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Definition Of An Analytical Essay

: Writing an analytic essay requires that you make some sort of argument. The core of this argument is called a thesis. It is your claim, succinctly stated in a single sentence. What do budding literary critics such as yourselves argue about? You make a pervasive, persistent case that a certain thing is true about a piece of literature. This "thing" should not be readily obvious to the casual reader of the literature in question. It is what you draw out of the book or essay, how you interpret it. It is a claim that must be supported by specific evidence from the text. At least once during the course of writing your essay, isolate what you consider to be your thesis. Is your proposition both arguable and reasonable? If it is obvious (i.e. Mary Rowlandson used the Bible for comfort during her captivity) you don’t have an argument. Argument requires analysis (i.e. taking things apart and explaining them). One test that may help is asking yourself what the opposite "side" of your argument would be. A good, complicated thesis (which was proposed by one of your classmates) is that "Although Mary Rowlandson says she often used the Bible as a source of comfort during her captivity, a closer reading of her narrative suggests her faith may have been more troubled by her experience than she lets on." One useful structure for writing thesis statements is the "although" form used above: "Although x seems to be true about this piece of literature, y is in fact more true (or makes our thinking about x more complex)." In this form you present both sides of your argument at once and show which side you’re on. Your job in the paper is to convince your reader to join you. Another way to write an effective thesis statement is to use the form "If we look closely at x (e.g. how Bradford defines freedom) we discover y (that ).

Look for images or metaphors that the author uses consistently. What other sort of pattern can you identify in the text? How do you interpret this pattern so that your reader will understand the book, essay, poem, speech, etc. better?

What philosophical, moral, ethical, etc. ideas is the author advocating or opposing? What are the consequences of accepting the author's argument?

Explain how the work functions as a piece of rhetoric--how does the author attempt to convince his or her reader of something? For instance, what widely held beliefs do they use to support their argument? How do they appeal to emotions, logic…

Re-examine something that the text or most readers take for granted (that Thoreau’s book Walden represents his attempt to escape from society). Question this major premise and see where it takes you

Ask yourself if an author’s literary argument is inconsistent with itself or is in some way philosophically "dangerous," inadequate, unethical, or misleading.

Examine how characters are presented in a story. How do they help the main character to develop? Which characters are trustworthy? Which are not? Why are they presented this way?


: How the parts of the book or essay follow one another; how the parts are assembled to make a whole? Why does the author start where they start, end where they end? What is the logical progression of thought? How might that progression be intended to affect the reader What effect might this progression of ideas have on a generic reader or on a reader from the time period in which the work was written? Does the piece move from the general to the specific or vice versa?

If you could divide the book/essay into sections, units of meaning, what would those sections be? How are they related to each other? Note that chapters, while they form obvious sections can themselves be grouped.

Referring to the text

: In writing analytic papers that address any kind of literature, it is necessary to refer to the text (the specific words on the page of the book) in order to support your argument. This means that you must quote and interpret passages that demonstrate or support your argument. Quotation is usually stronger than paraphrase. Remember also that your purpose in writing an essay is not merely to paraphrase or summarize (repeat) what the author has said, but to make an argument about how the make their point, or how they have said what they have said.


: includes the way an author phrases his or her sentences, the key metaphors used (it’s up to you to explain how these metaphors are used, why these metaphors are appropriate, effective, ineffective, or ambiguous). Is the way a sentence is phrased particularly revealing of the author’s meaning?

Please title your paper and make the title apt and enticing--I LOVE a good title. It puts me in a good mood before I start reading.

Be clear about whether you’re writing about a book, an essay (non-fiction, short prose), a story (short fiction) a poem, a novel (book-length fiction), an autobiography, a narrative (as in Captivity Narratives) etc. Walden is a book comprised of chapters. Each of these chapters could also be called an essay. Within these essays, Thoreau sometimes tells stories. The book itself is not a story, but closer to a narrative, which is non-fiction.

Always go through at least two drafts of you paper. Let your paper sit, preferably for 24 hours between drafts sometime during the process of your writing.


first person pronoun ("I") in your final draft (it’s OK for rough drafts and may help you write).

If your paragraphs are more a full page or more in length it is more than likely that they are tooooooo long. Probably you have too many ideas "in the air" at once. Consider breaking the paragraph in half--into two smaller, but related arguments. Your reader needs a break, needs more structure in order to be able to follow your meaning.

If several of your paragraphs are exceedingly short (4-5 lines), it is likely that you are not developing your ideas thoroughly enough--that you are writing notes rather than analysis. Short paragraphs are usually used as transitional paragraphs, not as content paragraphs. (Short paragraphs can be used in the rhetorical devise of reversal where you lead your reader down a certain path (to show them one side of the argument, the one you are going to oppose) and then turn away from that argument to state the true argument of your paper.)

Employ quotation often.

One quotation per argumentative paragraph is usually necessary. Depending upon the length and complexity of the passage or topic you're dealing with, more quotations may be useful to prevent you from getting too far away from the text. Your quotations combined with your interpretations are your proof. Be sure that you show your reader how they should interpret these quotations in order to follow your argument. (Almost every quotation should be followed by an interpretation, a deeper reading of what is being said and how its being said. This interpretation demonstrates how the quotation supports the claim you're making about it). Pay attention to metaphor, phrasing, tone, alliteration, etc. How is the author saying what they are saying--what does that teach us about the text?

Remember to write directive (sometimes called "topic") sentences for your paragraphs. The first sentence of any paragraph should give your reader an idea of what the paragraph is going to say and how the paragraph will connect to the larger argument. It should have more to do with what you have to say about the materials than what the author him or herself has said.

Transitions between paragraphs

: try to get away from using "The next," "First of all" "Another thing..." to connect your paragraphs. This is the "list" method of structuring a paper--not an integrated, logical approach. A really strong transition makes the logical connection between paragraphs or sections of a paper and gives the reader a sense that you’re building an argument. To make sure you are making a well-connected argument, ask yourself how the last sentence of each paragraph and the first sentence of the next are connected. Each of the sentences within your paragraphs should be related somehow (follow from, refer to, etc.) the one that precedes it, and the one which follows it. This will help the reader follow the flow of your ideas. The order of your paragraphs should reveal a developing argument.

On the most basic level, you should be able to consciously justify the presence and placement of every word in every sentence, every sentence in every paragraph, every paragraph in every essay. To repeat: in revising your papers after the first draft (which is always, inevitably to some degree confused because you are involved in the process of working your ideas out), you should be highly conscious of what you are doing and why you are doing it.






How to Write an Analytical Essay

An analytical essay can be defined as a writer's reaction/response to a body of work through a critical lens. That is, one must set out to explain the significance of the text by persuading the reader of a certain point regarding the text. This point or claim the writer is trying to make is not a fact, but rather his/her opinion of the text. The writer must support his/her argument by exploring the text in great depth. To do this effectively, one must use evidence from the text to explore all sides of his/her argument regarding the text and ultimately, support his/her claim. 

Format / Structure of the Analytical Essay 

The analytical essay is usually broken up into sections. An outline of these sections (not necessarily in this order) would usually include: 

I. An abstract of the text which includes any historical background that is relevant to the understanding of the piece. 

II. Using the collection of evidence gathered, the writer goes on to evaluate the text in terms of the argument he/she is making. He/she must persuade the reader of his/her point regarding the text through the interpretation of gathered evidence from the text. 

III. An evaluation of the explicit and implicit assumptions the author of the original text makes and how these assumptions create other implied arguments within the text. 

IV. An explanation of any inherent contradictions within the text. These contradictions can be caused by the author's unwarranted assumptions about his audience or assumptions about the world that are contradictory to that of the analyst. In both sections three and four, the writer should focus on the author's feeling toward his intended audience. The writer may also explore how the author attempts to emotionally appeal to his audience. 

V. Conclusion. 


Traditionally, the introductory paragraph will provide a summary of the original text, otherwise known as an abstract. Here, the author and text (underlined or italicized) that will be examined throughout the essay should be introduced and the text itself should be summarized. It is important to provide any peripheral information that the reader should be familiar with. That is, any background information regarding the text that is relevant, but should not necessarily be included in the body paragraphs. Peripheral information could include, but is not limited to, the historical background of the text or some brief biographical information regarding the author. It is important to include this information because it will establish a point of view for the reader. That is, the reader will start to become familiar with the writer's interpretation of the text. Lastly, the thesis statement or argument the writer is setting out to prove should serve as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. 

Thesis / Central Argument 

The thesis statement can be defined as the central argument or main idea of the essay and serves as the essay's foundation. In an analytical essay, the thesis statement is reactionary. The writer has read the original work and is establishing a solid viewpoint regarding the text. This viewpoint can be a bold statement regarding the author's intended purpose of the original text. A clear, concise thesis statement in an analytical essay would be as follows: “Matthew Arnold believes that the onset of the Industrial Revolution has proven hazardous to the human spirit. He believes that progress has left humans spiritually empty due to the ever-growing dismissive attitude toward religion.” This claim about Arnold's poem is reactionary on the part of the writer. The writer will now set to prove his/her claim using evidence from the text. 

Format of the Main Body 

Within the body of the essay, one may focus on an aspect of the poem that serves to supports the essay's theme. For example, one may choose to describe the image of human suffering that is portrayed throughout the poem through the rise and fall of meter throughout the poem: “Begin, and cease, and then again begin, / With tremulous cadence slow, and bring / The eternal note of sadness in” (Arnold, 1867). Here, the rise and fall of meter mimics the ebb and flow of the tide, which parallels the theme of the poem, the endless flow of human suffering. 

The writer would now move on to discuss the inherent assumptions present in the text. “Arnold assumes that his audience, being products of the Industrial Revolution, have adopted the viewpoint of the majority, which is a rejection of religion and the adoption of Darwinism. He assumes that this spiritual change has left his audience hopeless and miserable.” Here, the quotation relates to the essay's theme and the explanation of the quotation serves to support the writer's claim or fatten the sound of his/her argument, as it were. The writer has explored the text's intended audience and certain assumptions about that audience made by the author. By and large, the paragraph, albeit critically analyzed and broken down, should ultimately serve to further support the writer's claim. 

The body paragraphs that follow should take a critical eye to other aspects of the text which serve to support the essay's theme. For example, one may explore inherent contradictions within the text. One might also explicate Arnold's employment of certain types of literary devices or themes such as setting or historical references made in the text that lucidly illustrate the essay's main theme. 

All the components of the essay should be centered around the writer's reaction to the text. Think of an orchestra. In an orchestra, there are not just cellists, but an array of musicians that contribute. Each musician's contribution is cohesive and harmonious, meant to enhance or to fatten the sound of a piece of music. When one listens to an orchestra, one does not hear all of the different components separately, but all components together, speaking to each other in order to produce one cohesive sound or theme, as it were. Like an orchestra, all of the components of one's essay must speak to one theme. That theme or claim must be continuously supported throughout the text. 


The conclusion of an analytical essay usually consists of one to two paragraphs, depending on depth and length of the paper, which serve(s) to draw the essay to a close. The author should begin this paragraph by restating the thesis once again. From this point, the author should briefly restate the themes of the main body and broadly lead the reader to a closing statement. This statement should not be a quote, but a creative statement derived entirely by the author to leave the reader thinking positively about the argument made throughout the essay. The author's purpose is to leave the reader convinced of the thesis and satisfied with the evidence provided. A reader that is left confused or questioning the author's integrity is not desirable. The author should leave the essay with an air of poise. In so doing, the reader will respond by appreciating the author's confidence. 

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