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Analyze This?

July 18, 2013

Dear Writing Diary,

My teacher assigned an argumentative paper in which I’m supposed to summarize and analyze research articles that I have collected.  While this all sounds well and good, and I totally understand the validity of this assignment, the first draft I got back had comments like, “This is all summary,” and “Where’s the analysis?” I want to do well on this paper, and I thought I had analyzed the sources, but I guess not.

Also, I don’t know what to analyze about the information. It’s all factual, so how do you analyze information that’s already true? This whole assignment is turning into a mess, and I don’t have a broom to clean it up! Please help!


Ana Lyzer


Dear Ana,

To summarize your letter, you’re confused about the differences between summary and analysis. Trust me, you are not alone; figuring out the distinctions between these two ideas is a tough skill to master in the beginning. However, this is a crucial step in learning how to write an effective analysis and argumentative paper.

Let’s talk about summaries first. A summary is meant to condense material or rephrase what has already been said. In other words, a summary answers the questions, “What is being said?” or “What is it about?” For example, to summarize Harry Potter in insanely broad terms, Harry Potter, a boy wizard, defeats the dark wizard, Voldemort, with the help of his friends. Sure, there aren’t a ton of details, but it answers the question, “What is it about?” in certain terms.

Now, when analyzing, you’re breaking something complex into simpler elements then expanding upon that material. You should be adding new thoughts and making new connections within the material about which you’re writing. Keeping with the Harry Potter example, some motifs that recur in HP are good versus evil, love and friendship, coming of age, and making your own choices. In an analysis, you wouldn’t just list these qualities within the books; you would examine them, think about how they work together, and figure out their “so what?”, or their purpose/meaning.

In the assignment you described in your letter, in which you’re using research articles, you’re using the same idea as with Harry Potter but applying it to the articles. Are there any consistent themes in the research? Do all of your articles agree? If so, what does that prove? If not, what is the debate? Are you more inclined to agree with one side or the other, and, if so, why? Also, keep in mind that a lot of “factual” information can be skewed to make it appear to prove something when, in reality, it’s quite marginal. Be sure to reflect on what’s presented in the articles and make up your own mind whether it is valuable research or fluff.

Analyses are tough, so if you’re still confused about what to do, come by the University Writing Center! Our consultants would love to help you navigate the differences.

Much love,


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