How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

Literature is a field that is rich in dialogue covering a wide range of different books and the authors who created them, memorable characters, all sorts of stories and many wonderful themes. Writing an essay on literature allows you to take part in this dialogue. Frequently, not least when they are short of time, many students think writing a worthy essay is as easy as sitting down and just letting it happen. This approach is not only wrong but the result is often a poor-quality essay because you have not allowed enough time to organize your thoughts and ideas properly.

Firstly, to produce a properly organized essay, break the topic down into manageable parts. Then you should brainstorm to generate ideas, create an outline, write an initial draft and revise your work. Like other tasks and skills, writing requires practice. Additionally, there are various approaches you can take. When you become more experienced, you will better understand what works well for you. Meanwhile, the following tips are designed to help you manage your assignment effectively.

Literary analysis essays serve the purpose of examining and occasionally evaluating a literary work (literary criticism) or some component part of it. Like any type of analysis, this means breaking the topic down into individual parts. However, an examination of the various parts is not the end of the task. Rather, it is part of a process that helps you gain a better understanding and appreciation of the entire literary work. An analysis of a piece of poetry, for example, might examine the different imagery in the piece or it may look at the relationship between content and form. In analyzing a play, you might explain and/or discuss the relationship between the main plot and any subplots or you might analyze any flaws that are exposed in the play’s various acts. Short story analysis could involve highlighting any notable theme and demonstrating how that theme is handled and developed through the style of the story-telling.

NB: The art of writing is about expressing one’s thoughts and what one has studied in a focused and polished manner. As your written skills develop, so too will your perception and critical thinking ability. It comes down to developing ideas. The primary aim with this genre of writing is to persuade your readers that you can support your ideas and/or arguments.

Writing differs from classroom discourse and everyday dialogue in that you must determinedly stick to the point you want to make. Literary analysis essay writing requires good control and organization. Hence, your paper must have a key idea or thesis statement with follow-on paragraphs that develop logically from that idea. Everything in your paper must link directly to the thesis statement and help the reader to better understand it. The following is a reiteration of these three important principles:

  1. The essay topic must be fully covered.
  2. There must be a central or key idea (thesis statement) to guide the essay’s development.
  3. The essay should be organized in a way that ensures each part adds to the readers’ understanding of the thesis.

Brainstorm to Generate Ideas

When you have selected a topic, do not launch straight into writing a draft. It is essential to generate ideas first. A critical step is working out what parts of the topic you find most interesting. It additionally helps to study the text you are writing about as a way of generating ideas for your thesis statement and supporting evidence. You should remember, however, that this is not about haphazardly pulling ideas and supporting material from the text. You must delve deeper into the material your professor covered in class and develop ideas and evidence of your own.

Draft an Essay Outline

An essay outline is a way of organizing research material and the ideas that emerged from your brainstorming session so that you end up with a text that adequately proves the soundness of your thesis. Do not forget, however, that essay writing is a continuous process and parts may need altering as you progress from initial draft to the final paper. You do not have to adhere too strictly to your outline. Think of it as a roadmap of possible directions that can be followed. Along the way, you might find better options to take you to where you want to get to.

Re-Check the Soundness of your Thesis

When the outline is complete, re-read your thesis to ensure your entire essay links to and supports your argument(s). If there is any mismatch, re-evaluate both the thesis and your outline and make any necessary revisions. Do not forget these points:

  • Write an initial draft
  • Re-assess the thesis
  • Undertake any necessary revisions
  • Proofread your work to ensure all spelling, punctuation and grammar is correct.


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