Analyzing evidence is the key to competent high school and college writing.

You cannot throw down a quote, or some facts, or a graph, and expect the reader to make all the connections to your main point/thesis.

Similarly, you can’t spend all your time sharing information that is obvious to your reader and that connects to your thesis in an obvious way.

Student example:

Thoreau kept journals throughout his life.  His journals included personal observations, scientific observations, and prewriting for his papers.  He believed that writing cleared his mind.  He was the one who majorly contributed to journal writing.  Many students are now inspired to keep a journal, and it is all thanks to Thoreau (Pinkston).

The student is writing about Thoreau’s impact on modern life, and (admirably) bypassing everyone’s general sense of Thoreau and going for a lesser-known point: that Thoreau has influenced generations of journal-writers, whether they know it or not.

But the student claims that “[Thoreau] majorly contributed to journal writing” and that “many students are now inspired to keep a journal.” The student wants to connect Thoreau to the students’ interest in journal writing – to argue that Thoreau caused this interest in journal writing.

But there are two large problems:

  1. We don’t have any evidence to support that students even do like to journal – and we might suspect such activities have gone down over the last couple of generations.
  2. We don’t have any evidence or analysis to show that all that student journaling (if it even happens) is thanks to Thoreau.

It’s the analysis that is missing – analysis of the evidence they have already gathered, and analysis of evidence that is yet to be gathered to support the point.

For instance, it would be relatively easy to argue and show that the growth of Facebook and MySpace is a form of journaling that Thoreau might understand. Some analysis of typical Facebook pages and a comparison to Thoreau’s journals might establish this, along with numbers on the phenomenal growth in the use of these sites.

If a Facebook page does connect to the kinds of journaling Thoreau appreciated, then the connection between the two is an easier one. But probably this wouldn’t be true. Most people don’t use Facebook as a canvas for developing philosophical frameworks. So more analysis is required – a greater understanding of Thoreau and his writing, and deeper thinking about Facebook and its equivalents.

The above paragraph is a great first or second draft, but it doesn’t have the thinking and analysis required of competent college or even high school writing.

Learn More…

Read a short, complex analysis of the arguments surrounding Sonia Sotomayor’s (nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama) “hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Is she a racist? Can anyone do more than a knee-jerk reaction? From The New York Times.