Analysing argument – why can’t I just list the persuasive techniques?

Part 1: How to analyse a media text

One of the most disliked areas of study is analysing arguments. Back in the day, all students needed to do was go through a media text, find different persuasive techniques, and explain why an author would use them to support their argument.

Then the teachers got mean and decided that just identifying the language used to persuade was too easy, so they made it more complex. Now they want you to identify the different arguments, how the writer has presented them, and then explain why the audience is meant to react in a particular way to do something. We do like to make life more difficult for you, however, I will try to explain how to do it in a simple but effective manner.

The blog will be divided into two parts

  • Part 1 – how to analyse and annotate the text/s
  • Part 2 – how to write the analysis

What you need to remember is that the SAC is slightly different from the exam. The SAC requires you to analyse how the argument is presented in two or more media texts on a recent issue discussed in the media. It needs to be on an issue and needs to compare how the views are presented by two different authors.

The exam, however, is constructed and the issue isn’t necessarily recent and life-changing, but accessible to everyone so you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of world issues. The other point of difference is that you don’t need to compare if there is more than one text, instead, you would say how the other text in the material complements the primary text.

This post is going to focus on the SAC, not the exam (I will write about that when it’s time)

To tell you the truth, when writing a persuasive text it’s highly unlikely that the author has carefully selected particular strategies and language for a specific audience to react in a way that will cause them to take action. But, as we English teachers ruin novels, films, poetry, songs, and anything else we can get our hands on, we will pick it apart and tell you that there is meaning and purpose behind every constructed text and that you need to write an essay on it.

Where do I start? Understanding the issue

The first thing you need to identify is the issue itself and why it is currently an issue. It is important that you show an understanding within your essay and how it can impact the audience. When identifying the issue you will usually be provided with background information that explains the issue to you, but when writing your essay don’t be vague, actually specify the reasons behind it being discussed in the media.

For example:

Avoid broadly stating the issue by saying ‘The issue of climate change has recently been discussed in the media.’ What is it about climate change? Why has it recently been discussed? Demonstrate that you know more and avoid using vague and generalised phrasing (I will discuss this in Part 2)

Instead, you would say ‘With the increase in temperatures and the scientific evidence suggesting global warming is becoming more concerning, governments have been under pressure to find more sustainable ways of dealing with recycling and waste management to curb climate change.’ This is more detailed but it is clear that you have a better understanding of the issue.

Identifying the contention

The contention is what the writer thinks about the issue – their point of view. Do they like it? Don’t they? Do they agree with what is currently happening? Do they disagree? The contention needs to be identified in the introduction but also referred to throughout as you discuss the supporting arguments. Some students tend to get the intention and contention mixed up. It is important that you identify each one correctly. The contention is usually found at the start of the article either in the headline or the opening.

What is the intention? What’s the difference?

The intention involves the audience. What is the writer’s purpose? How do they want the audience to respond? There will be an overall intention that you need to include in your introduction, but throughout the piece when analysing the supporting arguments, you will also need to identify the intention of each argument and strategy as you work your way through the article. When you consider the audience it is important to remember where the text has been published and the views associated with it, that is, are they conservative or progressive views? This often steers the direction of the intention.

Audience… aren’t they just the readers?

Yes, but they’re also the listeners and viewers depending on the form that you are analysing. One of the main ideas that you need to consider is that they are more than just a general audience, it is specific and needs to include stakeholders who will be impacted by the issue and the possible outcome of the situation.

When you consider the audience, identify where the text was published and who the general audience of that publication is. Then you need to consider who would be impacted by the issue that the writer is discussing. These are your stakeholders. By being able to recognise the various stakeholders, it allows you to be specific when discussing how the writer is appealing to them and how it supports the intention/purpose.

For example, if you are analysing an article about the dangers of e-scooters in Melbourne, your overall audience would be the overall Melbourne population. However, when you unpack who the stakeholders are they would include:

  • Local council areas
  • E-scooter riders
  • Pedestrians
  • Cyclists
  • Motorists
  • Police
  • Business owners
  • Hospitals and their staff
  • Families of victims who have been injured on or from e-scooters

Each one of these groups would be impacted differently depending on what the author is arguing. For example, if we are for e-scooters then the riders would be allowed to ride in bike lanes and therefore there would be less traffic on the roads. But, if the writer is against it, then they are dangerous and innocent pedestrians could be hurt, but so could the riders themselves by cars and cyclists. Always consider the writer’s contention when determining the intention on the author.

How do I annotate an article?

Annotating is essentially the plan for your essay. Practical annotating makes writing your essay easy, so the more you practice doing this, the easier it will get when you write your analysis.

Remember you will have about 10 minutes of reading time to go through the texts. Use this time wisely. How should you use it?

  1. Read both articles for the sole purpose of figuring out what is being argued.
  2. Read the texts again, but this time look for arguments, and contention, and figure out the audience and the intent. Take note of interesting words or phrases
  3. When you are allowed to write, spend about 3-5 minutes quickly annotating (you really need to develop these skills and not spend too much time doing this otherwise you will run out of writing time. Remember your annotations do not get marked, but your essay does)

When reading for the second time identify the following:

•Contention (usually found at the start of the piece)

•Audience and stakeholders

•Intention – what is the writer’s overall purpose in writing this piece, and what do they want to achieve? What action are they asking for? (usually found at the end of the piece)

•Supporting arguments (identify the sections of the article)

•How do the supporting arguments appeal to the audience/stakeholders?

•What language is used (highlight key phrases and words)

•How does the image/visual support an argument in the text? Connect it to the most appropriate section

•Do the same for the second text, but also consider how the arguments are similar or different to the first text (this will help when making comparisons)

Breaking up the text

When annotating you need to identify the opening, body and closing of the text. This will form the body paragraphs of your essay.

The opening is obviously the start but you need to consider what the author is saying, how they are appealing to the audience, and what the writer is aiming to achieve. The opening usually contains the contention. When considering how they are trying to connect with the audience is it through emotion, logic, or authority on the issue. This is also known as pathos, logos, and ethos respectively.

The body begins when the tone shifts and the writer starts their next argument. You can tell that the writing is moving to the next point through the change in language choices. There could be more than one argument being expressed in the body and that is fine, it just means that you will have an extra paragraph (I’ll discuss this in part 2)

Finally, the closing usually signifies what the author’s intent is. It could be a call to action or suggesting a solution and this is the strategy that the writer employs to ensure that the audience understands the writer’s purpose. The closing is what concludes your analysis of the first text.

If there is a visual you need to connect it to the most appropriate section of the text. How does it support the idea that the writer is presenting? This will form part of your analysis in the paragraph that it is connected to. Do not anlayse the image on its own (unless it is a cartoon or the visual is a text itself)

Annotating and analysing the second text

You should annotate in the same way as the first but look for similarities and/or differences in the arguments being discussed. Make notes of these in your annotations. Remember that you are looking for comparisons in terms of argument, not of structure. Don’t compare the sections, or the language, compare what the writers are arguing.

Now you write the essay

My next post will go through how to structure your essay and effective ways to analyse.

Remember that if you have any questions please send me an email or write a comment at the end of the post. Thanks for the support and continue to share with anyone who would find this site useful.

Keep it zesty!

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