How to Write an Analytical Essay That Digs Deep

Do you remember that analytical essay you were assigned a week or two ago?  Do you realize that it’s due in a few days, and you haven’t even started it yet?  Yes, really; it’s due in a few days, so it’s time you stop procrastinating and begin writing that analytical essay!

how to write an analytical essay, by Jonund

Keep reading this blog post for useful tips on how to write an analytical essay in no time.

Where Do You Start?

Start with the assignment guidelines.  Chances are you haven’t read them in a while, and it’s important that you know exactly what you should be writing.

Should your paper be 800 words?  1000 words?

Are you writing an analytical essay about a poem, short story, or maybe even a novel? Do you need to complete any outside research? Does your professor require a specific format for your analytical essay?

Once you understand the assignment, you can move to the next step: understanding how to write an analytical essay.

What Is an Analytical Essay?

Stuck on Your Analytical Essay?
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An analytical essay is one that analyzes (I know that seems obvious, but stay with me).

To analyze a work of literature, you need to break it down into smaller parts to understand what it means.  Looking at smaller parts of a piece of literature helps you understand how the pieces fit together to create the larger meaning.

The Analytical Essay as a Jigsaw Puzzle

how to write an analytical essay
Creative Commons


Think about writing an analytical essay like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.

When you’re putting together a puzzle, you have 100s of tiny pieces that make up an image. When you’re looking at just one piece, you can’t tell what you’re looking at.  You can’t identify the picture in the puzzle until you put all the pieces together.

Learning how to write an analytical essay is like taking apart that puzzle.  You start with the large image, and you have to look at each piece to see how it fits into the larger puzzle and to understand what it all means.

What an Analytical Essay Is Not

An analytical essay is not a summary.  Do not retell the plot.

In other words, if you’re writing an analytical analysis of The Wizard of Oz, don’t simply tell us how Dorothy lands in Oz and tries to find her way back to Kansas. Your goal is to analyze a piece of writing, not simply tell readers what they have just read.

Now that you understand the basics, use these six tips to help you learn how to write an analytical essay that digs deep.

How to Write an Analytical Essay That Digs Deep (6 Easy Tips)

how to write an analytical essay
Nick Bonzey. Creative Commons


1. Take notes. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!

Taking notes is a crucial step in writing an analytical essay because it will help you discover important points in the writing that you are analyzing and help you see how ideas fit together.

Begin by carefully reading through the writing that you will analyze and take notes as you read.

Here’s where you’ll start to dig.

Write down anything that seems significant to you.  Do a character’s actions seem odd or out of place?  When you read what one character said to another, did you think it told you something more about the character’s relationship to the story? Did you think it was interesting that the speaker mentioned black boxes four times in the poem?

If so, write it down.

Jot down your thoughts as you read. You need to look beyond the surface of the piece of literature in order to understand the true meaning. Don’t accept anything at face value.

519791-101_Warning-128WARNING!  If you’re taking notes on a separate page, make sure to write down the page number or paragraph number as a reference.  This will make it much easier to find the information again when you’re writing your essay.

2. Dig deep into the writing and examine each level.

A flower in a poem might be more than a flower.  It might be a symbol of love.  The red hat a character wears might be more than a hat.  It might signal a character’s independence.

Don’t merely summarize what happens in the literature.  You’ll need to write commentary.

You’re writing your thoughts about what you’re reading.  You’re asking questions.  You’re asking why events occur, why characters act the way they do, and why the author wrote the piece in a specific way.  You’re drawing connections and using the space to help you develop meaning and analyze the piece of writing.

3. Focus.

Review your notes and look for the gems you’ve uncovered in your analysis. Decide which ideas you will use as the focus of your paper.

Spend some time examining and organizing your ideas, as you may need to narrow your focus into an appropriate topic for your paper.  For instance, you might look for recurring symbols in a poem, or you might look at character development in a short story, or you might look at the theme of a novel.

4. Develop a thesis.

The thesis will be one statement (generally at the end of your introductory paragraph) that tells readers what your paper is about. It lets readers know the point of your analytical essay.

In other words, now that you’ve examined each part of the writing, you’ll tell your readers what it all means.

For instance, if the speaker in a poem refers to black objects, your thesis might explain the use of the black objects as a symbol for death. If a character develops from a shy boy to an outspoken man during the novel, your thesis might explain the theme of the story as the difficulties of transitioning into adulthood.

5. Develop the body.

The body of your paper needs to contain evidence to support your thesis.   You need to convince your readers of your point.  You’ll do this by finding examples from the piece of writing you’re analyzing.

Use your notes again (those gems you uncovered earlier as you dug through the literature) to find places in the writing to support your ideas.  You might use a short piece of dialogue to explain a character’s mood and how it contributes to his character.  You might include a summary or paraphrase of an event that contributes to the overall development of the story’s theme.

Don’t forget:  all information in the body of your analytical essay must directly relate to your thesis and must support your ideas.

519791-101_Warning-128WARNING!  Don’t fill your paragraphs with paraphrases, summaries, and quotes without including a discussion of their importance and meaning.  Include your own words in your analytical essay and use evidence from the text to support your writing.

6. Develop the conclusion.

Your conclusion will let readers know that they’ve reached the end of your paper and will provide some type of restatement of your key arguments and thesis.  (This is not the place to introduce new ideas.  Remember, you’re ending your essay, so readers shouldn’t learn new information in your conclusion.

Do you need more help? View this slideshow to learn more tips for writing an analytical essay.  If you want to read a sample of an analytical essay, look at these sample student essays. Also check out this great post on how to write an analytical essay outline.

Good luck!

Stuck on Your Analytical Essay?
Check Out These Example Analytical Essays

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