Invention Techniques Pt. 2

Description, Deduction, & Speculation
Adapted from Barbara Emmel’s Evidence as a Creative Act
Developed by Jules Prown for the analysis of art, this three-step method offers a guide to critically analyzing any text.

Step One: Description
Before you can analyze anything, you must explore it exhaustively. The work you are able to do in the subsequent stages depends upon the quality of work you complete during description. Restrict yourself to noting only that which can be observed in the object itself (this can often be difficult). Do not make any inferences or speculation about what you observe. If you find you are continually tempted to make an analysis of what you are observing, ask yourself why you are so drawn to that conclusion. This may be a way of uncovering your biases. There are three sub-categories of description:

1. Analysis of the object’s substance: in art, this would be the medium – sculpture, oil painting, etc; in advertising this would also be the medium and the location the ad might be found – a print ad in Cosmo is going to be a wholly different category than a commercial run on MSNBC; in analyzing a text, you would look at the genre and means of publication – perhaps it is a privately published pamphlet or an essay in an anthology or an article in The Los Angeles Times.
2. Analysis of the object’s content: in art, what images are depicted; in advertising, what images are depicted, is there any text, what does it say?; in a text, what does it say?
3. Analysis of the object’s form: in art, this would include a minute analysis of the features of the work, such as lines, shapes, curves, repeated details, dimension, color; relationships between images (ex – one man is in the foreground; three are in the background; do not draw any conclusions – describe only what is there!); in advertising, analysis would include all of the same features as art and would extend to include size and placement of text, font, color, etc; in a text, this would include an analysis of formal conventions of writing such as organization, thesis, style, etc.

Do not dismiss anything from the descriptive stage – you are only limiting your analysis when you do so!

Step Two: Deduction
Your observations from step one become evidence for the conclusions you will draw in this stage. See the example from sub-stage 3 above: perhaps the man in the foreground is on a horse while those in the background are bent over the ground. You might conclude that the man in the foreground is in a position of power. Perhaps the colors of the painting are muted – you might conclude that this is to imply somberness. This works similarly in advertising. In text, this step involves deducing authorial motive, etc. In this stage, you might also examine what is missing from a text.

Step Three: Speculation
With steps one and two done, step three is generally a breeze! In the speculative stage, you examine all of your deductions in relation to each other to arrive at the greater meaning of what has been described and deduced. You “shape the foregoing observations and deductions into a conscious whole.” You might decide the painter of the above picture is making a commentary on the plight of field workers.

Speculation asks “So what?” You have arrived at a “conscious whole” and now you can examine your reaction to it. You would reflect upon what other players might be involved in the issue. You might compare your object to other objects and you would incorporate any outside research you have done.