects;
several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which
Shakespeare possessed so e n o r m o u s l y — I mean Negative Capability,
that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
—Letter to
George and Thomas Keats, December
The key phrases here are “capable of being in uncertainties” and “without any
irritable reaching.” Keats is not saying that facts and reason are unnecessary and
therefore can be safely ignored. But he does praise the kind of person who can
remain calm (rather than becoming irritable) in a state of uncertainty. He is endorsing a way of being that can stay open to possibilities longer than most of us are
comfortable with. Negative capability is an essential habit of mind for productive
analytical thinking.
Too often inexperienced writers are pressured by well-meaning teachers and textbooks to arrive at a thesis statement—a single sentence formulation of the governing
claim that a paper will support—before they have observed enough and reflected
enough to find one worth using. These writers end up clinging to the first idea that
they think might serve as a thesis, with the result that they stop looking at anything in
their evidence except what they want and expect to see. Writers who leap prematurely
to thesis statements typically find themselves proving the obvious—some too-general
and superficial idea—and worse, they miss opportunities for the better paper that is
lurking in the more complicated evidence being screened out by the desire to make
the thesis “work.”
Unit II of this book, Writing the Analytical Essay, will have much to say about
finding and using thesis statements. But this unit (especially Chapter 3, A Toolkit of
Analytical Methods) first focuses attention on the kinds of thinking and writing you’ll
need to engage in before you can successfully make the move to thesis-driven writing.
In this discovery phase, you will need to slow down the drive to conclusions to see
more in your evidence.
Tell yourself that you don’t understand, even if you think that you do. You’ll know
that you are surmounting the fear of uncertainty when the meaning of your evidence
starts to seem less rather than more clear to you, and perhaps even strange. You will
begin to see details that you hadn’t seen before and a range of competing meanings
where you had thought there was only one.
Blinded by Habit
Some people, especially the very young, are good at noticing things. They see things
that the rest of us don’t see or have ceased to notice. But why is this? Is it just that
people become duller as they get older? The poet William Wordsworth thought the
problem was not age but habit. That is, as we organize our lives so that we can function more efficiently, we condition ourselves to see in more predictable ways and to
tune out things that are not immediately relevant to our daily needs.
You can test this theory by considering what you did and did not notice this morning on the way to work or class or wherever you regularly go. Following a routine for
moving through the day can be done with minimal engagement of either the brain
or the senses. Our minds are often, as we say, “somewhere else.” As we walk along, our
eyes wander a few feet in front of our shoes or blankly in the direction of our destination. Moving along the roadway in cars, we periodically realize that miles have gone
by while we were driving on automatic pilot, attending barely at all to the road or the
car or the landscape. Arguably, even when we try to focus on something that we want
to consider, the habit of not really attending to things stays with us.
The deadening effect of habit on seeing and thinking has long been a preoccupation of artists as well as philosophers and psychologists. Some people have even
defined the aim of art as “defamiliarization.” “The essential purpose of art,” writes the
novelist David Lodge, “is to overcome the deadening effects of habit by representing
familiar things in unfamiliar ways.” The man who coined the term defamiliarization,
Victor Shklovsky, wrote, “Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s
wife, and the fear of war…. And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life”
(David Lodge, The Art of Fiction. New York: Penguin, 1992, p. 53).
Growing up we all become increasingly desensitized to the world around us; we
tend to forget the specific things that get us to feel and think in particular ways. Instead we respond to our experience with a limited range of generalizations, and more
often than not, these are shared generalizations—that is, cliches.
A lot of what passes for thinking is merely reacting: right/wrong, good/bad, loved
it/hated it, couldn’t relate to it, boring. Responses like these are habits, reflexes of the
mind. And they are surprisingly tough habits to break. As an experiment, ask someone for a description of a place, a movie, a new CD, and see what you get. Too often
it will be a diatribe. Offer a counterargument and be told, huffily, “I’m entitled to my
opinion.” Why is this so?
We live in a culture of inattention and cliche. It is a world in which we are perpetually assaulted with mind-numbing claims (Arby’s offers “a baked potato so good you’ll
never want anyone else’s”), flip opinions (“The Republicans/Democrats are idiots”)
and easy answers (“Be yourself”; “Provide job training for the unemployed, and we
can do away with homelessness”). We’re awash in such stuff.
That’s one reason for the prominence of the buzz phrase “thinking outside the
box”—which appears to mean getting beyond outworn ways of thinking about
things. But more than that, the phrase assumes that most of the time most of us
are trapped inside the box—inside a set of prefabricated answers (cliches) and
like/dislike responses. This is not a new phenomenon, of course—250 years ago
Chapter 2
Counterproductive Habits
of Mind
the philosopher David Hume, writing about perception, asserted that our lives are
spent in “dogmatic slumbers,” so ensnared in conventional notions of just about
everything that we don’t really see.
We turn now to three of the most stubbornly counterproductive habits of mind:
the judgment reflex, generalizing, and overpersonalizing.
It would be impossible to overstate the mind-numbing effect that the judgment reflex
has on thinking. Why? Consider what we do when we judge something and what we
ask others to do when we offer them our judgments. Ugly, realistic, pretty, wonderful,
unfair, crazy: notice how the problem with such words is a version of the problem
with all generalizations—lack of information. What have you actually told someone
else if you say that something is ugly, or boring, or realistic?
In its most primitive form—most automatic and least thoughtful—judging is like
an on/off switch. When the switch is thrown in one direction or the other—good/bad,
right/wrong, positive/negative—the resulting judgment predetermines and overrides
any subsequent thinking we might do. Rather than thinking about what X is or how X
operates, we lock ourselves prematurely irffo proving that we were right to think that
X should be banned or supported.
The psychologist Carl Rogers has written at length on the problem of the judgment
reflex. He claims that our habitual tendency as humans—virtually a programmed
response—is to evaluate everything and to do so very quickly. Walking out of a movie,
for example, most people will immediately voice their approval or disapproval, usually
in either/or terms: I liked it or didn’t like it; it was right/wrong, good/bad, interesting/
boring. The other people in the conversation will then offer their own evaluation and
their judgments of the others’ judgments: “I think that it was a good movie and that
you are wrong to think it was bad,” and so on. Like the knee jerking in response to the
physician’s hammer, such reflex judgments are made without conscious thought (the
source of the pejorative term “knee-jerk thinking”). They close off thinking with likes
and dislikes and instant categories.
This is not to say that all judging should be avoided. Obviously our thinking on
many occasions must be applied to decision-making: whether we should or shouldn’t
vote for a particular candidate, should or shouldn’t eat French fries, should or
shouldn’t support a ban on cigarette advertising. Ultimately, in other words, analytical thinking does need to arrive at a point of view—which is a form of judgment—but
analytical conclusions are usually not phrased in terms of like/dislike or good/bad.
They disclose what a person has come to understand about X rather than how he or
she rules on the worth of X.
In some ways, the rest of this book consists of a set of methods for blocking the
judgment reflex in favor of more thoughtful responses. For now, here are two moves to
make in order to short circuit the judgment reflex and begin replacing it with a more
thoughtful, patient, and curious habit of mind. First, try the cure that Carl Rogers
recommended to negotiators in industry and government. Do not assert an agreement
, leaps to
data (words, images, other detail)
-> broad generalization
leaps to
-> evaluative claims (like/dislike; agree/disagree)
The Problems with Generalizing and Judging
or disagreement with another person’s position until you can repeat that position in a
way the other person would accept as fair and accurate. This is surprisingly hard to do
because we are usually so busy calling up judgments of our own that we barely hear
what the other person is saying.
Second, try eliminating the word “should” from your vocabulary for a while. Judgments take the form of should statements. We should pass the law. We should not
consider putting such foolish restrictions into law. The analytical habit of mind is
characterized by the words why, how, and what. Analysis asks: What is the aim of the
new law? Why do laws of this sort tend to get passed in some parts of the country
rather than others? How does this law compare with its predecessor?
You might also try eliminating evaluative adjectives—those that offer judgments with
no data. “Green” is a descriptive, concrete adjective. It offers something we can experience. “Beautiful” is an evaluative adjective. It offers only judgment. (See Figure 2.1.)
•i Try this 2.1: Distinguishing Evaluative from Nonevaluative Words
The dividing line between judgmental and nonjudgmental words is often more dif
ficult to discern in practice than you might assume. Categorize each of the terms in
the following list as judgmental or nonjudgmental, and be prepared to explain your
reasoning: monstrous, delicate, authoritative, strong, muscular, automatic, vibrant,
tedious, pungent, unrealistic, flexible, tart, pleasing, clever, slow.
• Try this 2.2:
Experiment with Adjectives and Adverbs
Write a paragraph of description—on anything that comes to mind—without
using any evaluative adjectives or adverbs. Alternatively, analyze and categorize the
adjectives and adverbs in a piece of your own recent writing.
What it all boils down to is… What this adds up to i s . . . The gist of her
speech was…
Generalizing is not always a bad habit. Reducing complex events, theories, books,
or speeches to a reasonably accurate summarizing statement requires practice and
skill. We generalize from our experience because this is one way of arriving at ideas.
Chapter 2
Counterproductive Habits
of Mind
The problem with generalizing is that it removes the mind—usually much too
quickly—from the data that produced the generalization in the first place.
People tend to remember their reactions and impressions. The dinner was dull.
The house was beautiful. The music was exciting. But they forget the specific, concrete causes of these impressions (if they ever fully noticed them). As a result, people
deprive themselves of material to think with—the data that might allow them to
reconsider their initial impressions or share them with others.
Generalizations are just as much a problem for readers and listeners as they are for
writers. Consider for a moment what you are actually asking others to do when you offer
them a generalization such as “His stories are very depressing.” Unless the recipient of
this observation asks a question—such as “Why do you think so?”—he or she is being
required to take your word for it: the stories are depressing because you say so.
What happens instead if you offer a few details that caused you to think as you
do? Clearly, you are on ris…
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