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Form and Content Analysis

Unit 1 Assignment – Form (vs.) Content Analysis




The goals of this assignment are to build upon the analytical skills you acquired in 101, to apply critical thinking to a text you see as complex (in terms of how it gets meaning across to the reader), and to show you the difference between what a text says and how it goes about saying it.



You will select a text (or a portion of a text), break it down in terms of form and content, and make a claim about how the text is making meaning for the reader.

Remember that we have already exploded the nature of the word ‘text.’  Your text can be in any medium that you chose: poem, short story, scene/dialogue from a TV show, a string of comments below a YouTube video, ad infinitum.  I will be approving your text for appropriate levels of depth and complexity in class.

Find a text that you are passionate about in a genre that you are an expert on.  My only stipulationsare that your text must have actual words for you to analyze (even if that means jotting down or transcribing your text) and that it can’t be a song.


Within your text, look for places where meaning is made through complex metaphors, contradictions, loaded vocabulary, or esoteric nuance (only somebody who reads these types of texts every day will understand or see something going on that a novice or casual observer would not).

Identify the surface narrative or plot points (content), and then break down the text into its separate elements.  You will be looking at how these elements work together to convey something (form).

What specific words jump out at you?  What is the tone of the piece and who is it meant for?  What’s being said, and what’s not being said?  Is your narrator telling you the truth, the whole truth, or someone’s version of the truth?  These ideas will help guide your larger claim about the language being used.


Examine your text from the paragraph level, the sentence level, and finally the word level.  Pick out the important words, phrases, and so forth that are interesting to you (old words, strange words, powerful words, out of place words, and etc.)  Explore them in the Oxford English Dictionary (login though the library’s ‘articles and databases’ tab, click ‘O’ and scroll down to OED).


Look at elements of style in your text.  Is the text formal/informal, poetic/realistic, dialogue/description?  How is the text physically laid out on the page?  What is the tempo of the reading/viewing experience?  What effects does the text hope to produce in the reader?  Who is being privileged by language?  Who is being subsumed or left behind?


Once you have conducted a thorough examination of the text and all of its parts, construct a thesis (argument or claim) surrounding your text and back it up with examples and analysis.  Where do you see tensions and contradictions?  How is meaning being made?

Your thesis must demonstratea complex understanding of your passage as well as critical thinking (which just means being aware of your own thought process as you think about something, or thinking about something objectively and from many different possible angles).

Unlike a topic sentence, a thesis proposes some lens or truth that comes about from the analysis.  In other words you are going to make a claim and back it up with textual evidence.  Like a topic sentence, the thesis will serve as a road map (not a five paragraph outline) for the focus of your paper and tell the reader what to expect (but not how many paragraphs to expect it in).  Unlike a topic sentence, your thesis should be nuanced and intelligent.




Times New Roman font, 1” Margins, 4-5 pages.  Use MLA citation to cite your text.  Remember that the paragraph should focus on content for no more than 5-10% of its length.  Provide an MLA ‘Works Cited.’

Last Updated on February 16, 2018

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