How to Analyse in an Essay

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No matter what subject you are studying, at some point you will be asked to ‘analyse’ in an essay. This essay question covers a multitude of topics, from English to Medicine so learning how to analyse in an essay correctly will save you a lot of time and upset in the long run. The word ‘analyse’ will often be entwined with phrases like ‘Critical Analysis’ and ‘Using Supporting literature’. These phrases go hand in hand, and there will always be an element of critical analysis within analysis and supporting literature will almost always be used.

What Is analysis?

The act of analysing should always begin by breaking down your subject into its principal parts. Break down each contributing factor and think about how it contributes to the overall point you are trying to prove. Do this in a draft form at first, think about all your contributing elements and then think how you may be able to analyse them in a way that flows nicely together and forms natural links. Marks are often lost when ideas jump around and don’t seem fluid within an essay. Using signposting throughout your essay can help the flow seem more natural.

Consider multiple perspectives

It is essential that you look at the arguments both for and against your question. Think about how the contributing factors can either support or go against your point and demonstrate this. You may find it easier to use your earlier separation of contributing factors and break them into three groups – for, against and both.

The key here is to try to link these together and prove that despite a contributing factor going against your argument, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that your argument is correct (or not!). Remember to stay on topic and always relate it back to answering the essay question.

Ask yourself: What point am I trying to make and why am I trying to make it? Is it a beneficial use of words? Could I be more succinct or does the idea need developing more? There is no point having great ideas in your head if you do not translate these to the screen.

The importance of references

You will need to support your analysis throughout with academic literature; the best sources you can get will be in the form of peer-reviewed journals and books. You will need to find literature that supports what you are saying but also find some that goes against what you are saying and the key to scoring high points is linking these together.

There is a world of literature out there to search, finding sources should be easy enough to do, although a lot of time will be spent here reading this supporting documentation and learning from it. It is here your learning will develop into the field you are writing on.

Make sure to keep your sources as recent and relevant as possible. By searching through literature databases like this also helps you to find gaps in the literature which create excellent opportunities for further research. Mentioning a gap in literature is almost always required in research to demonstrate why the research paper is necessary.

Make the analysis ‘critical’

A common error and slip up where marks are lost is in providing a descriptive analysis and not a critical one. Avoid merely describing the contributing factors to what you are analysing and then supporting this by describing the literature. You must not merely state what has already been written by others; you must find what has been written by others and work out how this supports or goes against what you are trying to say and apply it. This may be in the form of a framework or theory or it may be primary or secondary research. Either way, the point is not to DESCRIBE the contributing literature and make sure you are APPLYING it in an ANALYTICAL way.

Getting started

Some helpful phrases to ensure your work is analytical may look like this:

  • The evidence suggests…
  • ‘name’ argues that…
  • X believes that, but Y argues that…
  • There is evidence to suggest X… but some of this evidence is weak…

Analysing in an essay will come more naturally once you have done it a few times. It will get easier, but rarely gets less time-consuming. Not factoring in the time it takes to search through literature is a common mishap with these essays and whilst the word count is sometimes shorter, do not be fooled into thinking this means less time should be allocated to writing it! Thinking deeply and really pulling apart your subject will help you in your overall learning and is where the top marks await you!


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