Quantities and Questions
Me, I like to analyze things. Pick them apart and put them back together again. And I’m not just talking about breaking into an old blender to see how it works. When I’m looking at a piece of writing, I do it too.
Literary analysis usually comes in the form of studying symbolism, figurative language, etc. But what if we go past the words and dive into some numbers? How can we quantify a piece of writing? And what might we learn from that?
- Grab a book from this month’s theme list, flip open to any random 2-page spread and start counting.
- Start simple. How many paragraphs? Here’s what I found:
- Folding Tech 6.5
- Cool Paper Folding 3
- The Science of Fashion 5
This simple activity brought up questions: Is each speech bubble considered a paragraph? What about each bullet point? Within each book, how consistent is this number from spread to spread? Comparing books, why might the number of paragraphs vary so much? What factors are involved in paragraph length?
And that might lead to another level of counting: How many sentences per paragraph?
- Folding Tech 4
- Cool Paper Folding 2
- The Science of Fashion 3
Of course, that led to more questions: What’s the average on one spread? How much does it vary from spread to spread? From book to book? What factors might an author consider when making decisions (consciously or subconsciously) about where to break for another paragraph?
This analysis might lead us to dive even deeper: How many words per sentence?
Which might then lead us to: How many letters per word?
For the most authentic inquiry, I find that it is best to begin this analysis manually, but once a writer become curious about patterns across a book or between multiple books, the counting can become laborious. Time for some tools!
Check out your word processing program. I’ll bet you’ll find a word count feature and more. Snag a bit of text from a book and put that tech to work!
Compare that text to a similar portion from one of your own pieces of writing. In what ways are the quantities similar? Different? In what ways are the intended audiences similar? Different?
As I was performing my analyses, I noticed that both Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology and The Science of Fashion (Inquire Investigate) used another really cool tool that can be used for analysis: word clouds! I love the way these turn data into visuals.
- Find a word cloud generator online. Lots of options at https://coolinfographics.com/word-clouds Here’s one of this blog post.
- Create a word cloud in the shape of the topic of the text.
- What other fun ways can you analyze and visualize your writing?
Quantities and questions can lead to an entire realm of learning about writing. Try it yourself!
When not analyzing words written by others, Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals! Snag some text from her recent Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other to see what you can see! Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com