Friday, April 21, 2023

What's it all about?

When I'm teaching students how to approach text analysis questions (like Paper 1 Questions 1 and 2 and Paper 2 Question 3), I often advise them to take a look at the bigger picture first, before diving into the analysis. So looking back at yesterday's blog about tackling the In Defence of Good Grammar article, I probably should have taken my own advice as I have definitely dived into that before discussing what it's actually about. 

One way of doing this is to have an initial read and just ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • What's it about? This might be as simple as identifying the specific language issue that's being focused upon and working out how that relates to the language study you've been doing on the course. 
  • What's it actually about? There's often a subtext to these pieces: something that starts with language but hints at a concern about something else - standards or fashions changing, young people doing something different to previous generations, a group in society having more prominence than they did a while ago, a technological change causing concern. Sometimes it's not so subtle - less a dog whistle than a miserable man in a suit, standing behind you shouting "I hate working class people and the way they use language". 
  • What is the point? This is where you need to get to grips with what views are actually being expressed. What's being said about the language issue/s? What opinions are actually being offered? Pinpoint some key parts of the text/s so you can come back to these and really pull them apart. 
  • Who is this guy? Who is writing this piece and why do they feel they have something worthwhile to say? At some point, you're going to need to look at how the text producer represents themselves to the reader and how they try to pitch their position to you. This is slightly more tricky if you're presented with a news or feature article, as opposed to an opinion piece as you might have to unstitch the different positions presented to you and work out what the overall picture is. 
  • Where is this leading? So, this might be the last big question to ask. Given that the article is about x and this writer is telling us y, where does that take us? What's the agenda? How might we be expected to react to this view? What are we expected to do about this knowledge we've gained? About this persuasion we might have undergone? This could open up a few points for Question 4 too because it might get you thinking about the evaluation you can offer here, the assessment of the ideas that have been presented. 

If you start with a few questions like these, then the analysis can actually be pinpointed a bit more closely on the really important parts of the text/s. I've tended to adopt a hotspots approach with these questions (and those on Paper 1) and having that bigger picture and sense of what's going in is vital when you're trying to build an analysis of the whole text rather than just isolated moments. 

Another way to do this is to produce a summary of the text. Imagine that you've just read the article and someone says "What are you reading?". You've got two or three sentences at most to explain what it is and what's being said. If you can't do that, then you probably need to go back and read again to unpick the information you need. 

So, why not go back to this post from a couple of days ago and try these approaches on the three texts I've suggested there? 

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