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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Building Stronger Arguments

"Analysis" as an Important Part of the Process

Here we go again! The very sticky issue of analysis. What it is, why it needs to be attended to, and where and how to do it. On the one hand, "analysis" (as in "Critical Analysis") is a type (genre) of argumentative paper, with a decided emphasis on the rational. That is, you would be doing critical analysis if you were writing a paper that "reviewed" a current film, like the very interesting Atonement. Your argument would be more convincing, more rational, if you measured Atonement against a set of objective criteria that related directly to the genre of film you understood Atonement to belong to. And your argument would be even more convincing if you'd tied specific examples from the film to your discussion of how well those criteria had actually been fulfilled. Bottom line, though, you would be less interested in trying to persuade people to go see Atonement than you'd be interested in demonstrating, through analysis, how it measured up to a standard of excellence.

But there's another kind of analysis to attend to. It's the kind that ought to occur any time you're developing an argument, bringing in evidence to prove a point, and/or justifying your use of a quote anywhere in your paper. Simply put, analysis is an operation, an integral part of the argumentative process.

Let's talk a bit about what it is, where it needs to be attended to, and how to do it within an argument.

  1. the WHAT:

    What we're talking about is something that you do everyday, perhaps without being fully aware of it. analysis is directly involved with "problem-solving"—that is, for instance, your decision about what courses to take next fall. You look at the fall schedule of courses, you go through the check-list of the courses in your major and minor that you've already taken, you identify the courses that still remain to be taken in the major and minor, you look to see when and if any of those courses are offered in the fall at times that will work for you, and you make your decisions. That's a fairly simple example of an analytical process, whereby you make a decision on the available information. Your decision depends upon your approaching the WHOLE of the problem (the class-taking issue), taking that "whole" apart so that you can reach a considered understanding about how the PARTS of the problem relate to each other, and then reassembling the issue around a decision based on that understanding.

    But even the course-selecting process is more complicated sometimes for most of us. Often, most of us are dealing with priorities—which courses need to be taken first, and why? Which are the most important, and why? Which ones make the most sense for you to take, given your needs and interests (and, maybe, regardless of the major or minor)? Sometimes you'll need to consult sources (i.e., your advisor, your friends, individual professors who'll be teaching courses you might be interested in). Thus, there are lots of contributing factors that can come into play in your choice, and you need to involve those factors in your decision-making. We might call some of these factors "CONSIDERATIONS"—i.e., things that would, in the process of analysis, cause us to weigh more heavily certain choices over others.

    So, what are we really talking about here? Well, analysis is a process of addressing a problem (or argument) that requires you to break down that problem (or argument) into its parts and examine those parts in relation to each other. An argument requires that you take a position (thesis) on a particular issue or subject. In order to successfully argue (i.e., prove, demonstrate) your position, you need to identify the major points you want to make that are connected to your position, and, as you do, provide evidence to support them.

  2. the WHERE:

    This is where your sources come in. You will have collected some information about the point related to the position you're asserting. And you'll need to locate that evidence in the same paragraph(s) that you are asserting that point.

    But it won't be enough to merely tack on a quote or a paraphrase from one of your sources. That quote or paraphrase represents "foreign matter" that you are importing into your paper—your stuff, your argument. Merely including that quote or paraphrase may not prove anything.

  3. the HOW:

    And this is how analysis figures in. Analysis requires that you justify the presence of that quote or paraphrase. To do that, you'll need to explain a bit what this "foreign matter" is, maybe where it comes from, and who (the expert) has said it, and how it supports and strengthens your point. Quotes and paraphrases should not stand alone. If you're going to include them, you'll need to introduce and integrate them into your discussion and connect them to the point you're trying to make by using them. It's that connection and integration of the "foreign matter" with the point you're arguing that constitutes analysis. And, by making that connection, you are literally making that "foreign matter" your own.

    So, then, the questions you need to be asking of the source material you're using might be these:

    1. Why is this source material important to a point I'm asserting?
    2. How is that source material important?
    3. How is my point made stronger by including this source material?
    4. How does this source material help to overcome objections to the point I'm asserting?
    5. What is there in the quote or paraphrase (specific stuff) that has a material effect on the quality or persuasiveness of my argument?

    The "how" and "why" questions are analytical questions. The "how" and "why" simply scream out for you to follow up with a because ("This is important because…", or "this quote supports my point because…"). Sometimes it'll be obvious why you've included the source material; but, when you're building an argument, you'll need to make sure that you are making that source material work for you.

  4. A little low-risk practice of the process of ANALYSIS:

    What follows are two excerpts from a paper submitted to a Humanities 282W ("Latin American Traditions") class. The paper focuses on the Salvadoran culture and the impact of "liberation theology" on two types of Salvadorans just prior to the Civil War that began around 1980. Those "two types of Salvadorans", as the writer identifies them, are the semi-rural poor "campesinos," many of whom owe their heritage to the Mayans and who have experienced acute oppression for the past eighty years, and the ruling and military elite of El Salvador. As described in the paper, "liberation theology" caught on strongly among the poor because of its activist priests, a guiding view of Christ as a radical liberator who always saw his mission as directed at the poor and oppressed, and a Marxist approach to economics and politics. However, that "New Catholicism," inspired by Vatican II and a conference of Latin American prelates that convened in Medellin in 1965, terrified the conservative landholders, who saw their power directly connected to a very conservative Catholic Church with a tradition infused with hierarchy. The thesis developed by the writer reads like this:

    Liberation theology affected the wealthy and the poor negatively and positively respectively. The two social classes were affected and reacted very differently to the changes in the church, and life, due to liberation theology. I will begin by giving a background on what liberation theology is and how it began. Then I will explain the benefits of the poor and how they reacted to the positive changes. Finally, I will talk about the wealthy who were negatively affected and how they reacted to the new movement.

    Now, with the thesis of the paper in hand, read the two excerpts (the first one comes early in the paper, while the second one occurs shortly before the writer's conclusion). Then evaluate what you see in each paragraph for the presence of analysis. That is, do you see the writer using her source material here (i.e., "foreign matter")? Do you see her carefully integrating that material into the separate points she's attempting to make in each paragraph? Do you see any interpretation of the source material occurring that shows the writer making that source material her own and showing why it supports her points? See what you think:

    1. Nowak paragraph #1: Is analysis happening here? Where?

      Liberation theology really influenced the poor people of El Salvador. In this novel, Lupe, the main character talks about how the priests behaved before the movement: "And when we would tell the priest that our children were dying from worms, they'd recommend resignation or claim we hadn't given them their yearly purge" (Argueta, 1983, p. 20). The priest did not care about these people and kept asking the parishioners for offerings. Then as I read on I could tell that things were changing for the better. "They'd (the new priests) descend to the Kilometer and would come to see how we were living. The previous priests never got as far as where we lived—they took care of everything in the chapel; they'd get out of their jeeps there—and then after Mass they would get back into them and disappear in the dust from the road" (Argueta, 1983, p. 25). These new priests cared enough to go out and meet the Salvadoran people on their level. "The priests arrived in work pants and we saw that, like us, they were people of the flesh and blood" (Argueta, 1983, p. 29). Instead of them going to church the church came to them. These new priests learned about the people and educated them on ways to make life better.

      If you're seeing what I'm seeing, I hope you'll agree that the writer has, indeed, been nearly successful in integrating the quoted source material. Yes, the writer must still introduce the quote with a phrase (direct address) to identify the speaker of the quote, or must set up the quote with a colon (the appropriate piece of punctuation to place before a quote when it has been introduced by a complete sentence. But, otherwise, the quote demonstrates the two statements that precede it, and, more importantly, the two sentences that follow provide an interpretation of the quote that carefully connects the quote to the point that's being asserted about liberation theology. And, in fact, more of that careful integration of quoted material and interpretation and "bridge-building" between quote and major point occurs right to the end of the paragraph.

    2. Nowak paragraph #2: Is analysis happening here? How? Where?

      The land owners were very upset by this change of events because they had given so much to the previous church. In their eyes, they were the ones who were suffering for it now because of liberation theology. The landowners and guards believed that their religion was changing too much. Biblical theology reveals that God is for the poor, but it does not teach that the poor are the actual embodiment of God in today's world. Liberation theology threatens to politicize the gospel to the point that the poor are offered a solution that could be provided with or without Jesus Christ" (O'Malley, n.d.). Liberation theology was not accepted well only by the landowners but many of the leaders of the church. Monsignor Arturo Rivera y Damas, who was named the arch bishop after the assassination of Romero, "found it appropriate to take a more distant or ambivalent position with respect to the question of the proper role of the church in Salvadoran national life, a position that also accorded more closely with the conservative attitude of the Vatican under Pope John Paul II" (El Salvador-Religion, n.d.). These changes happening were also causing problems inside the church. Some of the bishops were concerned that the hierarchy of the church was being compromised as well as the traditional roles of the priests. "As civil unrest in general increased in the late 1970's, the church as a whole became increasingly polarized. The majority of the bishops supported the traditional role of the church, the traditional hierarchy, and the overriding authority of the government" (El Salvador-Religion, n.d.).

    3. Do you see a quote in this paragraph that needs more careful integration and connection and analysis to the point being argued? How would you do it?

      I'm hoping that you do. When my students (and the writer of the paper) looked at this paragraph, they immediately noticed a glaring GAP between the first three sentences and the quote that follows them. As written, the quote reads almost like a non sequiter (i.e., it does not logically follow). One student suggested that the quoted material was so different from those first three sentences that it should be taken out of this paragraph and moved elsewhere. Three other students, though, thought that the quote could be retained as-is if two things happened: (1) the building of a bridge (a carefully constructed transition) between those first three sentences and the quote; and (2) the addition of a phrase before the quote to clarify who said it.

    4. So, then, although there are lots of ways to repair the problem, it could be done as follows:

      …The landowners and guards believed that their religion was changing too much. And so, in fact, did many of Catholic priests who, since the Conquest, had owed their privileged position in Latin American society to their partnership with those who had originally seized power from the Amerindian natives and continued to rule. One priest portrays the problem of the traditional church in this way: "Biblical theology reveals that God is for the poor, but it does not teach that the poor are the actual embodiment of God in today's world. Liberation theology threatens to politicize the gospel to the point that the poor are offered a solution that could be provided with or without Jesus Christ" (O'Malley).

      Do you see the linkage made by the additional material? Do you see how it justifies the presence of the quote, prepares for it carefully, and then integrates it into the paragraph? That's the kind of "bridge-building" that needs to happen to bring smoothly into your papers "foreign matter" that isn't your own but that you need to strengthen the parts of the argument you're building.

      It's not the only way to build such a bridge here. There are lots of possibilities. But this bridge gets the job done. A solid argument cannot be built without these bridges.


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