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Textual Analysis

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English

A text is any kind of written content. Periodicals, novels, scientific and literary papers, advertisements, and even text messages are kinds of texts. To analyze a text is to identify and explore every aspect of it. The art and science behind this is textual analysis. The topic of textual analysis is as broad as it is deep, so prepare to immerse yourself in the written word.

Textual Analysis: Definition

Analyzing a text isn’t merely done for class assignments or as part of standardized tests.

Textual analysis: a method of studying a text in order to understand the author's deliberate meaning.

This may sound grandiose but think of it this way: When you analyze part of a novel and write your conclusions, you are writing and explaining your understanding of it. You should always aim to help others to understand the meanings or possible meanings of the text.

To accomplish this goal, you can use textual analysis to identify the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a text by asking the following questions:

  • Who wrote it and for whom? Consider the author and audience.

  • What was written? Consider what type of text you are analyzing, e.g., is it an informative newspaper article or a speech?

  • When was it written and read? Consider the historical context.

  • Where was it written and read? Consider the place and culture in which the text was written.

  • Why was it written and read? Consider the author's intention behind writing the text.

  • How was it written? Consider the purpose of a text. Often, a textual analysis of “how” will analyze the text's structure, central idea, characters, setting, vocabulary, rhetoric, and citations.

The question “how?” is often the starting point for writing a literary analysis. While the other five modalities focus more on objective history, the how begins to explore a more personalized view of the text, such as the word choice of the text itself, which is largely interpreted by the reader. A more historical or scientific essay will often focus more on the first five modalities to support its points.

Textual Analysis with a Thesis

Textual analysis with a thesis explores “how” a text conveys an idea, but in an even bigger way. The most in-depth form of textual analysis uses a thesis to explore not only the factual aspects of a text but also the parts people don't agree on.

For instance, a thesis analysis might explore how well the writer accomplishes their goal, not merely how. Often, this complex form of analysis will compare the text in question with other relevant texts in order to draw a conclusion about it.

While identifying the who, what, when where, why, and how helps us to understand a text, a textual analysis with a thesis helps us to understand the bigger picture around a text. This could include information about the author’s life work, a literary genre, a period in time, or how that text relates to a modern reader or movement.

A textual analysis with a thesis always draws a conclusion that could be disagreed with. However, you should attempt to argue your point in a way that makes it as resilient as possible to counter-arguments.

Different Types of Textual Analysis

A textual analysis often comes in the form of an essay with a thesis, but textual analysis can also be found anywhere. If at any point you analyze the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the text, it is a textual analysis. As such, a textual analysis essay is made up of a variety of interlinking analyses!

Textual Analysis Essay: the targeted exploration of a text using a thesis.

A textual analysis may also come in the form of a history or a deconstruction.

A history: the explanation and analysis of a single text, with a focus on its place in time.

A deconstruction: a break down a scene, rhetorical device, character, or any other piece of a text into its constituents (the parts that make it up). A deconstruction is focused on the parts of the whole.

In short: Anything that aims to classify or decode a text is a piece of textual analysis.

Structure of a Textual Analysis Essay

When writing a textual analysis essay, keep these four things in mind: summary and context, statement of intent, evidence, and the bigger picture.

Summary and Context

Textual analysis will summarize and contextualize the text, usually in or near the introduction. A textual analysis might introduce the temporal, cultural, or geographical context of the text. Depending on your audience, you might also include a summary of the text itself in order to jog their memory and remind them of the critical details you will be discussing.

Statement of Intent

Textual analysis will include some sort of statement of intent. If the analyst is focusing on the history of the text, they might include why the contents of the text are important to preserve. In the case of an essay, the analyst will include a thesis statement explaining why the text should be interpreted a certain way.

Evidence

Textual analysis will have some form of evidence. If the analyst is focusing on the history of a text, the analyst will frequently cite the historical text or related histories. In a deconstruction of a text, the analyst will repeatedly cite the focal text. In an essay, the analyst will use evidence from the text to support a thesis.

The Bigger Picture

Textual analysis will speak to the bigger picture, usually in the conclusion. Without generalizing or making sweeping conclusions about "society" or "the world," be sure to cover the text’s future or continuing relevance. Include this in your conclusion, alongside other avenues for future analysis. Remember: the bulk of your essay is meant to contribute to the conversation on the text.


textual analysis Present Your Evidence StudySmarterState your case, present your evidence, Flaticon.

How to Write a Textual Analysis Essay

Approach your textual analysis from the top down. Is the text you are analyzing nonfiction or fiction?

Nonfiction: any written work that is about facts and true events.

Examples of nonfiction include memoirs, diaries, autobiographies and biographies, scientific papers, news articles, journals, and magazines.

Fiction: any written work invented by someone's imagination.

Any work that includes an imagined reality is a work of fiction, including any work that includes imaginative elements such as historical fiction.

Other fiction examples include novels, novellas, short stories, fables and myths, epic poems and sagas, and many screenplays and scripts.

Once you know whether the written work is fiction or nonfiction, move on to your analysis.

Philosophical, religious, and spiritual texts blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction because reality itself is disputed in these types of texts. Analyses of these highly contended topics are often found in writing assignments because there are many aspects that can be questioned.

How to Analyze Nonfiction

When analyzing nonfiction, you are more likely to focus on the who, what, when, where, and why of a text. This is because nonfiction deals with the realities of the world.

Your analysis of nonfiction could be very simple and draw close comparisons to an explanation. However, if you are writing an essay, your analysis will be more complicated because you will be using objective realities, facts, and evidence to support a conclusion.

You would analyze the who, what, when, where, and why of a climate report to support your thesis that America needs to address global climate change.

When analyzing nonfiction, you will also analyze the author’s rhetoric to explore how.

Rhetoric: the convincing way an author makes a point. It can also be described as a rhetorical mode.

Some examples of rhetoric that a nonfiction author might employ are classification, illustration/example, analogy, classical appeals, lines of reason, and objective description. You should analyze multiple rhetorical modes to be as convincing as possible.

How to Analyze Fiction

When analyzing fiction, you are more likely to focus on how a text conveys an idea. This is because a writer has invented all aspects of the story. The story the author has written has its own answers to the questions "who?" (the characters), "what?" (the story), "when?" (the period), "where?" (the setting), "why?" (the themes), and "how?" (the narrator).

Textual analysis Exploring a fantasy StudySmarterExploring a fantasy text, Flaticon.

So, when you unpack the how of a piece of fiction, you are unpacking an entire fictional reality as well. Every aspect of this reality has been constructed by the author using words. This leaves a lot for you to analyze, including the author's relationship between their own reality and their fictional reality. Textual analysis is really like exploring an all-new world!

When analyzing fiction, you should analyze the author’s rhetoric and whether the author's choice of rhetorical modes is effective. Some examples of rhetoric that a fiction author might employ are themes, mood, descriptions, specialized word choice, syntax, and narration.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Textual Analysis

Because textual analysis is such a broad category of writing, you will find that the strengths and weaknesses of textual analysis lie with specific textual analyses rather than the form of textual analysis itself.

When writing your own textual analysis, keep these do's and do not's in mind:

Do: Use Primary Sources.

A primary source could be the text you are analyzing itself or a review, article, or interview regarding the text written near the time the text was first introduced. Primary sources are a great way to understand the historical context of a text and will bolster your introduction and body paragraphs.

Do Not: Use Opinions as Evidence.

Your evidence should be objective and logical. Unless your thesis involves how well a text was received, people's opinions are not a great source of support for your essay.

Do: Cite your Sources.

When you are drawing a debatable conclusion, remember to cite your sources. Evidence is only helpful if it is verifiable.

Do Not: Try to Cover Every Aspect of the Text.

Focus on one or just a few aspects. As a student, you will never write a textual analysis, or even a history, that covers every aspect of a text. If you try, you will end up writing a bland, short summary or a history that probably adds very little to the conversation surrounding the text. Instead of analyzing all of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) at once, for example, analyze a few of Alice's encounters that show Lewis Carroll's love of numbers.

Textual Analysis: Example

Here is an example of how to analyze a short excerpt from a story, something you are likely to be asked on standardized and timed tests, as well as in your take-home essays.

In this case, the writer presents a textual analysis of a passage from the opening narration of A Christmas Carol (1843):

Text Passage:"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Textual Analysis:

In this passage, Dickens employs a curt style to set the tone for Scrooge’s own brusque ways. This brusqueness begins at the start of the narrative, in his abrupt handling of Marley’s funeral. Punctuation is an important part of this style, including the colon, which tightly and emphatically joins “dead” and “to begin with.” Frequent periods also add to this pervasive sense of finality. Dickens finally employs figurative language to drive the point home when the narrator refers to Marley being “dead as a doornail.” This passage directs the reader to think of Marley as gone and departed, the way that Scrooge does. This tactic of misdirection pays off with a surprise when the reader learns that Marley is anything but gone and departed.

In the example, the writer of the textual analysis has chosen to focus on the following aspects to analyze how the text was written and explain and uncover the author's meaning in the passage from A Christmas Carol:

  • Style
  • Tone
  • Punctuation
  • Figurative language

Textual Analysis - Key takeaways

  • Textual analysis is a method of studying a text in order to understand the various meanings by identifying the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a text.
  • The most in-depth form of textual analysis uses a thesis to explore not only the factual aspects of a text but also the disputed aspects.
  • Textual analysis will include context and summary of a text, a statement of intent, evidence from the text and usually other sources, and finally, a conclusion that notes the continuing relevance of the text.
  • When analyzing nonfiction, you are more likely to focus on the who, what, when, where, and why of a text. When analyzing fiction, you are more likely to focus on the how of a text.
  • For both nonfiction and fiction texts, you will analyze the author’s rhetoric to explore how.

Frequently Asked Questions about Textual Analysis

Textual analysis is a method of studying a text in order to understand the various meanings.

To write a textual analysis, consider the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the text you are analyzing. Analyze the structure, central idea, characters, setting, vocabulary, rhetoric, and citations of a text.

A textual analysis will:

  1. Summarize and contextualize a text.
  2. Include some sort of statement of intent.
  3. Provide evidence.
  4. Explain the text's continuing relevance.

Textual analysis is not a form of research, but rather uses research to analyze a text. 

Consider the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the text you are analyzing. Analyze the structure, central idea, characters, setting, vocabulary, rhetoric, and citations of a text.

Final Textual Analysis Quiz

Question

Textual analysis is a method of studying a text in order to _____ the author’s deliberate meaning.

Show answer

Answer

Understand

Show question

Question

"To accomplish its goal, textual analysis identifies the _____ of a text."

The what?

Show answer

Answer

Who, what, when, where, why, how.

Show question

Question

How does textual analysis differ from film analysis?

Show answer

Answer

Textual analysis is the analysis of the written word. Film is a visual media.

Show question

Question

An essay that aims to deconstruct a text is a piece of textual analysis.


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

A textual analysis will include some sort of statement of _____.

Show answer

Answer

Intent

Show question

Question

Does a textual analysis use evidence?

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

"In most cases, a textual analysis does not include an introduction and conclusion."

True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False. It should.

Show question

Question

How should you begin your textual analysis? With determining if your text is WHAT or WHAT?

Show answer

Answer

Fiction or nonfiction.

Show question

Question

When analyzing nonfiction, you are more likely to focus upon the who, what, when, where, and why of a text.

Why is this? 


Show answer

Answer

Because nonfiction deals with the realities of the world. 

Show question

Question

When analyzing fiction, you are more likely to focus upon the how of a text.


Why is this? 


Show answer

Answer

Because a writer has invented a whole new set of who, what, when, where, why, and how using the “how" of the text.

Show question

Question

Textual analysis often involves analyzing the _____ rhetoric.

Show answer

Answer

Author's

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Question

What are some examples of types of textual analyses?

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Answer

An Essay, a history, and a deconstruction are all types of textual analyses.

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Question

A textual analysis with a thesis helps us to understand the text with regard to a _____.

Show answer

Answer

Bigger picture

Show question

Question

What is nonfiction?

Show answer

Answer

Any written work that describes or comments upon true and verifiable events.

Show question

Question

What is fiction?

Show answer

Answer

Any written work that includes something invented by someone's imagination.

Show question

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