WRD 104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

Contextual Analysis Project

  • Genre: Contextual Analysis
    • your essay might take the form of a conventional academic essay focusing on synthesis
    • or your essay might take the form of an exploratory essay 
  • Audience: educated, curious readers
  • Length: 1500-1750 words
  • Sources: minimum of eight credible sources, at least four of which come from peer-reviewed scholarly publications, and one book
  • BackgroundSt. Martin’s e-Handbook: choosing topics (12); conducting research (13); integrating sources (15)
  • Grade and assessment: click here for scoring guide

It is likely that in WRD103 you were asked to work on a textual analysis or a rhetorical analysis that looked closely at an isolated text and you interpreted it with descriptive language from that text. This is a good intellectual exercise that will always result in a particular kind of meaning, based solely on that isolated text.

A contextual analysis is a different intellectual exercise altogether. When you put an issue into context, you can create a new kind of meaning and by putting your sources into conversation with each other, you can compare and contrast writers’ values and rhetorical strategies. The result of that intellectual exercise is that you can now tell us something we did not know about the issue before, or be able to tell us in a new way. (“Every wolf in Yellowstone therefore is more than just a wolf. Imbued with profound symbolic meaning, each wolf embodies the divergent goals of competing social movements …”)

That’s the Why; Here’s the How:

By this point in the term, and after an individual conference with me, you should have identified a social, cultural, or political issue from reading the New York Times that interests you for further inquiryAn “issue” is different than a “topic” because with an issue we can identify places where reasonable people can have different perspectives and take different rhetorical positions in debates, disagreements, differences, and controversies; an issue is debatable, and a topic is not. 

Your challenges for this project are to [1] first spend some time in inquiry mode, asking questions — to whom does this issue matter? Why? What is interesting about it? What is important about it? What is at stake? — [2] to research and analyze your issue via some contextual framework and, [3] to compose your contextual analysis based on your research. 

Your Contextual Analysis Essay will include:

  • An introduction in which you introduce the issue to readers, describing why it is an important and timely issue, to whom it matters, and why it matters to them
  • The main body of your essay collects, analyzes, and synthesizes sources via critical and rhetorical methods of analysis within some framework — social, critical, ideological, etc.
  • Your conclusion answers the “so what?” question? Based on your analysis, what really seems to be at stake? What does it mean? The assumption here is that your analysis of writers’ values and rhetorical strategies can tell us something about the issue that we did not know before, or that you can tell us in a way that we have not heard before.

What will not be in your Contextual Analysis Essay:

  • Your position on the issue
  • Your thesis on the issue 
  • How you feel about the issue

Possible examples:

You can follow along on our Course Calendar for deadlines and our process:

  • Thursday, April 14: Previewing the Contextual Analysis Project
  • Tuesday, April 19: Strategies for choosing an effective topic video and Academic Search Complete video 
  • Tuesday April 19: Workshopping inquiry questions
  • Thursday, April 21: Contextual Analysis Proposal & Map
  • Tuesday April 26: Library workshop in the library
  • Thursday, April 28: Contextual Analysis Draft #1
  • Thursday, May 5: Contextual Analysis Draft #2
  • Friday  May 8th: Peer Reviews
  • Thursday, May 12th: Contextual Analysis Draft #3 (final draft)