Analyze a Position
This page provides suggestions for how to approach an assignment to analyze a position.
We analyze the stock market, we analyze our friends and family, but what does it mean to analyze a position on a controversy? Here are a few tips to use as a guide...
An analysis is more than just a summary
It’s important to keep in mind that an analysis of a position is more than just a summary of a writer’s argument. A summary emphasizes the content of a writer’s position or what a writer says: central claims, key evidence, and a recap of the conclusion. An analysis of a position, on the other hand, delves deeper into a writer’s words and discusses how an argument is put together as well as why a writer has made specific rhetorical choices in an article or speech. For this type of assignment, your summary of the writer’s position should be just long enough to provide the information your audience will need to follow the rest of your paper, but no longer. It’s your analysis of that position that is ultimately most important.
Because an analysis of a position is most concerned about the ways a writer uses language and argument to persuade, the details of how the writer has put together that position matter. Before you dive into your first draft, allow yourself time to outline a preliminary analysis of this position. Some questions you might ask include:
Audience, occasion, purpose
Who is the primary audience for this argument?
What is the occasion for the article or speech?
What is the writer’s purpose?
Issues and claims
What are the issues central to this writer’s position?
How does the writer support his claims?
What types of evidence does the writer provide?
Values and assumptions
Which of the writer’s values influence this postion the most?
What assumptions does the writer make about the audience for this argument? About society?
How closely do the values of the writer match those of the audience?
Organization, style, and tone
How would you characterize the tone of this article? Serious? Aggressive? Meek? etc.
Where in the article does the writer state her position?
Characterize the conclusion of the article. What is its effect?
Cite concrete examples
Direct quotes and other concrete examples are key to supporting your analysis of a postion. In some cases, you may find it’s necessary to cite just a phrase, or even a telling word, in order to support, say, your characterization of the writer’s audience. It’s also useful to get into the habit of following up longer quotations (those that are more than a sentence or two) with a short discussion of how the quotation helps to support your analysis. Why, for instance, does this particular passage best represent the nature of a specific claim for you? Be sure also to use quotations marks and proper citation for any direct quotes that you include.
This handout can help you practice putting different positions into conversation with each other.
Evaluate the omissions
Also consider some of the writer’s omissions. What issues has the writer neglected to consider? What assumptions made about the audience might be too limiting? And what do you consider to be the largest rhetorical weakness of this writer’s argument? For more advanced assignments you may also want to address any persuasive appeals, logical fallacies, or other rhetorical strategies that you find in the writer’s arguments. Ask your instructor if you have questions about the requirements for your assignment.
Remember to explain the why
It’s easy to get lost in the details of an analysis and forget to connect your observations into a larger argument. Some questions you might ask yourself along the way include:
Why have I decided to group this particular set of observations together in one paragraph?
What is the connection between this paragraph and the one before it?
Why does my audience needto know this information at this point in the paper? and...
What might someone who doesn’t know this argument as well as I do need to know to understand my observation?
Answering these questions through topic sentences and transitions will help both you and your audience know not only what’s coming up next in a paragraph but also why it’s important.