If you think of the all questions that have come before this as an autopsy, than this Analysis question is like the trial. And just like a lawyer or investigator would do, you need to look at the evidence – in this case, your text extract – and ask three questions in order to interrogate it and get to the truth:
- What have they done?
What have they written about? What’s the meaning and purpose of the text?
- How have they done it?
What writing techniques have they used? Think of your figurative language techniques.
- Why did they do it?
What effect were they hoping to achieve? How do they want you to think and feel?
How do you respond personally to the text – was the writer’s intention successful?
You should be able to work out the explicit and implicit meaning of the text using your Critical Reading Tools.
But this question is focused more on HOW they’ve written the text, rather than WHAT they’ve written about.
We’re looking at what core techniques they’ve employed to convey the meaning.
Going back to the criminal trial analogy, think of all the following techniques as pieces of evidence in a crime! How many has the writer committed? Try to look out for these when you’re reading and see how many you spot.
If there are any terms you don’t know, write the word down on a revision card with a brief definition next to it, then regularly test yourself on your new words until you remember them.
When you’re asked to select three examples in the exam, don’t just write about the first three you see! Pick out the best ones – those know you’ll have plenty to say about the effect. Also, don’t set yourself an impossible task by choosing an obvious technique but then scramble to analyse the effect. So if you pick out onomatopoeia, for example, of course write about the sounds the writer wants you to ‘hear’– but why those noises specifically? How do they link to the meaning?
Look out for when writers vary the length of their sentences. Good writing has varied sentence lengths – it’s not just one long sentences after another! That would just be boring. Think about why they’ve chosen a short sentence after a few long ones – is it to emphasise a point? To shock the reader? To increase pace for excitement or dramatic effect?
If the writer has noticeably varied their sentence lengths, then comment on that as a technique and explain why you think they did it.
For extra marks in the exam, specify the sentence type.
Is it a simple sentence, a compound sentence, a complex sentence, a compound-complex sentence? Is the short sentence they’ve used actually a fragment sentence? It’s worth brushing up on these when you’re revising as it might get you a couple of extra marks!
The writer has chosen specific words and phrases very carefully – usually because they’re loaded with connotations which have a particular effect on the reader.
A word’s basic connotations are positive or negative, which is always a good place to start! But try to be more specific about the effect: does the writer want to make you outraged, or upset, or amused etc?
So if the writer uses quite a powerful and impactful word, cut it out of the sentence and hold it up to the light on its own; what other meanings can you see there? Does it radiate a particular emotion? Do you think the writer has consciously used these connotations to influence the reader some how?
“Child badly bitten by dog”
“Child savagely bitten by dog”
That subtle but effective difference is down to that hyperbolic word “savagely” which has connotations of a wild animal, something out of control, evil, and makes the image of the attack far more dramatic. Just from one word.
“Anger over exam grade boundaries”
“Fury over exam boundaries”
The second heading is more sensationalist because the word “fury” has more emotionally charged connotations; it implies people are besides themselves with rage, and encourages the reader to be outraged, too.
By showing the examiner you understand these techniques and connotations, you’re demonstrating that you can’t be manipulated by language and you can spot manipulation a mile off!
So by showing the examiner you understand these techniques and connotations, you’re demonstrating that you can’t be manipulated by language and you can spot manipulation a mile off!
Sounds also help to convey and emphasis the meaning of a text.
If you’ve noticed the writer has used lots of consonance, for example, that makes the writing sounds quite hard. Why have they chosen to do that? Do those repeated hard sounds create a sense of anger or aggression, because the author wants to provoke and antagonise?
And where assonance makes the writing sound soft, does that create a soothing or gentle tone to emphasise the sensitivity of the topic?
A really important thing to remember when you’re commenting on the effect of the language is to ask yourself DO YOU REALLY FEEL THAT?
It might sound like common sense, but lots of students in the exam will write something they don’t actually believe, but at least sounds good!
Make sure the effect you’re writing about is genuine. If you spot a word that evokes sympathy, ask yourself if you actually feel sympathetic? If a phrase encourages the reader to feel outrage – do you actually get that feeling? If so, great – just make sure you explain why and where that outrage comes from; either a memory or personal experience of a topic, or just from a broad sense of injustice you share, which you think the writer is relying on.
But if you’re honest with yourself and your answer feels a little contrived, then your examiner will think so too! You’ll get higher marks when your answer rings true and sounds genuine.