The Insight blog is back for 2021! This year, we’ll be focusing on helping students in Years 9 and 10 develop the skills they need to achieve success in their English studies this year and in their future VCE English subjects. For our first post of the year, Insight writer and English teacher Anja Drummond offers her tips and strategies for approaching the study of media texts.
The ability to analyse a media text is an essential skill in the modern world. Having an understanding of the ways in which text creators seek to persuade us (that is, how they position us to agree with their point of view) allows us to become thoughtful consumers of media. Here are some essential first steps to help you begin to critically read and analyse media texts.
Identify the text type and the mode of communication
There are many different text types that you might be asked to analyse. These texts can use one mode of communication (spoken, written or visual) or they might use several (referred to as multimodal texts). Some of the most common media text types you will study in secondary school include:
- newspaper texts (e.g. news articles, feature articles, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, editorials)
- visual texts (e.g. photographs, graphs, tables, cartoons)
- radio interview transcripts
- television reports or documentaries
- online texts (e.g. blogs, petitions, issue awareness websites).
It is very important that you understand the specific ways in which the form and structure of these texts play a role in persuading the audience.
Understand the big picture
Before you begin to analyse the text, try to answer the following questions:
What is the issue?
When identifying the issue, try to be more specific than simply stating ‘sharks’ or ‘climate change’. Ask yourself what the point of debate is that has people divided, then phrase this as a question, such as ‘Is shark culling necessary to protect beachgoers?’ or ‘Should the federal government do more to address climate change?’
Who are the stakeholders?
A stakeholder is anyone who has a special interest in an issue because it will affect them in some way. This is a bit different from the audience of a text, which can include people who are not directly affected by the issue. Being able to recognise stakeholders can help you to identify bias in a media text.
Focus in on the text
Many students make the mistake of starting their analysis by only looking for persuasive language features in the text. While being able to identify those features is important, you also need to understand why those language features have been used to support the broader argument. To avoid this mistake, follow these steps.
Step 1: Identify the contention and intention
The writer’s contention is their overall argument. This can sometimes be the hardest thing to identify, particularly in texts such as editorials where the contention might not be made clear until the end.
You also need to identify the writer’s overall intention (or purpose). In other words, by the end of the text, how does the writer want the audience to think, act or feel? Knowing the contention and intention will help you with Step 2.
Step 2: Identify the supporting arguments
Think of supporting arguments as a journey that the reader is taken on to persuade them to accept and support the writer’s point of view. Each argument will help to advance the writer’s contention and achieve their intention.
Consider the issue previously mentioned: ‘Is shark culling necessary to protect beachgoers?’ If I wanted to convince the reader to support shark culling, I might begin by arguing that shark attacks occur too often, then claim that these attacks take a terrible emotional toll on the family of the victims, then conclude that the only possible way to prevent people from suffering in this way is to cull sharks.
Step 3: Identify how the writer constructs the arguments
It isn’t enough to just list the arguments. You also need to recognise how they are being made. This is the key to a strong analysis. Ask yourself some simple questions:
- How is the writer arguing?
- How are they using language to develop their argument?
- How does their tone change and what language choices contribute to any shifts in tone?
Consider how this could apply to the shark culling arguments listed above. The first argument might use a moderate tone and appeal to logic by relying on statistics and evidence. In contrast, the second argument might employ a more concerned tone and include emotional appeals and vivid imagery aimed at provoking the reader’s sympathy.
Step 4: Identify the effect of the language
A strong analysis must consider the intended effect of specific language choices. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why did the writer use this type of language?
- How did they want the reader to think, act or feel?
Ensure your ‘effect’ statements are meaningful by providing specific information about how a reader is likely to respond.
Consider this rhetorical question: ‘How many more families must suffer tragic losses before our politicians finally have the courage to act?’ A weak analysis might simply state, ‘The rhetorical question makes the reader think.’ A strong analysis would be far more specific: ‘The rhetorical question positions the reader to direct anger at politicians, whose continued inaction will lead to further suffering.’
Try to note down your own responses in the margins of the text you are analysing – this simple strategy should help you to recognise the effects of the language.
Just remember to keep asking three important questions – what, how and why – and you will soon become a master of analysis!
Looking for a resource to help develop skills in analysing media texts and presenting argument? Try Insight Issues: For & Against. Aimed at students in Years 9 and 10, Insight Issues: For & Against focuses on understanding and analysing argument and persuasive language, providing excellent preparation for senior English studies.
Insight Issues: For & Against is produced by Insight Publications, your local, independent Australian publisher.
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