Analysis means breaking information into parts
Many people see analysis and synthesis as two sides of a coin. Analysis is breaking the idea into smaller parts and studying them one at a time. Synthesis is sometime described as putting the pieces back together, as studying how the parts function as a whole.
Margarita is looking very thoughtful. She has been asked to analyze a reading selection. She remembers that analysis means looking at the parts but she is trying to decide what this means with the selection she has just read. How should she begin?
Analysis and Synthesis in various fields of study
In Chemistry analysis takes place when a substance is analyzed to discover what element it is or is composed of. It might or might not involve actually breaking the substance apart into the separate elements. Water, for example can be broken into hydrogen and oxygen.
Synthesis, on the other hand, refers to taking a number of different substances (elements or compounds) and, through chemical change, form a totally different substances. Sodium and chlorine, for example, can be combined to form sodium chloride or common table salt.
In Literature analysis takes place when someone looks at different parts of the book separately. You might consider the setting, the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the narrator, the voice, the theme, the tone, etc.
Then, quite logically, synthesis would involve taking what you learned through the analysis and reflect on the story as the sum of all its parts.
In Biology a researcher might dissect an animal in order to better understand how it functioned when it was alive. We cannot, obviously, put the dissected animal back together.
But through dissection, we can learn information that allows us to understand living animals. Doctors must understand the parts of the heart and how the blood moves through valves to allow them to evaluate your heart problems.
In Psychology we are familiar with the term psychoanalysis. Technically this would mean studying all of your individual experiences (the relevant ones) to understand how these led to your psychological problems.
It is strange that many psychologists focus more on the analysis rather than on the synthesis, on using their insights to help the patient move on to a more “whole” life. Some, however, do focus on more “holistic” approaches.
Your Professor says “Read and Analyze this paragraph or article
Hopefully you now have some idea of what is expected. Before asking such as question, your professor has probably provided several examples in class. You missed them? Think about the word, analyze. You need to break something into smaller parts to understand it better.
Analysis of a Paragraph
If, for example, you are reading a paragraph that is trying to prove something or convince you, you should find these parts:
A main idea or the point the author is making.
There might be definitions, examples, or evidence
You might begin by identifying the main idea, the definitions, examples and evidence. Once you have identified them, you can decide which examples are relevant and typical, if the evidence is accurate, relevant and really sufficient come to the conclusion made by the writer.
Analysis of a piece of literature (novel or poetry)
Think how you have studied similar works in class. Does your professor normally analyze a poem based mainly on the themes, symbols, and meaning of the poem, on the meter and rhyming patterns, or on how representative it is for that time period? You should probably approach it the same way.
For a book, you might evaluate the setting (how it adds to the story), discuss the characters by describing their role in the plot, considering which characters are original and believable or and which are stereotyped. You might describe the dialogue and how helps you understand the characters or if all the characters sound pretty much alike. You might consider the plot and compare it to similar plots.
How can you use Analysis as a Verbal Processing Strategy?
Let’s imagine you are reading a chapter in Anthropology – or whatever you are studying and you just aren’t “getting it.” Let’s analyze the chapter or section of a chapter.
You will begin — just as we suggest in reading strategies — by surveying the chapter, looking for the main headings and subheadings and we try to interpret from this information what the section is about. Analysis of this data should first identify the main ideas. It is analysis because we are breaking the material into sections.
Then, in each section you read, you again look for a main idea and secondary ideas. As you get down to the paragraph level, you might see that this author has included long strings of facts on the topic that really don’t contribute to an understanding of the main ideas.
Will I need to use this kind of thinking on a test?
If your professor has mentioned the word “analyze” in class, especially if he has provided an example of how he would analyze something — You should expect test questions asking you to analyze something. You might try to write an analysis of material you are studying and go to your teacher. Ask if this is what he meant by analysis. If not, ask him to give you an example or show you how to improve what you have written. Spending time with your professor will be far more helpful than just studying the content of the chapter.
What is meant by analyze will depend on the subject you are studying and the approach taken by your professor. You may find essay questions that ask you to read a passage and analyze it in relation to a certain theory or approach to the subject. You could explain how the two approaches are the same and how they’re different. That’s a good beginning.
Poor Erik did just that. Along with his grade, a D, Erik found a note on the test saying “You need to do more analysis.” Erik is totally confused. What else can He do?
The professor is expecting Erik to do more original thinking, logical thinking, about the material.
Erik could use critical thinking and evaluate examples and evidence. He could point out that the conclusions did not follow logically from the information. He could point out that the reasoning was biased or based on unstated assumptions. He could say that the author included far more facts than were necessary to explain his main idea. Erik should also check his notes for an example of good analysis. Otherwise, it would be best to ask the professor to give him an example of the kind of analysis he or she is looking for.
Get the habit of analysis — analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
Analysis in your life
If you are having a problem, if your grades aren’t as good as you were hoping, then consider all the different factors that might be involved. Analyze each factor to see how it contributed to the problem and to see what changes you will need to solve your problem.
Poor grades, for example, might be due to poor reading or writing skills (you might use this website or go to a learning center for help). The problem might be due to poor time management. It might be due to poor test preparation. It might be due to your problems in taking notes during a lecture. Your problem could be related to hearing bad news from home that prevented you to concentrate on your studies.
Once you have analyzed the problem, you can see possible solutions.
After observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. — Buddha
The next section you should read is Synthesis
You might also be interested in Critical Thinking