In this guide, we’ll be talking about identifying, comparing and interpreting different perspectives. In order to evaluate and think critically about different perspectives (which is what the next guide is about), you need to start with these skills.
Let’s break down, one by one, identifying, then comparing and interpreting different perspectives.
Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to see when two different authors have different perspectives on a topic. For example, if they’re directly opposing each other. However, sometimes two authors may agree but for different reasons, or explain their agreement in different ways. Two history professors may think that a certain ruler was a failure, but one might think so because of the ruler’s religious policies while the other might think so because of the ruler’s diplomatic mistakes.
Almost every individual has a different perspective for the same topic, even if they agree. This is because every individual is unique.
Here are some factors to consider when attempting to identify where the difference is between two perspectives:
Background: What makes these two (or more) writers different from each other? Do they come from different cultures, or have different personal traits like their gender? Do they come from different educational backgrounds? (Even two people who both went to university won’t have the same perspective, because different universities teach the same subject in different ways.) Do they come from different regions of the world?
Research Tip: It’s very important not to read someone’s identity into their work. A female professor is not going to have a certain opinion just because she’s a woman, for example. Looking at the background of an individual is a good starting place for identification and analysis, but should not be the ending point. Again,
Assumptions/Worldview: This category can be difficult to analyze because most argument writers don’t explicitly state what their assumptions are or worldview is. (Sometimes they do, and that can be helpful.) It’s important to keep this category in mind, however, because oftentimes we as humans fail to recognize that not everyone operates under the same assumptions and worldviews as we ourselves do.
External Sources: People may have different perspectives for reasons outside of their own personal characteristics.
For example, an anthropologist and a chemist would approach the same topic very differently because of the field they’re in, and therefore have different perspectives.
One English professor might have been researching a novel by Dickens, and another researching the short detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, and as a result their perspective on Victorian Literature, while possibly complementary, are going to be different.
If two perspectives are fundamentally different or argumentative, it can seem easy at first glance to compare them. However, a deep comparison of two perspectives goes further than just looking at their obvious differences.
Here are some places where you can compare two perspectives:
Main Idea: Is the main idea different? What are the differences and similarities between the thesis statements of the two arguments? This should be a pretty straightforward comparison.
Methodology: What’s the research approach that these two arguments are taking?
Line of Reasoning: What claims do these authors make, and what evidence do they use to back those claims up? It’s not uncommon to see two authors use the same piece of evidence when working on the same topic.
Context of the argument/paper/artistic work: Is the time or situation of the work different? (We covered context in Big Idea 2!)
Limitations of the argument's research: Does one perspective see things the other perspective misses?
Authorial bias and its effects: This is easiest to see when an author is clearly biased (or biased in a direction that you are not) but to an extent this applies to all works.
Conclusion: Do the two papers have different results?
Implications: Are the implications, stated or otherwise, different?
As mentioned before, there are many ways to interpret two different perspectives. Indeed, you’re already interpreting perspectives by comparing them and thinking critically about why they’re different! However, you’ll need to take it a step further for your paper and think about how the perspectives work (or don’t work) together.
Oppositional: Perspectives may be in disagreement or directly contradict/argue against each other.
Concurring: Perspectives may agree with each other.
Complementary: While the perspectives may not explicitly agree with each other, they may work together to prove a larger point.
Competing: The perspectives may be mutually exclusive. In other words, a world where one is true is a world where the other can’t be true. This is rare for academic works because scholars generally acknowledge nuance and complexity in their writings, allowing for disagreement. However, it does occur sometimes. In this case, it might be best for your research paper to only choose to include one of these perspectives in your final paper.
Competing could also refer to two (or more) perspectives that are literally competing with each other: for the reader’s attention, or for the reader to accept some call to action or proposed solution. In this case, the perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive.
Even after all this analysis, a perspective may ultimately not be helpful or clear to you. Some perspectives are ambiguous or not well defined or just not what you need right now for your paper. That’s okay.
In our next guide, we’ll be talking about how to evaluate different perspectives.