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I have been spending time online since yesterday trying to understand the difference between analytical summary writing and critical writing.
I intend to write an analytical summary essay on the topic of gender bias in academia after going through multiple sources (e.g: two academic research papers, a magazine article and a statistical report).

However, I am getting confused on certain points of analytical writing. Other than a lot of websites that I referred to understand the approach (e.g: this), I also read some examples of analytical writing, such as this. It seems that the most of the websites/examples suggest adding a thesis in the introduction -- the topic/statement that will be supported in the following paragraphs. However, as in the example above, the thesis seems to stem out of author's own opinions and judgment of the analysed work and doesn't seem to be objective. Isn't it the same in the case of critical writing as well where the writer needs to form opinions and provide evidences to prove their point. What difference then does it leave between analytical and a critical essay?

Am I correct to think that the writer should not form their own opinion, rather extract the hidden meaning from the readings to come up with a thesis? On the other hand, in case of an academic article where the author provides general-specific-general flow and accurate methodology of experiments, if I am not to critique, what shall I specify in the analytical essay that is not evident to the readers of the original academic articles?

  • Who do you write this for, and why don't you ask them about their expectations? If this is not homework, what is your intention with this essay? – user5645 Jun 12 '15 at 7:32
  • @what I'm a non-native English speaker and a prospective graduate student following a book on academic writing in which this topic came up, albeit mentioned very briefly in the chapter on summaries. I intend to do it as a personal exercise in case such a writing comes up in future (as my online search suggest that such a writing is very common for graduate students). However, there's not much mentioned beyond instruction of writing an analytical summary essay and so I thought it'd be good to know of the commonly followed method of writing such an essay. – Cipher Jun 12 '15 at 7:57
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I would not worry about the difference. Every teacher will have a different definition of what analytical writing is and therefore different expectations of what their students should hand in. For an exercise, I would simply take any of the instructions you found and follow that one. If you want you can do different ones and see how the different instructions work for you and how they lead to different outcomes, all of them valid.

In "professional" academic writing, analytical writing is usually a part of a larger work. For example, a doctoral dissertation starts out with a review of the relevant literature that summarizes the findings of other researchers in the same area and explains how they lay the groundwork for your own research or how your research can improve upon them. A meta analysis does the same, except that it restricts itself to the review and does not continue to describe your own theories or research. Finally, any research article begins with a selective review of the relevant literature (this is part of the "introduction") and deduces hypotheses for your own research from this.

So if you want to see how analytic writing is done beyond homework exercises, any scholarly literature in your field should provide examples. You will soon realize, that there are conventions that everyone follows, but that there are also a wide spectrum of how these conventions are followed or deviations from them.

Take this exercise not as something you learn once and then know forever, but as a first step in building a habit of reading critically, taking concise notes, and writing down what you found in differing formats and for different purposes. There is no one correct format for analytical writing, but there is a correct way to approach this task. Learn this approach. There are a host of books that explain how to write for science. Pick up a few from your local library (don't buy any, you'll soon grow beyond them) and try to apply their recommendations.

As for your more specific question, their answer will depend on the circumstances of your writing, such as allowed maximum length, amount of sources found, is it a single article review or a meta analysis of everything relevant, and so on. Try different things and see how they work out for you. Studying is not about being perfect (althought that's easy to forget when you get marks for every comma you forget), but about trying out things and learning in the process.

Have fun!

  • Thanks a lot for the answer. Helps a lot. Would you also be able to add a few links to some meta-analysis papers I could refer to for understanding the kind of language/style/organization/tone/etc. they follow? For e.g. Do they question author's methods, assumptions or add their own conclusions or suggestions etc.? To begin with this exercise, I intend to go more on the lines of meta-analysis review (around 2 pages length after reading 2 academic research papers, 1 magazine article, 1 statistical govt. report) – Cipher Jun 12 '15 at 8:53
  • Use Google Scholar to locate sources in your field. If you use it from inside the network of your institution, you might have access to more papers, because your institution might have bought that access. Search for something like "[your field] meta analysis". All the writing I mentioned does criticise the writings they review. For example, they might mention that the methodology was deficient. Just make sure you are respectful in your critique. Always assume that mistakes are not deliberate and consider that there might be differing but equally valid theoretical viewpoints. – user5645 Jun 12 '15 at 9:13

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