A System for text analysis 

When you are analysing text you have to do two things. First, you need to recognise what is there, then, using your knowledge of language, you need to decide why it is there. It is not enough to list how many complex sentences there are, calculate the ratio of passive to active structures and mention a preference for pre- over post-modification. Nor is it enough to say that a text ‘moves' you, ‘clarifies matters well' , 'really grabs your attention' or ‘sounds sarcastic'. You are allowed to have personal response and it doesn't do any harm to be able to recognise features, but the only way to do a fair and thorough analysis of any text is to use a system.
The exact details of your own system should be evolved by you, and you ought to keep it as flexible as possible. It will have to allow for the major differences between spoken and written language. This system can be used both with written and prepared spoken (as in a speech or rehearsed interview.)

 Audience (Who was this written for?) Is the target audience sophisticated well-educated young or old? specialist or not?

Purpose (What was the writer's intention?) Was (s)he attempting to entertain? persuade? inform? instruct? do several things at once?

Tone (How did the writer sound?) Did (s)he seem to you to have a personality? If not, why not? If so, of what type? Did she seem to be factual or emotional? consistent? direct or subtle? 

 Audience (Educational level/degree of sophistication)

Words             Latinate or Anglo-Saxon? any foreign words? any idioms and clichés?

Structures       simple or complex? (look at clauses) very long or short sentences? word order usual? (e.g. subject-verb)


Words             very simple vocabulary for children? slang associated with a certain period and thus age group? archaisms?                         formal or colloquial?

Structures       simple co-ordinators like 'and' exclamations for teenagers elegant variation (i.e. numerous subordinate clauses)


Words             specialist/technical terms insider language

Structures       layout including charts. flow-charts, diagrams, tables etc. unusual syntax 

Purpose (Entertaining)

Words             humour through puns phonological effects 'bad' language nonsense words

Structures            alliteration and assonance form not the same as function (effect is        ironic)  variety of structure to  maintain interest

 (Entertaining is by far the hardest category to talk about. Look out for unusual words and structures which amuse or interest you. Sequencing - the order in which things are written - is also important.)


Words             emotive and extreme language (look at adjectives and adverbs carefully) ‘loaded' words (look at verbs)

Structures            repetition for effect rhetorical questions question and answer exclamatory sentences two-part, balanced sentences


Words             precise labels (nouns) prepositions (specifying inter-relations.) factual adjectives adverbials of time and place

Structures            sequencing declarative sentences lists tables 


Words             prepositions 'a'/'the' distinction important adverbs of manner, time and place

Structures            imperative mood verbs sequencing format: sub-sections  


Personality (Remember that the writer may be speaking as a persona and not as herself try not to confuse the two.)

Words             hyperbolic (exaggerated) or understated; assertive e.g. 'I think' as opposed to 'it seems to me' ; anxious - question tags muddled or clear (look at nouns); attitude to others (look at nouns) ; attitude to others (look at adjectives); colloquial and chatty or formal? original - unusual collocations ; unconventional - taboo words

Structures    active (involved) or passive (objective)? first person or third person? personal? (lots of ‘I’s and 'me's)

 Is the tone sophisticated or simple?

Words             long and Latinate? jokes, puns and plays on words? jargon? specialist language or simple?

Structures    short statements or long, complex sentences? simple co-ordination or lots of subordination?  'stream of consciousness' - where the writer shares their thought process with the reader? any asides? - jokey or informational?

 Is the tone factual or emotional?

Words             nouns mainly concrete or abstract? adjectives and adverbs informing or directing? articles or possessive pronouns? ('the country' or 'my country'?)

Structures    declaratives or exclamations/questions and answers?  lists for precision? detailed post-modification? long, reflective passages or snappy sentences? layout - numbered and ordered or anarchic?

 Is the tone consistent?

Does the style remain the same throughout or are there shifts? If there are, can you suggest why?
Does a simple, emotional opening attract your sympathy before the complexities are introduced?
Or does an attempt to be factual disappear as the writer's bias comes through?
Are changes deliberate or a failure?

 When you have collected your evidence by looking closely at words and structures, you will be in a position to write an informed, fair appraisal of the text. Plan what you are going to say: decide what your overall opinion of the text is, as well as dealing with how effectively it addresses its chosen audience, whether it achieves its purpose and whether you feel it adopts a suitable and appropriate tone. When you have completed your analysis, look at what you have written: 

Is it well-ordered and thus clear?

Is it an expression of your personality - if you want it to be?

Is it thorough or vague?

Is it linguistic - i.e. have you used the appropriate specialist terms?