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Analyzing an Article


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 Analyzing an article, e.g., from a journal, magazine, or anthology, is quite similar and yet different than the analysis of a personal essay or memoir. A variety of assigned writing analysis is effective because students will engage far more than literary works or fiction in the majority of their classes. Teaching a one semester writing course is wrought with difficulties because incorporating argumentation and the varieties of analytic papers is too much for the students. Ideally, we would assign an advertisement, a journal or news article, a persuasive paper, fiction (cultural, historical educational, scientific), a personal essay, and an argumentation assignment. However, to teach them:

In the portable anthology, titled 50 Essays, 2nd ed., edited by Samuel Cohen, an article titled “Television: The Plug-In Drug,” by Marie Winn, is included. Her argument is described by the editor as sophisticated; an assessment with which I concur. To analyze this article, it must be first logically broken into parts, related and unrelated, capturing major quotes (claims) and contextual quotes (evidence or supporting arguments). Assumptions, if any, should be identified and evaluated for questionability or falsity. Analysis of an article requires asking of the text a number of the questions posed previously, for example:

ü What are the claims of the author?

ü What evidence is offered in support of the claims?

ü Is the evidence credible?

ü What counter-arguments are available concerning the claims and evidence?

ü Are the claims and evidence logical and rational?

ü Are there assumptions that can be questioned?

ü What are the values raised and the importance of the values?

ü Are there lines or phrases more quotable than others for their unusual impact?

ü What important issues are raised or implied?

In this way, we can study the text, context, and the relationships of each to each other, using the above questions to find useful textual quotes or paraphrases. Depending upon what is found during this study. The following outlining, created after evaluation of the text, is offered as an initial method of organizing an essay to be written:

Facts

MQ – “Through the changes it has made in family life; television emerges as the important influence in children’s lives today” (439).

Context:

Predictions – “ ‘ Television is going to be a real asset in every home where there are children,’ predicted a writer in 1949’ “ (438).

“ ‘ Television will … change your children’s habits, … a wonderful improvement,’ claimed a [] commentator” (438).

“ ‘ …[T]elevision has brought the family together in one room,’ wrote The New York Time’s … critic in 1949” (438).

Early images “… photograph or illustration showing a family sitting together before the television set” (438-9).

At first, “… television sets were enormously expensive …” (439).

Early study of tv effects on children:

“ ‘Television always enters a pattern of influences that already exist: the home, … peer group, school, church and culture generally’” e.g., “if the child’s home life is all right, parents need not worry about … too much television watching” (439).

Pt II of article: The Quality of Life

Author’s claim – it has … kept the members of the family from dispersing.

Destroys special quality that distinguishes one family from another – what they do together

Ideas

Lesson: Television will be an amazing improvement to improve the togetherness of families.

Ideas: Values (family values)

Family togetherness

Good rearing of children

Love and caring relationships

Communication intra-family

Learning together

Education of children

Pathos – emotions – happiness of family – Result of expense of tv sets – fewer families have them

Opposing implications –Children outside playing, reading, listening to radio, activities with families

Slippery slope reasoning

“pattern of influences” are separate, decentralized, engage the mental skills of the child/person where tv does not/is not.

Fails to define what is “all right”

Centralized and sedentary inactivity of tv watching interrupted healthy cultural influences of outside and family activities

Tv “transformed” the culture. Claim – in home together – false – dispersal in home to different rooms with diff. tvs.

Destroys culture of family – deprives individuals of emotional results of doing things together – learning, competing, activities, traditions, stories.

The above outline is partial but depicts the sort of analytic ideas and statements and arguments made by the author. An entire outline was not done so that readers can practice the process and take the analytic reasoning further.

The thesis which ends the first paragraph may be one or more sentences but should be clear and persuasive. A thesis includes context, subject(s) and claim(s). Context is not the text author’s name and work title. Nor is it a summary of the text. It is a brief summation of the facts upon which the essayist bases an analysis. For example, “Racism in a family … .” These four words are all that is needed to establish context for a thesis. No lengthy descriptions or summaries are necessary. It may be similar to the context of the primary text but may demonstrate a bias toward the analytic ideas of the essayist.

The subjects share with the essayist’s reader the primary factual basis for the analysis. For example, “ … comprised of a Negro father’s racism, a mother’s acceptance of others because of her faith, and the confusion caused the children by the conflicts caused by racism …”. This is the subjects part of a thesis. The claim sentences need to be persuasive for a strong thesis. Copy the claims from the body of the essay and paste them into the thesis then emend it to conform with the context and subjects. Using the above claim, this might be the result:

“Racism in a family comprised of a Negro father’s racism, a mother’s acceptance of others because of her faith, and the confusion caused the children by the conflicts caused by racism is destructive for all involved but the havoc the conflicts wreak can be reduced with Christian brotherly acceptance or by making the choice that all are to be treated as equals.”

Writing the essay follows the writing suggestions discussed in other sections. The basic structure of analytic paragraphs should include (subject to acceptable individual writing devices, ideas and methods that further analytic writing):

  • A claim informing the reader of what argument is made within the paragraph.
  • A primary or major quote or paraphrased text upon which the discussion will be premised. The factual sentence must be properly cited.
  • The lesson or purpose of the primary quote or paraphrase. This may take many forms, e.g., “The lesson is …,” “The writer is teaching the reader that …,” “The reader learns that …,” Readers are taught … .”
  • Discussion – these sentences combine the issues to be discussed or analyzed with the contextual matters (quotes – whole or partial,, or paraphrases) and demonstrate how the issue and context is related to the major quote.
  • A concise conclusion written in declarative form.

A student came to me and showed me her outline, which was well structured and organized but she had inserted facts in the left side and then summarized the meaning of those facts on the right side. When she wrote her essay, she combined summary with facts, generating no ideas or analysis. This resulted in her failing grade. When I demonstrated for her how to include her ideas in the outline and showed her how that would change the sentence formed from the two, she understood immediately how she had erred. Facts and summary produce a summary essay, not an analytical essay.

Using parts of the outline from above, we can examine how analytic sentences with proof of textual evidence as support can be generated.

Facts: Ideas

Early images “… photograph or illustration showing a Pathos – emotions – happiness of family –
Result of family sitting together
before the television set”
(438-9).

At first, “… television sets were enormously expensive
... (439) e
xpense of tv sets – fewer families have them


Opposing implications –Children outside playing, reading, listening to radio, activities
with families

Slippery slope reasoning

The use of this part of the outline is to demonstrate how the textual parts relate to each other and what they demonstrate in reasoning. The following sentences might result from the use of these facts and ideas:

The idea that a family will find togetherness and happiness because a television set will cause them to father in one room of the house (438-9) is slippery slope reasoning because the argument maintains that
a relatively small first step (buying a television and putting it in a room) inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact, e.g., family togetherness and happiness. The problem with this reasoning is that televisions were “enormously expensive” (43) so few families could afford them. As a result, few families had the so-called opportunity of gathering in one room and the remaining families, the majority of the population, continued their usual life, children playing outside, inventing games and being physically active, gathering over meals, and their usual family activities.

Additional outlined information is –

Facts Ideas

‘Television always enters a pattern of influences that “pattern of influences” are separate,
already exist: the home, … peer group, school, church decentralized, engage the mental skills of the
and culture generally’” e.g., “if the child’s home life is child/person where tv does not/is not.
all right, parents need not worry about … too much
television watching” (439). Fails to define what is “all right”
Centralized and sedentary inactivity of tv watching interrupted healthy cultural
influences of outside and family activities

Examination of these facts and ideas might produce the following:

Of those that could afford the expensive televisions, the reported “patterns of influence” are negated by the words of the argument, which merely recite pre-existing circumstances that the person who claims such are argued to be unchanged: “… the home, … peer group, school, church and culture generally” (439), however, the claim is arguable because watching television does not stimulate physical activity, reasons to be active playing outside, or the stimulation of friendships, mental challenges of conflict in relationships and daily life, and television separates the relationships normal in American culture at the time. People may stay home from church to watch a program, cancel neighborhood visits to watch television, and live a sedentary couch potato life instead of moving about, creating things (woodwork, and improving the home. The influence of the television is to create a sedentary existence, with family members uninterested in a particular program, separated from the rest of the family. Rather than centralized activities, it decentralizes family and changes their daily cultural life.

From these parts of the text and the ideas generated by a critical thinker, a few paragraphs of analysis can be generated. Students from previous years have reported to me their successes from using this outlining process of organization, slightly modified for a specific course, to produce essays that obtained them grades of “A.”

From my experience analyzing facts and law in hundreds of legal cases in the past three decades, I learned to create the brief description of my argument in an introduction by writing the body of the legal brief first. The process generates the basis from which the student creates their thesis. The paragraphs give the student insight into what their context is, what subjects they specifically discussed and what claims or arguments they discussed. As a result, I teach my students to write their thesis after writing the body of the essay. This is a concept entirely alien to most students composing essays. In high school and in college preparatory classes they were taught that to write a thesis driven essay, the student must write the thesis first and then, and only then, compose an essay based on the format of the concepts in the preconceived thesis. In motion briefs in law, the introduction is in the statement of the case and the first paragraph of the section of the brief titled “Argument and Law.” As a lawyer, you are attempting to persuade the court to rule in your favor so dramatic prose is entirely appropriate so long it does not misconstrue or mislead. On the other hand, some legal discussion necessitates the use of the applicable highly technical or legal terminology because to do otherwise would reduce your possibilities of winning the argument.

When we discussed the concept of combining analytic ideas with examples of textual evidence in class early in the semester, students said this process often produced uncertain or vague thesis, the argument or support for which was changed and strengthened as they wrote the essay. “The problem was,” they said, “that the content of the body paragraphs rarely looked anything like the preconceived thesis and they had to modify the thesis to conform with their essays.” This problem is a large part of the reason I decided to teach them to write their thesis only after writing the body paragraphs. Once this idea was employed, the students discovered they could write a strong thesis, supported by the essay body, the first time it was written. Of course, this presumes the students remember to write the thesis properly, using their context, their discussed subjects, and their claims. Doing so is the subject of a separate class.

A sample of a student’s work, reprinted with permission, is often the best way to show, not tell, students how to apply the discussed outlining, format and structure.

 

Pushing for True Freedom

Locked and Loaded,” written by Barton Gellman, is an article in Time Magazine designed to spread awareness of the camouflaged and silent militias who live among us and to persuade the American public that some of these militias pose a danger to us. [essay context] Currently most militias come in two forms, freedom fighters and hate groups. [subjects] These militias are categorized as dangerous or benign depending on their unpredictable and violent behavior. [claims] However, these militias are not illegal, for their existence is protected under the First and Second Amendments. A militia is a necessity for the protection of a free people; a free people must retain the right to form, protest, demonstrate, and bear arms, in order to secure inalienable rights for freedom but must be willing to suffer limitations of some rights or, ultimately, perhaps sacrifice rights to ensure protection from criminal elements.

The Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, must be active to secure the freedom of American citizens, however, the Amendment must not be abused for if the right to possess firearms is abused then American citizens are put at risk. It is a two-faced Amendment, promising the militant power of Americans in times of domestic threat although it also raises alerts within law enforcement for dangerous militant abusers of those rights. Active militias with the intent to spill blood without rational negotiation are classified as a threat and must be eradicated to maintain peace. Upon discussing the Ohio Defense Force, Gellman emphasizes, “What distinguishes groups like this one from a shooting club or a re-enactment society is the prospect of actual bloodshed, which many Ohio Defense force members see as real” (Gellman 26). The Ohio Defense Force is an example of a militia abusing the right to bear arms. Groups like this raise suspicion since they actually train for militant procedures “… in and around the abandoned Roseville State Prison” (Gellman 26).

Reasons for the military-style training are unclear, raising even more caution. Yet when questioned about the procedure few group members, “… voiced grim suspicions about President Obama and the federal government in general” (Gellman 26). The suspicions are ill-formed; based upon irrational prejudices and conspiracy theories such as Obama is a “black man,” (he’s ¼ African-American) “a Muslim” (he had a Muslim father but is a Christian), and Obama is secretly in cahoots with Islamic radical extremists to operate in the U.S. while the President orders U.S. troops not to interfere. No facts are offered to support these bias-based fears and none can be found. Americans fear irrationality and bizarre mentation that exhorts violence without just cause.

Interestingly, the Ohio Defense Force is not the only group harboring these types of beliefs. Certain threatening militias even adopted the “Obama factor,” (Gellman 28) belief that Obama is an ineligible president, in order to rationalize their personal anti-governmental plots. Other militias simply adopted the Obama factor without even believing it. In circles like these, the common motto is that, “[a] patriot only needs a cheap little pistol and the guts to use it” (Gellman 32). This raises concern since beliefs like these paired with the beliefs about the Obama factor strike as sudden danger, as they hint at imminent or threatened action.

These ideas have been embellished into governmental plots to declare total power over people, such as to declare martial law, abolish private ownership of guns, and force dissidents into FEMA concentration camps (Gellman 28). None of these irrational ideas are based upon facts discovered by investigation; they are purely the products of anxiety and fear that is irrationally predicated. Misconceptions fed to the ignorant are fabricated and may become dangerous when acted upon for the result may be terrorist schemes and the injury or death of innocent people.

Mentally twisted self-proclaimed patriots pose threats to the freedom and lives of citizens, even though the militiamen believe their efforts are justified and necessary to protect our freedoms. Many “twisted patriots,” (Gellman 27) individuals who describe themselves as patriots, are connected by the ideology of resisting the possibility of despotism by militant force rather than the democratic process. Gellman writes of twisted patriots: they emphasize resistance to Tyranny by force of arms and reject the idea that elections can fix what ails the country (Gellman 27). This is not the proper way to go about the law. Vigilante ideals, criminal and dangerous, are viewed by the militia as above the law, while our just legal system and law enforcement should view their ideas and proclamations as dangerous threats and evidence of criminal conspiracy. The right to bear arms does not give American citizens the right to take the law into their own hands. Such actions represent anarchy, because a so misguided person would pursue that which he finds to be just, overlooking the health and welfare of American citizens, personally utilizing the rights granted under the First and Second Amendments in an illegal and improper way while at the same time denying these same rights to other American citizens. That is a free country but a misguided militia would cause limitations of our freedoms, a result contradictory to the intent of our founding fathers. Not only do these ideas deny the terms of the social contract, they invoke personal gain versus general public freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness, which was the intention of the writers of our American Constitution.

Abuse of power to access weapons and bear arms leads to corruption of power and ultimately creates a menace within our American society. One of these menaces is known as James Cummings, an American citizen possessing deadly chemicals including uranium and thorium, with unknown intentions. Cummings had the ability to obtain uranium, thorium, and beryllium, three very deadly chemicals, used to create a dirty bomb. Even so it is more frightening that the FBI did not pick up on him prior to his death. He was a serious concern. Michael Fadden, a police detective at Maine State admits, “James Cummings posed a legitimate threat of a major terrorist attack” (Gellman30). Unfortunately he’s not the only one. Many militias around the country are adopted violent themes, including the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. This absurd phenomenon has not been the case in many years, leaving the federal government venerable to attacks. Militias must be regulated to ensure the practice of freedom without allowing them to abuse their rights.

The United States of America is not a free country if only a few are free. America is based on the premise that we live under a social contract, meaning the ability to limit or sacrifice certain freedoms on both ends of the degree of freedoms we may exercise, to benefit and protect Americans from the dangers within.


Properly formatted, this is a three-page essay. The work is very good, and received a grade of “A,” as superior work, in the context of first year university students. The ability to take the ideas from an outline and combine them with facts is an important step in the use of the organization process. The goal of the process is not to limit the student in expression but to focus the expression of ideas to discuss the textual evidence and not generalities, commentary or summary. This allows the student to produce a close study of the text instead of generalities and vague references to society or the world.

Writing the textual analysis from a well crafted and detailed outline seems easier for students because the close study they have completed for the outline. However, students who believe this are not going to do as well writing the essay as they may believe. When the student is writing the essay is when creativity, passion for a subject and thoughtfulness and insight can be applied to the analysis.

The following is a student essay analyzing the author’s claims in Marie Winn’s, “Television: The Plug-In Drug.”

A Child’s Addiction: Television

“Television: The Plug-In Drug” is a section of Marie Winn’s book The Plug-In Drug: Television, Children, and the Family, featured in editor Samuel Cohen’s 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology. Marie Winn’s persuasive essay outlines the destruction that television brings to a modern family’s life. The advent of television has led to the splintering of families, the loss of family unity and rituals and poor child social education, all while consumers/users are oblivious of their addiction and its harmful effects. It is important to take necessary measures to ensure that a family becomes related strongly and maintain togetherness.

Marie Winn claims that the multiple television sets in the modern home lead to the splintering and separation of a family at different television sets (458,464), the loss of communication, family rituals (461), and proper child rearing practices (458). This can be prevented by the family only viewing one television set, limiting television time to a certain number of hours, censoring non-family friendly programming, and establishing a set time to play, read, and foster harmonious relationships between members. By engaging in insightful and meaningful conversations, participating in family games and working to settle conflict between family members, a family can grow and improve cohesion. Only one television existed within a household upon the advent of television, but by the year 2000, over 75% of American homes contained two or more television sets (458). Winn also concedes that a child’s television consumption has increased over the years (458). As children have learned to consume more television in order to appease their parents, the children have learned that watching is the important thing about television--not which specific channel or program is watched (460). It is because of this separation of family and loss of communication that the diminished family state invariably leads to familial problems up to, and including divorce (464-465). If a family will work as one and break the military scheduling of TV times and the constant presence of television in a child’s life by not utilizing the technology as a baby sitter, family harmony and unity will be restored (459-460).

The author claims that increased consumption of television and the lack of family communication disrupt traditional child rearing practices (458). This author learned that a child who over-consumes television has an increased likelihood of having no friends (459) and being incapable during social encounters (462). As a child grows, television diminishes the ability to learn from reality (462) and the ability to distinguish reality from television characters and personalities (462). A child has these difficulties because television characters act and react different than real people (462) and the lack of eye contact in the child-television relationship (461). Winn also cites a teacher who recognizes the inability to mobilize herself after watching television for hours (463). If a child’s television experience is limited, the child will have a much more enthusiastic and energetic attitude. With more time spent with friends and family, an adolescent is more apt to learn from traditional social interactions i.e. talking and playing. If social interactions increase, so will the number of friends. In turn, this garners the ability to excel socially and to be more mature. This writer learned it is important to regulate a child’s television viewing time to increase the number of child-human interactions and build a strong social foundation.

As a family engages in more television watching, the special bond which was created to make a family special deteriorates over time (462). If a family does not set aside time to work together and practice familiar rituals such as spontaneous activity, chatting and quarreling, a family loses its spark, its “ordinary life” (460). Winn claims that the increased consumption of television has led to the breakdown of certain family games and activities. I am reminded of a time when my father and I would take time out to go over the Bible and play special games, but Sunday church has become sitting on the couch and watching NFL games, and prayers are for the next touchdown- not salvation. A family that sets out a specific time to play games and to converse over the table will have a much stronger bond. Noting the changes through the decades, Winn cites a 1949 New York Times article, claiming that “television has brought the family together in one room” (457). This writer learned that television itself is not the root of all evil; it is a family’s reaction to and utilization of the technology. It is the decision to stay together instead of splintering- and the modern decision sadly being the latter. It is important for a family to spend time together away from the television and to foster harmonious relationships between its members.

Much like a drug, the addiction to television to the abuser is never apparent, and it takes a reexamination of self to determine whether television has created an unnoticed foothold in one’s life. To parents, television is a way to settle disruptive children and to “render kids untroublesome” (460). It is questionable or not television has the ability to settle unruly children, because all it provides is a distraction and the problem that caused the disruption remains unsolved and unaddressed, and it distracts the children at the cost of the loss of family unity and disrupting the opportunity to teach a child social competency. This writer has learned that many parents and teachers have come to believe that if a child’s home life is “ordinary” and not troubled, then parents don’t need to worry about a child’s excessive television watching. However, this is an arguable claim.

The reality is that while heavy users feel happier and more satisfied, the author claims that this kind of consumption creates family time “more passive and unchallenging—less satisfying in reality” (465). This claim is arguable because television viewing may lead to less disruption while children are watching, but at the cost of never knowing feelings and issues important to one’s child. The problem with television is that “the television experience is instrumental in preventing viewers from recognizing its dulling effects, much as a mind-altering drug might do” (465). A parent must not be oblivious and must be cognizant of the impact television has on one’s child. He must be ready to take immediate actions such as ensuring family bonding and game times, and talking while eating around the kitchen table to prevent the loss of family identity. If a parent can recognize the ill-effects of television and takes action to stop the harm being done, family life will greatly improve.

Television is the modern world’s most widely consumed drug, able to unknowingly decimate families and relationships, and ensuring that a child is ill-equipped for social interaction. Unless a family can recognize this fact and take preventative steps such as limiting television viewing hours, censoring certain programs, and participating in discussion over the dinner table, a family will be unable to grow and to be united. It is important to take steps to save families.

The essay, unlike an essay addressing cultural values, examines the claims and supporting evidence in an article which attempts to persuade its readers of certain positions. Textual analysis requires the choice of specific questions to ask of the text and the careful evaluation of the evidence. If you want to see the full outline, reverse outline the above essay.