Prof. McMahand


English Composition


Constructing a Nonfiction Analysis


Here are guidelines and stipulations for building your analysis of nonfiction. 


Your heading should follow MLA rules (check your WR handbook). 


Your title must contain a brief, condensed description of your thesis idea, the author’s name, and the nonfiction’s title.  Since the nonfiction is a short work, put its title in quotation marks.


An example:

Jock Straps, Pom-Poms, and Stereotypes:

Lefkowitz’s “Don’t Further Empower Cliques”

One more example:

Jennifer Egan Accurately Draws “The Thin, Red Line”

Introductory (Opening) Paragraph


You may begin with an attention-grabber or with general remarks about the subject.  Give the contextualizing (or framing) ideas for the author and the essay.  Mention the author’s full name, the title of the nonfiction work, and comment on the essay’s contribution to a discussion of the subject.  Lastly, posit your thesis, which must link an argument about the source text and/or topic and cover the full extent of your paper.       


Example Thesis Statements:


At the core of Doskoch’s portrayal of American militias is a sense of besieged American masculinity, and yet he offers little discussion as to how to address this crisis before it manifests into a militia mindset.  


Egan’s separation of modifiers and mutilators sets up a hierarchical structure between the two groups that makes identifying problem-modifiers difficult.  Following Egan’s demarcation and with little forethought, people are likely to identify modifiers automatically as sane and healthy while many may not be.


The First Body Paragraph


The first body paragraph should clearly and fairly explain the thesis and supporting details of the source text.  Quote and cite properly.    


All body paragraphs must then conform to the Three I-s: Identify, Illustrate, and Interpret.


The Subsequent Paragraphs


Identify your claim: Begin with an argumentative statement that refers back to (a part of) the thesis.


Illustrate: Provide a quote to support the claim you have just made.


Interpret: Offer an interpretation of the evidence you have given.  This process may mean drawing upon causational statements (solutions, predictions, etc.), facts, statistics, other readings, observations, your own experiences.  This should be the largest, most significant portion of your paragraphs.  Note: If you use your own life experiences, limit the discussion to a sentence or two in one or two paragraphs.  I don’t want to read an autobiography; instead, I want you to craft a vigorous battle of ideas. 


An example:

Claim: In his essay, Lefkowitz relies on a rigid, hyperbolic depiction of high school life.

Illustration:  At one point he writes, “XXXXXXXXXX” (112). 

Interpretation: In this statement he shows a general contempt for athletes. . . . Drawing further attention to the rape of a mentally challenged girl creates a false idea about how drastic and violent the social scene is in high school. Most high schools do not report rapes on a daily basis, and yet Lefkowitz wants to frighten his readers into seeing high school as one big, scary hot zone of reprobate teenagers and enabling parents, teachers, and administrators.  His argument lacks balance and believability. 


Other Uses for Subsequent Body Paragraphs


You should use the body paragraphs to examine the subject that the author of the source text addresses. Does the author provide a fair and persuasive depiction of the issue?  Pursuing the prompt, write about the subject—in agreement with or in opposition to the author’s ideas.


An example claim for a new paragraph: Despite what Naylor argues about appropriating the word nigger, the slur retains its history of hate, as do the words faggot, towelhead, and cunt. 


One more example claim: Although the word nigger retains its original historical context, actors, writers, and hip hop artists have found new and innovative ways to purge the original meaning and to appropriate the term with more positive connotations.    


The first example indicates a critique of Naylor’s stance, while the second example shows a sympathetic expansion on Naylor’s argument.  You may expand on either point with facts, observations, predictions, solutions, and examples.  Note: If you use your own life experiences, limit the discussion to a sentence or two in one or two paragraphs—remember, no autobiography but a vigorous bout with ideas.


Concluding Paragraph


Your conclusion needs to begin smoothly without the perfunctory “In summary,” “In conclusion,” or “In summation” phrases. Begin the paragraph as you would any other body paragraph.  State in different words your thesis and major points, and, if possible, add a new path of interpretation or discussion.  For example, if you have been writing about Heather Whitestone’s fight with the deaf community during her reign as Miss America, you might suggest what she is doing today and what her relationship is like now with the deaf community.  (A quick Google search might help here).  


Be sure to read and reread your work before turning it in.  Look for your usual errors in grammar, mechanics, and citations.