By Dr Oliver Tearle
The word analysis can be an extremely useful one. When writing about science, literary criticism, political analysis, and a wealth of other topics, analysis is often an integral part of one’s language. The word is from a Latin term meaning ‘to resolve something into its elements or constituent parts’, which itself goes back ultimately to an ancient Greek word that meant ‘loosening or undoing’ something – the idea being that by taking something apart one could work out how it was, as it were, put together.
But what are some handy alternatives to the word analysis? What synonyms can the writer draw upon to avoid over-relying on analysis?
Below, we introduce and discuss some of the best synonyms for analysis which can be used in a variety of contexts.
It’s become common in sports broadcasts for the pundits in the studio to talk about a post-match BREAKDOWN, or for scientists and data analysts to talk about a breakdown of the figures and what they mean. So this is one helpful synonym for analysis: a breakdown sees the experts breaking down the data, the event(s), or whatever else is being discussed so that those smaller component parts can be discussed and their significance identified.
Although it’s an altogether more scientific-sounding word, the term DISSECTION is similar in its implications: the word is from the Latin for ‘to cut across’ or ‘cut apart’, much as a line which cuts through another bisects it. In both breakdown and dissection, the analysis involves cutting something up into smaller components in order to examine it.
The same is also true of the word ANATOMY, which is reserved for medical contexts, and which also (etymologically) means ‘cutting up’. Although it’s almost exclusively used to describe the dissection of animal or human bodies, the OED observes that it can be used ‘more generally of any organized body’.
We mentioning examining just now, and EXAMINATION is another useful synonym for analysis. It comes from a Latin term meaning ‘to weigh or balance’, or to consider something critically. INSPECTION is another term which has a similar meaning: to inspect something is to examine it.
A close synonym for analysis is SCRUTINY, a word with a curious etymology. It’s said to be derived from the Latin scrūta meaning ‘old or broken stuff, trash, frippery, trumpery’. How does this relate to the idea of scrutinising or analysing something? Well, the idea is that you thoroughly search right through all of this old stuff, searching even to the rags – if you will, leaving no stone unturned. This was the title of a well-known literary journal at the University of Cambridge in the twentieth century, run by F. R. Leavis (and memorably parodied as Thumbscrew in Frederic Crews’ book The Pooh Perplex).
Of course, an official analysis into something can be described as a PROBE – whether medical, legal, or political. It’s another way of describing an INVESTIGATION.
A STUDY of something is a kind of analysis, whether it’s a scientific study, a study of a novel, or some other kind. This word is obviously related to words like student, studious, and studio, all of which are ultimately from the Latin studium, a word had a whole host of meanings, including ‘earnest application’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘object of interest’, and ‘intellectual activity’.
Similar to the word study is INTERPRETATION, an analysis which hinges upon discovering the meaning or meanings of a particular thing, such as a text (whether a holy text or a work of literature).
Meanwhile, the words INQUIRY, EXPLANATION, AUDIT, and EVALUATION can also be used as synonyms or near-synonyms for analysis. Inquiry and audit throw the emphasis more upon undertaking an analysis in the first place: i.e., on investigating something in order to find something out. Explanation and evaluation are more focused upon the end of the analytical process, and on what the findings or conclusion might be.
In terms of certain fields such as literary analysis, the synonyms REVIEW, CRITICISM, and COMMENTARY are all relevant and useful. For instance, a book review is a piece of analysis, a work of literary criticism is a work of analysis, and a commentary – such as a biblical commentary, for instance – analyses a piece of text with a view to unearthing its meaning.