A Pocket Guide to Argument Analysis

Published on
March 15, 2024
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An Overview of Section C 

The argument analysis component of the VCE English Exam is asking you to demonstrate that you can understand what an author is trying to get across, and how they have designed their writing to convince their audience. On a more granular level, each piece of analysis in these kinds of essays needs to examine three things:

  1. What persuasive technique is being used 
  2. How is it trying to make the audience feel/think 
  3. What is the desired outcome (i.e. what should the audience do in response) 

The latter should link back to the author’s contention, because whatever the author wants the audience to do will align with how they believe the world should look. 

Note: In the SAC, and potentially on the exam, an article will be provided alongside another argumentative source, like another article, responding comments, or a letter to the editor on the same issue. These ‘comparative’ argument analyses are asking for the same three steps – just that there is an extra step, to compare along the way the differences in the two arguments and techniques. 

Essay Structure 

Just like a text response, the classic format for an argument analysis essay is an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. For a comparative argument analysis, the approach which (in my opinion) will provide the most robust analysis is one where each paragraph is based on an argument of one article. This first article functions as the base for the analytical piece, and the other article is brought in only for notes of comparison with the first. Within those paragraphs, centred around one author’s arguments, you can then compare the contention, intention, techniques and tone of both authors. 

Why is this the best approach?

  1. It forces analysis of the arguments of each article 
  2. It still allows for analysis of the comparative techniques of each author within those paragraphs, not just the arguments being used 
  3. It is adaptable to many formats – for example, a blog post and responding comments, the latter of which may not contain enough material and techniques to sustain half your essay 

Comparison 

There are two argument analysis essays you will need to write this year. The first, the SAC, will ask you to compare the two pieces. The second, in the final exam, does not have any requirement for comparison – however, if provided with the opportunity, it strengthens your analysis (and therefore boosts your mark) to demonstrate an ability to draw connections. 

How should you compare the two articles? 

  1. By contention and argument. The most important aspect is to demonstrate an understanding of where the two presented viewpoints clash – at its most basic level, what do they disagree on, and why? 
  2. By construction and technique. The articles are likely making different points in different ways – playing on different emotions, appealing to different audiences, utilising different persuasive techniques. Comparing these more granular components will lead to much richer analysis of argument and argumentative style. 

Introductions

The introduction to an argument analysis essay needs to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the piece’s context. The following elements should all be mentioned in an introduction:

  • Audience
  • Author
  • Contention
  • Core argument 
  • Form
  • Intention
  • Tone
  • Topic 

Audience: Who is the author targeting with their arguments? Narrow it down to a more specific group than ‘the general public’. Consider the actions the author is advocating for – who is most able to take those? Sometimes, a piece can be addressing more than one group of people with different arguments – make note of this in your introduction, and expand on it in your body paragraphs. 

Author: Make sure to name the author, the same way you would in a text response essay. This just demonstrates basic understanding of what you’ve read and are responding to. 

Contention: What is the piece mainly arguing? This will often be advocating for a certain policy. Essentially, it is a broad statement of opinion about what should be done. 

e.g. An article discussing environmental policy might have the contention that a carbon tax should be implemented in Australia. 

Core argument: The author will give several arguments which explain why the contention is true. Often one reason in particular will dominate the author’s reasoning, and this should be noted. 

Form: What kind of piece is being given for analysis? Most of the time, it is an opinionative article. However, different kinds of media can be given, such as letters to the editor, online forums/blogs, editorials, posters, speech transcripts, and many more. 

Intention: How does the author want the audience to act? Think of this as the mechanism by which the contention should become true. These are more specific actions which, according to the author, the audience should take, rather than a viewpoint with which they should agree. 

e.g. If the contention of an article is that a carbon tax should be implemented in Australia, the intention might be for the audience to vote for that policy, attend protests or events which drum up support, or directly pressure their local representative. 

Tone: The tone of the article refers to the style of the author, and the emotions they exhibit while explaining their point of view. Is he condemnatory, or admiring? Outraged, or reserved? A piece can be candid, enthusiastic, colloquial, derisive – the list is truly endless, and there are lots of glossaries online with descriptors, which are worth flicking through to build up a familiarity with precise descriptions. 

Note also that an author can shift in tone throughout a piece, and this is worth exploring. It invariably has some persuasive purpose, aligning with a certain argument or piece of reasoning. Flagging this in the introduction, and analysing it later, will add sophistication and cohesion to your essay. 

Topic: Often, particular events will spark an argumentative discussion. To demonstrate knowledge of broader context, it is worth noting the issue to which the author is responding. To continue the previous example, an article about a carbon tax is likely responding to the issue of climate change, and a current discussion of environmental policy. 

When writing on more than one piece, these elements must be covered for both texts. Concision is key, because there is a lot of information to get across, and you don’t want to waste too much time writing on just your introduction. One thing which can condense the writing time and improve your analysis is to take the opportunity to compare wherever you can; shorter phrases like “addresses this audience, unlike x” and “adopts this tone, whereas y”, instead of writing out both aspects separately, will combine sentences – saving time and demonstrating a solid grasp of the content. 

Sample Introduction:

The presentation of the big-splash volunteering award prompted a discussion about the support of volunteers in Australia. Laudatory of volunteers, yet critical of wider society Stephanie Bennett contends that volunteers deserve greater recognition for their work from wider society to elevate for their bigsplash’s recognition of volunteers – prompting greater interest from conscious users of financial products. Conversely, Matthey Nguyen’s humbled acceptance speech postulates that the joy in volunteering is borne from aiding those in need to increase volunteer participation from prospective volunteers.

Written by a past student at Lindsey's VCE Tutoring (RAW 47)

Persuasive techniques 

Analysing persuasive techniques is much easier, faster, and more impressive if the technique is accurately identified. Building up a knowledge of these techniques can be difficult, but there are lots of resources you can take advantage of – online glossaries, sample essays, and even the work of your peers can expand your knowledge of these devices. The next step, which is equally important as learning the names and meanings, is actually remembering them and thinking of them instinctively – and the easiest way to make a technique ‘stick’ is to use it in your own writing. 

Examples of persuasive techniques: 

  • Similes
  • Metaphors
  • Anecdotes
  • Connotations
  • Hyperbole
  • Rhetorical questions 
  • Statistics 
  • Tricolons
  • Inclusive language 
  • Repetition 

Techniques can be entire sentences (a long anecdote can even be a whole paragraph!), or as small as a punctuation mark. Look out for the way words are arranged, and pay attention to the sound of words too – something like alliteration can be used to tie concepts together, or make an idea sound more appealing. The whole of the text is a construction, and every piece – from the beams of wood to the hidden nails – counts. 

Once you know these techniques (and many more!), it becomes less about finding techniques to analyse, and more about selecting the best techniques to analyse. Here are some considerations which ensure your selection is the right one: 

  1. First of all, decide what the arguments are that will frame your essay. There is no point delving into techniques if they are not directly linked to the arguments the author is trying to prove. Only once you know what the key arguments are can you investigate how those arguments are being constructed. 
  2. Make sure you have a variety of techniques in your essay. Repeating a persuasive technique is not only boring, it looks like you were scraping for material. 
  3. Think about what the technique will allow you to talk about. Maybe most techniques in a piece elicit fear, but one particular sentence appeals more to a sense of parental pride – allowing you to bring in new analysis. If it addresses a different audience, expands on the argument, or demonstrates a different tone – any difference is actively adding to the strength of your essay, 
  4. Ask yourself: what was the most persuasive to you? Whatever jumps out at you as a reader is probably on purpose – follow your instincts, because if the technique captured you, it’s probably easier to explain its persuasive value. 

As a final note, if multiple techniques are being used together, mention this layering. The compounding evidence allows you to mention multiple techniques and link them to the same analysis, increasing the density and strength of your analysis. As an added bonus, it conveys that you know what you're doing! 

Sample Analysis:

Passage:

“School used to be lauded as the best days of our lives — but those in Year 12 feel more like they’re in a relentless competition that only the strongest can survive.

I’ve worked in education all my career and my daughter is doing her HSC this year. When I talk to teens about how they feel about their final years of schooling, I can’t help but think something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.

There are teens who tell me they often think about dropping out — not only of school, but of life. Others who tell me they ask to be excused in class so they can lock themselves in the school toilets and cry. There are those who were made to give up sports and hobbies they loved (one girl was made to sell her beloved horse) so they’d have more time to spend on studying.

For now, I’ll hug my daughter often. Try to be patient when she procrastinates for days watching Gilmore Girls. And I’ll help her realise she can never be defined by a mark.”

Analysis:

Danielle Miller laments the current state of the education system, and how it has impacted the mental health of Year 12 students. She commences by juxtaposing the “best days of our lives” with the “relentless competition” that students now face, appealing to parental concern. This immediately establishes the disproportionate pressure experienced by students, and condemns the distortion of education. Her description of education as ”relentless” is compounded with references to the negative impacts that the education system has had on the mental health of students. Anecdotal references to the ways in which students are forced to “drop out”, “cry” and “sell her beloved horse” elicits concern and sympathy towards the plight of these students. Miller also uses the pronoun “we” to include readers in her experience, and to create a sense of solidarity amongst parents. Setting herself as an exemplary mother who will “hug” her daughter and ’try to be patient”, Miller concludes by placing herself above other parents who place excessive pressure on their children and appeals to sentimental values. Accordingly, she promotes the importance of empathy in working with senior students and undermines the importance of assessment and academic performance.

Image Analysis 

The examination specifications emphasise that Section C is an analysis of written and visual language – in essence, you must examine the image/s provided in order to score well. And besides, an image provides so much persuasive material, your essay is better for it regardless. 

Elements to consider when analysing an image: 

  • What or who is in the image? Are there any obvious omissions?
  • What are the sizes of different elements? 
  • How are elements positioned relative to each other? Are certain things more in the foreground, or placed above others? 
  • Overall, consider the creation of both focus and hierarchy 
  • Colour – how is it used, what does it draw your attention to?
  • Symbols – are there any, what do they signify, and what is the purpose of their presence? 
  • What kind of image is it? Why would the author have selected this type of image
  • Any text, in the image or in a caption 

Essentially, ask yourself, what is the image trying to make me think? And, if not immediately obvious, go through the process of annotating elements, and ask yourself what arguments it could relate to. At the end of the day, the image should be treated like any other technique – explain what it is trying to convey, and how it attempts to persuade the audience of that. 

And, as a final note: annotate the hell out of your articles. Happy writing!