AMA Answers: What is Analysis, Anyway?

August 6, 2013

what is analysis

In today’s business world, it seems like there is an endless  need for analysis–data, software, risk and more–but what is analysis, anyway? AMA faculty member Haywood Spangler emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between analysis and description:

Who, what, when, where, how and why – elementary school book reports may be the worst way most of us learn to ask these six crucial questions.

As youngsters, we first learn to ask these questions of the plot of a book.  We carry these questions with us into adulthood, but we ask these questions of the real-life situations we encounter.

To succeed as adults, we have to be clear that these six questions entail different cognitive tasks: who, what, when and where involve gathering facts, or data. “How” and “why” involve interpreting the data. In other words, the former questions involve description. The latter questions involve analysis. Distinguishing between description and analysis is critical in today’s data-driven business world.

Remember that analysis literally means “breaking into parts.” (Likewise, synthesis means putting the parts back together). Much of the material we encounter is description – details on people, places, dates and frequency of occurrence. To make the most of all this detailed material – to understand its impact on our work – we have to break it into parts, or analyze it. Breaking material into pieces involves asking how and why.

Analysis, asking how and why, is the first step in problem solving, decision-making and creating solutions.  Therefore, success often depends on seeing the difference between description and analysis. Analysis requires description, but description requires analysis for you to reach your goals.


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About The Author

Haywood Spangler developed the Spangler Ethical Reasoning Assessment (SERA), to show people how sharpening ethical reasoning improves work performance and job satisfaction. Haywood uses the SERA in seminars and key-note presentations with corporations, non-profits and government agencies. He currently conducts research with the SERA at institutions such as Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School. Haywood has 10 years of CEO experience in the non-profit sector and is an adjunct faculty member at Virginia commonwealth University. He holds graduate degrees from Yale University and The University of Virginia.

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