This week, Insight writer and English teacher Anja Drummond shows how to make the step from simply retelling your texts to analysing them.
How many times has your teacher written ‘this is simply recount’ or ‘stop retelling the story’ across one of your essays? For both text response and language analysis tasks, students often make the mistake of narrating or describing what is written in the original text, rather than providing an analysis of how it is written. Read on to understand how to avoid falling into this trap.
What is recount?
A recount is simply an account of what has happened or what has been said. For example, a recount of the opening of the play Medea would read:
The prologue of Medea begins with the Nurse. The Nurse, who is loyal to Medea, laments Jason’s recent decision to leave Medea and marry the princess Glauce, calling his decision a betrayal and labelling it ‘criminal behaviour’. The Nurse is so angry with Jason’s actions against her mistress that she declares ‘death’s not good enough for him’ and labels him a traitor.
Similarly, a recount of a persuasive text will simply repeat what is being said. Here is an example based on Section C of the 2017 VCE English exam:
Walker shows all the ways that Spire Primary School leads in ‘areas that affect the preservation of our planet’, explaining that it is ‘the only school’ that has initiated a range of environmental programs like having ‘four different bins for our waste products’.
What is analysis?
When you are asked to analyse, you are being asked to provide a detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. For example, if you were a geologist you might analyse a rock to understand which minerals it is composed of; or if you were a pathologist you might analyse a person’s blood to identify which bacteria are present. It is the same with a written text or a film: you analyse how the author, playwright, biographer or filmmaker has put the text together to create meaning.
What do I analyse in a text response?
To write a strong text analysis, you need to have a good understanding of the textual features that have been used by the creator of the text. Typically, this will include literary techniques such as figurative language or symbolism, and narrative elements such as plot, structure and characterisation. These elements are carefully selected and deployed by the text’s creator for a purpose, such as shaping our perception of a character, prompting us to reflect upon an idea, or positioning us to accept certain views or values. Let’s look back at the Medea example above, but this time we will include some analysis.
Through the Nurse’s comments in the prologue of the play, Euripides immediately positions his audience to view Medea as the victim of her husband’s crimes. Although the Athenian audience would have viewed Jason’s ‘criminal behaviour’ as quite normal and acceptable according to their societal standards, the comments of the Nurse highlight that Medea, who has sought ‘to please her husband in all she does’, now suffers terribly. Such comments prompt the audience to sympathise with Medea’s plight and thus concur with the Nurse when she declares that ‘death’s not good enough’ for Jason.
Note how this paragraph utilises similar evidence to the earlier example, but infers meaning and makes observations about how and why the text has been written in a particular way.
What do I analyse in an argument analysis?
Just like a text response, an argument analysis requires you to analyse how and why the text is constructed in a certain way. You therefore need to identify the range of persuasive techniques that the writer or speaker has employed, as well as specific word choices they have made, and explain how these language features support the writer’s argument and their broader purpose. Thinking about Section C of the 2017 English exam again, here is what an analysis should look like:
Recognising that her new proposal for change may meet with resistance from the school’s parent community, Walker seeks to generate positive feelings regarding changes already implemented by the school. Walker lists the many ways in which Spire Primary School has been able to ‘affect the preservation of our planet’, such as having ‘four different bins for our waste products, not just three’ and a vegetable garden that is ‘truly organic’. She thus encourages parents to feel a sense of pride that their children have been able to ‘lead and inspire’, just as the school logo claims.
Notice how this paragraph focuses on the writer’s purpose and the likely effects of their language choices. Keep asking yourself ‘why is the writer doing this?’, and you should be able to avoid slipping into recount.
Practise, practise, practise
If you are not a strong writer, the skills of analysis may take some time to attain. Don’t expect to be able to get it right the first time for an entire essay. Instead, complete small exercises. Choose a short passage from your text and have a go at writing a paragraph of analysis. Give it to your teacher, ask for feedback, and keep at it! With practice, analysis will become an innate skill rather than something you have to consciously think of, and from there, everything will be easier.
Not sure how to approach your text essays? Insight has at least one Insight Sample Essay for each List 1 text and List 2 text pair. Each high-level essay features annotations and assessor comments identifying the elements of the essay that work and areas for improvement, as well as tips on how to approach the essay topic and appropriate strategies for analysis, all from just $3.95 (digital) or $7.95 (print).
Photo credit: Roman Samborskyi/shutterstock