Writing a textual analysis is not writing how you feel about a text’s topic, and it’s not writing whether you agree with the argument presented in the text. In fact, you can write a textual analysis about a text that deals with a topic you know little about or disagree with entirely.

When you write a textual analysis, you are writing to tell readers whether or not a text’s author effectively presents an argument. You will decide how effectively an author presents his or her argument by examining the techniques the author uses, explaining which ones work (or not) and why. To do this, you must first think about how these techniques affect the author’s intended audience and how they help to achieve the author’s intended purpose. Your analysis will be an explanation of how the author reaches that audience and achieves that purpose (or not).

In short, analysis involves thinking critically about how a text works (or doesn’t) and why, and then communicating that clearly.

Key Features

Based on Richard Bullock, The Norton Field Guide (NY: Norton, 2006), p.50

Summary of the text: Depending on how well known the text you are analyzing is, you will most likely need to provide a brief summary of it.

Attention to Context: Texts often exist as part of an ongoing conversation or as a response to particular events. Keep this in mind when analyzing a text; think about how those conversations or events influenced the author’s decisions about the text or how they influence the way the intended audience will feel about its message.

Clear Interpretation or Judgment: This can be achieved through a clear thesis statement placed near the beginning of your paper that includes your interpretation of what you think the text means or what its intended purpose was, how well this message is communicated, and how the author does (or doesn’t) communicate it.
Support for Your Conclusions: Because there is rarely just one way to interpret a text, examples of techniques and patterns from the text are good ways to support your claims.

Useful Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Is everything in this text clear to me (including words, expressions, references)?
  • What is the author’s purpose/audience for this text? How do I know that?
  • What techniques does the author use to get his/her point across? For example, does the author quote or refer to credible sources, appeal to the audience’s emotions, organize the argument in a particular way, include graphics?
  • Do I have a clearly stated thesis? Do I provide sufficient evidence for my claims?
    Are my readers likely to be familiar with the text I’m analyzing?
  • What do I know or how do I feel about this topic/author? How will that influence my analysis?