Content is made up of main idea and supporting information. There are some basic questions to ask in order to analyze how these two pieces function together, and whether they function effectively.
Analyze a text’s content when that text’s purpose is to persuade or inform. Questions about content fall into four main categories:
Relevance of Content
- Is the main idea generally believable? (note that this question does not ask whether you believe or agree with the main idea; it asks if the main idea is logically acceptable, so that even if you don’t agree, you can still see the legitimacy of the idea)
- Is the supporting content directly related to that main idea?
- Do the key supporting ideas relate to and build upon one another?
- Do the details and examples relate to the key supporting ideas and main idea?
- Is the content relevant and appropriate to the author’s purpose?
- Is the content relevant to and appropriate for the author’s intended audience?
Amount of Content
- Are there enough key supporting ideas to verify the main idea? (e.g., so that an argument is not based only on one reason or example)
- Are there enough examples to fully explain a key supporting idea as appropriate to the audience?
- Are examples detailed enough to fully explain a key supporting idea as appropriate to the audience? (e.g., are definitions or key words or concepts included if the audience might include members who are less expert in the field?)
If the main idea is that new hiring procedures need to be implemented in the workplace, the support needs to include many different reasons why, and each reason why needs its own supporting evidence. Just saying that such a move would increase employee retention is not sufficient support, although it is one good supporting idea that needs appropriate supporting evidence in itself with facts and statistics from valid sources.
Type of Content
- Is the type of content appropriate to support the main idea?
That’s the main question to ask about content, but evaluating content is more nuanced. Types of content may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- case studies
- experiment results
- expert opinion
- personal opinion
- interviews with people involved in a situation or issue
- personal experiences, anecdotes, stories
Since a text intended to persuade offers a logical argument, one useful way to evaluate the quality of its content is to ask what type of content you would need to be convinced of the author’s main idea, or at least to see the value in the idea. For example:
Main Idea: Although immunotherapy has produced some good results in fighting cancer, overall it is less effective than chemotherapy.
Appropriate Content: Content would have to include facts, case studies, and/or experiment results. If the text included only personal anecdotes to support this particular main idea, you might not be convinced.
Main Idea: The city’s board of education should institute an honors program not only for high school students, but for elementary and junior high school students as well.
Appropriate Content: Content would have to include case studies or statistics that showed that elementary and junior high school students benefited in different ways from having an honors program. Content might logically include interviews with students, parents, and teachers, but without case studies or statistics to prove benefits, the text would be mostly opinion, and may not convince a reader of the author’s main idea.
Since facts are useful in creating solid content, view the following video for a fuller explanation of fact vs. opinion.
Quality of Content
- In what type of source is the content located: a peer-reviewed journal article, a popular magazine, a self-published book, a blog, a website sponsored by an organization with a particular viewpoint? Content from a peer-reviewed journal should be of higher quality than content from a self-published blog post, simply because the process of peer review means that other experts in the field think the author’s information has enough merit to be published.
- Is the content accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
- Does the content consider the opposing viewpoint if there is a significant opposing viewpoint? If so, the content is likely to be balanced and objective, characteristics which contribute to good quality content.
- Is the content logically sound, without logical errors? (see the page on Analyzing Arguments/Logical Fallacies for a fuller discussion of how to determine logically sound content)
Point of View
Point of view relates to how the author presents their content. It’s the perspective the author takes on the content. Is the author passionate or dispassionate about the ideas being presented? Is the author’s point of view biased, because of conscious or subconscious preferences? Is the author taking a subjective or objective stance? You can think of point of view traditionally in terms of language, which also helps you identify the author’s engagement with and perspective on the topic—does the author use “I,” “we,” “they,” “one?” Determining the author’s point of view will provide you with additional insight into the author’s content and what the author thinks about that content. Point of view is not the same as main idea. The main idea is the concept the author wants you—the reader—to understand. Point of view is the author’s personal understanding, perspective on, and engagement with that concept. (Read more about how language helps identify point of view on the Language & Tone page.)
View the following video on point of view.
Based on your reading of “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen, consider the following questions about the article’s content and point of view. There’s no one right answer; answers will be based upon your interpretation. Once you have considered these questions, read one reader’s thoughts. (Note that there’s no question about logic – we’ll deal with that on the next page.)
- Is the main idea generally believable?
- Is the content appropriate to the author’s purpose and audience?
- Does all of the content relate to that main idea?
- Are there enough examples to fully explain and support the main idea?
- What is the main type of content? fact? opinion? etc.? Is the type of content appropriate to the author’s main idea, purpose, and audience?
- Is the content accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
- Is the content balanced—does it consider any significant opposing viewpoints?
- What is the author’s own point of view, and how does that influence the presentation of content?
The main idea may or may not be believable, based on a reader’s orientation and proclivity for taking action. The author relates ecological activism to activism that was intended to save human lives, and in some way one can argue that activism in regard to natural resources is akin to saving human lives. As a reader, I can see two different answers to this question—believable and not believable. The content relates clearly to the author’s main idea, purpose, and audience; he remains focused on supporting his main idea. The content is also appropriate to the purpose and audience, given that people who would read articles on the Orion site are interested in conservation and preservation of resources. There also seems to be enough content to fully explain the main idea and purpose to the intended audience. Most of the information seems to be opinion. The author does include factual information, with a number of percentages about amount of resource use and who is using those resources. However, I don’t know the source of those statistics, and it would be very useful to know the sources. Otherwise, I can’t tell if that information comes from valid sources, or even if the author made up the statistical information. So, I’m not sure about the accuracy of the information. Also, the information is not balanced in this article—there’s very little if any concession to an opposing viewpoint. That may be because the author is so passionate about the content. His point of view may be biased, especially when he states that “the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide.” For me as a reader, this pushes his argument a bit far. So, while I think that the article and the author’s viewpoint is different and interesting, I’m not sure how solid it is based on an evaluation of the content and his own, perhaps biased, point of view.