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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Analyzing Two Texts

When you analyze the argument in a text, you take a look at what case the author is making and how. Analyzing two texts can be a little bit complicated and confusing, especially when they have opposing arguments, but it’s not impossible. It would be great if you had magical analysis glasses that did it all for you, but in the real world, unfortunately, you’ve got to do it by hand.

In this lesson, we’ll work on strategies for analyzing two texts with opposing arguments, what points they make, and how. You’ll learn how to organize your ideas and a method that can help you get started, even when you don’t know where to begin.

What Do They Say?

It can be kind of hard knowing where to start when you’re comparing two texts, so here’s a quick start method: read each text and jot down what the author is trying to say or argue. Just worry about one text at a time. We’ll start with two example texts.

Text #1 is an excerpt from a speech by Abraham Lincoln. This speech was given on June 16, 1858, right before the Civil War. Lincoln is talking about slavery.

We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government (the United States) cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.

What is Lincoln trying to say here? Think about it for a second and see if you can come up with your own answer. Lincoln is saying that the United States has to pick one: slavery or no slavery. None of this a la carte business for individual states.

Text #2 is an excerpt from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. This speech was given about two months later, on August 21, 1858, by Lincoln’s political opponent, Stephen Douglas.

Mr. Lincoln. . . says that this Government cannot endure permanently in the same condition in which it was made by its framers – divided into free and slave states. . . Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and the great men of that day. . . left each State perfectly free to do as it pleased on the subject of slavery. Why can it not exist on the same principles on which our fathers made it?. . . At the time the Constitution was framed, there were thirteen States in the Union, twelve of which were slaveholding States and one free State. Suppose this doctrine of uniformity preached by Mr. Lincoln, that the States should all be free or all be slave had prevailed, and what would have been the result? Of course, the twelve slaveholding States would have overruled the one free State, and slavery would have been fastened by a Constitutional provision on every inch of the American Republic. . . Here I assert that uniformity in the local laws and institutions of the different States is neither possible or desirable.

What’s going on here? Stephen Douglas is making a speech arguing against Lincoln. He thinks that the United States will do just fine with some slave states and some free states. After all, it’s been that way since the beginning of the country.

Breaking Down the Argument

Now let’s directly compare and analyze these two arguments. To keep everything organized, we’ll make a comparison contrast chart with four categories: position, evidence, assumptions, and counterarguments.


What main point does each passage make? They’re disagreeing about whether or not the United States can keep going with some slave states and some free states. Lincoln says ‘No,’ Douglas says ‘Yes.’


What evidence does each man use to back up his argument? Lincoln discusses the failure of recent policies to stop slavery agitation. Douglas brings up historical precedent and the wisdom of the founding fathers. You can see that both texts use historical evidence to support their points, but they’re not arguing about what the historical facts are. They’re arguing about what the facts mean.

In another pair of opposing passages, you might get an argument about what the facts are in the first place, but this argument isn’t like that. Once you understand each author’s position and evidence, you can analyze their argument to see that this is about interpretation of facts, not what the facts are.


Look back at the positions in the evidence. What assumptions is each author making? This is the hidden glue that makes each argument stick together. For example, Douglas is assuming that what the founding fathers did in the 1780s would still work in 1858, even though the United States was totally different. That’s not necessarily true. Looking at the assumptions behind each argument lets you analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the argument and decide which one you think is stronger.


What could you say against each text? Use the assumptions to think about counterarguments for each person. In this case, one potential counterargument to each text would be:

  • Counter to Lincoln: Just because the policies in the last five years haven’t worked, doesn’t mean no policy will ever work.
  • Counter to Douglas: Just because half slave half free worked in the 1780s, doesn’t mean it still works in the 1850s.

Comparison Contrast Chart

You can fill in this chart from top to bottom (positions, evidence, assumptions, counterarguments) for any pair of passages. You can remember it because the letters P, E, A, C also stand for ‘Philosophical Eagles Ate Cupcakes,’ which doesn’t make much sense but is really fun to imagine.

How Do They Say It?

Another way to analyze these two texts is to look at how they use rhetorical devices to make their points. Rhetorical devices are basically the choice of language and styles used to make a point, and they can range from using metaphors to using logic to persuade an audience. For this, we’ll use a different chart, which names some things that you might look out for in two opposing texts, such as references, tone, and style. This chart, for example, will give you some idea of what rhetorical devices each text is using.

Rhetorical Devices

For example, Lincoln has a very memorable metaphor about a house divided against itself, which is actually a quote from the Bible. Meanwhile, Douglas talks a lot more about the Founding Fathers. Both of these are different ways to add weight to the speech by referencing something that people respect very highly.

You can see that for a lot of the categories, Lincoln and Douglas are pretty similar. That’s to be expected. These are both political speeches from the same year (1858). But if you had, say, a political speech and a newspaper editorial on the topic, they might sound very different. Then you could analyze how each text used different rhetorical devices to make an argument.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you learned how to analyze two texts with opposing arguments. First, look at each text separately to figure out what it’s saying, then compare both texts to see P, E, A, C (position, evidence, assumptions, and counterarguments), how texts use rhetorical devices to make their points, what kind of language they use, and what kind of style or tone they adopt.

This will let you compare both arguments and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. It can help to make a chart or a checklist to compare the passages and get your evidence together. Use the charts in this lesson and adapt them to your own needs. Using a chart can help you stay organized and get started when you’re not quite sure what to do first.

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