Analyse sources and arguments
What does it mean to analyse something?
To analyse something means to examine it in detail, explain and interpret it. Analysing sources means examining their components like arguments, claims, reasons, methods and evidence, and explaining how they work together to make a point or an argument.
In the context of critical thinking, analysis is a key preliminary step before evaluation. Good analysis ensures that your evaluation is founded on evidence and understanding, rather than on first impressions or superficial reasoning.
Mastering analysis will help you better understand how the authors of your sources approach problems, use evidence and formulate arguments. It will also help you to identify trends, patterns and gaps in your sources or in current research.
To perform analysis, you need to interrogate a source, theory or a process from different perspectives, until you can explain how their parts work together, and how one source, theory or process is connected to others in the broader context.
- For example, to analyse a new method of extracting DNA from plant cells, you will need to identify the different steps in the process, and also understand why they are taken and how they contribute to the outcome.
- Alternatively if you are analysing an academic article, you will need to understand how the authors justify and develop their argument, and how they structure evidence and reasoning to make their point.
To improve your analysis, consider creating your own outline, summary or notes. They will help you to develop your own perspective on how the parts fit into the bigger picture, and to maintain your own clarity of thinking.
If you are analysing complex arguments or multiple sources, consider using tools like an analytical matrix or a mind map. If your project requires you to analyse a large number of sources or extensive evidence, consider analytical tools like NVivo.
An analytical matrix can be a useful tool for organising your analysis. It functions as a grid to collate notes and examine the parts of your sources in a more systematic way. Click on the information icons to see how a note-making matrix may be useful to your analysis.
A mind map is a visual outline based around a central topic or problem. A mind map can help you organise your analysis visually and prevent you from getting lost in the detail. Watch the short video below to see how a mind map can be used to help you analyse your sources.
When a task requires you to ‘critically analyse’ information, you are expected to do more than simply describe or summarise it. Communicating your analysis requires a combination of description AND critical interpretation.
In practice, this means creating your own argument that communicates your own conclusions based on your analytical questions and evaluation of arguments, evidence or methodologies. The argument synthesis process is your opportunity to demonstrate how rigorously you have considered the issue and how well you have synthesised your observations and conclusions.