Research and Analysis

When writing an analytical essay, you will likely have to conduct research. Research is the process of investigating a topic in an in-depth, systematic manner. You will then have to analyze that research to examine its implications and support a defensible claim about the topic. Sometimes writers do not conduct research when writing an analytical essay, but they usually still analyze sources that have used research. Learning how to conduct and analyze research is thus a critical part of strengthening analytical writing skills.  

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Table of contents

    Research and Analysis Definition

    When people are interested in a topic and want to learn more about it, they conduct research. In academic and professional settings, research follows systematic, critical processes.

    Analysis is the process of critically examining research. When analyzing a source, researchers reflect on many elements, including the following:

    • How the information is presented

    • The author's main point

    • The evidence the author uses

    • The credibility of the author and the evidence

    • The potential for bias

    • The implications of the information

    Research and Analysis Types

    The type of research people conduct depends on what they are interested in learning about. When writing analytical essays about literature, authors typically consult primary sources, secondary sources, or both. Then they craft an analytical argument in which they make a claim about the sources supported with direct evidence.

    Analyzing Primary Sources

    Writers who write about literature often have to analyze primary sources.

    A primary source is an original document or first-hand account.

    For instance, plays, novels, poems, letters, and journal entries are all examples of primary sources. Researchers can find primary sources in libraries, archives, and online. To analyze primary sources, researchers should follow the following steps:

    1. Observe the Source

    Take a look at the source at hand and preview it. How is it structured? How long is it? What is the title? Who is the author? What are some defining details about it?

    For example, imagine a student is faced with the following prompt:

    Pick an 18th-century English poet to research. Evaluate how their personal lives shaped the themes of their poetry.

    To address this prompt, the researcher might analyze a letter their chosen poet sent to a friend. When observing the letter, they might note that the writing is neat cursive and includes salutations such as "faithfully yours." Without even reading the letter, the researcher can already tell that this is a formal letter and infer that the writer is trying to come across as respectful.

    2. Read the Source

    Next, researchers should read the entire primary source. Developing the skill of active reading (discussed later in this article) will help readers engage with a primary source. While reading, readers should take notes about the most important details in the text and what they suggest about the research topic.

    For instance, the researcher analyzing the historical letter should note what the main purpose of the letter is. Why was it written? Is the writer asking for anything? Does the writer recount any important stories or pieces of information that are central to the text?

    Sometimes primary sources are not written texts. For example, photographs can also be primary sources. If you can't read a source, observe it and ask analytical questions.

    3. Reflect on the Source

    When analyzing a primary source, readers should reflect on what it shows about the research topic. Questions for analysis include:

    • What is the main idea of this text?

    • What is the purpose of the text?

    • What is the historical, social, or political context of this text?

    • How might the context shape the meaning of the text?

    • Who is the intended audience of the text?

    • What does this text reveal about the research topic?

    The precise questions a reader should ask when analyzing a primary source depend on the research topic. For example, when analyzing the letter from the poet, the student should compare the main ideas in the letter to the main ideas in some of the writer's poems. This will help them develop an argument about how elements of the poet's personal life shaped the themes of their poetry.

    When analyzing literary primary sources, writers should examine and reflect on the elements such as characters, dialogue, plot, narrative structure, point of view, setting, and tone. They should also analyze how the author uses literary techniques like figurative language to convey messages. For instance, you might identify an important symbol in a novel. To analyze it, you could argue that the author uses it to develop a particular theme.

    Analyzing Secondary Sources

    When researchers consult a source that is not original, they are consulting a secondary source. For example, scholarly journal articles, newspaper articles, and textbook chapters are all secondary sources.

    A secondary source is a document that interprets information from a primary source.

    Secondary sources can help researchers understand primary sources. Authors of secondary sources analyze primary sources. The elements they analyze might be elements other readers of the primary source might not have noticed. Using secondary sources also makes for credible analytical writing because writers can show their audience that other credible scholars support their points of view.

    To analyze secondary sources, researchers should follow the same steps as analyzing primary sources. However, they should ask slightly different analytical questions, such as the following:

    • Where was this source published?

    • What sources does the author use? Are they credible?

    • Who is the intended audience?

    • Is it possible that this interpretation is biased?

    • What is the author's claim?

    • Is the author's argument convincing?

    • How does the author use their sources to support their claim?

    • What does this source suggest about the research topic?

    For example, a writer analyzing the themes of a particular poet's body of work should search for secondary sources in which other writers interpret the poet's work. Reading other scholars' interpretations can help writers better understand the poetry and develop their own perspectives.

    To find credible secondary sources, writers can consult academic databases. These databases often have trustworthy articles from peer-reviewed scholarly journals, newspaper articles, and book reviews.

    Research and Analysis Writing

    After conducting research, writers must then craft a cohesive argument using relevant analysis. They can use primary and secondary sources to support an analytical argument by making use of the following strategies:

    Summarize Each Source

    Researchers should reflect on all of the sources they consulted during the research process. Creating a short summary of each source for themselves can help them identify patterns and make connections between ideas. This will then ensure they craft a strong claim about the research topic.

    Taking notes about the main ideas of each source while reading can make summarizing each source quite simple!

    Develop an Argument

    After making connections between sources, researchers should craft a claim about the argument that addresses the prompt. This claim is called a thesis statement, a defensible statement that the writer can support with evidence from the research process.

    Synthesize the Sources

    Once writers have fine-tuned the essay's thesis, they should synthesize the sources and decide how to use information from multiple sources to support their claims. For instance, perhaps three of the sources help prove one supporting point, and another three support a different one. Writers must decide how each source is applicable, if at all.

    Discuss Quotations and Details

    Once researchers have decided what pieces of evidence to use, they should incorporate short quotes and details to prove their point. After each quote, they should explain how that evidence supports their thesis and include a citation.

    What to Include in Research and Analysis Writing What to Avoid in Research and Analysis Writing
    Formal academic languageInformal language, slang, and colloquialisms
    Concise descriptions Contractions
    Objective languageFirst-person point of view
    Citations for outside sourcesUnsupported personal thoughts and opinions

    Research and Analysis Skills

    To strengthen the ability to conduct research and analysis, researchers should work on the following skills:

    Active Reading

    Readers should actively read the texts that they research, as this will ensure they notice important elements for analysis.

    Active reading is engaging with a text while reading it for a specific purpose.

    In the case of research and analysis, the purpose is to investigate the research topic. Active reading involves the following steps.

    1. Preview the Text

    First, readers should skim the text and understand how the author structured it. This will help readers know what to expect when they dive in.

    2. Read and Annotate the Text

    Readers should read the text attentively, with a pencil or pen in hand, ready to note important elements and jot down thoughts or questions. While reading, they should also ask questions, make predictions and connections, and check for clarification by summarizing important points.

    3. Recall and Review the Text

    To make sure they understood the text, readers should ask themselves what the main idea was and what they learned.

    Writing down a mini summary of a text's main points is useful in the research process because it will help researchers keep track of the point of all of their sources.

    Critical Thinking

    Researchers need to think critically in order to analyze sources. Critical thinking is the process of thinking analytically. Researchers who are critical thinkers are always ready to make connections, comparisons, evaluations, and arguments. Thinking critically allows researchers to draw conclusions from their work.


    Collecting large amounts of data can be overwhelming! Creating an organized system to keep track of all of the information will streamline the research process.

    Research and Analysis Example

    Imagine a student is given the following prompt.

    Analyze how William Shakespeare uses the image of blood to develop a theme in Macbeth (1623).

    To analyze this prompt, the student should use Macbeth as well as secondary sources about the play to support an original analytical argument that addresses the prompt.

    When reading Macbeth, the student should actively read, paying careful attention to instances of bloody images and what they might mean. They should also consult an academic database and search for articles about the images and themes in Macbeth. These secondary sources can provide insight into the potential meanings behind the images they are looking up.

    Once the student has all of their sources, they should look them all over and consider what they suggest about the image of blood in the play. It is important that they do not repeat an argument that they found in secondary sources, and instead use those sources to come up with their own perspective on the topic. For instance, the student might state:

    In Macbeth, William Shakespeare uses images of blood to represent the theme of guilt.

    The student can then synthesize information from the sources in their research process and identify three supporting points for their thesis. They should carefully select short but significant quotes that prove each point and explain the implications of those points. For example, they might write something like the following:

    As Lady Macbeth scrubs the hallucination of blood off her hands, she shouts, "Out, damned spot; out, I say" (Act V, Scene i). As English professor John Smith says, "her desperation is evident in the tone of the writing" (Smith, 2018). Her desperation emphasizes the guilt she feels. It is as if the murder is a stain on her soul.

    Note how the student drew from both primary and secondary sources to inform their interpretation of the writing.

    Finally, the student should make sure that they cited their sources from the research process to avoid plagiarism and give the original authors proper credit.

    Research and Analysis - Key Takeaways

    • Research is the process of investigating a topic in an in-depth, systematic manner.
    • Analysis is the critical interpretation of research.
    • Researchers can collect and analyze primary sources, which are first-hand accounts or original documents.
    • Researchers can also collect and analyze secondary sources, which are interpretations of primary sources.
    • Readers should actively read their sources, note the main ideas, and reflect on how information from the sources supports a claim in response to the research topic.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Research and Analysis

    What is meant by research analysis?

    Research is the process of formally investigating a topic and analysis is the process of interpreting what is found in the research process. 

    What is the difference between research and analysis?

    Research is the process of investigating a topic. Analysis is the process of using critical thinking skills to interpret sources found during research. 

    What is the research and analysis process?

    Research involves searching for relevant information, closely reading and engaging with that information, and then analyzing that information. 

    What are the types of research methods?

    Researchers can collect primary or secondary sources. 

    What is an example of analysis?

    An example of analysis is identifying the intended audience of a primary source and inferring what this suggests about the author's intentions. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Is a newspaper a primary or secondary source?

    Is a letter a primary or a secondary source?

    Which of the following should not be included in research and analysis writing? 


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