Guide to Analysis Writing
I've had a few people curious about my methodology, so I thought I'd share the process I go through as a "guide" of sorts. This, of course, is just how I go through information, and evolves into a little more detail each time I write a new analysis, but I hope it helps people see how these can be written, or at least explains how I get from point A to point B. -------- -------- --------
R E S E A R C H
Research is, naturally, the first key step in any analysis. With badly done research, you'll draw improper or incomplete conclusions about an animal's behavior. This step cannot be taken lightly, unless you're only looking to do a quick, short, or "vibe" analysis. You'll need a good way of taking notes; I personally just use a document on the computer to compile everything, since it's easy to erase, add, and fix notes as I read.
♦ Read about your form and take notes. This step is simple and obvious; you're going to want to look up information using the internet and libraries/books you have access to, and take notes about the form. However, there are several sub-points in this step that I feel need to be noted.
♦ Look up information relating to the form's climate. Animals are very climate-specific creatures, and feature adaptations to their natural environment. In this, the ecosystem that an animal lives in cannot be overlooked hastily. Having an understanding of the ecosystem they live in helps tremendously in understanding an animal's behavior.
♦ Look up things you don't know. It's easy to sometimes gloss over a term you may not know, like "femoral pores," without actually understanding what the term means. Your research is going to be filled with scientific terms you may not know; don't feel stupid for having to look things up. Doing so will add to your understanding of the animal's behavior.
♦ Don't overlook the obvious. How an animal obtains its air, food, and water; how it moves around; its appearance; its general species traits - all of these things can be easily overlooked in the analysis process. Not everything is important, but if you skip over the obvious, you may be doing the same for the person reading your analysis. My notes do, yes, include things like "flies" or "lives in a salt-water environment."
♦ Include other media in your research. By this, I mean look at pictures and watch videos. You might notice some interesting or key things about a species' behavior that, while it may be anecdotal, may also reveal something that your reading didn't. It may also enhance your understanding of specific behaviors that may be less clear in writing, like courtship.
I N T E R P R E T
Interpreting is both a science and an art, and draws upon multiple types of intelligence, from scientific and analytical to the symbolic and intuitive. To interpret properly, you must sort through each piece of information thoughtfully and neutrally.
♦ Think about it first. The first thing I do after finishing my research is to save my notes and put them away. This gives me time to have some sporadic, "unorganized" thought processes about all the information I've read. When I set the information aside, my brain starts trying to solve "the puzzle" of the analysis. This gives me time for interesting insights on behaviors that stuck out to me. It also gives me a chance to think of things I didn't see in my research that I might go back to before beginning analysis. I may only let this sit for a few hours; I may let it sit for a couple of days. The important thing is taking that small functional break to let the brain process what I've learned freely.
♦ The point-by-point analysis. Once I feel ready to tackle the actual analysis, I pull my notes back up, along with a separate document to start writing the analysis in. My notes, at this point, are just a bulleted list of facts I've jotted down from my sources, usually in very little order (although I do sometimes group facts together). In this stage, I go through each point, evaluate, and attempt to analyze it. Each analytical point I come up with, I write down in my new document, grouping similar ideas together (more about that below).
The interpretation process is a difficult one to explain, but in the end, every point I bring to an analysis has a rational behind it. When evaluating each fact, this is the questioning process I go through to find meaning - the getting from a biological fact to a point in the analysis.
♦ Don't cross the streams. If you were thorough in your notes and research, then you should know which points you've written down that were about animals in captivity, anecdotal, or perhaps notes about unhealthy animals. Make sure you clarify any of these points as being specific to those situations. Captivity (with the exception of domestic animal analyses) may be unhealthy behavior or may reflect other behavior (such as living or work specific conditions). Anecdotal evidence I use with caution, and always include "may" or "possibly" indicators rather than "you are" or "you do." Unhealthy behaviors should always be noted as unhealthy (unhealthy behaviors are those which an animal exhibits when it is sick or stressed, and not when they are healthy and comfortable).
♦ Analysis is also about playing "20 Questions." No, not literally. In the analysis process, you should generally have an idea of what general types of behavior you look for in an analysis. Many people use the RA format as a basis for this, but mine is a little more disorganized. I essentially look for introversion/extroversion, social interactions, thought processes, emotional behavior/well-being, and personal habits. As I'm going through facts - and then going back through them in the writing process detailed below - I'm constantly running through questions in my head that spring up. There are times that I often refer to the RA Formats list to skim over questions and see if perhaps there's a key point I feel I might be missing, which leads me to my next point.
♦ Don't force it. You aren't responsible for knowing how a form would act in every single circumstance. An analysis should interpret all of its research to its best of its ability. It should not attempt to "fill in the gaps" by projecting or imagining what a form would do in a specific situation. While a person can fill out a very detailed RA, we can't ask the same of an animal. There is often insufficient research to indicate how animals might behave in various situations, and sometimes gaps in the research mean you don't know an animal's specific social structure, or courtship behavior. Don't exaggerate, fib, or stretch the truth. Present what you know from your extensive and thorough research, and nothing more. If a significant gap of knowledge is present, make a note in your analysis that the research is lacking in this area and remains an unknown.
W R I T E
How a person writes an analysis is up to their personal tastes and creativity in presentation. Some people prefer to just give a bulleted list, others group by category with sub-headings. I prefer writing in a fluid, paragraph style without subheadings, and the details below reflect this particular style. So long as you present the information and analysis you've come to concisely and intelligently, this part is really all up to you.
♦ Writing in "chunks." As I mentioned above, as I go through and write down my interpretation of each point in the analysis, I group similar ideas together. This generally relates to four areas - Social, Emotional, Thought Process, and Personal Quirks. As each point gets added, I begin to piece paragraphs together, grouping like ideas together or breaking them apart. This process also allows me to go back and enhance or elaborate on previous points I may have written.
♦ Putting it in order. While I don't use sub-headings, I generally follow a simple guideline for my analysis: inward (core personality traits), outward (social personality traits), emotional, logical, miscellaneous. The flow of this really depends on the points I have in each analysis, and I try to stick as much miscellaneous in between the other four categories rather than just dumping it at the end.
♦ Smoothing it out. Once I have the order as I'd like it, I give the analysis a thorough read-over. During this process, I make sure I like the interpretations I've given, connect points together to improve the flow, and generally just improve my word choice, grammar, and paragraph/sentence organization until I feel it reads as smoothly as possible. While I am always left over with some bits that seem out of place, I always leave in what I feel important.
♦ Sum it up. A quick list of key traits at the top of the analysis helps seekers quickly identify traits that the interpreted animal has, so they can do a quick self-check to see if it fits them. For example, a quick list like "semi-social, introverted, calm, hard-worker, hierarchical, poor sense of humor" lets readers know that if they don't have these traits, this form just isn't for them. You don't have to add every trait here; just the ones that are most important to the form - the key traits that make it what it is.
♦ Making additional notes. Any gaps in the research, special notes about things you couldn't interpret, fun facts, notes of caution, etc. should be included at the end of the analysis. I feel it is the responsibility of the writer to let a reader know that, for example, an animal's social behavior in the wild is virtually unknown, or that the research was so sparse that the form is current unviable. The reader is only going to see your interpretation, and may make their decision to research or not research a form solely on what you wrote. Honesty with your reader is important, and doesn't discredit you in any way.
♦ Presentation. This is totally up to you, but I prefer a simple approach. In addition to the narrative style, I like including one or two pictures of the form (full body for at least one, and male and female for species that exhibit sexual dimorphism); one at the beginning and one as a visual break about midway through. Including a picture using left or right justification tags is also nice, but may cause formatting problems on different forum skins and screen sizes. I also include the scientific name, family, and other names the species is known under as this aids in animal research and in helping people who are searching the forum find the analysis. I also present my sources in "More information:" at the end of the analysis to help others get a starting point on their research.