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How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay. The Full Guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay. The Full Guide

Published by on 2019-01-08 15:36:46

You thought Literature would be a safe bet when you signed up for the course during your first month in college. Now you have a literary analysis paper due in two weeks. With four pages to fill, you have no idea where to start. Failing the class is not an option! Let us share our experience with writing literary analysis and walk you through the process that will let you pass the course with flying colors.

What Is a Literary Analysis Paper?

Literary analysis means precisely what it says on the tin. To fulfill this assignment, analyze a piece of literature, be it a poem, a short story, a play, or a novel. Most students struggle with analysis as this critical thinking technique is not required in school and is usually introduced in college.

Think of analysis as if you are solving a puzzle. First, you have to break down the topic into small pieces, study them separately, find the corners and the edges, and match them together until they make the full picture.

IMPORTANT. A literary analysis essay is not a book report or a summary. Retelling the plot as you did in school won’t work in college. Your Lit professor expects to read your understanding and interpretation, not a Cliff Notes version of the story she knows like the back of her hand. At the same time, literary analysis is not a critical paper that calls for your personal opinion and critique. It should be objective and unbiased.

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay?

Now you know what literary analysis is and is not. Let’s talk about how to write the essay one step at a time. Follow our algorithm without skipping any of the stages, and your paper will get the professor’s praise and a high grade.

Step 1. Understand the Assignment

Most students tune out professor’s explanation of the assignment in class. They are too busy doodling, planning the night out, or rushing to the next class. That’s why the essay prompt is your salvation. Therein lie the exact instructions that can make your paper worthy of a high grade. To make most of the assignment, pay attention to:

  • Verbs that set the tone and purpose of the task. Literary analysis essay prompt will ask you to analyze, interpret, or evaluate the book.
  • Words that define the scope and restrictions are necessary to keep your work within certain limits. Notice the number of pages or words, amount of references to be cited or the number of poems (novels, authors) to be analyzed.
  • Style and format requirements define the way you need to organize your paper, references, title page, and more. The form is as important, as content, so never ignore formatting considerations.

IMPORTANT. Some professors will ask you to write a literary analysis essay based solely on your own conclusions and interpretations. Others need you to research secondary resources and support your points with additional evidence. If you can’t decide which type of assignment you must write, consult the professor. Ask whether secondary sources are necessary.

Step 2. Make a Reading Checklist

Many guides on how to write a literary analysis urge you to read first. However, we recommend starting with a list of questions or literary devices you want to discuss in the paper. This approach makes your reading focused and enables you to concentrate on the lines and passages that might be useful.

You don’t have to create a full list of literary devices you will examine while reading. This checklist is designed to help you, not restrain your imagination and creativity. Here are a few questions to get you started on your reading checklist:

  1. What are the main plot twists of the story?
  2. Who are the main protagonist and antagonist?
  3. What is the internal and external motivation of the main characters?
  4. What are the reasons for conflict?
  5. When and where do the events take place?
  6. What is the pace of the plot?
  7. What are the main themes of the story?
  8. Which symbols does the author use?

Add more questions to the list and keep it close at hand for your next Literature assignment. You can also create separate checklists for different types of literary works: poems, novels, short stories, plays, speeches, and more.

Step 3. Read and Take Notes

With your reading checklist in mind, grab a copy of your book, a notebook, and a pencil. These will be your tools of the trade. Focus on reading and look for answers to your questions. Get your note-taking to the next level by following our advice:

  • Write all inspiring quotes on the separate post-its or copy them to a text file.
  • Tag them with one-word summaries for the questions on your checklists or separate categories. For instance, write “hero” if the quote is about the protagonist or “set” if the passage stands out as an excellent description of the setting.
  • Add a page number for every quote you write down. This will make citation quicker, especially if you use additional references.
  • For secondary sources complete the note with the author name and title.

You can use sticky bookmarks and highlighters instead if you use a personal copy of the book.

Step 4. Organize the Notes and Outline

If you follow our previous tips, you won’t have much organizing to do. At this stage, you need to develop two critical elements of the paper: a thesis statement and a rough literary analysis outline. The former is the ultimate sentence of the essay. You will state it in the introduction, support throughout the paper and repeat in the conclusion. For now, it can be a rudimentary draft, but later you’ll need to turn the thesis into a one-sentence essence of the paper. It is a roadmap and an elevator pitch in one.

The outline can be as vague or as detailed as you wish. For some, it’s enough to write a couple of words for each paragraph to start writing. Others require a four-level outline with topic sentences, supporting arguments and analysis prompts. Choose the plan that suits your taste and needs, but always remember to make room for an introduction, three or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Play around with your post-its or digital notes, grouping them by the points you want to make. The tags you’ve added will help your organization efforts. Some notes might seem useless at first, but don’t discard them straight away. You might want to revisit them while editing.

Don’t write in the same document you’ve created for notes and a literary analysis outline. Create a copy of the file and use it for your writing sessions. Use the same rule for editing, proofreading, and formatting. You never know when you might need the previous version of the paper. To avoid the hassle, you can use the cloud word processors that save all changes and edits. They make it easy to retrieve previous renditions of the draft.

Step 5. Write the Paper

After all the preliminary work, writing literary analysis should be a piece of cake. However, many students fall into the traps of procrastination and perfectionism. The former think enough work has already been done, and writing itself will take no time. The latter worry about the effort already expended on pre-writing tasks, and can’t start writing for fear of the paper not meeting their high expectations. To get the ball rolling, try these techniques:

  • Set the timer, put on white noise, and write until you hear the alarm go off. The sweet spot for laser-focused writing is between 25 and 60 minutes. You won’t be able to write much in a shorter period of time. Writing over one hour gets exhausting and doesn’t produce good results.
  • Free write or brain dump before editing. If tight deadlines and timers make you nervous, find a quiet spot to get all your thoughts and ideas on paper. Don’t go back to reread and correct whatever you write. If the idea gets away from you, leave it hanging. Start the next one on the new line.
  • Start with quotes you’ve chosen as supporting evidence. Find 2 or 3 examples that support the same idea and summarize the point in one sentence. This will be the topic sentence of your body paragraph. Add a couple of sentences to analyze the quotes, and your passage is done.
  • Set the writing schedule. If you have enough time, develop a plan to write the paper in small increments throughout a week. Make your sessions short and sweet to squeeze the most out of your muse before she bails on you. In between writing bursts, your subconscious mind will continue to work on the problem and come up with new exciting ideas to incorporate in the paper.

These tricks work equally well if you don’t know how to start a literary analysis paper. If you have the opposite problem and can’t formulate a literary analysis conclusion, the recipe is even easier. Take your thesis statement and body passages’ topic sentences and retell them in other words. You’ll get a brief recap of your purpose and main points. Add a final thought if you can think of any, and your literary analysis conclusion is done.

Step 6. Edit, Proofread, and Format

Writing is not finished the moment you type the last period. Instead, the post-writing work begins. However, before you dive into editing, take a quick break for a few hours or a night. You won’t be able to improve the paper without switching your focus first.

Here are our favorite tools for making the paper perfect for submission:

  • Reverse outline. This editing technique makes you look at the paper with fresh eyes and locate critical issues and inconsistencies before your professor catches them. For reverse outlining, you will need your essay prompt, professor’s evaluation rubric (if available), a blank page, and your paper. In a new file or a fresh sheet of the notebook, write your thesis statement, main points and summarize the supporting evidence. Then compare your notes to the assignment prompt and the evaluation rubric. If you notice discrepancies or weak spots, edit them. Delete redundancies, shuffle the passages, add new primary source examples to make your paper meet the professor’s requirements.
  • Spellcheck. Typos make your paper look lazy and unpolished, taking points off your final grade. Few professors overlook small mistakes in favor of content, so don’t expect an A if your paper is riddled with errors. If you aspire for the highest grade, don’t rely on your basic word processor spellcheck to catch all missing commas and spelling mistakes. Try professional writing software, like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. A human proofreader is always the best, but you’ll have to pay up unless there is a grammar nazi among your friends.
  • Formatting guide. MLA, APA, Chicago, and other formats are not just guidelines for your reference list. Most formatting guides apply to every part of your essay, from the title page to the references. Proper typeface, font size, margins, and alignment are the cherry on top of the well-written paper. Formatting makes your submission look professional, streamlined, and ordered, even if the content is not.

We’ve made the full circle. We started this guide on how to write a literary analysis paper with understanding the prompt and finished it at making sure the paper meets professor’s requirements. It’s an example of a good structure that takes the reader from your thesis to conclusion, always keeping the main idea in mind.

How to Get Literary Analysis Help?

We know the writing algorithm is intimidating and confusing at first glance, but once you go through it a couple of times, you’ll master the art of writing papers and breeze through all future assignments. However, let’s be realistic. If you have two days before the deadline, there is no way you can read a novel and analyze it in time. Your best option is getting professional help.

Our writers have written dozens of essays on all the popular books assigned for literary analysis, from “1984” to “Macbeth”. They will complete your paper long before you finish either of the books. You don’t have to get the full paper, order an outline, an abstract, or an example literary analysis essay if you have enough time to work on the paper but need a little extra push.

Contact us today, and tomorrow your error-free, unique, and A-worthy paper will be in your Inbox.