A common assignment in first-year college composition courses is the article analysis. In this assignment, students are asked to read a work by a professional, thought-provoking, author and write a paper proving why that article is or is not effective at proving its point. This assignment is often used as a precursor to an argumentative paper.

Taking Notes from the Article

Before you begin writing, you need to have a solid grasp of the article. The best way to do that is to take notes as you read. You may need to go over the material several times. As you read, note the main points the author makes, the kinds of evidence he uses and the assumptions he makes. After reading, jot down some notes on what kind of person this article would appeal to and why that person would find the argument compelling.

Choosing a Thesis Statement

At this stage, you should have a bundle of notes to use. Put those ideas together into a coherent chain of thought. Based on your notes, ask yourself whether you think this essay convinces the reader or falls flat. Your answer to this question will be your thesis, though you may need to add “because” and then list off your main arguments if required to do so. For example, you might say something like, “Smith’s argument that the war on drugs has failed would convince many middle class Americans.”

Choosing Your Main Points

After choosing your thesis, go back through your notes to find at least three of your best reasons to support your claim. You will need to use evidence from the text to back up your points, so you may need to go to the text to highlight some quotes. Look for what the author does well or what the author fails to do depending on your stance. Using the earlier example, you might focus on several statistics that Smith uses and one or two examples that drive his point home, saying something like, “By pointing out that a petty drug dealer can see more prison time than a serial rapist, Smith shows the magnitude of the problem.”

Proving Your Point

As you begin writing, take note of the format your professor requires. Typically, introduce both the topic and the author’s stance on that topic before leading into your thesis in the introduction. Arrange your body paragraphs so that your best argument comes at the end. Each body paragraph should begin with a strong topic sentence like the preceding example, then bring in evidence from the article and finally show how that evidence proves the topic sentence. Using the example of the drug dealer versus the serial rapist, you would develop the paragraph by summarizing the example from the article or using a short quote. Then, you would explain why it is reasonable to think the serial rapist should spend more time in prison. If required, use secondary sources to prove your interpretation. The conclusion should wrap everything up and end with a parting thought.