Friday, November 4, 2011

Writing Analytically: a Quick Review

Remember how I was complaining about how to teach larger essay structures and not use the 5-p essay format? Someone suggested the textbook, Writing Analytically, by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. I ILL'd it and need to give it back soon, so I'm doing a quick go-through, and hence, a very rough preliminary review for you all. In sum: I like it. It has a lot of useful ideas.

The drawback to a quick go-through, of course, is that I am seeing all sorts of useful ways of approaching analysis, and interesting ideas for restructuring assignments, but not really anything to throw in to the middle of a semester ---- it would be worthwhile to take the time of sitting down and reading it slowly and in depth while recreating a syllabus, or even for ordering and using in a course. I would get my own copy but I'm tight on money right now, but I'm writing up this post as much as a reminder for me as a recommendation.

So why is it useful? As people have pointed out in the comments of previous posts, college students don't really write classical rhetorical essays in their classes, and they will write essays in a lot of different disciplines besides English literature. I was mostly trained up in writing-across-the-disciplines myself, and sorta taught myself bits of rhetorical analysis and Toulmin, so the WAD argument (hehe, WAD! snicker) makes sense to me. (Side note: is this a West-Coast/East-Coast thing? A push away from classical or rhetorical and more of an emphasis on science/social science writing?)

The first chapter explains what analysis is and isn't, and claims that analysis can be broken down into 5 steps: 1) suspend judgment, 2) define significant parts and how they are related, 3) make the implicit explicit, 4) look for patterns, and 5) keep reformulating questions and explanations. Sound confusing? It is all explained simply and clearly, and gives little examples and activities for practice. It might be worth it to just photocopy it for your students and work that at the beginning of a semester, but chapter 2 is all about the "habits of mind" that prevent students from actually developing analysis in any depth. It is also useful --- though I don't know if assigning this to my students would actually produce good results. Hmm.

There are some really useful exercises in chapter 3: the toolkit of analytical methods. ---- Remember my little "pick the most important word in this poem" exercise? Well it helps somewhat, but only on certain assignments. This chapter has some more ideas for getting students to look closely at language: a paraphrase activity, a "notice and focus" and something called "10 observations on 1" --- I need to reread that to really grasp what they are getting at, but, remember, I am hurrying through the book. There is also an activity they call "The Method" (it sounds cool --- I need to do it while wearing Men in Black shades and an earpiece, no?) where you look at patterns, exceptions to patterns, and binaries.

Now, the authors claim that these toolkits and activities can be used in all disciplines, not just literary ones, and they have lots of great art history examples and a few history ones, but the book is very humanities-focused. I think these activities would go great in a literature course and I am assuming that learning the importance of close observation and understanding of patterns would help in more social science or science type courses, but I don't know that for sure.

The book also covers the basics of rhetoric and argument (warrants and claims) but as a single chapter or partial chapters that are examples of how to do analysis rather than the be-all and end-all of analysis. The second half of the book sets up a "process-oriented" approach to recursively inventing and refining a thesis and having the analysis shape the organization of a paper. It has interesting sections on moving between induction and deduction (defining these) and a nice explanation of the 5-p essay and why it is limited (and they call it Procrustean! I feel vindicated!). The discussion of paragraph structure and word choice is similarly focused around how these elements shape the analysis and the analysis shapes the form. Again, I don't know how well this kind of sophisticated and unstructured structure would work for my students here. I'm willing to try, though!

Part 3 is about using sources analytically in developing the research paper, which I haven't had to teach here yet. The ending has some grammar and style sections, so I guess you could get the version of the book with readings and use it as your main textbook.

Before I return the book I'm going to copy a few pages and see if I can throw some of the activities in my Stripey class, if not my comp class, if I can figure out how. I like the philosophy of this book and it has some inspiring ideas. Go check it out --- it might give you good suggestions for your intro to lit courses or regular lit classes in addition to freshman composition!


Sisyphus said...

PS don't mock me for posting a review on Friday night --- I have crap tv on and have been typing a bit during the commercials. I don't feel up to grading tonight after grading all day. So there!

PPS I didn't proofread any of this, so read it with charity (and while watching Law and Order/NCIS)

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

This looks useful---thanks!

Sapience said...

If you're seriously considering making it a book you use when you teach, contact the publisher and ask for a review copy. 95% of the time you'll get a copy for free.

Actually, I just looked it up, you can request a copy from this page:||9780495910084&Ntk=all||P_Isbn13&Ns=P_CopyRight_Year|1&N=+16+4294922390

They give you a choice of an electronic copy or a paper copy.

Stacey Lee Donohue said...

Yes, get an exam copy, Sis: easy to do. Or I'll just mail you one of the many exam copies I received. (There is also a version with readings, fyi).

I love the concept of the book, and many of the ideas, but I found it difficult to use most of the book in a 10 week composition class. I found myself creating assignments based on the ideas in the book, but not actually requiring that students purchase it.

JaneB said...

This does sound interesting, even though formally teaching writing is not in my remit...

Contingent Cassandra said...

Sounds interesting, and potentially useful (I spend a lot of time talking about analytical arguments being descriptions of the patterns in the evidence). I haven't heard of it before, and will take a look. Thanks!

(And yes, the publisher is unlikely to know whether you're "supposed" to be requesting review copies or not; if anybody does give you any flak, point out that you're on the market and considering texts you would use when you *do* have a choice. I've requested copies of anthologies in my field on that basis, even though I don't currently teach in my field, though I'm not sure I made my rationale explicit. Still, I felt perfectly comfortable doing so, and still do. The only thing i wouldn't feel right doing would be selling copies obtained that way.)