Analysis and synthesis and peer responses and reflection

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Most writing entails analysis and synthesis. The procedure (“knowing how”) of synthesis involves finding patterns–similarities and differences–in a set of objects, including texts.

Synthesis is an important writing skill tied the cognitive processes of logic, pattern-finding, interpretation, and creativity..

In order to synthesize, one must begin by analyzing the object of study, which means to divide it into smaller parts. One then synthesizes (compares and interprets the parts in relation to each other and to the whole). Some debate which comes first, synthesis or analysis, since dividing things into smaller parts is already an interpretive (synthesizing) activity. This is a moot point, since we know that understanding is an iterative rather than linear process. We absorb and interpret the data before us in complex ways that artificial intelligence cannot yet imitate.

How granular should you get when you are analyzing? In some fields, you may be breaking things down into atomic or sub-atomic levels; in others your analysis may involve very broad categories (e.g., “men” versus “women” or “over 65 years old,” “under 65 years old.”) .

Often the scale of analysis is pre-determined for your by your discourse community. If you are an accountant, you work with spreadsheets and statements that have predetermined categories of analysis (e.g., income, expenses) or research questions that include the scale of analysis (“We will examine the number of X who…).

An example of analysis in the business world is the SWOT analysis. Links to an external site.SWOT breaks an organization’s competitive position into 4 categories of analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,Threats. Some English professors spend their days doing “close readings,” which can make a single letter or word the unit of analysis, for example a word as it appears and accumulates new meanings at different moments in a poem (Links to an external site.). Linguists may analyze a single sound (Links to an external site.). Each discourse community, in short, has its own objects of analysis and ways of synthesizing and interpreting these.

Analysis depends on finding the right scale–how large or small, how broad or granular your focus–and then on finding meaningful patterns, likenesses and differences, within a given unit of analysis and then in comparison with the the other units, in some cases.

Analysis and synthesis are regarded as the highest order of thinking on the Bloom taxonomy, (Links to an external site.) and involve a marvelous blend of observation, logic, and creativity. In other words, analysis and synthesis are cognitively demanding procedures.

If your writing involves analysis and synthesis, you will want to develop a thoughtful writing process to facilitate it. We will talk more about writing process in another unit, but for now suffice it to say that planning and organization are central to lightening the heavy cognitive and memory load of this kind of work so that you do not have to repeat or retrace it. Simple tools such as differently colored highlighters, as well as more advanced tools, such as excel pivot tables, along with some other procedures will make a world of difference in the time and quality of your writing. This can become even more pressing if you engage in collaborative analysis and writing.


This post has two steps:

1) Read the two articles below, one a bit lengthier and more academic than the other (sorry about that!), to analyze and synthesize the two authors’ concepts of discourse community and community of practice. You may do this in bullet-point form or as prose paragraphs: your choice based on your sense of the audience in this class and the medium of the Discussion Board.

2) Remind us of the discourse community you described in your previous post, and, having read Swales and Wenger, tell us whether you feel that the community you described is one you would call a discourse community or a community of practice, and why. (250-400 words). Post your response to the Discussion Board below.

Once again, do not be put off by the academic language used by these writers. If you encounter jargon that you do not know, or sentences that make no sense to you, feel free to post these to the discussion board as well so that we collectively can help render the text more intelligible. That, in itself, is excellent work for sharpening your collaborative reading, writing, and explanatory skills–and also is a keen reminder of how discourse communities have their own language and seldom recognize how opaque it can be to the uninitiated!

You’ve now addressed two of the toughest segments–the first, comprehending the notion of knowledge domains and the role they play in writing; the second, the concept of discourse communities (or communities of practice, if you prefer), which is the more dynamic, specific, socially situated version of that broad notion of “writing for an audience” that you may have encountered in prior writing instruction.

Now is the time to reflect upon what you have learned in this module. Perhaps your sense of your professional discourse community has sharpened or become more explicit for you, or perhaps you have a heightened awareness of your use of analysis and synthesis as a writer. Jot down a few takeaways, for that will help them make their way into your long-term memory and your explicit grasp of the knowledge domains, both of which will advance your writing repertoire. Note some area of competence that has been confirmed for you in either of these two domains, and also add a goal related to one or both. Goal-setting helps us to take control of our learning process and also helps us measure whether we are making progress in achieving our goals.

Make sure to set a goal that motivates you. As much as possible, try to make it a measurable, tangible goal — and one that is positively framed rather than self-critical.

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