Essays or assignments benefit from different types of content, including description, analysis, and synthesis. The three elements require students to use different skills, with good essays or assignments often incorporating all three as integrated components. Student can improve their written works if they understand the differences between these three elements.
Description is the easiest of the three components. Description requires the writer to simply describe the theory or idea, such as the key characteristics of features of a theory, and any limitations that have been identified. The descriptive aspect of an assignment does not require the student to provide any original thought, only repeat the ideas of others. The ideas should always be fully referenced. Description is often incorporated within essays to summarise pertinent facts which for the foundation for later analysis or synthesis. A common criticism of students scoring low grades on assignments is the presence of too much description and insufficient analysis.
The term analysis originates with the Greek word ‘analusis’ with translates as ‘breaking up’. Analysis requires the student to look more closely at the idea or theory they are citing, examining the elements which combine to create or support the idea or theory. Analysis may be undertaken with differing approaches. If analysing a theory or article, the student may consider issues such as:
- The credibility of the researcher, for example specific credentials of the author which give credence to the research or opinion. Alternatively, assessment of possible conflict of interests. Conflicts of interest may occur were the researcher or author receives funding or has other links with parties that have an interest in the outcome. Conflicts of interest may bias the results even where researchers seek to remain neutral.
- Assessment of the robustness and repeatability of research methods to determine the extent of generalisability and application of the results. This may include looking at the way data was gathered and issues such as sample characteristics and size and the potential for error.
- Identification of flaws or limitations in the article which may limit application of the ideas or theory.
- Assessment of the strengths of the article.
Analysis is the examination of a single article or theory, synthesis is a broader view of a topic, where multiple articles or authors are considered with their findings compared and contrasted to ascertain common themes and differences. Identification of similarities may provide support for a related argument, but differences may be used to question some findings or indicate potential limitations.
In most essays the structure will require the discussion of the various points in a logical manner. The structure of description, analysis, and synthesis may be used as a logical progression to guide the writer. Each argument raised may start with description, explaining details of the point raised, followed by analysis of the argument, before synthesising available information to assess the degree to which the argument is aligned or contradicted by other researchers. If students follow this structure, they are unlikely to be criticised for insufficient analysis.