The purpose of this article is to spell out the method of analysis I've developed over the years. The purpose of doing that is to help myself use the method more often and with a more thorough and consistent procedure and to come up with ways to teach it to anyone who's interested.
The article is a work in progress, as is the method.
I'm calling this article "Analysis," because that's the term I usually use, but I hardly ever think about analysis on its own. My idea of analysis pulls along with it synthesis, in the form of modeling and systems thinking. But I use the term analysis to cover all of it. If I had to pick another one, I'd call it systematizing.
Traditionally analysis is seen as being about conceptually taking apart the subject matter, separating it into its components, and synthesis is about assembling the parts. But with my question-asking approach, I really do both at about the same time. It's more a process of clarifying and exploring than disassembly and reassembly.
What are the goals of analysis in this method? There are two stages to think about in an analytical journey: the product of the analysis itself and the purposes that product can be used for.
The product I intend from an analysis is a model of the object I'm observing. The representation of the model can take various forms, such as a diagram, an essay, or a computer program. The model itself is an abstraction, though it will always have to take some form, if only as a set of ideas in the mind.
Another metaphor I use for this product is a map. This article, for example, is a representation of a map of my analytical method. This is appropriate for my journey metaphor.
The second stage of travel is the use you'll put the model to. To name some key examples, the model could be a basis for learning information or a skill, for creating other content, or for making a decision or solving a problem. In this case our purpose is to have a general analytical procedure to apply.
Why are we interested in knowing the goals of analysis? First, the goal determines what aspects of the material we're analyzing are important. So it's key to defining the model and also to directing our attention and maximizing our use of time. In this case, these goals will define our model of analysis.
Second, knowing the point of what we're doing is a great motivator. Sometimes it can make the difference between persevering and giving up.
Objects of study
Any analysis will have an object that's being analyzed, which I'll call the object of study. It helps to survey what objects these can be. You can analyze just about anything. But you might not think of something as a thing that can be analyzed. And when thinking through a general analytical procedure, your ideas about the procedure might be too limited if you don't keep in mind the range of possible objects.
So what kinds of analyzable objects are there? They can be classified a number of ways that might affect the ways you analyze them. I'll list a few categories here that could be grouped and contrasted in various ways and an example or two of each: static (images) vs. dynamic (videos, procedures); concrete (concrete) vs. abstract (equations); individual (employees, birds) vs. collective (businesses, ecosystems); discrete (social networks) vs. continuous (temperatures); visual (dances), auditory (room acoustics), tactile (paper textures), textual (scientific articles), etc.; objective (nerve impulses) vs. subjective (intuitions, sensations); causal (geological processes) vs. purposeful (engines). Each object can be placed into more than one category.
Additionally, you'll be analyzing particular dimensions of the object depending on your purpose. For example, a film could be analyzed for its dialog, cinematography, music, acting, directing, its influences, impact on society, and so on.
The models we build are abstractions, but to communicate them and work with them effectively, we have to give them concrete representations. These take the form of various media types. Some of the most common are written or spoken text, information visualizations such as maps and graphs, and computer file formats such as software and data files. There may be other effective representation formats in auditory, haptic, and other modes.
It's important to distinguish the representation from the model itself. It means you can switch to a different representation if it better communicates the model or fits the needs of the audience. Another representation might also make the model easier for you to explore or manipulate as you're developing it.