This is a popular question faced by most IB students: what makes a textual analysis good?
The key to acing any test or task is to understand how it works, and what it requires from you. And so, the same holds for writing an effective textual analysis: there is a method it too.
Understanding the method is equivalent to skipping a few steps along your journey. Otherwise, you will remain unsure about what you are doing wrong! Here are a few things you can do to ensure you hit the highest level, and get your skills on point.
1) Show your understanding of the text
How can this be done?
Right from the very beginning, in the introduction, show your understanding of the text. To do this with complete clarity, you will require knowledge about the format of the text. According to the IB board, the unseen texts you receive will not necessarily be limited to the following formats, but can include:
- political cartoons
- opinion columns
- extracts from essays
- electronic texts (such as social networking sites and blogs)
- brochures (such as public information leaflets)
- extracts from memoirs, diaries and other autobiographical texts
Supposing the text you receive is a print image (note: again, this is unlikely but not out of the question), for example, take this as a mere example of a text in general - an artwork/slogan produced by conceptual artist Barbara Kruger:
At first glance, you will already have gathered many points you can mention in your analysis. You can also, at first glance, use any extra information that is presented in the question, and apply it to display a more complete understanding of the text. For example, your first lines can be something like this:
The print image, I Shop Therefore I Am (1987) is the work of conceptual artist, Barbara Kruger - a visual text to demonstrate a statement regarding consumerism in contemporary society. The purpose of the text is to gather awareness and support against consumerism, by showcasing how it can in turn consume the self-identity of individuals.
Here, the main points are mentioned right at the beginning. This is a good way to propel the pace of your writing, and establish a tone that sounds well-informed. In addition to this, you can include any contextual or cultural references that might be related to the text.
For this, you can look at the time and place of the text's publication. For example, you can speak briefly of the effects of consumerism in America.
This will be easier if the question is mentioning the artist as American. However, you can always speak about consumerism in general, which also applies as the context! Any extra information in general, can also be mentioned in the introduction. These points will mostly be from your wider knowledge. For example:
The text borrows from the phrase, “I think therefore I am”, by French philosopher Rene Descartes, and thus might be implying that consumers in modern society have ceased to think about their situations and actions, or instead are reverting to the consumption of material goods in order to gain their sense of self-identity.
This kind of additional information is only good if it naturally comes to your memory - do not force it. The better way to include context, is to speak about the concept in general - in this case, consumerism.
Although Paper 1 is always a bit daunting because the texts are unseen, there is a method to each format - each type of text you might get.
It is good to know a little about each format, so you will not be repeating the same things in your analysis when you receive your texts. There are many smalls things you can note down about the texts, with a more extensive understanding of the formats.
The way in which these can be written down in an ideal manner, requires a lot of practice. However, you can get some additional guidance on this here, so you can gain a sense on how to proceed. In any case, put all of your practice to good use to really shine in this criteria of Paper 1 - because practicing will lead to more knowledge.
2) Give your analysis of textual features
Secondly, can we say that that the main thing in a textual analysis is your analysis itself? It is! There are many things you can analyse and evaluate, especially:
- textual features
- stylistic or authorial choices
As I seemingly love to repeat, the things to mention will vary according to the format of the text you receive. There will be textual features that are characteristic of each particular format. For example, if the text you are analysing is a magazine cover, textual features will include mastheads, pull articles, strap lines, etc. The more textual features you know, the better.
The text you see above is TIME magazine’s cover for their 2021 April May double issue. At first glance, we are able to ascertain that this cover is related to climate and the environment. Perhaps forest fires?
Aside from the context, can you pick out the presence of at least 5 textual features?
Textual features are a very essential part of your analysis. Why do you think the pull quotes are positioned above the title of the magazine? Why is the main image enveloping the whole cover of the magazine?
Authorial choices are important too. What is the tone being used here, and the overall attitude? Why could this specific artwork have been chosen for the cover?
Before you begin writing, create a mindmap with every detail you are noticing.
In addition to this, identifying any missing textual features can almost be as important as identifying the ones that are present. If an important textual feature is missing, it will be missing for a reason. Your ability to identify this will make your analysis well-informed.
One final thing you need to watch out for - the stylistic choices in the text.
- Stylistic choices are more nuanced, and requires a keen eye - you need to know the patterns to see how certain texts are defying their patterns.
For example, each magazine has a house style for it’s covers. TIME, as a renowned magazine has it's own distinctive style, of course. However in this image, the magazine has slightly altered it's usual house style with the re-positioning of their textual features, specifically in the masthead.
An observation such as this, about a textual feature, or an authorial or stylistic choice, also requires a very clear explanation from you, using evidence from the text.
This is why point 1 of this article - knowledge - is important for point 2 - analysis.
Although most students feel like they are not reaching their desired level for Paper 1 due to the structuring of their essay, I have to disagree. A slight lack of complete understanding of the format can actually be the biggest thing hindering you from a score above 16.
If you would like guidance on how to improve your analysis of texts, with strategies suited to your method of writing, get in touch with us here, and track your improvement!
Now, that’s not to say that structuring is not important at all. Although there is a very clear method to it that you are likely already aware of, you still need to display your critical thinking to organize the whole essay. Which brings us to the next thing you need to ensure you do for Paper 1:
3) Display effective structuring and organization
The structuring of the essay requires your analysis. Each textual analysis will have to be organised differently, according to it's requirement - the guiding question.
Before you begin writing, try to roughly organise how you will divide the paragraphs in your essay.
Once you start, give a clear and precise introduction. The introduction must address the key terms in the guiding question, as well as:
- a relevant and appropriate understanding of the genre, audience and purpose,
- any understanding you may have of a general, valid context, and
- a clear reference to what the rest of your essay is going to look like.
The next three paragraphs are going to make up the main body of your analysis. These paragraphs must be lengthy - understandably, - and showcase all of your knowledge about the specific point you are mentioning, as well as how it is being displayed in an interesting manner within the text.
You will also need to give your analysis about the desired or intended effect on the readers. The textual feature(s) you are mentioning in your paragraphs will surely be arranged in a specific manner to invoke a reader/ viewer response. Certain features might also have secondary purposes, in addition to the more obviously deciphered primary purpose.
Showcasing your understanding of all of this in your three body paragraphs is what will make your analysis truly insightful. It will showcase your ability to notice smaller details that are not visible at first glance.
And finally, the last paragraph will be your evaluation and conclusion. In the conclusion, you must:
- Briefly summarize the main points without repeating it verbatim,
- Give an insightful evaluation or observation if possible, to tie everything together, and
- Address the guiding question with confidence, while turning the question into your thesis statement.
Understandably, although the structure itself is clear, the execution of it can be slightly troublesome. The examiner will be looking at the presentation of your ideas, and how these ideas are organized effectively, and with focus.
This is also not an easy task that you can master in a day or two. If you feel like nudging - or pushing - your critical analysis skills, especially to structure all the points that you can see, the best thing you can do is to dedicate one or two hours of your week for your English Papers 1 and 2.
If you will like feedback on your writings, or guidance on how to jump from one grade descriptor to the next, get in touch with us here, and track your improvement. Or, even without more guidance, you will eventually start noticing patterns you previously didn’t notice.
The more you practice, the more your critical analysis will naturally improve.
For your writing itself, make sure sure to follow the usual procedure. What is the best procedure? This brings us to the next point.
4) Use the IB Structuring Technique
Yes - the PEEL technique is effective. Utilise the trusted technique, where you:
- provide the main point;
This can be anything - perhaps that a text is using a variety of persuasive techniques in order to be effective. Make sure your topic sentence is focused, and is concise enough to provide clarity for the rest of your paragraph.
- give examples of your point;
Here, examples are another word for ‘evidence’. Provide evidence from the text by mentioning the specific details or devices you have noticed from the text.
- explain why the evidence is necessary, or helps to validate the main point;
After providing the example, explain why you have chosen it to support your topic sentence. Giving an explanation and analysis of each device or technique that you are noticing elevates the presentation of your understanding of it.
- and link to the original point, which would be your guided argument.
It goes without saying that the conclusion is the perfect sentence to re-instate your main point, and give clear coherence to everything you have mentioned in the argument.
There is one final thing to bring your knowledge about perfecting a textual analysis at it's new peak - the words you will use to write everything down.
Language is one of the most important things to consider while writing the analysis - both the language of the text, as well as the language of your writing. The second one is what we need to master for the textual analysis.
For the Language criteria, there are two main things to ensure:
Make sure your writing is clear and concise. If each sentence has a clear purpose, then the writing will be ‘succinct’, which is the benchmark we are aiming for to score a Level 5 for this criteria.
Secondly, the register and tone of your writing should remain formal and objective, to present a well informed and neutral analysis. Straying from an objective tone can result in your analysis coming across as slightly biased, which can ideally be avoided.
There is one more thing to keep in mind, although it comes with practice. Make sure your writing is accurate, and pay attention to:
- spelling, and
- syntax (punctuation in this case, mostly).
Although the language criteria can only be perfected or improved with practice, you can improve your score almost immediately if you set aside a minute or two to proofread your analysis, and ensure everything you have written is accurate, clear and objective.
With these 5 steps, you can strive to score above a 16 with considerable ease! Scoring a Level 5 in all four of the level descriptors is not unheard of, all you need is a bit of guidance, and a gentle nudge in the right direction to make sure you are on the best path to improvement.
You can do it all on your own! But if you need a bit of expert feedback on your writing, or would like to get more clarity regarding your areas of improvement, get in touch with us here, and we will take a look at your writing.