Evidence to Interpretation to Argument

When it comes to moving from argument to interpretation, the methods and manners with which one arrives at a final presentation are often invisible. Of course there are interviews with authors, behinds the scenes footage, and other content that displays the machine of the mind at work in our favorite pieces of entertainment, but how often do we turn the lens onto ourselves? How often do we say “Hey me… how’d you do it?” In asking ourselves this question, we take the first step in analyzing our practices- ones rooted in years of habit and stability- and discover why exactly it is that they succeed, where they fail, and how they can be improved. This can be a personally formative (and potentially frightening) exercise in objectivity, and is substantially enriched through its positioning among other entries on this blog. It is my hope that through questioning and comparison, we can understand the variety of approaches each one of as has in moving from evidence to interpretation, through dissecting the individual methods of self-analyzation prevailing in this classroom.

I’ll be tracing my path through the Blog Post A assignment, a film review of Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010) as an adaptation of the play, which you can find here.  I’ll be breaking down my method into a series of steps that characterize my argument-building process

Admittedly, I make frequent use of popular (and sometimes less in-depth) forms of research like Wikipedia, Sparknotes, No-Fear Shakespeare, and the Oxford English Dictionary Online. However what’s great about these resources is that they assist in:

1. Understanding the text overall/generally/in a broad sense
This ensures that the evidence that I find later on is understood in context properly, within its sentence/paragraph/passage/chapter/etc.

a) Wikipedia
Here I learn what the play is about, some details about its historical background, and other major points about the play itself. Once I’ve done this, I can start reading.

b) The Tempest (play), Sparknotes, and my notes. I read the synopsis on sparknotes prior to reading each scene. After finishing an act, I make a small summary of what happens. This helps with distinguishing characters and different plotlines throughout the play, making sure I don’t neglect anything obvious that could negate a potential argument.

c) Film: Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert’s website.

Only after understanding the play do I start on the film. From these sources I can start to get a general idea of the film.

Things to note:
– I segment my initial information gathering into chunks. Here I start with the play, and only after I’ve finished do I begin on researching about the film.
– This stage in the process is often entirely analytical. Little of my opinions or emotions come into play or make it onto the page. I’m mostly concerned with understanding what happens in the story. Due to this, I don’t make many interpretive notes on what I’m reading.

2. Creating Ideas
Now that I understand what the text is about, it’s time to start focusing on specific sections to see how it communicates.

Watch the film, have the play text open, have a window for research, have a window for notes (optional: healthy snack)

On first glance this seems a bit chaotic. Where it succeeds is in creating a streamlined workflow, where I can play and pause the movie as I make comparisons to the text, record evidence, gather extra media, and follow an interesting idea or unknown definition through research. This is a stimulating and constantly moving process.

Simultaneously I write down ideas and observations that could contribute towards an argument. As these observations hit the page, I begin to think about the categories or structure that they fit into.

The important thing here for me is writing a lot. This ensures that strong ideas stand out among less convincing ones, and that I have a significant amount of information to work with.

Things to note:
I refrain from researching anything that specifically addresses the arguments I’m trying to make. This assists in:
– Keeping my own ideas genuine and personal
– Retaining the natural ‘flow’ of my information processing (general > focused> specific)

3. Organizing Ideas

What I have at this point is a massive document full of small chunks of ideas, links, screenshots, and other media, all haphazardly thrown into one container.

Now I can start rearranging similar ideas together and see what kind of argument they build. If there are ideas that aren’t fleshed out enough, or don’t add to more relevant or recurring themes, they can go! Typical things that get eliminated are: repeated ideas (often only written in different terms), ideas not relevant to my argument, incoherent ideas.

In the process of moving ideas around, I edit for language, expand on key points I’ve made, and construct transitions from idea to idea. If evidence is missing for a certain argument, I go back and find the best example. Pictures, links, and other media are linked up to their concurrent ideas.

Once all this is done, I modify an existing section or write from scratch an introduction that makes my argument clear. All that’s left now is:

4. Revising and Formatting

I make sure my argument is clear throughout. Now that there is a first draft, I revise, making sure my evidence correlates, and that the key points of my argument are apparent. This is especially important considering my ‘everything goes’ method of dumping ideas onto a page. This is the step that usually separates my argument from an understandable one to one that’s convincing and interesting to read.

Photos then get cropped, hyperlinks are added, and appropriate formatting is done to create some visual harmony. Finally, I sum everything up in a conclusion.

5. Concluding

What defines my method is an openness to thought, and allowing my ideas to flow naturally, not scrutinizing them too carefully before they go from my mind to the page. This, however, can only be done when I’ve sufficiently understood what happens in the text. Once I’ve thrown evidence and arguments all over the page, I can begin to cut down, and only the best of what I have to offer remains.
What could aid me in the future is perhaps more in-depth research when it comes to Step 1 of my method. After gaining a general understanding of the subject of my argument, I could always go further. This could be done through using academic resources, published articles, or sources whose information is less aggregated.

While somewhat chaotic, Step 2 of my method creates a base for which I can start to organize ideas. Visually annotating my own text during this step would definitely assist with larger projects, due to how easy it is to lose track of which ideas belong where in an unorganized mass of text. My preferred document client, Google Docs, has an incredible amount of versatility when it comes to editing and document management. While I take advantage of many of its features, there are always more that could be used. I recommend this resource if you’re looking to take.

Overall, my method of moving from evidence to interpretation is characterized by the freedom with which I let concepts and ideas develop after the initial information-gathering stage.

It was fun (and sometimes confusing) writing about how I write while employing those same methods. This paragraph was written about halfway through this post, and then relocated after! I look forward to reading about how everyone else manages their own process.

by Julian Rojas

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