Analytical Essay Guidelines

Analysis begins with a whole object, such as a poem, novel, short story or play. The analyst (or you, as the writer of the analytical essay) tries to take things apart to examine the individual pieces that make up the whole.

An analytical essay (often referred to as a five-paragraph essay though there’s nothing special about the number five) will attempt to explain the significance of a portion of a literary work, BY PROVING SOME SORT OF POINT. The point you are trying to make may have to do with characterization, plot, theme, style or other literary concerns.

Before writing your analytical essay, you must focus in on what you wish to convey to the reader about the literary work. Once you have a focus, you must attempt to make some kind of point about the literary work in your essay. The point you are trying to make is often the answer to a question (or prompt) which a teacher has given you.

The answer to your prompt, or the point you are trying to make, should be the main idea of your essay. This is called a THESIS STATEMENT. Your thesis statement is your opinion; remember, it is not a fact. The thesis is what you will spend the rest of your essay trying to prove. Your job as the writer of an analytical essay is to convince the reader that your opinion is correct; you must prove that your thesis statement is true based on evidence from the text.

YOUR THESIS STATEMENT (main idea, focus, opinion) MUST BE CLEARLY STATED IN YOUR INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH. The thesis should be fairly broad. Stay away from narrow statements of facts that can be easily proven or disproven. Give yourself a challenge–and the reader will be engaged. Usually (but not always), the thesis statement is the sentence that ends your introduction.

In the paragraphs which follow the introduction, called the body of the paper, you must provide evidence (examples) to prove your point. You must be very specific about how the evidence you are offering supports your opinion. You cannot prove your thesis (which is an opinion) by offering other opinions. You must draw your evidence from the text. You should quote passages from the text to prove your point; just remember that you must explain their significance, explain how they relate to your thesis. When you incorporate evidence into your essay, you must be sure to explain it adequately. You must always bring it back to your thesis statement. You must continually explain HOW and WHY it means what you say it means.

Everything in the MAIN BODY of the essay (generally, but not limited to, three paragraphs) must relate to the main point you are trying to make–YOUR THESIS. If you write something that has little to do with your thesis, you have two options: expand and modify your thesis to accommodate that information, or do not include it and find other evidence that does support your thesis.

Finally, you must write a CONCLUSION (a final paragraph), which ties everything together. The conclusion is essentially a mirror of your introduction. Just as your introduction lead the reader in to the thesis, the conclusion leads out from it. Often, the arguments presented in the body are summarized and the thesis is restated as proved. And somehow you should make your paper sound complete. It is a lot like the closing statement lawyers make at the end of a trial–a summary of all the evidence presented and a restatement that all the evidence points to the logical conclusion that what they said at the beginning (their thesis that the defendant was either guilty or innocent) is true. Try leaving the reader with something additional to think about (but still something that is related to thesis of the paper).

INTRODUCTION (1 paragraph):tell the reader what your paper is about Not necessarily in this order, you need to include the following:

  • a way to draw the reader in
  • the author
  • title (underlined or italicized)
  • general statement about the literary work (sometimes)
  • necessary background information about the story (very little)
  • thesis statement (your opinion, main idea or focus) – this may be controversial – should be fairly broad – has a point to prove

MAIN BODY (approx. three paragraphs): these paragraphs should answer the question, “why?” Not necessarily in this order, you need to include the following:

  • specific examples to prove your point
  • quotations – passages – descriptions – comparisons
  • explanation of the significance of your examples in terms of your thesis statement ( in other words, analyze your examples. How do they fit in with your main point?)
  • explanation of how your analysis relates to your thesis statement.

CONCLUSION (1 paragraph): Tell the reader what you told him/her and leave him/her with something to think about. Not necessarily in this order, you need to include the following:

  • your thesis, restated to emphasize that you have proven your point
  • a summary of your main points
  • a way to leave the reader thinking about the marvelous ideas in your essay.