About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Teaching undergrads how to write an analysis.

My students have been accepted into our university through a competitive vetting process. Many are top in their schools which vary from large urban, to small rural, to large centralized rural, to small town, to well-endowed suburban. They are the product of the current testing environment of K-12 which in New York state means they have had to write essays since 3rd grade (whether it is developmentally appropriate is another question). So I would expect that they would have at least minimally good writing skills. While many are able to string together content in a grammatically correct manner, over the last five years I have noticed their perplexed looks when I ask them to write an analysis. They can report, they can describe, but they have not been trained to analyze and support their writing with relevant examples and content from assigned readings.

So this year, I decided I would teach all my classes how to write an analysis. This is the type of writing businesses are complaining graduates are lacking. After reading Deanna Mascle's lastest blog post asking what we as teachers are doing to teach writing, I decided to share the document I created to help explain to my students how to write an analysis. Feel free to share this.

How to write an effective analysis

An analysis takes concepts we’ve learned in class and the assigned readings and applies them to activities we do in class. In the analysis you will:

• Draw some of your own conclusions
• Support those conclusions with examples from the readings and your own experience

This is probably different from other academic writing you have done which either is a description or a reflection (your own opinion). However, this is a very important skill to have when you enter the workforce.


As you do the assigned reading for class, identify some of the key concepts from the reading. You may note these down on evernote, word, or a trello.com card. After you have completed the readings assigned for the analysis, review your notes. Are there any common themes? You may come up with 1-3 themes for the readings as a whole.

Example: Group development is difficult; communication can make or break a group; getting things done in a group is complex.

Once you have your theme, review your readings again and identify what the authors have written about your theme. Identify specific examples/quotes from the reading that discuss the theme and highlight them. Now reviewing the highlighted section, think of your experience both in class and outside of class. What conclusions can you draw about the content learned in class in relation to those themes you identified? You may find that the readings contradict themselves or your experience. What is your explanation for this?

Example: Teams that work on a structured task may not go through stages of development, but teams that are working on more social tasks will. According to Tuckman, our group activity should not have been easy to accomplish because our group was in the forming stage (one of Tuckman’s stages). However, we were able to accomplish it because we have worked on similar projects in the past. Our group was more like Gersick’s teams because our task was so structured. So the communication did not rely on our feelings towards the other team members but rather we shared specific information to achieve the task.
You should integrate all of the assigned readings into the analysis.

Some guidelines

If you use information from one of the readings, you should identify it (for the analysis you may, but don’t have to, formally cite the information, but you must identify the author’s name as in the example above*.)

1)Don’t describe or reword the reading. However, you may use quotes or identify concepts from the reading.

Poor example: (Don’t do this)
Tuckman’s 5 stages of group development are forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjoining. In forming, groups will introduce each other.

Notice this does not have any examples that demonstrates that you understand what happens in each stage, nor does it have any of author’s conclusions about group formation and communication.

Good example: (Do this)
Groups communicate differently as they develop as Tuckman observed. Our group started off introducing ourselves and tried to learn about each others strengths and weaknesses.

In this example, the author identifies Tuckman’s article and gives examples that support the author’s conclusion that groups communicate like Tuckman wrote.

2)Don’t just give your opinion. You want to put in your analysis, but your analysis should be based on experience and your understanding of the reading.

Poor example: (Don’t do this)
I think groups should introduce themselves to get the group going. We did this and it helped us to complete the activity.

There is no supporting information from the reading, nor is there anything about conclusions the author has made about group communication.

Good example: (Do this)
As Tuckman wrote in his article, introducing yourself to your group members helps to set the atmosphere for effective group communication from the beginning. Setting this atmosphere helps to establish trust. When we did our first activity, we started to create trust using the same methods outlined in Antony’s article (establishing rules for speaking, setting an agenda, giving due dates).

Notice how the author gives the opinion that setting the atmosphere created trust, but supported it with information from both readings and the group’s experience.

3)Make sure your writing uses college level writing standards including, making sure the paper is typed (double spaced), stapled or paper clipped, proper grammar, paragraphs, capitalization and punctuation. Also, you should check for spelling errors, sentence structure (no fragments or run on sentences). Any information taken word for word from a reading should be in quotes with the page number following.

Remember to put your name and the class number at the top. You may also want to number the pages in case pages fall off.

Getting Started

Often students ask me how to begin. One way to start your analysis is to develop a research question which your analysis will answer. It is possible that an instructor may give you the "prompt" to use, but most of the time we will only give you a topic. So take that topic and create a question that you think the professor or you want to answer about that topic. The best questions will use question words such as how or why. These question words will help you to write a paper that is more than just a description. You can also use that question to begin a conversation with your instructor if you are not sure you have understood the assignment. An instructor will know what you are thinking of if you bring a How or Why question than it you say simply, I don't understand the assignment.

For example: Topic is group communication in teamwork.

A good question: How does group communication help or hinder a team's work processes? Why do some types of group communication help a team to be productive and others hinder it?

A poor question: What is good communication? Does group communication help teamwork?

Notice in the poor questions that the answer would tend to be simple and descriptive, whereas the good questions require you to think and make some generalizations about the topic.

Notes: *While an academic paper would require formal citations, I'm trying to teach my students how to write a "professional" analysis that may be used in the workplace. Most workplaces would not require (or even want) formal citations with a full bibliography, however, I think it is important to train students to identify where their information is coming from. This means they should use a modified citation in which the author and perhaps date are identified in text or as a "source". For some of my writing assignments I do require an approved citation method, which most are adept at (at least in one method, either MLA or University of Chicago).

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