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 one academic (non-fictional) source to 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.