What is Analysis?



To ‘analyse’ something means to break a big thing down into little parts in order to look at how each of the little part works together to make the whole big thing function. Analysis is the opposite of synthesis which means putting little parts together in order to make a big thing.


You can analyse anything:

1.       When you pull a car engine apart to see how it works, that’s analysis.

2.       When biologists look at specific bits of the human genome to try and figure out what each bit does, that’s analysis.

3.       When a psychoanalyst ‘pulls’ someone’s brain apart (metaphorically) to see what’s wrong with it, that’s analysis.

4.       When you pull a poem apart to see how all the individual words, sounds and punctuation marks work together to create the overall message, that’s analysis.



So, what does that mean?

Example 1:

Below is an example of an essay paragraph that has analysed the poem Dulce et Decorum Est well.


Initially, Owen’s portrayal of the soldiers as they ‘cursed through sludge’ suggests that the men are complaining and swearing as they walk, creating a sharp contrast between the image the British public would expect of their soldiers, i.e. marching in an upright, dignified manner, and what they are presented with here. Owen uses this contrast between expectation and reality to reveal how shocking the conditions in the trenches really were and, equally, how shocked the soldiers themselves may have been when they first realised what war was really like. Beyond this, however, ‘cursed’ more subtly implies that the soldiers are not simplycursing’ but are in fact themselves ‘cursed’ insinuating that the mud, which in some ways may symbolise the whole war, is something which they cannot escape from: their lives are hopeless and their deaths inevitable. If the soldiers are indeed ‘cursed’ then Owen makes it clear in the third stanza that those responsible for damning them in this way are the people like Jessie Pope (‘my friend’) in England who have deceived ‘children ardent for some desperate glory’ into signing up for a war which can bring them nothing other than inhuman suffering. Finally, the mystical, witch-like connotations of ‘cursed’ help create an unreal, otherworldly, nightmarish setting at the start of the poem which not only heightens the soldiers sense of exhaustion but also indicates how unimaginably hellish their suffering must have been.




Note the short quotations – only the key words are picked out and the quotation is as short as possible.


Note also how these quotations are embedded into the essay so that the essay flows smoothly as if the quotations were actually the words that the essay writer was going to use anyway.



This is the beginning of the analysis part. The essay writer now concentrates on the quotation and tells me what effect it has / what image it creates. Often however, this is at quite a straight forward level.



At this point the writer begins to push ideas a little deeper. In the first example, it is fairly obvious that cursing means the solders are swearing as they walk, the writer won’t get many points for that, but now they move beyond this simple level and point out that this contrasts with what the British public would previously have expected from a war poem and they then go on to examine the effect that this contrast might have had.




Example 2:

Here is an example that has not analysed the text quite so well, even though it has still used quotations and done a reasonably good job.


Furthermore, Owen evokes sympathy for the soldiers by painting a vivid image of the horrible conditions that they are experiencing in the trenches. An example of this is that they suffered many physical diseases, they were: ‘blind’, ‘lame’, ‘deaf’, ‘coughing like hags’ and little better than ‘old beggars.’ In addition, their equipment is described as missing or substandard. ‘Men had lost their boots’ and were forced to march on ‘blood shod’. Equally, the helmets are described as ‘clumsy’. Clearly conditions in the trenches were horrific and this makes us feel sympathy for the soldiers.




This paragraph starts off with a clear point. The use of ‘Furthermore,’ at the start is particularly well done because it shows me how this paragraph follows on from what happened before.



Although there are a good number of quotations here they are not really analysed. There is no real explanation of the effect of these words on the reader and key words are not identified, they are simply listed. It is also clear that they are not really smoothly included in the paragraph.



This is a very simple and obvious comment and although I can see how this point follows from the quotation I have to work out the link. Good analysis may have pointed out the inglorious connotations of ‘hags’ and ‘beggars’ or examined the significance of an animalistic word like ‘lame’.






How am I going to remember all that?

There are a number of key things to remember:


You might also notice that the first example doesn’t really have a separated obvious Point at the start of the paragraph. Doesn’t that break the PEE rule? Well, not really. If you read carefully you can see that the Point is kind of included in with all the development stuff in red. The point is developed in so much detail that it becomes clear what the Point is without having to have it on it’s own at the start of the paragraph.