Why It Matters: Writing Workshop—Analysis and Synthesis

Old black and white photograph of women operating a telephone switchboard

Figure 1. Effective scholarship is often a matter of making connections.

Why Analyze?

In college courses, you will be asked to read, reason, and write analytically. Effective analysts can distinguish the whole, identify parts, infer relationships, and make generalizations. Those skills enable individuals to connect ideas, detect inconsistencies, and solve problems in a systematic fashion. Understanding what analysis is, how to apply it, and how to convey the results effectively will be invaluable to you throughout your college and professional careers.

Analysis is at the heart of academic work in every area of study. Literary critics break down poems and novels, examining how the different parts of the text work together to create meaning. Sociologists conduct field research to observe how gender roles influence pay discrepancies in developing nations, often arriving at policy recommendations that might result in more equitable arrangements. Business students scrutinize data on consumer behavior in different markets to better understand why some products fail in one place while nearly identical ones succeed in a different place.

Note that each researcher started with a question. The literary critic asks: how does this text create meaning? The sociologist wants to know: how are gender and inequalities of pay related to broader economic development? And the business student is trying to get a sense of what regional market differences might account for success or failure for a given plan. The work of analysis gives each researcher an opportunity to complicate their initial question, to compile useful information, and then to draw–or infer–some conclusions based on this new, more thorough level of understanding.

While analysis is the term we use to describe the process of breaking something down, say a poem or novel, a transcript of interviews with workers and business owners, or a regional market overview, this is not the only work we perform as scholars.

In an academic context, we are often occupied by a kind of transaction. As students we demonstrate our learning in exchange for credits, and ultimately we redeem these credits for a degree. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with learning for its own sake, without any broader framework of approval or evaluation, if you are working toward a degree it is helpful to understand why your professors value particular demonstrations of ability. In short, your teachers are looking for complexity and thoroughness in your thinking and writing. They want to see that you can propose and sustain a defensible line of inquiry, and that you can select and utilize appropriate evidence to support your guiding questions.

But how, exactly, do you utilize your material? Two complicating techniques that you can employ, and that will increase the complexity and credibility of your work are inference and synthesis. Let’s say that our hypothetical sociologist writes a draft of her paper that describes the types of labor performed by men and women in different lines of work in a recently urbanized region. If she categorically breaks down and examines in detail these differently compensated positions, we can say that she has performed an analysis. However, if she cites her interview transcripts and argues that her subjects are implying that pay rates in newly established professional settings should be based on “traditional” pay rates from earlier forms of gender-segregated agricultural labor, then she has inferred this is an unspoken framework of inequality in need of more scrutiny. Her inference has complicated and built on the existing analysis. If she goes on to find similarities in this notion of “traditionally” gender-based pay discrepancies among company mission statements, her interview transcripts, and studies conducted by other sociologists in other developing countries, then she has synthesized these different viewpoints and sources. This will also demonstrate a more thorough and credible thought process, and one that is valued within her chosen academic discipline.

As we work through the next few pages you will have an opportunity to consider how analysis, inference, and synthesis can work together. You will also get to test your own ability to identify these concepts in action, and to practice applying them to a scholarly essay.

Writing Workshop: Your Working Document

Every component of the working document will be introduced throughout this module in a blue box such as this one. Open your working document now and keep it open as you progress through the module.

  1. Go to the assignment for this module in your LMS. Click on the link to open the Working Document for this module as a Google Document.
  2. Choose “file” then “make a copy” to make your own version of the document. If you prefer to download it as a word or other file, you may.Screenshot of the file, make a copy, button inside of google docs
  3. Rename it as “YOUR NAME: Working Doc – Writing Essentials” and move it to a folder where you can easily find it.screenshot of copy document and renaming settings inside of google docs
  4. Next, go to the sharing settings and change it so that “Anyone with the link can comment.” This will enable your instructor to make comments on the document.Screenshot of GoogleDocs sharing settings set to "Anyone with the link can comment"
  5. Now hold onto this document—we’ll need it soon! (You’ll submit the link to your instructor once you’ve completed the Writing Workshop activities).


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