Part 1: How to Analyse Your English Texts for Evidence (Free Textual Analysis Planner) | 2022 update

In this updated 2022 guide, we'll explain the process for reading and analysing your English texts. Learn how to translate your reading of texts into critical analysis and collate them into practical and effective notes.

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Introduction to textual analysis

You, like many students, might feel that textual analysis sounds ominously overwhelming, broad, and vague. But it shouldn’t be. There is a process for reading and analysing your English texts.

Flowchart outlining the process for producing insightful textual analysis for HSC English

In this Part of our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English, we will give you a thorough explanation of textual analysis and how to read your texts and walk you through a step-by-step process for creating flawless and insightful notes.

 

Download a free textual analysis planner to start writing sophisticated essays!

Download your free Textual Analysis Planner

Learn how to analyse texts and produce insightful notes!

 

In this article, we discuss each step:

  1. Read the module rubric for the text you are studying
  2. Make general notes
  3. Identify themes and arguments
  4. Identify examples and techniques
  5. Organise your notes

 

Step 1: Read the module rubric to guide your textual analysis

NESA provides syllabus rubrics for each English module. These rubrics explain what you will need to discuss in your textual analysis in order to get a Band 6. So, high-achieving students will read of the corresponding module rubric before they view the text they are studying. This allows them to direct their focus while they view their text and begin to think about how they can approach the module rubric statements.

You can find the full HSC module rubrics and quick breakdowns here:

English Advanced

 

English Standard

 

Step 2: Make general notes

When you view your text for the first time, there’s no need to desperately annotate every technique you see. Instead, just enjoy it and try to follow the plot.

Between viewings and at the end, jot down your thoughts about the following:

  • What was the text about?
  • What were the prominent ideas in the text?
  • How might these ideas be connected to the module rubric statement?

Later, you can use these notes to refresh your memory of the text and inspire your textual analysis.

Here’s an example of what that would look like:

Notes and mind map of themes and plot for textual analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 by George Orwell prescribed for Year 12 HSC English Advanced Standard Common Module

 

To help you make sense of the plot, themes and contexts of HSC English texts, we’ve created the cheatsheets for the following texts, as linked below.

 

Textual Analysis for the Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences

English Advanced | Textual Analysis for Module A: Textual Conversations

English Advanced | Textual Analysis for Module B: The Critical Study of Literature

You can find all our cheatsheets for English Standard, here.

 

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Step 3: Identify themes and arguments for your textual analysis

Often we refer to key ideas as themes because they are common to a number of texts, but also whole genres or selections of art and literature.

Knowing the genre of the text you are studying will give you hints as to what sort of themes you should look for. For example, a Gothic text will have themes of death, decay, and secrets. Even if you know roughly what themes will be in a text, you still need to identify them.

Here are some practical approaches you can take:

 

1. Consider the plot

Ask yourself what the key ideas in the plot are. For example, is it about two people who are in love? Then love is a theme.

Do characters have trouble knowing if they are being told the truth or manipulated? The rift between appearance and reality is a theme.

 

2. Look at the characters’ positive and negative qualities

The characters’ flaws are often the substance of the ideas the composer is trying to convey. We can look to a characters’ narrative arc to see what ideas are in a text.

For example, In Othello, the main characters are very proud and jealous. Pride and jealousy are key ideas in the play. We see these qualities reflected in the characteristics of other characters in the play, too.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston, and his lover, Julia rebel against the government. We can say resistance is a key idea in the text.

 

3. Look for recurring symbols in the text

A recurring symbol, or motif, can embody a key idea in a text.

For example, In Black Swan, Nina’s character has to perform the roles of the Black and White Swan from Swan Lake. She has to be two opposing characters – pure and innocent and powerful and provocative – at the same time. We can say that dualism is a key theme in our textual analysis.

Textual analysis example of Aronofksy's Nina as the White Swan looking vulnerable and uncertain

Image: Aronofksy’s Nina as the White Swan looks vulnerable and uncertain

Textual analysis of Aronofksy's Nina as the Black Swan looking confident and predatory

Image: Aronofksy’s Nina as the Black Swan looks confident and predatory

4. Consider the ideas that are explicitly stated in a text

Sometimes composers are very direct with the ideas they feel are important in a text. They might discuss these ideas at length in the text – either directly or in the conversations that characters have. For example,

  • In the Handmaid’s Tale, Offred speaks explicitly about her name and the character she has to play in Gilead. This means that identity is a key theme in the text.
  • In The Motorcycle Diaries, Che writes at length about the divide between rich and poor and how he perceives this as being unfair. He is discussing the theme of class difference.

 

5. Once you’ve identified some themes, think about what kind of arguments we can make

None of this has to be set in stone, as you will develop your arguments as you look over the evidence you’ll collect from the text. This is just to get you familiar with the talking about the text in light of the module rubric.

Here’s an example of themes and arguments you could make about Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for the HSC English Common Module.

Examples of themes and arguments you can make for HSC English textual analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four Common Module

Examples of Common Module arguments that you can make from themes in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

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Step 4: Identifying examples and techniques

Essays for Stage 6 must be evidence-based. This means that students must provide examples from the text to support their arguments. They must then discuss how the techniques in those examples develop a certain meaning or reinforce a theme.

To be effective at identifying techniques, students must be aware of a wide range of techniques and their various applications. We’ve complied all the textual analysis techniques you need to know for various text types. You can access them through these links:

 

With this in mind, here’s how you can identify critical examples and their techniques.

How you can identify critical examples and their techniques for HSC English in a flowchart

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Step 5: Organise your textual analysis notes

Making tables is the most efficient way to produce textual analysis notes for English. The principle behind making tables is to extract all of the relevant information from a text and place it in an easy to access document.

When you prepare for exams or write practice essays, you don’t want to be fishing through novels for quotations or skipping through films for the appropriate scene. Instead, you want to be able to find the example you need for your textual analysis as quickly and easily as possible. This is what tables are for.

Let’s look at an example of a study table:

Template

Theme/ Character Evidence Technique Effect Research
What to do Organise your textual analysis notes by theme or character Provide a quotation or example from the text. Note and describe the technique used. Explain how the technique affects or shapes your understanding of the meaning in the example. Look for what others say about this theme or example from the text? Try to look for scholarly articles.

Wikipedia is a good place to begin research, but it is not always reliable or accurate. After reading a Wikipedia article, you should look at its sources and read those articles.

Often, Wikipedia articles included suggested further reading, these are ideal places to further continue your research. We discuss Wikipedia and other research resources in Chapter 3 of this guide.

Make note of your findings and keep track of the references.

Example from Othello

Theme/ Character Evidence Technique Effect Research
Othello Iago’s villainy Iago: And what’s he then that says I play the villain?  / When this advice is free I give and honest (2.3. 330-331) Rhetorical Question (hypophora – asks a question and immediately answers it). Iago is giving them logical and helpful advice. The use of hypophora is a manipulative technique. Answering the question he’s asked immediately means that Iago’s listeners aren’t given time to formulate an answer against it. 24th June: Not sure why Iago is evil?

26th June: Found a quote by R.Berry: “This is of the same order as the grotesquely exaggerated hell-imagery in his speeches, which we should not take at face-value. Iago, in truth, likes to think of himself as evil, as the villain: he plays the role in capital letters.” Berry argues that Iago revels in his villainy and his concealment of it. (R. Berry 1972.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/2868648)

 

The above table has 5 important columns for textual analysis:

  • Theme/ Character: the key idea, or the character you are focusing on.
  • Evidence: The quotation or a description of the scene you are using.
  • Technique: The technique(s) present in the example. It might be useful to define the technique if it is not a common one.
  • Effect: Explain the effect of the technique. Good textual analysis discuss how the technique develops the meaning you see in the quotation.
  • Research: Go online and start looking for the appropriate information for your module. You may need to find contextual information for Module A, or critical perspectives for Module B.

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© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2022. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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