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Online Guide to Writing and Research

Thinking Strategies and Writing Patterns

Critical Strategies and Writing


Analysis provides the foundation for the other writing strategies. When we analyze, we break down a whole into its parts. Then we observe the relationships between those parts, and we put the whole back together again. This analyzing process provides a better understanding of the parts and the whole.

There are many kinds of analysis, but they generally fall into two categories:

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Comparative Analysis

When we analyze comparatively, we seek to understand something by comparing or contrasting it with something else. We consider the similarities and differences. Keep in mind, however, that comparisons and contrasts need limits.

A comparative analysis takes place within a larger category or frame of reference. This larger frame of reference is similar to the controlling idea we discussed in our earlier page on thesis statements. It keeps the comparative analysis focused on one overall topic.

For example, imagine you are writing a paper on narrative strategies in the novels of Toni Morrison. “Narrative strategies in Toni Morrison’s fiction” would be your frame of reference. You would look for similarities and differences only between “narrative strategies” and only within “Toni Morrison’s fiction.”

Cause and Effect Analysis

When performing this form of analysis, we determine how change happens. We identify causes and effects, and we distinguish between them. This is a more difficult category of analysis, as few effects have only one cause and few causes have only one effect. For this reason, framing your analysis becomes even more important. Your framing idea should pertain to either causes or effects. 

For example, imagine you are a historian investigating the cause of the U.S. entering World War II. This event, or effect, would be your framing idea or subject. You would limit your search for causal factors that moved the U.S. toward entering the war, and your final work would focus on a set of those causes.

You can also reverse the process above and make your framing idea a cause. Modifying the example above, imagine you are interested in distinguishing between causes for the U.S. entry into World War II. You might, for example, focus on the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. Your work would then consist of demonstrating the extent to which the Lend-Lease Act led to the U.S. entering World War II.


Key Takeaways

  • Analysis can include comparing and contrasting, as well as distinguishing between cause and effect.
  • When we analyze, we break down the whole into parts, much like building an essay.

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