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?
Structure: 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.
Language: 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.
Eliminatefirst 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.
Tips for Your Analytical Essay
1. Your essay must address and respond to the assignment description. Most students fail or get low grades because they fail to read the entire assignment, including the grading criteria.
2. Make sure you develop an argumentative analytical essay (i.e., your essay must include an arguable THESIS at the end of your introduction, which you should later develop in the body of your essay through an ANALYSIS of the selected work of art and illustrate with SPECIFIC EVIDENCE). Consider the following formula to help you develop a working thesis for your essay: “In [title of art piece], the author challenges/reinforces traditional notions of gender/female sexuality/standards of masculinity/etc. by [doing blah, blah, blah].”
3. Your essay must contain INTRODUCTION + BODY + CONCLUSION + WORKS CITED. Forget about the 5-paragraph essay; those only worked in high school, when the essays were shorter and less complex.
4. All your paragraphs should be fully developed and include transitions. The paragraphs in the body of your essay should contain a topic sentence introducing the topic to be discussed and relating back to the thesis.
5. Avoid “lab talk” (e.g., “In this paper I will prove…”) and phrases like “I believe that” or “In my opinion.” Your reader assumes that everything you write that you do not attribute to another author is your opinion. See Dr. Easton’s handout for more information.
6. Do not abuse plot summaries and/or unnecessary long descriptions. Remember that your argument is based on an analysis; you’re not writing a book report, but an argument. Consider including a brief summary of your work of art (in the case of novels, plays, movies, and the like) or a brief description of it (in the case of paintings and sculptures, for instance) in the introduction. Later, as Celia Easton points out, “Your job is to remind your audience of passages in the text that provide evidence for the argument you want to create about your text, not to describe the plot to someone who has never read the text.”
7. Select lines, quotes, passages, or specific details to discuss to make a claim about the whole work.
8. Make sure your essay follows a logical structure and organization. It is not necessary to imitate the chronology of the literary work you are analyzing.
9. Avoid generalizations and oversimplifications, such as “all men think…” or “since the beginning of times.”
10. Remember you need to incorporate at least oneacademic (non-fictional) sourceto develop your argument. Check our website for more information about what counts as an academic source.
11. Don’t let your secondary sources dominate your essay. In order to avoid this problem, use a yellow marker and highlight every sentence in your essay stating ideas that are not your own (quotes, paraphrases, and summaries of other people’s works). If you see too much yellow in your paper, chances are your voice and ideas have not been fully develop.
12. Quote only passages that would lose their effectiveness if they were paraphrased. Never use a quotation to substitute for your own prose. Always include a tag line on any quotation in order to introduce it (e.g., “According to author X, …” or “As author Y points out, …”)
13. Cite your sources properly in MLA style. When in doubt, ask.
14. Make sure your essay meets the length requirement: 4-5 pages, including “Works Cited” (at least 4 FULL pages).
15. Read Celia Easton’s “Conventions of Writing Papers about Literature.”
16. Check the links included in the online version of the grading criteria for the assignment.
17. Consider coming to my office hours and/or going to the Writing Center for help with your writing. Note: I will only address questions about your essays by e-mail only if it takes me a couple of lines to answer. Don’t e-mail me your drafts.