Analysing Texts

In your research and other reading you will encounter many different types of text and in many different types of publication or different online sites.  It is important that you are able to judge the value of the text to the task in hand, for example, whether you are writing brief notes, an essay or the Major Critical Project.  There is a commonly held view that what is printed (or published online) must be valuable, true and/or useful.  A text you have at hand may be one or all of these things, but it may also be none of them.  Do not make assumptions about a text you are reading.  Aim to get into the habit of making your own, independent assessment of a text.  Try to apply the following questions to any texts that you use for your study and research – you may be surprised at what you discover. This analysis of the texts you read will help you to gain what you need from your reading and in the most efficient way.


  1. Context – where is the text found? – a book, a magazine, a catalogue, a journal, a blog, etc. Does this imply certain expectations and limitations?
  2. Implied readership – who are the intended readership? – you may get some clues from the type of publication (e.g. scholarly book or popular magazine?), the format and, of course, the language used.
  3. Date of publication – this could be significant historically? And/or it may represent the viewpoint of the author at the time of writing.  It may contrast with present-day views.  Is an old publication necessarily irrelevant?  What significance can we draw from the date?
  4. Author’s standpoint – every author has a position, whether as practitioner, theorist, historian, populist, opinionator and this affects the tone or perspective of the text.  What are the beliefs and philosophies of the author as far as you can tell?  Remind yourself that, although some texts will be less biased than others, there is no such thing as a totally objective text.
  5. Closeness of author to the subject – this connected with points 3 and 4.  You might ask whether the author is part of a group that includes the subject or perhaps more important has some vested interest, possibly commercial, in the topic.  In other words, is the author an insider or outsider?
  6. Topic of discussion – where is the subject focused?  Is it on work(s) of art and design, an individual practitioner or group of practitioners, a style or movement, an idea, an institution, a period of history (artistic, social or cultural)?
  7. Level of the discussion – is it factual or interpretive? Does it support its statements with evidence?  Does it make sweeping statements or generalisations without producing convincing arguments?  Is it concerned with form or content, or both, and if so, what is the relationship between them?  Are the points speculative or well argued?
  8. Tone – is the text serious, enthusiastic, excited, assertive, boring, etc? What effect does this have on its value or use to you?
  9. Nature – how does it function? Does it report, summarise, list categorise, narrate, interpret, evaluate?
  10. Structure – how has the text been planned?  Are the sections put together effectively and what kind of sequence of arguments or ideas do you observe?
  11. Judgement – to what extent does the text achieve its aim?  Do you know what the aim is in the first place?  What criteria would you apply in making this assessment?


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